Americans in 2019 seem to “just want to have fun.” Americans in 1819 wanted fun too, but perhaps had a different idea of how to get there.
My family and I do not watch television. A couple of times per week, however, we break out the old DVDs and watch an episode of Hogan’s Heroes, F Troop, Andy Griffith, or some other old and silly sitcom. My mother bought us two seasons of The Beverly Hillbillies last Christmas and they are a special favorite with the kids. Watching the old shows, and the old advertisements, reveals many of the ways that we have changed as a nation, a culture, and a people.
In the episode entitled The Garden Party, Jed and Granny discover that their next-door neighbor, Margaret Drysdale, is hosting a garden party for her high society friends. “What’s a garden party?” Granny asks Jed. He replies that at a barn raising, neighbors get together and build a barn for the host. At a quilting bee, ladies get together and make a quilt. So a garden party must be to build a garden. Pleased with his reasoning, Jed tells his nephew Jethro to get the tools.
Last Friday night, Nancy and I had a family from church over for dinner. On Saturday my family and I attended a birthday party for the two-year-old son of a neighbor. Dozens of families and friends attended. Yesterday Nancy, David, Stephen, Sarah, and I spent the afternoon at Grandview attending the annual picnic for the Volunteer Fire Department in Beaver, WV. There were about 30 firefighters, family members, and friends present.
Why do we go to parties?
The first reason people go to parties is to have fun. Eating, drinking, and talking with close friends is one of the great joys of life. Birthday parties typically feature cake, ice cream, games, party favors, and possibly even a venue like a museum, garden, beach, pool, or amusement park. Wedding receptions often include these but add a meal and substitute dancing for games. Parties for holidays like Christmas, Halloween, and Independence Day have their own special flair, with trees and gifts, costumes, or fireworks.
A second reason for parties is to build relationships. Though we barely knew the other guests at the birthday party, we went specifically to get to know our neighbors. I had gone on calls and done training with most of the other firefighters at the picnic, but Nancy and the kids were strangers to these people. I went to deepen relationships, and they went to start them. They also went for me – to strengthen our family ties. Our Friday night dinner party was the only party last weekend in which everyone knew and enjoyed everyone else.
A third reason to attend parties is to accomplish something worthwhile. The barn raisings and quilting bees of yesteryear built community, but they also built barns and crafted quilts. In the days and regions before professional builders, modular homes, quilting companies, and the internet, neighbors had to help each other. If they did not, villages and individuals would die; member by member and family by family. I have been to a few such parties, which usually involved moving friends or family from one place to another. When we moved in Alexandria VA in 2013, more than twenty-five people from church showed up to help. Likewise, I have gone to pack and unpack boxes, load and unload boxes, take down and install furniture and appliances, and load and unload storage crates and conexes (steel storage and transportation containers). Work parties can also be a venue where real work gets done.
A fourth reason for parties is to promote yourself. The host of a fabulous party can impress people with their elegance or extravagance. Invitees at such parties can boast that they were invited, can try to impress the people who are there, can name drop, and can network for new opportunities or promotions. Socialite and courtesan Pamela Harriman threw parties in Washington DC that could launch a political career… or end one.
A fifth reason to host and attend parties is to fulfill expectations. How many of us have gone to a work party that we dreaded, stayed a respectable amount of time, and slipped out hoping that no one would notice? How many people have attended parties that they dread to meet the expectations of others? Captain Georg Von Trapp certainly felt that way when he said in the Sound of Music “More at home here than in Vienna in all your glittering salons. . . gossiping gaily with bores I detest, soaking myself in champagne. . .stumbling about to waltzes by Strauss I can’t even remember?”
A sixth reason to host and attend parties is to glorify God. Christians are told that “whatever you do, do heartily, as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23).” Parties are no exception. The Bible has one story of Jesus attending a party; the wedding at Cana. We can assume that Jesus enjoyed Himself; it was a festive occasion and He was human, after all. Knowing Jesus’ character, He certainly went to build relationships. Christ knew that He would accomplish something useful – changing water into wine for the glory of the Father. He probably went to fulfill His mother Mary’s expectations. The only thing that Jesus didn’t do was promote Himself. He promoted the Father instead.
The parties that I remember best are those that combine fun, relationships, accomplishments, and the glory of God. The purpose of these “best parties” was to do work worth doing. The fun, relationships, and glory of God followed. Perhaps Jed Clampett was right – Mrs. Drysdale’s garden party should have been to build her a garden. Perhaps for my next party, we’ll work on my yard. I wonder if anyone would come.