It's the time of year when many of us begin to plan our holiday parties. The calendar year is drawing to a close, there are two holidays a week apart, the sun goes down early, and there's a natural inclination to get together with friends to celebrate the holidays.
The first issue that many of us think about is the guest list. Most of us have only limited space for entertaining, and so we want to be somewhat selective in whom we invite. At the same time, we want to ensure that we don't hurt anyone's feelings by omission, or select guests who do not get along.
Close friends, the ones with the strongest ties to our families, are generally first on the list. The godparents for our children, close coworkers, families from our children's activities with whom we've developed a special bond, school friends. Generally, even if these invitees do not know each other, they will have enough in common to make for convivial evening.
If there is space, close neighbors will also make the list. Most people are altruistic this time of year, but it is okay to focus on the neighbors who will bring something special to the party. Tom the raconteur, Susan who always shows up with a large bottle of Belvedere, Brian who never forgets to bring the large plate of deviled eggs. These are generally the people who we want to share the holidays with.
Imagine, however, that people planned their holiday parties the way that the United States handles its immigration policy. The guest list will start to look a whole lot different.
Bob from accounting is always welcome. He is a loyal coworker, he never forgets your birthday, and frankly you might need him someday. Of course you would invite his wife or girlfriend, and if kids are invited, his children. In our theoretical party, however, Bob would also bring some other relatives. His adult children, his aging parents, and then his brother and his wife who are in town from Oregon, and then their children. Once Bob's adult children get the invite, they also want to bring their families. Oh, Bob's brother also has a family, as does his brother's wife, and they want to show up. He hasn't seen his brother in years, and doesn't really know his nieces and nephews (except from the yearly holiday card), and heard a rumor that one of them has a drinking problem, but he doesn't want them not to be invited.
The holiday season is slow for Bob's family, so he wants to know if he can bring some additional family members, and family members of those family members who he really doesn't know very well, and who may have, you know, "issues". He doesn't really know a lot about them, but family is family, no matter how remote. Besides, they will be showing up late. Sure you say, "the more the merrier."
Given the fact that it is the season of giving, you may also invite some people who you don't know very well, but who recently went through a loss, or who would normally be spending the season alone. You are big-hearted, and you remember family stories about your grandfather, or great-grandfather, who was in a similar situation in the past. They get added to the list, but they are not alone. They plan on inviting their family members, and again they have some distant relatives from out of town who are also looking for something to do. You can't say no to them, so they are welcome.
Not wanting the party to be all about you, you then turn to the phone book. You find some people who you don't know, and who have no connection whatsoever to you, or anyone else invited to the party. If they answer the phone, you tell them that they're welcome to come. They most likely have families, and want to bring those family members along as well. Again, some extended family members will also want to come, but again, they will show up late. You don't really know those folks, and aren't really sure how they will get along with the other guests, or whether they will respect your property; you ask around about them, but you don't hear anything negative, so you welcome them as well.
The house is now full of people, and even though it's cold outside, you leave the back door open to let some air in. News about your party, your alcohol selection, and your food options has made its way around town, and some people you don't know show up at your house, and invite themselves in because the back door is open, right? You're practically begging them to come in. You don't really know what to do about these party crashers, so you ignore them for a while.
A couple of them are locked out of their own houses, so you figure, what's the harm in letting them stay? Some of the others are engaged in convivial banter with the invited guests, so you ignore their intrusions.
A few plainly can't handle their alcohol, or are dropping crab dip on the carpet, or are smoking marijuana in the basement, but the other guests don't want to complain about these transgressions, because we were all young once, right? Or, they figure, "nobody's perfect." No one wants to be a scold. These are such minor peccadilloes that it would be almost offensive to even point them out to you. Besides, the other guests think, you would spend so much time trying to eject these intruders that you would not get to enjoy the party yourself. Or alternatively, they figure that you are such a stick-in-the-mud that you wouldn't understand that such activities are just "harmless fun". Lighten up, man, it's the holidays, you wouldn't possibly want to throw them out, would you?
Of course, all of this is a farce. No one (or at least no adult) would possibly allow such activities to occur, and even the most hospitable of hosts would say "no" at some point to the extension of an invitation to shirt-tail relatives of invited guests, or to the uninvited intrusion of unwelcome visitors, or to the random selection of visitors to the party.
We're choosy about our companions (even at the holidays), and consider the safety and comfort of our guests when planning a party. We want to create a warm atmosphere, and ensure that everyone will have a good time.
But if this is true about our own personal homes, why don't such considerations factor into our national home?