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Can We Have A Class Christmas Party?

Come December, students will begin asking to have “a class Christmas party.” They will want to have the class party during class time, perhaps in the last two days before Christmas break begins. To their credit, when students want a “a class Christmas party,” they are not usually demanding, discerning, or discriminating. They are not choosy. For my money, what makes a party a party is drinking and dancing, but these are things for an adult’s party. When young people want “a party,” all they really want is one another. They want to talk to one another about the things they like to talk about, and they want to do so in the classroom. The “class party” variety of chatting involves having a little pop music playing in the background, and all the boys will have brought generic Mountain Dew and Cool Ranch Doritos, and the girls will have baked cookies. Everything is typically served on squeaky Styrofoam plates. A game is played, and the game is often a thinly veiled ruse to either flirt or make bawdy jokes/drug references that no one thinks the teacher will understand, even though he does. Halfway through, things get slightly out of hand and everyone is reprimanded. The room is littered with trash and crumbs and then everyone goes away for Christmas break.

For the love of all that’s good, please do not graduate students who think of such events as “parties.”

Plan the party yourself. The teacher is the host of every class party and must show the students how to have a party. All things are learned by imitation and the teacher should not assume the students are capable of planning a party any more than they are capable of planning a baptism or a presidential reception. They need not only ideas, but plans and orders.

What to do? Prepare a meal to eat together. Have everyone dress nicely. Do not have a gift exchange, and especially do not have a gag gift exchange. The American insistence on staging a three-hour party, ninety minutes of which is gift exchange, never fails to baffle me. Such is the content of an April Fool’s Day party or a Halloween party of a party celebrating the accomplishments of Julian the Apostate, but not a Christmas party. If the party is at school (or if not), sing many Christmas carols. If there is food at the party, give food assignments (eggnog, apple cider, fudge). Any party worth attending is worth preparing for, and if all the preparation Johnny Sophomore puts into “a class party” is having his mother buy him a bag of chips, he’s being prepared for college keggers. Force the boys to bake something. Give the girls a non-sports related reason to be impressed with the boys.

Place something memorable, intellectual, and very brief at the center of the party. A five minute reading, the recitation of a poem, something from Auden or Pope Leo. Your students may not like this, but they will remember it in the future, and as they get older, they will plan parties and be more inclined to include something short and thoughtful in the middle, too. Five minutes is sufficient time for the intellectual moment— any longer and it will seem like a forced worship service, any shorter and it will seem like an afterthought. Teach your students a few things about parties as you plan the Christmas party. Move most of the chairs, but not all of them, out into the hall. People are more inclined to talk when they are standing. Deliver a few jabs at the soda and chips parties they had last year. Pick the music yourself. Days before the party, tell the students what the music will be. “I’ve made a playlist for the party. It will be very good.” They will understand that it is prudent to choose the music in advance. If there is any way of not having the normal soul-sucking florescent classroom bulbs on during the party, the students may laugh at how forced the whole thing is, yet they will note that light levels are a thing to be played with for the sake of mood. The purpose of the class party is not to transport the soul of the students, but to begin teaching them what a decent party is.

Whether such a party is a flop or not (and it may be), it will linger a long time in everyone’s memory. If you have never worked out such a party before, chances are good no one will like it. No matter. Do not despise the day of small beginnings. The soda and chips party is a diversion, a distraction, and little more than an exaggeration of what normally carries on in the hallways between classes. The amusement of carrying on the same “party” during class time, albeit with snacks, is little more than the thrill which comes with running a red light when no one is looking. Granted, the inconsequential, student-planned party produces a few smiles and a few laughs and “a good time” might be claimed, but is this really the standard for a party we want students carrying away from graduation? Student parties, especially the hour long affairs at school on the last day before break, can stand to be a little more formal, a little more snooty, and a little less of an afterthought joke.

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