The most memorable celebrations aren’t perfect. In fact, they’re usually just the opposite.
Something unexpected happens; everyone snaps to attention. Now they really have something to talk about! Please, don’t strive for perfection or let fears of what might go wrong stop you from gathering people together and celebrating something, anything good. The world needs as many opportunities to share love and make happy memories as we can provide.
I’ve earned the opportunity to offer this advice the honest way — by making lots of mistakes as the hostess of gatherings large and small.
From special-occasion family dinners to business and fundraising parties for hundreds, I’ve yet to host a “perfect” gathering. I fumble over my welcome or toast. A favorite wine runs out early. Some dish flops. My dress rips. The entertainment insults rather than amuses. In other words, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. I’ve learned to just admit my bad and remind guests why we love them.
A disastrous Christmas Eve dinner taught me this good lesson long ago. I forgot to put the ceramic containers inside the metal base pots of the fondue sets we were using. Five minutes into the meal, because the ceramic was directly above flames, every pot exploded. Hot melted cheese splattered everywhere, oozing across the antique lace tablecloth and onto well-dressed laps.
Of course, I wanted to cry. But my kids loved the opportunity to break free from the picture-perfect behavior I expected and tease me for my mistake. So, I shook off the tears, admitted my bad and giggled along with them the rest of the night (after cleaning up the mess, of course). That dinner became part of our family lore.
My worst faux pas was not renting the tent requested at the 11th hour by the wedding planner for our daughter’s July wedding on a Southern California hilltop. It never rains in Southern California in July, right? Furthermore, this was in 2015, during the worst drought since California started keeping weather records — in 1877.
If raindrops came, they would be few and far between, my husband and I reasoned — similar to the brief, gentle, warm Hawaiian showers that signify extra blessings on a bride.
Boy, were we wrong.
Instead, the biggest summer storm on record blasted through. Monsoon on the mesa. Not just a “once in a century” storm, but rather a once-in-a-century-and-a-half storm. It destroyed most of the beautiful tableaux that our creative daughter had dreamed of for years and lovingly assembled.
After several hours’ delay, guests gathered for the nuptials in an ad hoc circle around the minister in the only available dry space. Our daughter joined her groom with quivering lips, fighting tears. Guests poured love and support in their direction, willing her strength and an appreciation that something incredibly beautiful was happening.
“I’ve never felt such powerful waves of love,” the Reverend tells all who will listen even to this day. No participant — guest, bridal party, musician, staff — will forget it either. Their memories of the unique day will improve with each passing year. Hopefully, our daughter’s eventually will too.
The great American novelist John Steinbeck wrote, “It is generally understood that a party hardly ever goes the way it is planned or intended. This, of course, excludes those dismal slave parties, whipped and controlled and dominated, given by an ogreish professional hostess. These are not parties at all, but acts and demonstrations…”
In this era, everyone is simply too busy to remain a slave to “professional hostess” expectations. And really, who has the desire to live so formally anyway?
Living well now means sharing life and making good memories with those you love, and helping others less fortunate to do so. Living well rarely means doing something perfectly. So please, create celebrations, learn from your mistakes, enjoy the journey, make good memories. You will be oh-so-happy you did.
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