The Large Party

Difficulty Easy

Loud.  Fun.  Loads of people.  Crammed seating.  Eating with one hand, drinking with the other.  And, of course, the large party buzz that makes life exciting.

Ah, parties. Some days, it’s time for an intimate gathering with meaningful conversation.  Other days, it’s time for a party. 

I just love a good party, don’t you?  My apologies, introverts — I know you don’t like parties as much as we extroverts do.  But how else do we create the mood and memories for the rest of the week, the rest of our lives?  Just as individuals once gathered around the fire and became a people, we also arrive at a party and leave as something more than ourselves.  We become a group with those we party, even without intention or ceremony.

Why Large Parties?

The high energy and raucous laughter of the Large Party (25+ people) makes life FUN.  I don’t know why, but something happens when you cram a bunch of people into a communal space.  New connections are made.  Old relationships fortified.  All those many, random, casual connections remind us, somehow, that we belong to something greater than ourselves. 

At a party with 25+ people, there’s a communal sense of identity.  It’s that same feeling you get when sitting in a packed stadium or crowded movie theatre on opening night.  As much as we crave intimacy in the small group setting, we also crave that sense of vastness that belongs at a larger gathering.  A party reminds us:  we’re all connected and deeply intertwined. We all belong to something bigger than our individual selves. 

Large parties are great for marking a significant occasion.  A special birthday, a holiday meal, a rite of passage — something that requires celebration and revelry.  Because what else is a party for?  Bacchus himself understood the wild desire to have a good time.  Debauchery aside, large parties remind us that life should be enjoyed.  The indulgence of food and drink alongside good company and a mix of friends — well, these are some of life’s greatest pleasures. 

The only bad thing about hosting a large party is — well, it’s a lot of work.  The more people you invite, the more work it will be.  There’s the cooking and cleaning.  The planning and the prep.  There’s the mental headspace, too.  Figuring out the physical space and set-up.  Deciding what to serve.  Considering the children.  And then there’s the clean-up.  Ugh.           

But even though the large dinner party is the most work, it can also be the most memorable.  They don’t happen often — maybe 1-2 times a year.  Yet they are the memories we return to again and again.  They are the mood that lingers, the soundtrack that plays in the background of our lives.  I don’t ever regret throwing a large party, although I have learned through trial and error how to making hosting one more enjoyable.    

The Guest List

As much as people say they hate big parties, I think they’re actually very friendly and accessible to everyone.  Large parties cover people’s social awkwardness.  You can be shy and quiet yet still have a good time.  You can be loud and obnoxious and people will forgive you at the end of the night.  When lots of people hang out together, there’s an energy and boisterousness that you can’t really find at a small or medium size gathering.       

Large parties give you the space and flexibility to invite a cross-section of people from different parts of your life.  But it’s a tricky balance.  People by nature tend to stick to comfort and familiarity.  Even more so at a large gathering.  We’ve all experienced the horror of attending the party of a friend where we didn’t know anyone else.  Occasions like these are one reason why large parties seem so unappealing.    

The key to making a large party work is the loose connection.  If you want guests to mix and mingle, invite guests who share a common connection.  They may not be BFFs, but there’s a mutual thread that bonds them.  To that end, the large party works when there’s a shared interest.  Perhaps a reunion of all your University pals?  Or a get-together for the running group that you’ve been a part of all these years? 

If that’s not possible, invite all the random people in your life but make sure that every person is loosely connected to at least 2 or 3 other people.  Look for commonalities between guests: Attendance at the same school or synagogue, working in similar industries, similar-aged children, shared hobbies, etc.  As guests trickle in, make introductions, and you’ll be surprised at how friendly and chatty even your most anti-social friends can be.  These are all ideas to get you started.  

That being said, the more the merrier!  I love an opportunity to be as inclusive as possible.  Here’s a chance to connect the relational dots and bring people together. 

The Menu

Growing up Korean American, parties meant one thing:  FOOD.  And not just any kind of food.  Special food.  Labor-intensive food.  Huge portions.  Different kinds and in all varieties.    

I’ve accepted that the volume and scale of those meals are beyond my abilities.  For now, at least.  Still, I cannot host a party and not serve food.  Food makes a party gel.  When people break bread, that’s the first step in breaking the ice.  All of the sudden, people become more open.  The conversation is better.  There’s a friendliness and commonality around the table.      

If you don’t want to cook, organize a potluck.  Make a list and ask people to sign up.  Be as specific or as general as you want. Most people are happy to oblige.  If you have friends that don’t cook, assign drinks or chips.         

Alternately, you can host a half-and-half party.  Cook half the food and order out/ask people to contribute the other half.  For example, barbecue hamburgers and sausages and ask people to bring sides and drinks.  Or, order pizza and throw together generous helpings of salad from grocery store pre-made kits.

Make sure to set up a buffet table. Also, think about dishes, cups, forks and spoons.  Most people don’t have the plates and silverware for 25+ guests.  For 25-35 people, I break out Halmoni’s white Corning Ware plates.  They are light enough to carry one handed yet durable enough for the mountain of food that is sure to be piled on top. For parties of 40+ people, I like to use recyclable paper plates and compostable plastic cups.

Physical Space     

When planning the guest list, keep the size of your home in mind.  My present home is an 1800-square foot townhouse with condo parking for a backyard.  In my current space, 25-35 people make for a comfortable yet still festive Large Party. 

When you invite kids to a party of this size, make sure to dedicate play space so they can relax and have a good time too.  Kids need more space than you think but not so much that you should be reluctant to invite them.  If you have a carpeted area, that’s a good area for babies to roll around.        

One year, I hosted a 70+ person party.  It was total chaos and probably a fire hazard.  There were people jammed in every room, on every floor.  Kids were jumping off the bunkbed and opening random drawers in our bedroom.  Afterwards, I found food remnants and drinks in every room of the house and had to dig out silverware from the garbage.  It took me years to recover and I still feel strangely violated whenever I think of that memory.

To make a large party work, we all need to accept the limitations of our homes.  My home simply cannot accommodate 50+ people without me feeling crazed and out-of-control.  I’m OK with that.  Other people can host on a large scale but I am not one of those individuals.  My preferred large party size is 25-35 people, and this is the size I am most happy to host.

The beauty of the Large Party is the way it reminds us of our shared humanity.  Here’s a bigger social space where we can feel connected, without the obligation and responsibility to be witty, charming, conversational, or deep.  Sometimes you’re feeling it, sometimes you’re not.  And that’s ok.  The Large Party makes life fun and adds sparkle to life.

If you enjoyed reading this post, you can read the rest of this series: The Small Dinner Party and The Medium Dinner Party. Or, you can read Table Theology for more hosting inspiration. 

Dinner with Friends, Holiday, Writing

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