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Let’s imitate Jesus and have more dinner parties

Dinner party with friends

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Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 05/12/24

Dinner parties are becoming increasingly rare in our society. That's a shame, because more than ever we need to connect and experience togetherness.

Over at The Pillar, Ed Condon commiserates, “I never get invited to dinner parties anymore, it seems.” Same here. Either the art of the dinner party is either dying out or I’ve simply become too old and grumpy to be invited. Maybe everyone else is out having a great time and I’ve accidentally uninvited myself from the fun by being pretentious and snobbish (a very likely possibility).

Or maybe the lack of dinner parties is as easily explainable as the fact that all my friends now have multiple children and we’re buried in diapers, dirty dishes, and running around like mad between youth sporting events. There’s no more energy or time for long evenings with friends. On the rare occasion we have people over to our place, the party is over at 8 p.m. I politely clear my throat and talk about my pre-sunrise wake up time while I walk to the front door and hold it open. I wildly gesticulate that I want my friends out of my house. They take the hint. It’s a lovely system.

My wife and I had guests over not too long ago and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, so it’s not as though we’ve become anti-social. In fact, I would say that every time we do have guests, we’re glad we did. We don’t host more frequently, I suspect, because merely thinking about all the cooking and washing up is exhausting. At some point, it seems as though the perceived effort began to outweigh the benefit.

An ode to dinner parties

We all want to throw the perfect dinner party, which is commendable, but the idea of perfection and the work required to achieve it has become too high a bar. That’s a shame, because there’s nothing quite so wonderful as a successful dinner party. Nothing can replicate it.

Condon notes some of the distinctive elements of a good dinner party:

First, not all the guests will know each other. This allows for the adventure of meeting new people and unexpected conversations.

Second, there should be at least some effort at dressing up in nice clothing to enhance the idea that the occasion is special. Personally, I like to throw on a shabby old dinner jacket and knot an off-kilter bow tie. Dressing up isn’t about formality; it’s about honoring the joy and spirit of the party.

Third, the party isn’t simply about eating next to people and chatting for an hour; that can be done in a restaurant. It’s about having time and space to socialize, so have a proper hour for drinks first. This way everyone can arrive as they’re able and mix freely.

Fourth – and I think this rule is under-rated and constantly broken – don’t seat spouses next to each other. It’s way more fun if everyone gets out of their comfort zone.

Finally – and again I have to say this cannot be emphasized enough – don’t insist on some odd theme like, “dress as a Nicholas Cage movie character,” or make everyone play a party game. Those types of activities might work well in other contexts, but a dinner party is purely for love of good food and good company.

No perfect dinner party

It seems fussy, I know, to have so many guidelines, and Condon has the self-awareness to realize that no one is the rule-decider for how anyone else parties, but the rules are really only there to protect the spontaneity and informal joy of the party. Although there’s skill involved in hosting a dinner party, there’s no one perfect way to do it. There doesn’t need to be a theme, or perfect place settings at the table, or the best wine pairings, or even the best food. In fact, nothing about a dinner party needs to be perfect at all. I actually think ramshackle, rambling evenings are more enjoyable, because a dinner party is all about the people.

That last part – the people – is the reason I’m giving any thought to this topic at all. I can’t help but worry that people are growing apart, each of us is falling captive to a more-and-more defined, narrow group of friends. The demands of career and the exhaustion of modern life means we’re losing the simple human connections that bring joy.

Heaven as a great banquet

I can’t help but think Our Lord knows exactly what he’s doing when he compares Heaven to a great banquet. It’s like an eternal dinner party at which he is the host. He pours his life into that feast, and he invites us because he wants to know us better. That’s why he’s always inviting people to eat with him; he wants to make a connection. Our dinner parties on earth are smaller versions of this. The hosts put in the effort, they make the sacrifice to prepare the food and wine, they gather up people they love simply for the sake of feeding them and delighting in their company.

In my experience, every time I’ve made the effort it has been worth it.

So, to me, it doesn’t really matter if a dinner party has the best quality food and wine or if it’s a summer barbecue with cheap beer while lazing around a picnic table, the point is human togetherness and somehow commemorating the value of that togetherness with a shared meal. When eaten with friends, every meal is a feast.

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