DEAR MISS MANNERS: The subject of self-congratulatory parties came up with a group of friends. We all agree that neither oneself nor one’s immediate family are supposed to host a bridal shower, for example. What about a mortgage-burning party?
There are those of us who feel it is self-congratulatory (and gauche) to have such a party and announce it as such. Others disagree. Some thought that hosting a party without announcing the reason or making it “potluck” would be celebration enough and a gift to the guests. What is your standing on the matter?
GENTLE READER: Self-congratulatory parties – for birthdays, graduations and anniversaries as well as a startling proliferation of wedding and baby showers per person – seem to be the most common form of entertaining nowadays.
Miss Manners pictures each would-be host thinking what fun it would be to throw a party for friends, and how much more gala to have a guest of honor. And in that case, why not for the person one esteems the most?
Time was when one waited to be honored – or not – by friends. That modest demeanor has been trampled over by those impatient to receive such honors, not to mention the presents that they demand to go with them, and distrustful that any arrangements by others would meet their standards.
Mind you, Miss Manners loves celebrations. Those of you who favor telling the guests the occasion at the party itself have the correct solution – provided they do not ask the guests to bring the refreshments. The mortgage-burning party can be handled in that fashion, as can most birthdays.
But some family milestones do require advance-notice celebration of one’s own or one’s family milestones.
• Births: As you know, showers should never be given by relatives, although Miss Manners has heard of shocking cases where baby showers were actually given by the prospective parents or grandparents. What they can properly give are celebratory parties after a christening or bris.
• Birthdays: School-age children are the nominal hosts of their own birthday parties, presumably to teach them how to be gracious hosts. The fad of parents giving parties for babies is generally indulged if the guests are family intimates or if the baby sleeps through and drinks are served. Major birthdays of adults can be celebrated at parties given by relatives, but should be limited to two for a lifetime (30th and 60th, for example, or 75th and 90th).
But then look what happened: Children who had been unrestrained by the etiquette of hospitality grew up to demand that others throw themselves annual birthday parties, mandating the conditions and expecting the guests to pay.
• Weddings: Miss Manners has heard of the same thing happening in connection with weddings: showers and other auxiliary parties that do not originate with friends but are assigned to them by the bride or given by her relatives.
Any other party given by celebrants or their relatives, notably that announcing an engagement, is properly not named as such. As some of you have figured out on your own, the advantage of announcing the occasion when the guests are assembled is not only their gasp of surprise. It is their declaration, “Oh, I wish I’d known; I would have brought a present.”