Sometime in December, my parents would get us dressed up and into the car and my dad would drive us all downtown to a big office building or hotel or banquet hall. I don’t remember going to the same location every year. There were a couple of years we went to a venue in Chicago and others we attended in Atlanta.
My parents talk about one year in Chicago (when I was in pre-school) where they had people dressed up in costumes of licensed characters like Minnie Mouse and Darth Vader. I’ve mentioned before that my dad is very tall, about six foot five.
I’m not sure how it happened, but for some reason, the person wearing the Darth Vader costume needed a break or something, so my dad put the costume on. I don’t remember it, but from what my parents say, I was just talking to him and hugging him.
Apparently, when Dad took off the costume and came back, I wasn’t interested at all. We do have some pictures from that party, unfortunately, they’re all so dark you can’t even see an outline of the Darth Vader costume. All you see is Minnie Mouse and my shiny white satin blouse under my festive green velvet jumper.
I mostly remember the parties we went to in Atlanta while I was in grade school. The first thing that comes to mind are the decorations. There were so many amazing decorations in the rooms and the hallways and I would get very excited when we came in and I saw all of the trees and lights and tinsel. Christmas music would be playing over the speakers. I was most likely experiencing some kind of sensory overload.
The other thing I remember is a long table with a fancy decorated table cloth, a punch bowl filled with red liquid and plates of giant cookies. The ones I remember the most vividly were the soft gingerbread cookies. The first time I had one of the Pumpkin Delights Jason and Mickey start mention every fall, I remembered those cookies. The texture and the spice mix took me right back to those tables.
I always listen politely when people tell their stories about traumatic encounters with Mall Santas and sometimes feel a little jealous that I don’t have any “Creepy Mall Santa” stories. My brother and I never had that experience because we always had our pictures taken with the IBM Christmas Party Santa Claus.
Not only were the pictures from the party professional looking, with a healthy and sober looking Santa, we also received gifts! Because it was through IBM, the gifts were all educational in nature, but I really enjoyed several of them.
Here are a few of my favorites (the ones I remember most clearly)
1. Don’t Wake the Dragon – This was a board game where the goal was to get little plastic eggs (balanced on the top hat of a red, blue, green, or yellow penguin) to a safe place on the board and past a plastic purple dragon.
2. Crayola Art Desk – One of my favorite types of gifts are things that I can use to express my creativity. This desk had places for scissors, crayons, markers, and chalk because there’s a chalkboard attached to the desk. The chalkboard was my least favorite part of this toy because the chalk always made that irritating sound when I tried to write with it. The chalk also had a strange smell.
3. Labyrinth – This was really pretty. It was a wooden labyrinth with a little silver ball. I never figured out how to actually play it, but it was really pretty.
4. Uno Tiles – This was a board game version of the popular card game. Instead of cards, players would receive little round plastic tiles and line them up on the board.
One year, we had a very special treat as part of the party experience: tickets to a performance of the Nutcracker at the Fabulous Fox in Atlanta. My brother and I were both very young at the time and he didn’t understand what was going on in the story without dialogue and asked my mom how we could get them to “turn up the volume”. Part of our current Christmas tradition involves watching my nieces perform in The Nutcracker with their dance school.