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by William H. Benson

December 2, 1999


     The annual Christmas party season has arrived, a ritual as interwoven into the Christmas fabric as is singing “Silent Night”.  The “party” predominates in some people’s lives.  For example, I once read that Andy Warhol, the one-time New York City popular artist, attended parties about New York City virtually every night of the week and did so for years.  No wonder he died at age 56.  Please put me at the opposite end of that spectrum, for the “party” involves so much.

     Slip into the formal attire–suits and ties for men and party formal dresses for the ladies.  The baby sitter arrives.  Drive and park the car.  Hand the coats to the cloak room attendant in exchange for a ticket.  Stand in line, pick up a plate and cup, fill both, and then hope you can find an empty chair and table in a respectable spot with conversant people.  As when in a foxhole or on a sinking boat you rediscover the need to utter a silent prayer.  Avoid the gauche remark and steer clear of the faux paus.

     The meal is so-so, and then it’s time for the entertainment.  Some years it’s comedians gushing with raunchy jokes; other years it’s more sedate with the high school show choir singing Christmas carols.  Meanwhile, the sparkling beverages everywhere tinkle in the ice, and soon the light dims.  The band cranks up, the dancers take to the floor, and the party hits a high.  The hour approaches because the kids back home with the baby sitter are never too far out of mind.  Remember to retrieve the ticket for the coats.  Drive home, pay the baby sitter, and relax.  The party is over for another year.

     The sociologist would tell us that the Christmas party serves a legitimate social function–to pull people out of their aloneness and permit them to converse in a setting filled with Yuletide cheer.  Humans are frequently asked to choose between solitude and the party.  Francis Bacon, the English philosopher, wrote, “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god. . . . But little do men perceive what solitude is, and how far it extendeth.  For a crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery of pictures, and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love”, no warmth, and no companionship.

     And social styles differ at the party.  For example, when the Andy Warhol-type walks into a social gathering, his eyes fix instinctively on the center of the densest social activity, and hones right in on it–the true social animal.  The opposite style is to look to the farthermost edges of the gathering and head softly in that direction.

     This all raises the question of one’s querencia.  The Spanish word describes a tiny area in the bullring, maybe fifty feet square, within which the bull fancies himself entirely safe.  By the bull’s movements the matador learns where that bull’s querencia is located, and then stays well clear of it when executing his critical phases.  A perplexed bull will head for his querencia and jerk his head and horns in an unpredictable fashion that may catch the matador unprepared.

     Every human has an undefined querencia in any social situation, and he or she immediately seeks it out upon entering a crowded room.  Most usually, it is beside one’s spouse, but it can be perhaps socially backward to glue yourself to your spouse all evening.  So you look elsewhere for your querencia, perhaps with some other person who has tons to tell you.

     Ah!  ‘Tis the season to be jolly!  And it only happens once a year.  But let me be the first to wish you a merry time at your Christmas party, and I hope you quickly find there your own querencia.