The Red and Green party
by Laurie Geer
Back in the summer of 1984, I was newly married, newly relocated, newly jobless, newly far from family and friends, and newly transplanted from Atlanta, Ga., to Raleigh, N.C.
As the holidays rolled around, my husband Kent and I weren’t sure how we’d celebrate. We had a handful of acquaintances, but hadn’t made real friends yet as a couple. Because Kent had worked here for seven years before we married, he did have some male friends among his coworkers, so we thought we’d gather those friends and their wives, as well as some neighbors.
Although my husband and I are Christians and celebrate Christmas, there was a Jewish couple whom we really liked and also wanted to include. We wanted to be sensitive to their beliefs, celebrate the season together, and make sure everyone felt welcome and included.
So we came up with the idea for a nondenominational holiday celebration, and the Red and Green party was born! At the Red and Green party, we decided, the pressure would be off. Everyone would wear red and green clothes, we’d eat red and green foods, and exchange red and green gifts.
From the beginning, everyone seemed to be on board with the idea. We had no way of knowing it, but they – and we – would stay on board. The event would become (and remains) one of our most beloved annual traditions, a rotating-house, 32-year-strong gathering of folks who have become dear, lifelong friends. Over more than three decades, we have been through the births of our children and their graduations and marriages; retirements; the births of our grandchildren. We have also sadly lost many of our parents and even one of our children. We have faced tough illnesses, and currently have one who is living mightily while battling a debilitating disease.
As we go through these hard times, as well as the happy times, we are together and we are stronger. While the party is but once a year, the friendships are constant. We have become a family.
Ugly sweaters, anyone?
At the beginning, the fact that it was a “theme” party made it fun to figure out what to wear. “Santa” did attend the party in one of our early years, as one of our guests felt that was a perfect red costume. But the party being what it was, Christmas wasn’t the only theme. We also had a red and green Snow White ballerina one year, and a red Minnie Mouse the next. We have also had the ugly red and green sweater years (although we didn’t realize they were ugly sweaters till a few years down the road!).
The red and green theme also made the gift-giving lighthearted. In the early years, most of the red and green gifts were gag gifts – red and green mini trash cans, red and green ketchup and mustard set, red flashlights, green tools, etc. Now we have become a little more refined, with sets of red-stemmed wine glasses, personalized embroidered throws, cashmere scarves. Every once in awhile, one of the fad items of the year will make an appearance, like a green Chia Pet or a red Snuggie. One year, the host and hostess gave lovely monogrammed red and green aprons to the women – and ridiculous red reindeer antlers to the men. Whether fad or fabulous, we’ve always had a lot of fun.
The other aspect of the event we’ve always enjoyed is the red and green food we prepare. I will say our menu the first year was made up of rather basic dishes: homemade pizzas with red sauce and green peppers; salads with cherry tomatoes; red velvet cake with green cream cheese icing; Red Zinger tea. (Yes, Red Zinger tea!) One year we had a Raleigh bakery create and bake us a red and green braided Challah bread. That was something to remember.
Thankfully, we have become more refined over the years. There’s a lot less food coloring, for one thing. We have graduated to things like shrimp and asparagus appetizers; beef tenderloin stuffed with green herbs and rolled in red and green peppercorns; raspberry, walnut, and spinach salads; standing rib roast served with a red sauce; and rack of lamb served with green mint jelly. For desserts, we have had key lime pies, cherry cheesecakes, grasshopper pies, and all kinds of strawberry desserts. In fact, if you’re ever in need of a red and green recipe, seek us out! Years of searching out dishes that fit the bill (and years of helpful suggestions from children, other friends, and relatives) means we have quite the red and green recipe collection.
We used to play games that had a red and green theme, but as the years went on, we dropped the games. We no longer need that icebreaker – plus, we just talk too much now.
But far more significant than any changes in style or taste over the years is the growth in the deep and abiding friendships we have developed and maintained. Thirty-two years ago, when I was scrambling to figure out how to celebrate the holidays in a city I barely knew, I secretly hoped that we would get transferred back to Atlanta where my family is. But over these years, I have found Raleigh and the people here become home to me. My children have grown up here and been educated at our superior schools. I have watched the city that embraced me from the start grow and prosper around us.
And I can definitely say that I have now fully embraced Raleigh right back. So whether you have lived here all your life or are new to town, I encourage you to gather your acquaintances, regardless of religion, background, or interests, and start your own Red and Green party. Who knows, 32 years later, they might just become your family, too.
The Red and Green party charter members:
Beth and Andy Betts
Laurie and Kent Geer
Kathy and Joe Hart
Dale and Debra Jenkins
Jean and Steve Stephano
Sona and Bob Thorburn
Kathy and Will Warren