A good many years ago, when my husband and I were winter-housebound by young children rather than by a pandemic, we got the idea for a midwinter party: a Groundhog Day Open House. Back then, it was perfectly all right to invite large numbers of people to come visit us indoors. Most years, I’d spend part of January coming up with an invitations list in consultation with Jim, then use whatever technology and tools were handy to write out or print up invitations and distribute them.
Over the years, our celebration evolved and moved as our children grew and we relocated multiple times. I can’t remember a year when all our invitees showed up. Among the most memorable years so far was the year we had a mammoth snow and ice storm that dumped 22 inches of frozen precipitation on our area the day of the party. As the white stuff deepened, some people phoned to express their regrets. Most just assumed we would understand why they hadn’t come. Our lone party participant was a next door neighbor, then seven months pregnant, who carefully waddled across our snowy front yards. The three of us sat in front of the wood stove, munching snacks and swapping stories far into the evening.
After we’d spent a first Chinese New Year in China (where it’s mostly called Spring Festival), we’d sometimes incorporate an Asian New Year component to our festivities, as the two holidays can fall fairly close together. Groundhog’s Day, lest anyone forget, falls each year on February 2. This year’s lunar new year is being celebrated in many parts of Asia, with today, February 12, marking the first day of the Year of the Ox. Last weekend, friends and family checked in via an online video conferencing app to this year’s joint “virtual gathering” celebration.
Lately I’ve begun to think about the importance of invitations and the value of an honest invitation. Having participated sometimes in “command occasions,” I think it’s regrettable when “invitations” are thinly veiled coercion. It also seems to me counterproductive to have invitations serve mostly as a means of obtaining social prestige—“only the best people were there.”
I’m gradually learning to avoid obsessing about turned-down invitations, especially as the virtual world explodes into more online invitations than I can possibly accept. The best invitations, it seems to me, are open conduits between the inviter and the invitee. Neither needs feel bad about an invitation that’s turned down. Neither party is more important than the other. Both can benefit from a deeper relationship, if the invitation suits, and from feeling valued, even if it doesn’t. What is important is the strengthened communication the invitation enables.
It can be hard for those of us who gather energy from in-person interactions to “wait out” our current relative isolation. Today where I live it’s rainy, a cold, soggy rain that drips from clouds just a smidge above freezing. Not a good day for outdoor interactions, the main way I meet people these days. The news, through whatever medium, is nearly as dreary as the weather. So I’m inviting myself to most of a day in a comfortable armchair, drinking hot cocoa and perusing a good book. Sometimes, inviting ourselves to quiet contemplation can be the most important invitation of all.