What if your friends invited you to join them to celebrate their special anniversary in the mountains with a guest list spanning their life? You wouldn't know everyone, you would have to drive about four hours, you would have to clear the weekend and you'd need to book your hotel room. The invite promises hikes, bike rides, campfires, cocktails and dancing. Absolutely! COUNT US IN!
Marking three decades of marriage deserves celebrating and it is clearly a rite-of-passage as important as any of our life cycle events and should be added to our mid-life goodie bags. That's exactly what our friends decided when they chose to throw their own Destination Anniversary Party.
The tone of this party was set from the invite -- this couple named their event: "The We Can't Believe It's Been 30 Years Anniversary Party." We get it! We can laugh with them, knowing that honest humor is the best tool we have to embrace what is otherwise incomprehensible: our aging bodies, rapid time flow, life with a single partner in wedlock for 30 years -- and more realities than can be publicly shared. My husband and I cheerfully checked the "we wouldn't miss this" box. Their playful tone continued leading up to the event. Logistics were emailed to the invitees chock full of humor as we were given choices of activities that would require a range of mobility from "athletically advanced" to "drive-around foliage touring." (All our names were in the cc column -- no hiding the guest list -- transparent, open and inclusive from the get-go). There was no mention of vow renewals -- just an agenda dedicated to hard-core celebrating with enough time for cocktails both Friday and Saturday to tee-up each evening.
Since this couple is outdoorsy, healthy and loves to party, we all knew this was going to be by and large, an athletic adventure. They are big hikers and bikers and it turns out most of their friends are too. The destination for the anniversary party was the very same hotel they were married in 30 years before -- in the mountains, in New Hampshire, in September. (Thank goodness the hotel has been through a few renovations since then as bathrooms have been added to almost all the rooms.)
Upon arrival we all came together for a cocktail party on the deck of the hotel under a magnificent harvest moon. Each of us filled out a name tag including our name and the origin of friendship with our hosts. It was the perfect icebreaker and connector; a great start as many of us had never met.
After dinner we gathered around a campfire -- guitars, songbooks -- roasts, toasts and s'mores. It felt young, fun and easy. As we headed to our rooms around midnight we were excited for our next day's activity.
The hotel provided a great breakfast buffet and several guests organized a biking group. Others signed on for either a short hike or an all-day climb or a shopping outing.
I joined a group of seasoned hikers who had luckily brought their own daypacks and hiking boots, gorp and cameras for the outing. We carpooled to the trailhead to begin our ascent. What could be better than a day on the trails -- climbing to a summit and eating lunch with new friends? What a moment of captured youth! The day was a "10" -- clear views from the summit, new friendships forged, no injuries and no one lost.
Back in our rooms we rested before the evening's cocktail and dinner/dance.
Our friends had no relatives except their kids at this gathering -- just their friends who were happy to go with the program. No push back from guests, no nay-sayers -- all committed to a common cause: to celebrate this wonderful couple and to have fun. Our job was to set aside our aches, pains -- leave our troubles behind -- and celebrate.
This pretty rugged crowd of one hundred 50 to 60 somethings cleaned up really well for the big evening party. Gathering in the century-old barn, a short walk from the hotel, we shared our day's adventures.
Work friends, childhood friends, book club friends, friends with new spouses, biking and hiking friends, their 20-something kids; these are the faces that filled the tables and the dance floor. Friends who love them and have lived with them through their ups and downs -- in one room -- ready to celebrate a life.
Of course we know why many of us don't throw big anniversary parties -- we are busy celebrating our 50ths, 60ths -- and kids' weddings. All of these events put a strain on our pocketbooks -- but alas -- the ANNIVERSARY PARTY has its own unique flavor and deserves to be put on the "must-do" list at mid-life. The anniversary party presents an opportunity to bring together one's very own personal history -- without the strain of new in-laws -- extended relatives and other obligatory baggage. This guest list is to be filled with only those who we "want to" not who we "should" invite. Only friends and family you actually enjoy.
Beyond the mid-life mark we can only hope our own guest list has been pruned and distilled and what remains is a group that feels easy and right -- those people we love to be with -- those people we want to grab on the dance floor and laugh so easily with.
So what's on the to-do list when planning our own Destination Anniversary Party? Here are a few ideas to get your party started:
- A hotel that can accommodate 100 people (at least 50 rooms) and is affordable.
- A location that isn't too far to travel to.
- An environment/playground for activities that work for an array of guests with different athletic capacities (golf, hiking, biking and shopping etc.).
- Pet friendly (I brought my dog.)
- Fun hosts.
- Friends with like-minded interests always helps.
- Enthusiastic guests who know how to go with the flow (no whining allowed).
- Plenty of time for cocktails.
- A great band.
- A campfire, guitars and s'mores
- Guests who step up to volunteer to "lead" activities: lead a hike, a bike ride, etc.
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