Purim = Achashuerosh's Banquet = Today's Simchos
Purim is almost upon us. Which reminds me of King Achashuerosh's obscenely lavish banquet lasting 6 months long. Which reminds me of today's equally lavish (if not so long-lasting) Wedding and Bar & Bas Mitzvah simchos.
Can you describe, in 5000 words or less, the most obscenely lavish, expensive, and totally over-the-top affair that you have recently attended. Describe in detail (1) the wecoming smorgasbord, (2) the banquet meal itself including, (a) the number of courses; (b) the accompanying wines, liquors, liqueurs and last but not least, (3) the "Sweet Table".
Actually, most of the simchas I attend are not over the top in the way you imply. In fact, with one recent exception, I can't even remember the last wedding I was at where alcohol was served, other than maybe a bottle of wine on the table. However, they ARE overboard in the number of guests invited. Many parents making weddings these days seem to feel they need to invite just about anyone they have ever spoken to. My wedding, about 15 years ago, at 150 guests, is just about the smallest I've been to in that time. We got married at the late, great Washington Hotel, alav ha'shalom, and they could not have accommodated too many more than that. I'm sure that's why they closed; four and five hundred is merely average these days.
These type of events are by no means universal. We're planning our daughter's bat mitzvah now. There will be no hard liquor, beer and wine only, and that's only because Abba very much enjoys good beer. The meal will be buffet, no waiter service, because waiter service is rarely done where we live and it will allow us to spend a little more on the food. We are skipping the fancy cake in favor of 2 or 3 small, bite-sized desserts because people rarely eat the cake anyhow.
The last Viennese table I can recall seeing was at my own wedding in Brooklyn 23 years ago. Oh, and we had maybe 170 guests. The bat mitzvah will be much smaller and the family, with perhaps the help of a few friends, will be preparing the kiddush.
The last obscene, too much food, too many hours, too much booze, too many guests wedding I attended was in early 2007 BEFORE the great GW BUSH recession set in. Since then, people have been able to scale way back oi\n these affairs.
This wedding was at Ateres Chynka in Boro Park. There were more than 1000 guests crowded in a city block long underground space. There was way too much food, both schmorg and sit down dinner, booze (both hard alcohol and inferior mevushal wine) and ersatz desserts on a Viennese table (and since both families were refugees from Vienna it was appropriate).
What do I remember about the food. It was not temperature appropriate, it was either overcooked or greasy and most was uneaten. The wedding cost the bride's grandfather a fortune and the affair lasted from 5PM until 1 AM.
That said My older brother's Bar Mitzvah weekend celebration in 1959 (55 years ago this coming Memorial Day Weekend) was the most over=the=top BUT tasteful ongoing simcha I have ever attended.
In those days, most of the shuls were still near downtown, the move to the suburbs came in the early 60s. Our shul was 6 blocks from the center of the city where we lived. The predominant kosher caterer had his kitchens in the Major downtown hotel. My parents had invited more than 300 out of town guests for the weekend in addition to the 150+ in town invitees. My father had taken three floors of hotel rooms for the out of town guests and rooms for our immediate family and 4 'changing rooms' as well.
Friday evening, after davening a formal Shabbos dinner with wine service was served to the out of town guests in the hotel ballroom. I was too young to pay attention to the menu, but I remember that there were 4 kiddie tables complete with nurses in startched uniforms to attend to our needs.
Shabbos morning after davening there was a full kiddush served to the entire congregation and our guests in the synagogue vestry (boy, I'm dating myself with that word, but it was before shuls in our area had banquet halls). At 1PM the hotel banquet hall was the setting for a sit down luncheon for 300.
At 8:30PM the Banquet hall had been transformed into a tropical oasis and 500 invited guests arrived for the evening. There was an hour and one-half cocktail hour with passed appetizers and carving stations. The pre-war Scotch and other fine whiskey flowed like water. At 10 PM all were seated for dinner. There were two dance orchestras for the night, one traditional and one calypso that alternated until 3AM. Three singers and a comedian had been brought in from NY to entertain. In addition to the flowing booze and wine there were cigarettes and Cuban cigars on every table (Before the Cuban embargo).
I remember that we kids were sent to our rooms at midnight.
Sunday morning all the guests were invited to our home, where the caterer had set tables and chairs for an outdoor brunch for 400. We lived on the outside of a circle and the guests were actually seated in not only our yard but those of 4 neighbors.
At 3PM goodbyes were said and each guest left with a boxed lunch for the trip home.
In 1959 that weekend Bar Mitzvah cost more than 10 times a 'good' year's wages, but the tax codes allowed almost the entire cost to be written off as business entertainment. If was a prime example of American Opulence in post WWII boom economic times. My BarMitzvah in 1967 was far less lavish, fitting with the turmoil of the war in Viet Nam and a more somber mood not that long after the JFK assasination.