Sunday, September 24, 2006

Socials: A Prairie Tradition

The Prairie phenomenon known as the Social has a long-standing tradition. Originating ages ago in the small Ukranian towns that populate Saskatchewan and Manitoba, they were a way for families to come together to celebrate and fundraise for an upcoming wedding by holding a dance in a rented hall or community centre.

The benchmarks for a good social are simple:

1. A heavily stocked bar. Include only domestic beer, and of course, the Champagne of the Prairies: Rye and Coke.
2. A DJ -usually playing a wildly irregular range of tunes in a vain attempt to satisfy the multi-generational crowd (post Pixies polka, anyone?). It's the aural equivalent of someone grinding the gears and popping the clutch every three minutes.
There's a strict method to follow for playing the music. Three fast, three slow, three polkas. Sometimes if people are really getting into the fast songs (which back in the 80's meant Trooper or April Wine in heavy rotation, with a dash of Duran Duran or Eurythmics just to jar things up) then the count may be increased to six. Never would you have more than three slows, however, because then people would just start making out or getting slapped. Either way, someone would end up crying.
3. Each table must be graced by a generous basket of Old Dutch chips. Preferably plain. Rippled if you want flash. Old Dutch chips are manufactured in Winnipeg, and are sadly unavailable in Quebec. The Salt n' Vinegar will make you weep.
4. The decorations: usually an assortment of dollar-store or hand crafted items of the matrimonial sort - those fold-out paper bells are popular, as are crêpe paper streamers (in the colours of the bridal party, natch), some balloon clusters for fill, and, just in case you've forgotten why you're there in the first place, the fêted couple's names are usually spelled out on the wall with puffy tissue-paper flowers. Hearts everywhere. It's all very optimistic.
5. The midnight snack: a kaleidescope of deli meats, kielbasa, cheddar cheeses (yellow, white and marble, some cubed, some sliced), dill and sweet pickles, loads of sliced rye bread (notice the rye theme?), and nary a vegetable in sight, unless it's a garnish. Not that anyone would touch it anyway. The beauty of this bonanza is that (at least in my home town) it's unveiled at around midnight, when they flick on half the lights and people file hungrily to the back counter to sample the offerings. Almost as frightening as all that meat is the sight of all those sweat-drenched guys and makeup-smeared gals who, just moments ago, busting a move on the dance floor under the influence of all those R & Cs, looked kinda hot. Now, under the unforgiving glare of fluorescent light, you think to yourself, I may just skip that slow dance. Prairie folk sure know how to kill a party.

Almost everyone I know who's still living in a small town met their significant other at a social. That is, after all, what they're for. Socializing. And when you live in the country, there ain't that much socializing to be had. The handy thing about them is that they act as a kind of giant gene pool Mixmaster, as people from other small towns flock to one another's socials to check out the goods. You can imagine the anticipation. Anything looks good when it's unfamiliar (and when you're pretty sure you aren't related). Chances are the couple whose social you're attending met at a social the year before. So a social begat that couple, who are now having a social which will begat more couples, who in turn will begat more socials, and so on, and so on, for generations on end. It's all very Biblical.
It's been at least a dozen years since I've been to a proper social. People tell me they've changed a lot, and are now closer to mini-capitalist ventures than an excuse to see family and (get blasted with your) friends. It now costs about $15 to get in (I remember paying $5 in 1988). As a consequence, the raffle prizes have also grown exponentially. Raffles used to be 50/50, that is, you got 50% of the pot, or say, about 50 bucks cash. Now people are winning weekend resort getaway packages and slick patio furniture sets. It's completely out of control.

I heard there are so many Winnipeg ex-pats living in Toronto that someone started throwing Winnipeg Socials. And people actually came. If anyone out there knows of these, you must let me know. I'm due for a love-in.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Well it's true about the Old Dutch culture.. it really is.. But their are many outfits out their that ship anything anywhere.. and you can get the eye searing Salt N' Vinegar shipped to your door.. Minimum purchace of a 1/2 case is likely to make it worth while.. also contacting the company direct, and pleading about being a transplanted Winnie.. might get you them from the factory directly..

New Westminster, B.C.