West Wing holiday episodes are not for the faint of heart. They aren’t the usual cheesy joy-to-the-world-everyone-get-along-teachable-moments-about-compassion-shtick. They are real, and I mean REAL – like will end with you in tears because sometimes bad things happen to good people real. And let me tell you, The West Wing came out of the gate swinging with In Excelsis Deo. A gay teen dies of injuries sustained in an attack, a Korean War vet dies on the Mall because there aren’t enough beds in local homeless shelters and you learn that Mrs. Landingham’s twin sons died in Vietnam ON CHRISTMAS EVE. Together. And that was just the first season. Other West Wing holiday themes include: PTSD, bomb threats at churches and the Israeli government closing down the birthplace of Jesus on Christmas Eve.
So you can imagine my trepidation as I approached my first holiday season in DC. Turns out, there were lot things about the holiday season in DC that Aaron Sorkin forgot to tell me.
Holiday scheduling is cut-throat. You thought getting into college was hard? False. Getting more than six people to come to your holiday party in DC is harder. Why? Because there are only so many weekends in December and you’ve got to claim one early. It is not unheard of to get a holiday party invitation October 1st. You have never seen people turn on each other so quickly. You get invited to three parties on the same night? You better think long and hard about which two of those people you really like because one of them might not be speaking to you in January. No one on The West Wing was ever seen writing or heard uttering the holiday refrain, “I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it to your Hanukkah dinner/Christmas party/Festivus Airing of Grievances/tree trimming/old timey sing-along/Winter Solstice shin-dig/Elf-themed dance party.” Not once did Sam show up work still hung-over and smelling of latkes and peppermint because he had rolled two parties deep for five days straight – and that was just the work week!
Defense Contractor Holiday Parties
Back in the days before Congress had ethics, or was at least nice enough not to pretend to follow ethical standards for show, there were GREAT holiday parties. The kinds of parties where you make your co-worker memorize your address at the beginning of the night to ensure you get home. The kind of party where a drunken lobbyist for a major defense contractor tells you: “We are just dumping waste into the Pacific ocean.” I’m talking top-shelf, open bar, swing from the rafters kind of parties with phenomenal finger food. The kind where you may or may not lose your keys and have to wake your roommate up at 4am to let you in. Plus, it was all free because we were involved in two wars, selling arms to our allies, and Congress kept ordering planes the Pentagon didn’t want. Look, I get that the White House holiday celebrations were the main focus of Sorkin’s storytelling. But look at what I just told you! Don’t you think that at least deserves a mention? You know a throwaway line for Leo about asking Josh to go in his place because it would hinder his recovery as alcoholic!? Something!? Nope, nothing.
We really get into the holiday spirit. Like, really.
So what have we learned, children? That holiday season in Washington DC is a cross between Norman Rockwell and Vegas. These are just the things Aaron Sorkin forgot to tell me.