Minneapolis, Minnesota

Her presence delighted as much as it startled. Neither she nor any of her relatives had attended the previous gatherings, held for 29 consecutive years on the first Saturday of December in a tony neighborhood of Minneapolis. While not prepared for it, members of the clan took her appearance on the scene in stride, feeling a brimming excitement and joy that she had finally joined them in year 30.

Her name was Claudia, and she was beautiful, embodying and confirming hopes and dreams that everything was possible.

She was taller and classier than some had imagined her to be, and her pouting mouth, long eyelashes, and long neck – moving with an easy grace – lent an air of affectionate assurance and captivating charisma. A temperature in the single digits, accompanied by wind gusts to 38mph, turned her exhalations steamy.

Still, she stood on the front lawn for two hours in the new snow, greeting guests with a gentle familiarity that suggested all of them were old friends. Camera flashes accentuated the floodlit scene as she held court with anyone seeking a record of their encounter with her celebrity. An escort stood nearby to insure safety and propriety. Her daughter had sent regrets, having her own holiday party to attend.

Her family’s dynastic name, Camelus Dromedarius, placed her among the 90% of its members with a single hump on their backs, and distinguished them from their Camelus Bactrianus cousins who carry two.

That she had joined the Camel Party festivities in person felt perfectly natural. After all, her family had provided the organizing iconography of the clan’s convenings from the beginning. From two original tapestrys, the founders’s collection of items camelus grew to include photos, postcards, drawings, and statues small and large. In addition, there is the annual cake, sculpted in the form of a dromedary in repose, covered in colorful icing, and measuring up to three feet long.

The robust rendition of the Camel Song, composed sometime around year nine, opens the last third of songs on the caroling list, while a life-sized camel puppet wends its way through the throng. New verses have been added over the years to mark milestones and reflect the changing zeitgeist. The 30th year introduced lyrics celebrating a dawning era of change.

The Camel Party always celebrates the change within continuity and the continuity within change.

What started in 1979 as a non-sectarian holiday gathering of relatives and friends has evolved into an experience, a production, and a “happening” (a term for those alive in the late 1960s) that has hosted thousands of souls in ways beguiling, bemusing, and sometimes outrageous.

Colored lights. Wreaths. Garlands. Poinsettias. Potluck foodstuffs. Piles of shoes. Dancing socks. Rock ‘n roll. Blues. Rhythm and blues. Chicken dances. Instrumental ensembles of piano, accordion, trombone, oboe, flute, guitar. Carols, naughty and sacred. Desserts for days. Wine, water, and soda. Crowds and conversations of hundreds. Welcome and inclusion. Fashions new and old. Santa and elves.

For attendees constant and episodic, Festivus Camelus notes and incorporates transitions of education, career, conception, birth, health, and death. It forever marks its participants who return from all corners of Minnesota, Madison, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, New Haven, New York, Washington, Canada, Germany, and China.

Along with everything,

It warms the cockles, cockles, cockles of our fiery pagan hearts,
In the cold of icy December,
Wild revelries remember,
The heat of the golden sun! *



* Refrain from
The Camel Song, © 2008, Davies/Schiller

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