Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

Claudia Dromedarius • Dec. 7, 2013

Claudia Dromedarius • Dec. 7, 2013

Such joy! It felt so good to see her again after our first meeting five years ago.

Her name is Claudia. She is beautiful, embodying and confirming hopes and dreams that everything is possible. 

Her first visit, December 6, 2008, had delighted as much as it had 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.

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 38 mph, turned her exhalations steamy.

Gary Peterson and Claudia Dromedarius

Gary Peterson and Claudia Dromedarius

Still, she stood on the front lawn for two hours in the new snow that night, 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 has joined the Camel Party festivities in person feels perfectly natural. After all, her family has provided the organizing iconography of the clan’s convenings from the beginning. From two original tapestries, 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.

Several days after Claudia’s 2008 visit, I received a call from the daughter of a decades-long attendee of The Camel Party. This daughter’s son had written a paper about Festivus Camelus for school. His teacher, who had never attended the party (“That’s really sad!” I heard the son say in the background), had expressed skepticism and asked him to revise and re-submit the paper. The purpose of the call was to do some fact-checking about the origins of The Camel Song and whether the party had been named after the song. (Not!) The young man already had done some original research while attending that year’s camel experience, and I suggested to his mother that he cite this blog in his references. That young man is now 16 years old. We can hold out hope for his former teacher, about whom Jesus might have said “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

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 35th year introduced new lyrics that reflect The Camel Party’s celebration of the change within continuity and the continuity within change:

Yes the air is chill year 35, And from Claudia’s nostrils steam does rise. But indoors it’s hot and folks gyrate, Til for babes and all the floor does shake. Here’s to all loved ones at Cameltide, Both here and on the other side! *

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.

 

Claudia Dromedarius • Dec. 7, 2013

Claudia Dromedarius • Dec. 7, 2013

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, violin. Carols, naughty and sacred. Desserts for days. Wine, water, and soda. Crowds and conversations of hundreds. Welcome and inclusion. Fashions new and old. Santa, Rasta Santa, and elves – Santa and Rasta remain the same, but the elves have grown up and started replacing themselves.

Nothing lasts forever, though, and these annual trysts are guaranteed to none. For attendees constant and episodic, Festivus Camelus has noted and incorporated transitions of education, career, conception, birth, health, and death. It has forever marked its participants who have returned from all corners of the globe: Minnesota, Madison, Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, New Haven, New York, Washington, Canada, France, 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! *

* From The Camel Song, © 2013, Davies/Schiller

 
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