For 13 years, the Director’s Holiday Open House was a tradition for all University of Washington Botanic Gardens staff (from the Center for Urban Horticulture and Washington Park Arboretum), Arboretum staff from the City of Seattle, all volunteers, Arboretum Foundation board members, and other friends and dignitaries. It began when John A. Wott moved to the Washington Park Arboretum in 1993 to become the first on-site director in many years. It was Director Wott’s idea that a better cooperative environment would evolve if we all met in a festive atmosphere. The first year was such a success that it grew into an event attended annually by over 125 people, usually on a Monday afternoon.
Several things grew into a tradition – Dr. Wott had his elves, usually his daughter and her friend Dori, imported from Indiana when round trip flights cost $99. The first year, Dr. Wott purchased two hams from Costco…which had been imported from Canada by the Fletcher Meat Company. The last year he obtained two 25-pound hams from a specialty meat market in Federal Way.
Dr. Wott would arise at 3 am to begin the ham heating process in his commercial oven. One year, the oven grates had not been re-installed properly, so at 3:45 am, the fire alarms went off, which set off a brief moment of pandemonium. Over the years, he also prepared his special scalloped potatoes from a recipe – as he used to say – “huched together” from one in the Arboretum Foundation cookbooks with many additive changes. For the last feast, 25 pounds of potatoes were peeled and sliced. Assorted drinks were also provided.
The elves spent all weekend decorating both inside and outside of his home with hundreds of lights, garlands, ribbons, two Christmas trees and poinsettias. Holiday music always filled the home. All the attendees were asked to bring either a salad or dessert to share. He would lengthen his two antique tables to 15 feet each to accommodate the food.
At the appointed hour, the hams and potatoes were removed from their ovens and the center kitchen island became ground zero for the food line. The crowd grabbed their plates and fought to be first in line. Partiers roamed both floors of the house and ate, drank, talked, met new people, and had a fun time.
Each year there was a debriefing and the elves made notes for the following year. Such items included were the person: who always came 45 minutes early; who would lose their car keys; who fought to get the burned ham skin first; who would spill their wine: who would get lost; who would have a dead battery; who came late and stayed forever; who would spill their jello on the carpet..….. but there are so many wonderful memories to share even to this day.
Today, some of the current staff still claim they can SNIFF the Christmas hams and hope there will be one more party. The decorations and the recipes are still stored in the hope that it really might happen. I suspect we need to talk to the Elves to see what their current schedule is.