Manitoba's fifth season

The leaves have all fallen and everyone in Manitoba is hunkered down for another long and hopefully not very cold winter.  The lawn chairs have been put away, as have the golf clubs, Frisbees and baseball mitts and now we enter a state of semi-hibernation, locked away from our neighbours and comforted by the warm glow of LED television screens.

But wait; does it have to be like this?  Is there something else Manitobans can do for those long nights and short days of winter.  Yes, winter in Manitoba is none other than SOCIAL season. You heard me right, it’s the time of year when people from all over the province get together to drink beer from plastic cups, dance to 1980s music, see old friends and drop tickets into paper bags for gifts they really don’t need.  Need I say more… let’s go to a social!

The social phenomenon is unique to Manitoba. I’m not really sure how it started but I know how it works:  the social is a way to raise money for a charity or for a wedding. I guess someone a long time ago thought “why should I pay for my honeymoon when I can get my friends to pay for it?” Thus the social was born and there’s no better way to guilt your friends into giving you money than offering them social tickets.

Now the social itself has not changed in decades, centuries for all I know because I moved to Manitoba in 1985 and have gone to dozens of socials.  Every social has been the exact same and I’ll admit, mine was too. The important element of a social is that you hire a DJ and sell drink tickets. You are not allowed to make money off the sale of alcohol so the money you raise comes from ticket sales or from the “silent auction.”  The number one rule is: if you have a social make sure you have enough friends that you can sell enough tickets to at least pay for the DJ. I have been to some sparsely attended socials and it’s awkward to say the least. You do not want the DJ to know you on a first name basis: “Alright let’s party everyone, yeah, that means you Kevin and you too Sally.  Okay, how about we get all 6 of you on the dance floor.”  

The silent auction consists of a bunch of items donated to the bride and groom then put on display for people to buy tickets and choose which items they want to win.  A brown paper bag is stapled at the front of each item and you decide how many tickets go in each. (Hint: the worse the prize the greater the chance of winning!) Common items found in most silent auctions are outdated DVDs, folding lawn chairs, gift certificates to spas, pedicures or restaurants, Winnipeg Jets gear and maybe some free lessons to things you’ll probably never do, like pottery class or Rumba dancing.  The cheaper gifts are usually bundled together and labeled as something enticing like “Guy’s Dream Package” (Bud Lite cooler, microwave popcorn bag, gift certificate to Cabela’s) and “Girl’s Spa Weekend” (Gift certificate for Reiki massage, pedicure, expired bath soaps and “Zen” CD), but don’t be fooled, this is the stuff that has to be bundled because they want to get rid of some no value items by bundling them with items of minimal value, and after a few beers that Guy’s Dream Package starts looking pretty awesome.

The silent auction happens around midnight, long enough to keep you at the social until the Rock’n’Roll starts playing or when you’ve bought enough drink tickets to stay until the end.  After that it’s snack time: mystery meats, rye bread and cubed cheese that is impossible to fold into a sandwich, but everyone is as hungry as a cheetah by that point so cubed cheese is better than vegetables.

Of course, I should mention the music because that too has been fossilized into a peculiar 1980s time warp.  Oh there’s the odd new tune, maybe Katie Perry or Eminem, but those are played early when grandma and grandpa are still around.  Gradually the “Top 40” is replaced by “classics of yesteryear” and you may get some Beatles or Rolling Stones, but this time is usually earmarked for the baby-boomers.  You get songs like Rasputin, YMCA and of course the floor clearing Achy Breaky Heart, sung by Miley Cyrus’ Dad, whatever his name is. When the bride and groom arrive, you get the wedding ballads, Joey Gregorash’s “Wedding Song,” Bryan Adams’ “Everything I do” and of course “I knew the bride when she used to Rock’n’Roll” sung by I really don’t know because I’ll never own that CD.  As the evening wears on the DJ ushers in Aerosmith, ACDC and Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.” To get the ladies on the dance floor the DJ usually breaks out some Michael Jackson (Billy Jean) or that famous girl’s anthem “Love Shack” by the B52s. It is about that time, after midnight, when everyone starts dancing in one big circle because there’s only about 10 people left and 2 or 3 are having trouble standing.  Dancing gets more adventurous at this time too, with 40+ year old men resurrecting their breakdance moves from 1982 or mimicking their favourite contestant from Dancing with the Stars. Some girls and guys simply fall into each other and do the “hug” while gently rocking back and forth, each holding the other up.

Finally the music dies, the lights go up and the Bride and Groom to be are long gone.  A few family members scramble to clean up and the last few die-hards stagger out and talk about this social being the best one ever… or at least until the next one.