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A Few Notes on Presiding over the Punch Bowl

March 21, 2014 | by

A_Midnight_Modern_Conversation

William Hogarth, A Midnight Modern Conversation, 1730

March 21st was my maternal grandparents’ wedding anniversary; they were married in 1946 in Silver Spring, Maryland, my grandmother’s hometown. As a child I loved to pore over the Silver Spring Standard wedding notice in her scrapbook, which contained lines like, “The church was massed with spring blossoms, a fitting setting for the exquisite beauty of the bride herself, in her ethereal white marquisette gown and flowing lace.” (“TERRIBLE write-up,” my grandmother had written in the margins.)

What struck me lately, as I reread the notice yet again, was the range of tasks assigned to the wedding guests. The maid of honor and best man were duly accounted for, but there was also this: “Mrs. Elizabeth McLean presided at the coffee urn and Miss Mary Roberts at the punch bowl.”

A cursory Internet search shows that this was indeed a thing: if you google “presided over punch bowl” or “presided over coffee urn,” you’ll come across a raft of vintage wedding and party notices, all of which describe the dispensing of beverages. What I really wanted to know is, was this duty—which sounds dull, potentially messy, and interminable—considered an honor, or was it a sort of booby prize for extra relatives? “Presides” has a regal ring, but the task itself sounds akin to light drudgery. Read More »

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