Skip to Content
Search Icon


Come Dancing

On a family tradition.


Late last year I found myself curled up in the cab of a truck, trying to snatch a precious quarter hour of sleep as the Black Hills of South Dakota rolled by. My flight plans had imploded (by which I mean that I had forgotten to book one), and I had hitched a ride. We were going to sleep in three-hour intervals to make it across the country in under three days. I didn’t care, as long as I was home by Christmas Eve. For all the usual reasons, but especially for the dancing.

As far as picturesque Christmas traditions go, Coffeys have it a bit thin on the ground. We do cut down a tree, we do sing badly and incessantly, but mostly, our peculiar rites consist of not doing things. Not decorating until Christmas Eve. Not buying each other presents if we don’t feel like it. Not taking the lights down till Lenten shame sets in. In envy of my Italian cousins, I once asked my mother if we could do a feast of the seven fishes. She considered. Fish was expensive, and we were Irish.

“We could do a feast of the seven fishsticks,” she suggested. And we do, to this day. But the other thing we do is dance. After the vigil, with the tree finished, fishsticks eaten, pét-nat opened, we put on my dad’s “Rocking Christmas” playlist. You can find a cha-cha version of almost any carol. But here, you also see the proper place and value of the Boomer Christmas canon. These songs are terrible to sing and grating as mood music. But many of them—“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Run Rudolph Run,” “Little St. Nick,” the crooners—are exactly the right mix of silly, sentimental, and rhythmically defined.

Everyone starts out sitting and talking, politely pretending for no reason at all that it’s not going to happen this year. The songs pick up speed; my dad jumps up and pulls one of the girls on the floor. Someone moves the furniture; someone moves the rug.

Other than attending a convent school, there is nothing like having five younger brothers for destroying any feminine reserve about asking men to dance. If you don’t ask—cajole, threaten, bribe, physically drag—a twelve-year-old boy onto the dance floor, you’ll dance alone. My dad taught my sisters and me to dance, holding us close and letting us feel the easy, playful beat carry his body. We tried to teach the boys, and it is always bittersweet to realize in turn that another one has grown up enough to lead you around on the floor. Most parties I remember growing up involved dancing as the night wore on.

To continue reading, subscribe to The Lamp.

Get unlimited access to our complete archive when you subscribe.

Already a Subscriber?

Clare Coffey’s work has appeared in The Outline, Plough, and many other publications.