By Jenny Berg Posted December 14, 2011, 5:01 PM EST
CHICAGO On Saturday afternoon, waiters circled through the ballrooms of the Palmer House Hilton with silver trays of chilled eggnog martinis. Tables were plied with miniature gingerbread cupcakes, a children's choir gathered in a circle to sing “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells,” and little girls with silky dresses glued jewels onto ballet slippers. For the Joffrey Ballet's Nutcracker Family Dinner, women's board members and co-chairs Sonya Y. Jackson and Cindy Burns wanted to create an evening that would entertain all 480 guests, who included grandparents, parents, and children. The all-ages affair raised $150,000 for the ballet's performances and programs.
Some attendees started the day with a performance of the classic ballet at the Auditorium Theatre; others started with dinner and caught the evening show. During the cocktail hour—or for some guests, milk-and-mini-grilled-cheese-sandwich hour—so-called creation stations provided activities that kept kids busy. Drivers from Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Company transported guests between the theater and the hotel throughout the function.
Along with ballet slipper decorating, the wee arts patrons could squeeze frosted buttons onto gingerbread cookies, glue glittery decorations onto toy crowns, or have their faces painted to look like animals or sugarplum fairies. A gaming section held video games and Twister boards, and whole families could pose for portraits with nutcracker statues or read Christmas stories beside a prop fireplace.
The family-style dinner offered platters of holiday fare, including turkey, stuffing, green bean bake, and cranberry sauce, and desserts included miniature pumpkin pies. Guests could also create their own desserts at yet another activity station, this one stocked with jars of candy, silver scoops, and plastic bags.
More sugar lay at the exit, which had a hot chocolate bar with bowls of whipped cream, cinnamon, and chocolate shavings—a not-entirely-welcome sight for some parents. “O.K., enough is enough,” said one departing parent as she escorted her small companion away from the sugary drinks.