Sharing the Holiday Spirit Without The Spirits

By Jura Koncius and Annie Groer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 21, 2006

Liz Scott tells the tale of a Christmas party she attended earlier this month, where the first thing she noticed was a festive martini bar, complete with sparkling glassware, swizzle sticks and recipe cards for raspberry martinis.

Scott, a recovering alcoholic, does not drink, and her hostess knew it. But there was scant acknowledgment of this in the party setup. "I have some Diet Pepsi in there," the woman told Scott, waving her into the kitchen to find her own paper cup and soda.

Nondrinking hosts can encounter similar moments of thoughtlessness. Pakistani-born physicians Shahnaz and Hamid Quraishi are Muslims who do not drink or serve alcohol in their Alexandria home. But they like to entertain, giving small dinners and several large parties for as many as 50 guests.

"People have brought bottles along with them and they ask if they can have a drink. That is so rude. We say, 'No, you can't,' says Shahnaz Quraishi. "Some people think we're being cheap" for not serving liquor, she says, "but you have to respect people's beliefs."

Washington is a city rife with political, charitable, cultural, social and media events, many of which are well lubricated by drinking. Alcohol flows even more freely during the holidays, which can be a complicated time of year for those who do not drink, for whatever reason. Gatherings as laid-back as neighborhood potlucks or as formal as seated black-tie dinners are fueled by copious quantities of beer, wine and hard liquor. Mojitos, Cosmopolitans and other glam drinks have acquired a "Sex and the City" cachet in recent years. At Christmas, pour on the spiked eggnog, and for New Year's, break out the bubbly.

At the White House, President Bush, who famously quit drinking 20 years ago, just hosted 11,520 guests at 24 holiday parties in 20 days, sipping only water and an occasional Diet Coke.

And yet, 36 percent of the U.S. drinking-age population abtains from alcohol, according to a 2006 Gallup poll. Over the past 60 years, the percentage of teetotalers has ranged from 29 to 45, according to Gallup.

The reasons for abstinence vary: alcoholism, religious beliefs, pregnancy and other medical conditions, drug interactions. Alcohol is also expensive -- and fattening. There are 140 calories in a 12-ounce beer, 95 calories in four ounces of red wine. As for eggnog, there are 125 calories in 1.5 ounces of rum -- plus 340 calories for everything else in a cup of this holiday splurge. Drinking and driving keeps many people from imbibing when they socialize. And some people simply don't like the taste.

Scott, a freelance chef in Plainfield, N.J., has been living alcohol-free for eight years. Three years ago she published her first book, "The Sober Kitchen" (The Harvard Common Press, $19.95.). It has become a reference for many in recovery and at treatment centers, including Hazelden's facilities around the country. Her second book, "Sober Celebrations: Lively Entertaining Without the Spirits" will be published in March by Cleveland Clinic Press ($24.95).

Scott says she wrote the follow-up because "there was nothing to advise the hostess about how to accommodate people who don't drink, just as they do people who don't use salt or eat meat."

The latest book contains her recipe for a memorable party: "Good company, great food and a warm, winning atmosphere. . . . The truth is the availability of alcoholic beverages at social events means very little to the majority of people. Surprised? So was I."

In today's society, there is less stigma in talking about the dependence on alcohol and drugs. Fortunately, tolerance for nondrinkers has risen, says Joseph A. Califano Jr., former secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under Jimmy Carter and now chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company