On December 15, 1979, a total of 103,152 Boeing employees and their families attend a company Christmas party in Seattle's Kingdome. The party is so large it is split into two events to accommodate the attendees. Guests enjoy a holiday show extravaganza performed on three stages constructed amidst an indoor winter wonderland.
Dome for the Holidays
The first time the Boeing Company held its employee Christmas party in the Kingdome was in 1976, nine months after the stadium opened. It was the first time the company had sponsored a holiday party for employees since 1969. In the early 1970s, the company shed more than 60,000 employees in what became known as the "Boeing Bust."
The 1976 party was a lavish affair, and signaled the public that the company was indeed climbing out of its economic nosedive. To accommodate the large crowd, the party was held twice, once in the afternoon and again in the early evening. Admission was by ticket only, of which 125,000 were given out to Boeing employees and their families.
Each event was 90 minutes long and featured aerial circus acts, lions and tigers, a grand parade with Santa Claus, and music provided by the Shorecrest High School Band and the Ingraham Vocal Ensemble. During the afternoon show, attendees were treated with a surprise appearance by Danny Kaye (1913-1987), co-owner of the new Seattle Mariners baseball team. Kaye led the audience in a rousing rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
It cost the Boeing Management Association $8,000 to rent the Kingdome, and the association spent several thousand more on the acts, food, and entertainment. More than 85,000 people attended throughout the day, making it the largest single-day event at the stadium since the Billy Graham Crusade in March 1976, which attracted 74,000 people. Many Boeing employees left the party wondering if the company could ever top such a holiday extravaganza.
Bigger and Better
It did top it in 1979. This time, Boeing spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a show in the Kingdome that made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as "The Largest Christmas Party" ever staged.
The perimeter of the floor was circled by a three-fourth-size train, and three 40-by-50-foot stages were built in the center of the Kingdome to look like Christmas packages. Surrounding the stages were oversized "toys," such as real automobiles, boats, trucks, an airplane, and a 15-foot-high teddy bear. This tableau was nestled in a forest of some 1,000 Christmas trees, festooned with a total of 100,000 holiday lights. The floor was covered in 10,000 white balloons, and pathways through this make-believe "snow" were coated with over a ton of glitter. At least 100,000 more balloons filled the Kingdome's upper levels.
The show was produced by Greg Thompson (b. 1942) for Jack McGovern's Seventh Olive Productions, and featured as cast of thousands. Among the performers were 300 shepherds and animals, 1,000 live toy soldiers, 500 singers and dancers, 500 Boeing employees dressed as clowns, and hundreds more ice skaters and extras. Because there was a Seattle Seahawks football game the night before the Christmas party, Thompson and his crew had had only 12 hours to set up everything.
As with the 1976 Christmas party, the event was split into two equal shows, each of which was 90 minutes long. The production featured numerous Christmas carols, a nativity scene, a parade of clowns and acrobats, a "March of the Toy Soldiers," excerpts from "The Nutcracker," an ice show, and a reading from "The Night Before Christmas." The highlight of each performance came at the end, when Santa Claus -- riding in his sleigh -- descended on wires from the ceiling.The massive event became part of Boeing legend and was talked about by employees for years to come. Some wondered d if the company would ever try a holiday party like it again. In 1980, Boeing's publicity department stated that this was not meant to be an annual event.