Tinsel around the whiteboard. Is there ever a more dreary icon of corporate Christmas than tinsel round a whiteboard? Tinsel—dragged out from the kicked and destroyed cardboard box in that little cupboard only reception has access to—pulled from the archives and affixed using blu-tack to the top of a whiteboard. Someone has pulled the red, green, and blue whiteboard markers out and written "Happy Holidays" with a picture of a candy cane. It's here again. It's happening again. Christmas in the office.
And so it begins anew, beginning as it always does with a fun email from HR telling you about the Christmas party. "DRINKIES / NIBBLES / FUN," it says. "DRESS CODE: GLAM-CASUAL. MEET AT RECEPTION AT 5PM. SECRET SANTA. DON'T STOP TIL YOU DROP!" This annual tradition. Sometimes you fool yourself into getting excited for it. Sometimes you do not. Maybe you have learned a lesson from years past, when you woke up in the office with a festive McDonald's menu on your face. Maybe you are bright eyed and young and yet to make a mistake. But it is always the same. You will always see a pre-menopausal woman whining to Journey. Someone is always puking into a mesh trashcan. Someone always jokes about photocopying their ass in the copy machine, but they don't actually do it.
The OCP, or office Christmas party, is a groundhog day from which you cannot escape. There will always be "desk drinkies" of warm prosecco from the small office fridge served in watercooler cups. There will always be a few shop-bought packs of mince pies that nobody can quite be bothered to slide out of their cardboard sheath. Someone starts going around the party with a big bag an hour before it ends, tidying up paper plates rendered grey and transparent with coleslaw stains. There is a meal at a restaurant which is just a toned down version of your actual Christmas dinner, and you spend the whole thing desperately trying to hear the banter happening at the other end of the table, since you're stuck in the chatter vacuum with Dave from accounts. And then you get so drunk you don't remember and wake up wearing a paper hat. Also all this shit happens:
You know how Secret Santa goes by now—someone stands by your desk with a felt Santa hat full of printed and folded little slips of paper and emotionlessly tells you "ten dollar limit," and then you get the name of someone who it takes asking three people in the office before one of them knows who it is. "Chris," they say. "You know Chris. Extremely hard, humorless guy who has a load of Stanley knives on his belt and works in the stock room." And now here you are, on the hook for $10, burdened with a month's worth of fretting over a Secret Santa present for a man who does not know or like you. First fucks: there is nothing you can buy for $10 that is in any way good or fun. Second fucks: even if there were, nobody would want it. Every shopping trip you go on from now until the Secret Santa has you picking up shit in random aisles wondering if a man you're pretty sure you once saw eat an onion for lunch would like. Plastic reindeer that shits chocolate raisins? Silly putty? Would Chris like an attachable Santa beard that has an invisible button on it you can click and it sings? He would not. But you buy it and wrap it anyway, and watch as he—almost instantly—festively puts it in the trash.
EXTREMELY HORNY DIVORCEE
You know Linda got her divorce finalized this year because she did a really exaggerated "Yee–yes!" and air punch combination when the legal paperwork came through in January, and booked Valentine's Day off to take her sturdy friend Rosie to a spa for vagina facials, and keeps telling the weeping temp with the boyfriend who keeps fingering other girls in his Impreza that "all men are shits, hon." But now it's Christmas and the meeting room with the Sainsbury's own red and white wine selections has been drunk dry, and she's oscillating sensually towards you, one leg arched up against the water cooler. "I've had a sexual awakening," she's hissing. "I'm an… experienced woman." She does not care about your gender or your sexual preferences. She does not care that everyone can see into the stationary cupboard through that little grilled window. She doesn't care who sees it. She is going to feel your bottom through your slacks.
BOSS TRYING TO GET DOWN WITH THE KIDS
And the lights are dimmed and the for-hire disco ball pulses yellow and purple on the ceilings and on the walls and oh no you've fucked it and now you're backed into a corner making smalltalk with your boss. There were a group of you, but three people all decided to hit the buffet at the exact same time and now you're trapped in a conversational vacuum with a woman in an extremely aggressive trouser suit who wants to ask you, an empirically young person, about young people things, in an effort to recapture the time when she was young. "My daughter likes this… what's his name? 'Fetty Wap,'" she's saying. "Are you a 'Fetty' liker?" Pretend you don't like Fetty Wap. "Explain how Skype works to me," she's saying. "What's your favorite emoji?" Oh god, she's read an article on the Buzzfeed about how to speak to young people! It's 25 points long! You're not getting anywhere near the beers until she's asked you about Rihanna or when you're ever going to buy a house! Run now, run. She's going to ask you next if you "have a bae."
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SOMEONE GIVING YOU A REALLY INTENSE DRUNKEN CAREER TALK
Some time in that sweet spot about eight drinks in—somewhere between "back to the office!" post-meal joviality and "screaming along to Mariah Carey" in terms of drunkenness—there's a moment where you've looked around and the lights have dimmed and you're looking at a 43-year-old dad-of-two in a pinstripe shirt, pink tie, and paper hat and gone: That's me, that is, that is me in less than 20 years, I am going to die here, I am going to die here like Martin, slowly shuffling on a grey static carpet until my hair falls out and my shoes wear down to the leather, until I'm legitimately excited about the Next Christmas Sale, until I have to keep leaving the office for ever more alarming and invasive prostate exams. And that's the exact moment—just before the next round of shots, before the intern is back from the liquor store with more beer—when you spiral into a tailspin, thinking about your life and your career and your future, and you're in a corner with someone with them going going, "You know what, you know WHAT? You're BETTER THAN THIS SHIT, you are!" and you're saying how you always wanted to be an artist, always wanted to create, and they are saying, "You SHOULD! You should DO THAT!" and you're like "YEAH!" and they are like "but shh, shh: there is an opening in accounts in January and I can put a good word in," and that would be a three grand raise, and maybe—maybe you should do it, right? Maybe you could move sideways, do the art in the evenings, little evening course, make that zine you always wanted to do in all that spare time you have, when you're not at the bar or with friends, starving artist only less starving, maybe you should apply, maybe you sh—
And then you wake up and it's 2035 and you're head of accounts, and the resident office 22-year-old is looking at you and having a crisis, and so the sand washes into the sea, and the cycle continues anew.
A FUN AND IMPROMPTU AWARDS CEREMONY
Every single in-joke that the office has shared this year in a desperate attempt to fend off the aggressive ennui of working there has now been printed off onto a faux certificate template and is being handed out by someone with zero banter and a microphone as you all sit at a table littered with dirtied plates and hasty Secret Santa wrapping. Best Joker has already gone. Most Flirty. Now it's down to just making up something that vaguely happened to you, once, because nobody has a clue about your intricacies, your layers, your mystery. And the award for 'Best Orderer Of Yellow Printer Paper When We Needed White Printer Paper' is—drum roll, please—you!
LOCATION OPTION #1: THE Restaurant Closest TO THE OFFICE
The person planning the office party has Googled far and Googled wide and phoned high and phoned low and then gone: "Actually the place we always go to is good." The restaurant you always go to, the restaurant you go to every day, the restaurant where the landlord knows you by name but also hates you after you spilled that whole bottle of vinegar everywhere, the restaurant that for some reason—despite your office's patronage essentially keeping the place open all year round—can only seat you all for lunch at 10 AM in the morning. That restaurant.
LOCATION OPTION #2: THE RESTAURANT FURTHEST FROM THE OFFICE
The person planning the office party has Googled far and Googled wide and phoned high and phoned low and then gone: "Let's go somewhere new, a thousand miles away." And that's how your entire office—apart from that one woman with rheumatoid arthritis in one knee who insists on taking a cab with three managers and when you turn up they've eaten all the complementary grub—ends up getting a Megabus for 50 minutes just to go to a slightly different restaurant.
AN ALL-Office Email THAT SUGGESTS TAKING AN AFTERNOON OFF TO DRINK WARM PROSECCO OUT OF PLASTIC CUPS BEFORE WALKING EN MASSE TO A RESTAURANT IS SOME SORT OF GENEROUS TREAT
SUBJ: Party time!
Just to let you know that we'll be finishing up early today at 3PM!
As thanks for all your hard work this year you are invited to down tools and join us in reception for a complementary glass of bubbly!
CEO Alan Boring will be jetting in from the Bournemouth office and will be giving a brief presentation that you think will only last about five minutes so you just stand to watch him do it but 45 minutes in and he's still going so you sort of have to lean against a plate glass window and hope for the best while he says "growth" and compliments the sales team a lot before entirely ignoring you and the department you are attached to.
We'll then be walking over to The Jolly Lion for a festive meal (woo!) and more fun and fizz!
Please do remember to take your building passes with you and any drivers will need to take their vehicles as security will be locking the gates at 4 PM. Also I'm clearing the fridge out for the holidays so any Tupperwares or old large cartons of yogurt need to be disposed of or taken away.
x x x
PEOPLE DRESSING UP
Always one person at the Christmas party who's gone into the whole "being festive" thing a bit two-footed and dressed up as either Santa (oversized velour trousers over grey slacks; oversized Santa jacket over work shirt and tie; Santa hat; absolutely no false beard, no sack), an elf (rented elf costume, circles of blush on cheeks) or some sort of "Mary Christmas" character (Sue Pollard got into a locked bin full of flashing Christmas tree earrings). We know who you are, festive costumers. We see you every day changing toner cartridges. Who are you trying to fool.
I don't think it's a great stretch to say that it should be illegal for companies to try and cheap out of buying you a Christmas meal by organizing for it to happen in January, a month that essentially already has a grey-blue pall over it at all times anyway, and there you are in a quiet bar and grill—with some repurposed and out-of-place tinsel and a cracker someone had to bring a box of from home, and nobody wants to be there and they don't have the proper festive food anyway—trying not to break. If your company tries to inflict this on you, report them to the army.
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A REALLY MISERLY AMOUNT OF MONEY BEHIND THE BAR
SUBJ: RE: Party time!
Just to mention: there will be $300 behind the bar tonight! Go wild! There are literally 60 of you!
x x x
INEXPLICABLY HAVING TO GO TO WORK THE NEXT DAY
The Office Christmas Party is never on an actual Friday because that would be practical, wouldn't it, that would make sense, and also they negotiated a good rate on the lunch for a Thursday night and honestly they'd rather have you in the office green with hangover than spend an additional $3 per head to get you a Friday evening turkey dinner. And so you find yourself rolling in to work at 11AM the morning after, crusty bacon sandwich, sunglasses, and your manager is there, inexplicably fresh, as is everyone else, all sober and all furious, all looking at their watch and going "What time do you call this?" Scabs, them lot. Scabs. Scum, absolute scum.
A BUS FULL OF PEOPLE FROM AN OFFICE YOU NEVER KNEW EXISTED TURN UP
Oh, god: The alt-universe office from Peterborough are here, and they are all weird and misshapen, a funhouse mirror reflection of your own office, plus that woman from accounts who fucked your pay up for three consecutive months is here, standing next to you in seething silence, undoubtedly thinking about that HR complaint and the ensuing process. An extremely tall man leans over to you and tells you they've all been drinking since 11AM. He smells like scotch someone forgot to refine. Sweat has caked his trousers to his legs. "Four hour coach, mate," he says. "Please, I'm begging you: Do you have any Charlie?"
SOMEONE WHO HAS HAD A BOTTLE OF ALCOHOL ON THEIR DESK ALL YEAR REFUSES TO OPEN THE ALCOHOL
It's a bottle of Glen's that the dude who does the stationary orders got for being part of the "Viking-Direct 2015 Paper Chain™ High Volume Sales Hero Team" back in January, and it has just sat there, behind his monitor, part of the office furniture now where once it was amber and exotic, slowly accruing dust, 24oz of potential fun unrealized. Once you idly picked it up and cracked the lid and smelled it. Everyone is waiting for the day he breaks it out. He says he is saving it for a "special occasion." Is today a special occasion, Roy? Is Christmas a special occasion? He looks up from his stationary spreadsheet and looks over his bifocals and shakes his head: No. The special occasion is definitely going to be the day he ceremonially shoots himself at his desk, isn't it?
EVERYONE WHO IS LOW-KEY FUCKIN SUDDENLY GETS VERY HIGH-KEY ABOUT IT
WHY DOES THE PHOTOCOPY ROOM SMELL LIKE SOMEONE JUST SALTED A HAM, SHARON AND PAUL?
CONFUSION ABOUT WHICH FUCKER ORDERED THE VEGETARIAN Meal A MONTH IN ADVANCE
For some reason, whoever organized the Christmas meal organized the $24 for two-, $29 for three-course dinner at one of the locations detailed above, and for some reason the ordering for such has to be completed somewhere between four and six weeks in advance, which means when the food comes out—and it is never just Christmas food, always Christmas food with a twist. And the sole fucker who ordered a vegetarian meal will not stand up and own their mistake. There is a plate of "pizza dough sprout mouthfuls" here and someone won't claim them, and meantime we're down a portion of gravy mashed potatoes. This is chaos. This is madness.
SOMEONE FROM THE OFFICE THINKS HE IS A DJ
Now you have to listen to "Cha-Cha Slide" clumsily crossfaded into "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and then back into "Cha-Cha Slide" again, an occasional bark of "Is everybody ho-ho-having a good time?" over an airhorn sound effect ripped at 28Kps from YouTube, and when you go up to whisper a request you are legitimately asked the following question: "What's Drake?" Six-hour set, this guy has. Oh, good: a 2AM mash-up of "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" and the "Cha-Cha Slide."
But then you wake up and—oh, Christ, what did you… Christ. Hangover Fear is one of the worst adrenaline spikes that can be inflicted on the human body—and I am including heart attacks, in this list, I'm including being shot at while parachuting—but that goes quadruple when there's a chance you told your boss he was a "dick-sucking tithead" or shouted in the face of the reception temp that you loved her or very openly did gak in front of the CEO while crying.
Isn't it time you figured out why you—why we all—always go so crazy at the office Christmas party? Is it that end-of-year near-endorphin rush, the swooping realization that the culmination of 12 hard months have come to an end, a chance at rebirth, renewal? Are you only going so hard because you fundamentally hate your job—you're not treading water, anymore, are you? This is a career now; this is all you have—and can't seem to escape it? Is it just the job you're unhappy with, or it is more? Would this pain and energy be better managed if you regularly vented in the way you did last night, only with therapy instead of shots, with sharing over consuming, speaking rather than shouting? Maybe this is the year it has to change. It's time for a change. Yeah. Yeah. Starting now, starting righ—fucking hell, how did you spend $180? Fuck this. Gatorade, bath, Domino's for lunch. Call mom and see if you can come home early for Christmas.
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