I'm bad at Christmas. I hate turkey, wrapping presents and the idea of forced, planned-out fun. My family — mostly — shares the same view. Extra shifts are picked up and presents are sent with time to spare to avoid actually having to see each other. Fortunately, even if I’m no fan of Christmas itself, there is one saving grace: the office Christmas party.
There is no comparison to any other work event. Leaving drinks are strained, after-work drinks are pedestrian and inviting colleagues to things like birthdays often just feels wrong. The office Christmas party really...
I’m bad at Christmas. I hate turkey, wrapping presents and the idea of forced, planned-out fun. My family — mostly — shares the same view. Extra shifts are picked up and presents are sent with time to spare to avoid actually having to see each other. Fortunately, even if I’m no fan of Christmas itself, there is one saving grace: the office Christmas party.
There is no comparison to any other work event. Leaving drinks are strained, after-work drinks are pedestrian and inviting colleagues to things like birthdays often just feels wrong. The office Christmas party really is the only opportunity for a night of true debauchery before you all head home for the holidays, leaving just enough time to live down anything embarrassing you might have done.
A very unofficial survey of friends confirms my suspicions about the uniquely mental nature of these events. “What’s the maddest thing that’s happened at your Christmas party?” I asked. The answers ranged from the usual employee handbook breaches — cavorting in the toilets with a colleague he wasn’t even remotely attracted to, a lap dance from a female boss — to the more unusual. One recalled that at his previous workplace one member of the human resources team put her hand up his thigh as she described sexual harassment in the office. Another friend told me he’d attended a party where someone stole the host’s grandmother’s ashes. They were never returned. I also learned that I have quite a few incredibly boring friends. One even told me she never bothered attending her office party. My reaction was the same kind of shock and pity I have for people who have never smoked a cigarette. Really, you’ve never even tried one?
The thing I love most about the office Christmas party is that the whole hierarchy is out the window after the second drink. Managers are doing shots of whatever’s cheapest with interns, heart-to-hearts with someone you’ve never spoken to happen between the walls of the ladies’ toilets. I once had a senior journalist cry actual tears to me about how much he loved lemon meringue. They are, simultaneously, the HR department’s best team-bonding imaginable and its worst nightmare.
One of the lesser tragedies of the Covid years was the absence of office parties. Managers found ways, determined not to do nothing. But the most rambunctious event of the year was soon replaced by Zoom quizzes and online get-togethers. They needn’t have bothered. This is one of the times in life that if you can’t do it properly you just shouldn’t do it at all. Online, such events lack all the crucial ingredients. Zoom is not conducive to salacious gossip.
The Spectator is famous for its parties. And, being the oldest magazine in the world, it’s had its fair share. But when I asked around for the wildest office party stories I was met with the same reaction — “None you can print.” I tried some regular contributors. Taki, rather unbelievably, told me that Christmas parties were tame, claiming that New Year’s Eve dos were wilder.
After asking Julie Burchill about her best Christmas party stories, she replied with, “I’ll have a think, I’ve forgotten loads, because of all the drugs.”An email came through a few hours later with the subject line “Christmas snog.” She went on to tell me about a lunchtime Christmas party in what she described as the sexy-greedy 1980s. Her husband’s mother had failed to turn the stove on, thanks to an even greater cannabis fog than usual, and so lunch wasn’t served until dusk.
As the afternoon wore on, she explained, she began to feel…warmly toward one guest, the notorious American writer Kathy Acker. To cut a long story short, she wrote, “my second husband was not best pleased when he found Miss Acker and myself playing tonsil-tennis in the marital bedroom. My paramour was cast out into the night; she was the lucky one, I reflected as I took a second helping of thoroughly nuked turkey as penance.”
If you want a party with less deviance and a little more on offer than burnt turkey then I’m told Christopher Bedford is your man. The DC-based writer has a reputation for throwing a top-notch Christmas do. I asked him about his recipe for success. The only way to maintain some kind of decorum, he told me, is to have a dress code. Black tie sets the right tone. Next is the flow, he says. Cigars are smoked downstairs and outside, the top floor is for pregnant women and anyone else who doesn’t want to go home smelling like an ashtray.
Capitol Hill is filled with old, narrow houses with hallways and separate parlors. Christopher stresses that they can easily be clogged. The solution is multiple bars. The first bar that you see when you walk in is a Champagne bar. Obviously. If you want white wine or red wine, that’s upstairs. This way, Christopher explains, people keep moving. Other tips he offered included an escape room with cold beer. And no punch.
As I write this, I’m booking flights to New York for what will be my first Spectator World Christmas party. I am already torn between being a serious, well-to-do journalist on her best behavior, or showing Taki what a real Christmas party looks like.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s December 2022 World edition.