The Christmas Work Party is Obsolete

Michelle Jaqua

How do we celebrate the best holiday of the year in these modern times?

Long before COVID, I worked for a company that threw quite the work Christmas party. The owner took the employees and spouses (or dates) downtown, out to an expensive dinner. We ate a lavish meal and drank expensive wine. After dinner, we had a scavenger hunt...in limousines. We were met with cocktails and desserts, and drove around town at our whim, checking off the things on our lists. After the hunt, we met back at the hotel where we were given our own room for the night.

It was so much fun, and a great way to celebrate the hard work we'd given our employer all year.

With another company, there were hundreds of employees, so they rented out the entire upstairs floor of the city's convention center. The theme was to dress up in Christmas gear. Employees came as elves, or in ugly sweaters. Men wore Christmas suits. You stood out if you weren't decked out in the most elaborate or hideous outfit.

We had a catered dinner, drink tickets, and entered into drawings for big screen TV's, weekend vacations, or other extravagant prizes.

Gambling tables lines the outside the foyer. Poker, Blackjack, Roulette, and Craps tables. We got chips and we were set off to play to our hearts content.

Although these work parties were over the top, I also remember the more intimate work get-togethers after the companies stopped splurging on their employees and decided to keep the profit for themselves instead. The employees took up the slack and splurged on each other. We’d have a Christmas party at a coworkers home, with Secret Santa gift exchanges, games, and casserole potlucks.

A couple of years ago, my work team did a gift exchange, ate a smorgasboard of build-your-own sandwiches and fruit salad, along with one of our coworkers’ famous homemade cookies. We had a trivia quiz with kitschy prizes to whoever answered the quickest. All held in the lunch hour during the middle of our work day.

I’ve always seen the holiday party as a way to get to know each other in a social setting, to see our colleague’s personal side. As long as you didn’t let loose too much, Xerox your butt on the copy machine, or become too intimate with a coworker in the bathroom; bonding with our work partners was a positive experience.

This year (along with last year), there’s been no celebration. We can blame COVID as the nail in our final holiday coffin.

There’s been no kudos from the healthcare system I work for, no gift exchange, no free holiday dinner, no Secret Santa, no trivia games, no potluck lunch. The third round of COVID is in the air, and everyone is pissed as hell. Corporate ignores any sign that we are in a holiday season and instead puts rules in place to refrain from sharing food or even sitting at the same tables together.

We have no reason to celebrate.

I work my shift, go to the cafeteria and choose a chicken salad in a plastic clamshell, then stand in line at the cashier, scan my work badge so I can get ten percent off directly taken out of my paycheck. I eat my lunch by myself (or with my husband if I’m lucky that he’s working that day too), then get back to work.

The holiday celebration at work is dead from where I’m sitting. It may even be in the terminal phase with family, given the political climate over the past five years.

I so very much want to feel the joy of the holiday like I used to feel. But I sit and look around me. People’s eyes are glued to their phones. Others walk past me, their faces covered with a mask, eyes staring straight ahead. We have been conditioned to be paranoid and alone.

Will we ever get back to having parties and sharing time together? Or are we hitting a new normal, one that is impersonal and avoidant. What are we here in this world for anyway? Certainly it isn’t to survive without community. We aren’t built that way. Instead, we’ve been constructed to be ostracized from each other; where this originated is a matter of opinion. But here we are. And we are unhappy.

Deep down, we crave human companionship. We need each other. 

Maybe someday, we’ll again want to share our time with others. We’ll deep dive into meaningful conversations, and laugh together. Instead of being so cynical, we’ll be accepting. Instead of going to social war, we will wave to each other and smile as we pass by. Maybe we’ll even stop and chat for a moment and catch up on each other’s lives. 

Perhaps one day, we will remember that casserole potlucks and Secret Santas weren’t so bad after all.

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Michelle Jaqua is a freelance writer who lives in the beautiful state of Oregon. She writes about a variety of news and happenings in the Pacific Northwest, along with some PNW history and fun facts. Subscribe to her page and get her posts in your email.

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