Tonight You Will Be Visited by the Ghost of Office Christmas Parties Past
The first time I went to a real company Christmas party I was 22 and brand new in the city. I had just started working for a publishing company as a writer and editor for a series of hairstyling magazines and used my journalism degree to write captions like “Pump up the Volume!”, “Color to Dye For”, and my personal favorite: “What About Bob?”. The company had a lot of titles and were each represented by people who seemed to look like they were perfectly matched to the magazine’s content. The whole staff of Guitar World looked vaguely like rockers, and played guitar at their desks between assignments. The folks at Dog News had pics of their pets on their cubicle walls, and the women who worked for Romantic Country were soft spoken and surrounded by bowls of potpourri. I hoped I was representing my team well by having a decent head of hair. Free highlights and endless beauty swag definitely helped.
The staff Christmas party was held at the Bryant Park Bar & Grill, a classic NYC spot right in front of Bryant Park and behind the public library. It was a seated meal with filet mignon, and I remember feeling pretty proud to work in a place that served us expensive steak for the holidays. They also gave us champagne flutes from Tiffany’s as party favors. I couldn’t wait to tell the folks back home about that.
I ate dinner at an assigned table with the rest of my staff, but I was itching to introduce myself to others in the company since I was still an import looking to make friends. Across the room was a group of people around my age, mostly guys, so I tentatively approached them. I was immediately drawn to the only guy in the entire place wearing a suit. Everyone else had come straight from work in their blue jeans, but he changed into something special for the occasion. I thought that was sweet.
We talked and joked for most of the night and decided to become friends. The next morning I came to work to find him sitting in my office chair, hands folded over his chest and feet propped up on my desk.
And that’s the story of how I met my husband.
Left: Me and Vin as babies at the office Right: Back in the years of fancy work parties (Sushi and cocktails…those were the days)
14 years later…
Last Friday was apparently the official office Christmas party night in the city. We both had ours to attend, and were excited to compare notes at the end of the evening.
I work in a non-profit, so expectations for retirement and holiday parties are kept extremely low. The idea to even have a holiday party was only bounced around a week prior to the event, and my curiosity was piqued as to what they could throw together in such a short amount of time. My office is not in a traditional building–it’s in a converted brownstone, so it’s a series of long hallways with tiny, dark bedrooms used as therapy offices. My room also has a sink in the corner, which I have found to be surprisingly useful over the past few years.
There is really only one place in the building that can contain our staff for parties–and that’s the group therapy room. During the day, it’s all AA meetings and DUI classes, but at night, the room transforms into the staff social area. It feels very naughty to drink Barolo from plastic cups in that room. With the lights on, the thrift store artwork– which can only be described as “bric-a-brac” is on full display, but with the overheads turned off and twinkly strands of colored lights draped from the ceiling, I have to admit that our funky group room was able to acquire a pretty sexy holiday glow. We had a few nice little snacks and some pastries from down the street, and then one of our more outgoing admin staff members used the drafty room’s acoustics to belt a karaoke version of “Oh Holy Night”, quickly followed by some Donna Summer and I Will Survive. Therapists tend to be a pretty demure bunch, so we were all grateful for the entertainment. I didn’t take any pictures because A) it was really freaking dark in there and B) Seems uncouth to post pictures of a mental health clinic online.
A few blocks away, Vin was attending his company party, for which he’d received an embossed invitation over a month ago. It was a roaring 20s- themed bash complete with live band and hired swing dancers held in an opulent ballroom that used to be an old bank. Staff dressed in flapper dresses and feather headbands or suspenders and bowties. There was a costume contest. They had fancy finger foods and rivers of free booze. Halfway through the night, Vin texted me this picture along with two videos of professional swing dancing that I have no idea how to upload:
To which I replied: I can’t believe this shit.
Over the years together, we’ve each changed jobs a handful of times, and at this point in our respective careers, our workplaces could not be more opposite. When I visit him at his job, I tend to spend a lot of time in the restroom because compared to ours, it feels like the lobby of the Plaza. It’s especially nice because it’s not shared by male co-workers, like mine is. As a side note, for the love of all that is good and holy, WIPE THE SEAT DOWN.
But I digress.
I am probably past the days of bonuses and goodie bags. There is no swag in social work. There aren’t a ton of benefits or added perks in the non-profit life, except for the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing something good for others (which is perhaps, the biggest perk of all). And at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade the work I do all year for a fancier party at the end of it. I wouldn’t even trade it for a subscription to the jelly-of-the-month club, and that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.
I still have those champagne flutes from Tiffany’s. I’ll drink to that.