Last holiday season, The Electrician took me to his company Christmas party. Considering that his bosses would be there, and it was a work event, after all, I wore a cute but conservative dress, a pair of tights, little heeled booties, and a snazzy pair of earrings. Really, I dressed as I would to go to a Christmas shindig for my job, complete with sparkly eyeshadow. To me, a work party was a work party. I truly believed they were all the same.
Picture, if you will, the school teachers’ Christmas party. It probably happens in a local curling club or a community hall. At the door, the staff members hand over their $30 tickets, paid for at the last minute because November was an expensive month and payday took forever to arrive. Inside the party room, someone has decorated with festive gusto, including the artificial tree leaning a little to the left in the corner. If the school staff straightened the thing up, that bald patch where all the needles fell out in 1987 would show, so lean it is.
Dressed in their buttoned-up holiday finest, including at least one person sporting tie that lights up and another two or three wearing sweaters with three dimensional Christmas knitting, the teachers sip punch from plastic cups and mingle to the festive CD someone put on the ghetto blaster in the corner. Those who can’t wait for the meal munch corn nuts and cheetos and pretzels out of bowls centered on the tables, also dressed for the season in vinyl table clothes sprigged with mistletoe. If the social committee is really on top of their game, there will be dishes of red, green, and white jellybeans or jujubes that look (just a bit) like Santa Claus.
When the meal is served, the school folk chatter at their tables, digging in to their meals (with a little extra care because the cutlery is plastic, of course) and enjoying the company of their coworkers. At some point, the principal gets up to make a speech about the joys of working with such an excellent staff, and wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday. Then the caterer brings out dessert, most likely a tray of various squares or a cheesecake that isn’t quite cheesecake. Everyone lunges for the chocolate and the raspberry, and whoever was foolish enough to go to the washroom before dessert is left with the lowly coffee flavoured piece. Luckily, the plastic forks don’t do much damage in this dinner table joust, so everyone usually leaves with the same number of eyes they arrived with.
After the teachers tuck their used plates and cutlery into the big Rubbermaid garbage can, a process made easier when the gym teacher pushes it all down with his sneaker, the fun and games begin. Numbers are drawn and teachers begin pulling wrapped gifts from beneath the tree or stealing an interesting package from their colleagues. The game heats up, sometimes ending in bloodshed (remind me to tell you that story some time) until the moment of truths arrive. The school staff members open their gifts, and since they can be any item under ten dollars, the quality of the gifts vary. One year, a colleague got a selection of condoms in more flavours than a roll of lifesavers. Another year, I brought home a plastic dealie I think is meant to massage my feet (because it’s shaped like a foot) but I haven’t gotten anything horrible (yet). I once wrapped up an exceptionally well-used doorknob for the gift exchange: it’s always a riot to see what someone else needed to get rid of but wrapped up pretty.
At about ten-thirty, people start drifting out, headed back to drive their teenage babysitters home before it gets too late. The crowd disperses quickly, hugs and handshakes all around, and folks head out into the cold where their vehicles are chugging away, defrosters blasting against the crisp night air. On Monday in the staffroom, they’ll giggle over the fun they had at the party while they wait for their pizza pops and leftover stir fry to finish in the microwave.
About this time last year, I dressed in my standby “work party” duds and we headed out to my sweetie’s soiree. I should have had an inkling that things might be different at a shindig put on by a major company, but I had no idea how far it was from what I was used to. The differences started a few weeks ahead, when The Electrician reminded me of the party’s date and said he’d picked up the tickets during his lunchbreak. I asked him if I could chip in for the cost of my ticket and he looked at me like I had suddenly sprouted a purple goatee. Granted, he is Mr. Chivalry and generally treats me on our dates, but he seemed incredulous that I was accustomed to paying for my holiday parties.
When we arrived at the party, held in a swanky venue in an unswanky part of downtown, I took off my coat, handed it to the tuxedoed coat check lady and took a look around. I realized I was seriously under (or over, depending on how you look at it) dressed for the do. There were more sequins than a Vegas drag queen convention. There I was in my conservative, school-appropriate dress, gazing across more breast tissue than the average mammography technician sees in a week. Apparently, corporate Christmas parties call for stiletto heels and push up bras.
At the door, The Electrician (handsome as all get out in his suit) checked in and received an envelope full of drink tickets and a taxi chit. I had no idea what a taxi chit was, so I had to get The Electrician to explain it. Not only was the party fully paid for by the company, but the company also gave us a slip to pay for a cab ride anywhere we needed to go. My head was spinning, and it wasn’t from my shirley temple.
After a few brief speeches and a grace delivered from the festively dressed stage, complete with two giant (straight) Christmas trees decorated within an inch of good taste in blue and silver, we were turned loose on the buffet, which was set up in another room. There were actually three identical buffets, heavy with delicacies like prime rib (complete with the heat lamp and the mustachioed dude carving the meat to order), crab legs, oysters, smoked whole salmons, chicken, ham, and pretty much every side dish known to man. I’m not sure what they did to the herbed baby potatoes, but my best guess is they were roasted in heaven and delivered straight to the party by culinary angels. I didn’t know where to start with that food, and I had to quit eating long before I really wanted to or I would have been unable to leave under my own steam.
Although every person in the room was absolutely stuffed, the dancing started about nine o’clock. I can’t remember the last time I was at a dance with a live band, and the musicians The Electrician’s company brought in were definitely the best live band I’ve ever danced to. I think the people who were remarkably drunk on the company dime were probably even more impressed than us, but I’m happy with how much we enjoyed the entertainment. My man and I danced under the perfectly coordinated twinkle lights, hoping our meals would settle, and soaking up the festive atmosphere. We left shortly before midnight, since I was still fighting a cold that had been lingering for weeks and had lots of papers to mark the following day, but I hear the party kept going until the venue shut it down.
I was truly astounded by the kind of Christmas party The Electrician’s company puts on for its employees every December. I’m about to go for the second year, and I really can’t wrap my head around the kind of extravagance I know awaits me. Between the two, I don’t know which I prefer: the cosy tackiness of my school party or the opulence of the corporate soiree. While I’d never expect the taxpayer to foot the bill for my Christmas party and I certainly don’t mind paying for my meal when I celebrate with my colleagues, there is something to be said for attending a generous party thrown by a successful company. I suppose I get the best of both worlds, right?
It should be fun dressing to the nines for the party. I know I have the right kind of heels for tomorrow, but is there someone out there willing to lend me a Wonderbra?
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