Ghosts of Christmas Parties Past

      The tradition of wild, out of control holiday office parties is a thing of the past. Maybe it’s for the best. In the post #MeToo world, there’s no toleration for drunken holiday hijinx in the workplace. I have hazy memories of a few office parties that bordered on total chaos. Having spent my entire career in the advertising and newspaper business, I remember the “old days” when corporate celebrations were the biggest events of the year (and what transpired was talked about for the entire year after). Who doesn’t love a drunken co-worker wearing a lampshade on his head dancing on his desk?

     In 1980, I worked at Jordan Marsh (now Macy’s) in downtown Boston. Traveling into the city to see the decorated store windows bedazzled for the holidays was an event in itself. The Enchanted Village, an animatronic extravaganza, sprawled across an entire floor of the department store. Working in the advertising department, my office would receive gift baskets full of cookies, candies (and, gasp, even alcoholic beverages) from outside vendors. Even better was being invited to the Christmas parties of local printers and advertisers in the Boston area who welcomed their clients with fancy food and fine wines. The 1960’s “Mad Men” era of advertising agencies ended decades earlier, but there were still corporate gatherings hosted by business owners named Bernie and Saul. Companies were held together by the hard work of unsung secretaries named Dot and Edith. There were piano bars, where bald-headed crooners led guests in singing Christmas carols as bells rang and fireplaces blazed. I remember sipping champagne with a co-worker named Cynthia, complete with white gloves and pearls, as she giggled that the bubbles were going to her head. A dusting of snow coated the city as I walked to the Orange Line to catch the midnight train home. 

     In the 1990’s, I had moved on to Boston’s biggest tabloid newspaper. Working in the promotion department afforded me an insight to the planning of corporate events. The internet bubble hadn’t burst yet, and companies spared no expense planning holiday parties to show employee appreciation. Newspapers were much more of an influence back then. Advertising revenue was at an all-time high and company holiday parties reflected the times. Boston’s top comedians were hired to open the event as employees arrived. A troop of 10-foot stilt-walkers from Cirque du Soleil added to the party atmosphere. Glitter showered down from the ceiling onto the pulsing dance floor intermingled with an unlimited number of free drink tickets for the bar. Unfortunately, this particular holiday party was the last one the company held. There were lots of whispered stories of employees being carried out of the venue, some found sleeping in their cars in the newspaper’s parking lot the next morning. Others were AWOL without explanation for a couple of days after the event. And that was just the tip of one holiday party iceberg.

     In the years that followed after the tabloid’s parties were completely cut-off by the company, employees continued the tradition holding their own get-togethers at a local South Boston bar. The holiday gatherings at J.J. Foley’s became legendary, cementing a bond among employees that held the company together during the rough years following the devastating recession of 2008. Celebrations dwindled as business hit rock bottom. Suddenly there was nothing to celebrate.

     The world changed, as did my place of employment. I worked for a few years at a Merrimack Valley newspaper, where the employee Christmas party was a breakfast hosted by the publisher and her executive officers, who actually cooked and served food in the buffet line.  

     Last year a new employment opportunity presented itself to me. I was welcomed into a family-owned newspaper closer to home. Here I discovered simplicity is the key. Experiencing the excessive yet hollow Christmas parties of the past enables me to appreciate what I have today even more. A “Box of Joe” from Dunkin’ Donuts and a tray of homemade cranberry bread means more to me than any 10-foot stilt-walker or open bar ever could. I feel truly blessed this season. After all, family is what the holidays are all about.


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