It’s a well-known fact that caged animals released into the wild can’t survive for very long. They get accustomed to zookeepers throwing them processed food at precisely the same times and to the daily routine of performing stupid tricks for the amusement of wide-eyed onlookers. They have to be on their best behaviour all day, every day—they can’t get out of line or else they might get transferred to another cage, another zoo ... or worse. So what would happen if all these animals were suddenly freed from their cages and allowed to openly mingle with each other for one night and one night only? Sure, tamed lions and tigers and bears would try to be nice to each other at first—but eventually their animal instincts would rise to the surface.
Like caged animals, workers everywhere emerge from their captivity for one night only: the annual office Christmas party. Having spent an entire year chained to our desks—obedient, compliant and appreciative—our bloodshot eyes are tired of gazing at computer screens, and our index fingers sore from having pressed “Start” on the photocopy machine one too many times. We are given one shot once a year to let loose, to get to know our coworkers socially, to eat and drink on our company’s dime. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately it’s just not that simple. It’s a jungle out there and if you’re not careful you will be devoured whole by a fierce predator or thrust into some bizarre mating ritual. Be forewarned—once unleashed into the wild, even the most mild-mannered employees can show you their claws. The scariest part is that you are not even safe from yourself. Once alcohol gets into the mix (and you know it will), you can become your own worst enemy.
But don’t scurry back into your cages just yet. You can survive (relatively) unscathed from an office Christmas party. And I must admit, it is fun to have a little bit of drama to spice up the holiday season. So have fun, drink and be merry—just be sure to remember a few simple laws of the jungle:
1) Alcohol is not your friend, and neither is your boss
Don’t get drunk and ask your boss for a raise at the end of the night. Don’t get drunk and flirt with your boss. Don’t get drunk and tell your boss that you and your coworkers affectionately call them “Der Fuhrer.” Don’t get drunk and dance to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with your boss. Basically, don’t get drunk with your boss.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying not to drink at all. It’s great to bond with your boss outside the office, but know that he or she isn’t your buddy. They are still the king (or queen) of the jungle.
One year at a Christmas party, a former coworker of mine got so wasted that he actually told our boss off for not giving him a big-enough Christmas bonus. Like vultures waiting for their carrion, we all just stared at him while he died a slow and painful death. We were just happy that it wasn’t us.
2) Anything you say or do can be used against you the next day at work.
Like parrots fluttering around a cage, coworkers love to gossip—and you want to be the gossiper, not the gossipee. You want to be the one the next day talking about Sheila in marketing who wore a sequined body suit and tore up the dance floor when “Dancing Queen” came on. You want to be the one to have noticed that Mark the web designer (who’s married) was making out with Susan from HR. Oh, the juicy scandals!
But most of all you want to avoid being the topic of conversation. Something that a friend of mine was not so good at doing. Last year, his office Christmas party was held at his boss’ house. Many drinks into the night, he found himself upstairs in his boss’ bedroom, going through his closets. When he found a pair of snakeskin boots, he thought it would be hilarious to strip down to his boxers, put on the boots and have a little impromptu fashion show. Another coworker stripped down to her bra and panties and joined him. Not only did they make spectacles of themselves—the entire thing was videotaped! Ouch.
3) Dress as fancy as you wanna be
In the wild world of Christmas parties, it’s always good to show off your feathers. You want your coworkers to say “Wow—you look great!” This is a time to impress them, to show the people you work with everyday that you have a wardrobe beyond woolly sweaters, grey pants and comfy shoes. Don’t overdo it though—you don’t want to be known as the girl who showed up in full 1920s regalia or the guy who wore a white pleather suit and, as a result, spent the night sweating profusely.
4) This is not the time profess your undying love for your coworker
Please, for the love of the holiday season, do not make the moves on anybody you actually like. I know, I know, the cute new secretary with the adorable lisp who has that flirty way of flipping her hair seems to be into you, but chances are that she already has a boyfriend. You can flirt but don’t mistake yuletide cheer for love.
I used to like a guy at work. He was really cute—a young and grungy Harrison Ford, a diamond in the rough. As the year progressed, we hung out together more and more and I started to entertain the idea that he might be into me. We often made plans to see each other socially, but they always fell through (he always seemed to be busy for some reason.) The Christmas party was my chance to get liquored up enough to tell him how I felt, so after a few whisky sours I went looking for him. I found him alright—making out with the model-like boss’s assistant. Needless to say, I was devastated.
I ran out of that party like a bat out of hell. Which leads me to my next point:
5) When walking in, make sure you know where the emergency exits are
You never know if you’ll need to make a run for it. Sometimes, you just gotta get the hell outta there. At the very least, set up an emergency code with your best work-friend—that way, if the lecherous PR guy suctions himself to you, there will be someone around who can save you from his dirty clutches until he is locked back up in his cage.
And before you know it, we’ll all be back in our respective cages, jumping through hoops for another year. Enjoy the festivities and happy hunting. Oh, and drop the Karaoke mike. Seriously. Drop it.
Daisy Goldstein is a Montreal writer. She is currently deciding whether she should wear gold lamé or silk chiffon to her office Christmas party.