I walked into our office locker room today to see two ladies rushing to get ready – one was trying to finish zipping up a red and green dress, and the other was straightening up her striped red and green stockings. Funny shoes and hats completed the picture. I just waved and walked by.
Yes, it’s the office Christmas party, but not the one you think.
For the last number of years our office has also held a children’s Christmas party for the staff and their families and I have been taking Hawkeye to it every year since his first one at the tender age of 2 months. It is a loud, chaotic and slightly frazzling experience but I find that I perversely enjoy it because it’s such an unusual view into the lives of one’s colleagues. Seeing someone every day in a power suit with their professional game face on is like seeing a single dimension of a person. Some are more open in their office environment than others, but unless you get to know a work associate really well, you only ever really get to see one side of them. Then you get a social event such as a department lunch and you might see a somewhat altered, more social side.
But nothing is quite the same as watching a senior partner wearing a Christmas jumper while holding a squirming 6 month old and trying to rein in an exuberant three year old all the while introducing his wife to you. Our department head might look as immaculately put together as always, but she’s flanked by my boss and her two girls, and the most recently returned woman from maternity leave with her 8 month old and they’re comparing their ticket numbers for Santa. having grabbed a few spare ones for their close colleagues (I owe my boss a treat for managing to skip from number 46 to 30 in the Santa queue). There’s one of the Finance managers in yet another Christmas jumper, and one of our IT developers with the newest member of his family. Oh and I had no idea one of our trainees had a child! No wait, that’s her niece that she brought with her today. One one side of the atrium two people are busy turning children into tigers and snowmen with face paint, while on the other a lady is creating animals balloons with such practiced ease I don’t think she’s even looking at what her hands are doing. The canteen is chock full of clustered families with coats, nappy bags and scarves scattered everywhere while our usual canteen staff serve cocktail sausages and chicken nuggets. Our French chef does not like baking, which was a very odd thing to discover as she’s so damned good at it, and as usual we had bite sized brownies and little tarts and mince pies. Everywhere there are small and big children in more Christmas jumpers and little Santa dresses and Santa hats.
The thing is that, even with all the nannies or au pairs money can buy, parenting is one of the greatest levellers of experience, and I think that’s why I enjoy this Christmas party every year. Children make no distinction for position or seniority and even though our firm isn’t terribly stuffy, nothing quite compares to the openness of seeing colleagues from all quarters of the office come together to let their children run riot and see Santa.
The party had been growing ever bigger and fancier in the last few years, culminating with last year where we had rabbits, ducks, and geese being petted by children in the gym while a llama was sighted wandering around the parking lot after the message not to bring it had gone astray. With a new organiser this year, the event has been simplified back down to the essentials, much to the delight of our cleaning staff, I’m sure. The kids did not seem terribly put out by this, and when I last walked by there was a small horde of them split in two sections having a dance off organised by a professional entertainer, and let me tell you, you have not lived until you’ve seen a four year old dancing Gangnam Style like a pro.
The actual Santa visit went by rather swiftly and quietly as, for all his excitement, Hawkeye immediately turned bashful and shy when he found himself in the august presence of the large jolly man. But he got his present and posed with us for a photograph and said thank you as appropriate before making his escape from Santa’s grotto (our training room never feels this cozy during normal working hours!) Hawkeye has not yet realised the precise commercial purpose of Santa. Despite several people trying to find out what he’s asking Santa to bring him for Christmas he only has the general notion that Santa brings presents and has not yet realised that he is expected, or will soon be expected, to request specific items. I am thankful for this, though I suspect it is the last year that we will get away with it.
The boys soon departed for a children’s theatre show I had booked earlier while I went to do some cleaning and tidying at my desk to get a grip on all of my work. But not before thanking the chef for her stellar baking efforts and acquiring a few treats for the road.
It pays to be in the chef’s good books.