How soon do you need to book your office Christmas party? If you’re a very large group or if you want one of the most popular days (like the Friday before Christmas), you need to book a venue well in advance.
But if your team is smallish or if you’re happy to celebrate on a Tuesday or early in December, you can still find somewhere good even if you don’t book until late November.
But it may worth starting the discussion now. Ask:
Who are the organisers? (It shouldn’t just be you – not only is it too much work for one person, but there needs to be a committee to share the blame.)
Jeremy’s real birthday was today. Hannah and Matthew and Danni came round and we had his favourite lasagne followed by rhubarb crumble with birthday candles  and Matthew gave Jeremy our father’s watch. It’s a very good one and Jeremy was overawed.
 If it’s the kind of venue you need to book, that is. At Watson & Smythe, we traditionally do a sausage sizzle on the banks of the Yarra and, although we do send someone there early to unpack the condiments and reserve the barbecue, he sets out a few hours in advance, not in August.
 One year, when I worked for Palmer & Sons, the Christmas party was held in a fashionable new microbrewery. The beer flowed like water but the catering wasn’t well managed and we’d all been there two hours before the food finally came out … with the inevitable inebriation ensuing. It was literally a piss-up in a brewery. So the next year, the social club insisted that the Christmas party would be a formal sit-down dinner with plenty of courses between the drinks.
 And we had to move fast, because they started melting from the bottom up.
 He also said that he was glad he’d learned to tell analogue time, which sounded like a joke but wasn’t. Jeremy’s friend Zac could not be persuaded to learn the difference between the big hand and the little hand because he was confident that digital clocks were everywhere.
As a young woman holidaying in Fiji in December, my sister Wendy bought a Christmas reggae tape. (That’s how long ago it was: cassettes were a music medium and not a retro motif.) She loved it so much she decided to buy a Christmas album every year and this seemed like such a good idea that I copied it myself – and found that the vast majority of Christmas recordings are truly awful.
Here’s what you will find:
albums of traditional hymns and carols sung by renowned choirs with orchestral accompaniment (If you like classical Christmases and classical music, it’s good to have at least one of these in your collection.)
compilations of Christmas hymns, carols and songs recorded by:
one of your favourite musicians (You will be surprised how bad this is but there’s a chance you’ll get one good piece out of it.)
the singer who made the song famous (So if you want Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”, go for this option.)
a who’s who list of currently famous musicians, sung in that Carols by Candlelight style that – in my opinion – completely wrecks the songs
anonymous studio musicians (I have not yet found one of these CDs worth the plastic it was made of.)
new Christmas music, maybe with a particular theme: rock Christmas, Australian Christmas, etc. (You will sometimes find one good song in these.)
So, if you would like to build up a carol collection, start early, keep the bar low and expect it to take years to get a decent playlist.
As with nearly everything else at Christmas, if you have no money, don’t do this at all. If you have a very small budget, wait till late in December and buy Christmas music cheap, or if you have enough money to afford A-list prices, buy in November while the range is good.
My nephew Jack is close to the end of his last year of school.
“Have you chosen what course you want to do next year?” I asked him.
“Metallurgy, paediatric nursing or clowning,” he said.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who are interested in metallurgy, paediatric nursing and clowning and I’m also sure that Jack isn’t one of them. (Oh, maybe clowning. Not that he needs any formal training – he seems to get by on his native talent.)
 I won’t suggest you download the songs illegally because I do genuinely think artists should be paid royalties.
If you find slightly sinister decorations appealing, here’s an idea I had some success with. I drew a little elf face, wrote “always watching” under it, photocopied it lots of times and stuck it up all over the house: on doors, on the corners of mirrors, in drawers, tucked away in cupboards and in the last places you’d expect. Don’t try this on young kids though: restrict it to those who can handle black humour … and surprises.
Jeremy’s birthday desk arrived today. I would have preferred to have hidden it away and given it to him on his actual birthday but I didn’t have anywhere to stow something the size of a desk and I needed Jeremy at home today to accept the delivery.
He really liked it though, so we’re both pleased.
 Which my friend Todd does and his wife Claire doesn’t. She tolerated the dinosaurs on the tree and the six-legged horse in the backyard but she refused to let him put his wreath of reindeer skeletons on the front door.
Those wacky Icelanders take the jolly Christmas guy a whole order of magnitude further with the thirteen Yule Lads, each of whom arrives on a different day in the Christmas season and leaves about a fortnight later. They originally dressed in traditional Icelandic clothes but now are more likely to wear Santa suits and bring presents for good children and rotting potatoes for bad children. They are the sons of trolls and have a Yule cat who eats children who don’t receive new clothes for Christmas.
Each lad has his own particular prank and characteristic. Watch out for peg-leg Stekkjarstaur, who arrives on 12 December and harasses sheep; Hurdaskellir on the 18th, who slams doors; Bjugnakaekir on the 20th, who hides in the rafters and steals sausages; and large-nosed Gattapefur, who sniffs out laufabrauð (Icelandic Christmas leaf bread).
If you like practical jokes, the Yule Lads are for you (provided you’re sure you’ll be given clothes for Christmas).
 Which means that being beaten by Zwarte Piet isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a child at Christmas.
Another easy card, provided you’re okay with a paintbrush, is the glitter card. Start with a dark card blank, paint a word in glue (like “Yuletide” or “Celebrate!”) sprinkle glitter on it, shake off the excess and voila! Or you can use a glue stick, provided you choose a big card and short words (“Noël” rather than “Season’s Greetings”, and “Pud” rather than “Smorgasbord”).
Here’s a card I made a few years back:
My niece Emma emailed some photos of baby Mia today and mentioned that she thinks Mia recognises her own name. I’m sure she’s right – we breed smart babies in my family. (Mia probably also knows the names of her favourite toys, recognises a dozen kinds of bird, and will know more about dinosaurs by the time she starts primary school than paleontologists did when I was five.)
I got this idea from my friend Todd, who made glitter cards saying “Madelgave!” with a picture of a pig on the inside, completely mystifying everyone who didn’t have a Danish heritage. If pressed, Todd would eventually explain that Danes eat a vanilla rice pudding at Christmas that contains finely chopped almonds and has just one whole almond. The person who gets the whole almond also gets a mandelgave (“almond present”), which is often a marzipan pig. (Todd does like to be obscure.)
If you wanted to avoid hearing Christmas music, you would have to get all of your shopping done by the middle of October, and that includes your grocery shopping, so you’d spend two months living on canned food and might as well be snowed into a cabin on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie.
Short of taking that drastic action, you will be hearing Christmas music and there are bound to be carols you don’t like and carols you do like sung by people you don’t like in styles that are abhorrent to you. You could carry your own music with you and pop the ear buds in whenever something horrible comes up, or maybe you just have to accept that there are parts of Christmas that are uncontrollable even for the most organised person.
Hannah showed me the bunting she has made for Jeremy’s party: it’s triangles of green and orange paper, each with a photo of Jeremy on them, and some of them are not flattering. I am not sure he’ll like it but I do think it will entertain the guests and it’s a novel alternative to a photo board or a slideshow.
Caesar salad remains popular in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that it doesn’t have a high vegetable content; it’s basically lettuce with a rich dressing and a selection of animal products. (Cheese, eggs, bacon and anchovies. No wonder it’s popular!)
To make it more Christmassy (if a high-fat indulgence doesn’t sound Christmassy enough!), make star-shaped croutons by:
cutting star shapes out of them with a small star cutter
baking the stars at 180°C until golden brown (5 to 10 minutes)
allowing them to cool.
And then put the star croutons into an airtight container until just before you toss the salad (which means that you can make them a day or two ahead of time, which is handy).
The guest list for Jeremy’s twenty-first is firming up: just about the only declines are his Sydney cousins. (Buenos Nachos will need a lot of sombreros.)
He has chosen a chocolate spice cake for his birthday so I’ll cook a big one in my lasagne dish and it should go round nicely, even with all of the acceptances. He said he’d like cactuses on it and I think I’ll be able to make those out of marzipan but I’ll do a trial run first. (I don’t want anyone asking why I’ve decorated with ogres.)
 When Jeremy was four, I left croutons cooling on the kitchen bench and he ate them all while I hung the washing out, so we sat down and made another bunch together. I’m sure he wouldn’t have eaten plain bread if he’d found that – there’s something a little bit special about croutons.