Some workplaces encourage their staff to decorate their workspaces – and some discourage it! If tinsel is forbidden to you but you’d like to decorate (and you don’t think it will get you sacked) put up Christmas cards because they’re difficult to object to and they do make a merry display. (Why not go out with your colleagues at lunchtime to a stationer or two-dollar shop to buy cards, and then come back and write them out for each other? You’ll bond like super glue.)
If there is a decoration competition, strategists often leave their display till the last minute so that they don’t tip their hand to their rivals, but I prefer beginning as soon as the season is declared open otherwise you don’t get the maximum enjoyment from your glitz.
Here’s a design I’ve won my sectional comps with. I called it “Cascade of Baubles” and I put it together with a mountain of baubles (which I could buy for not much more than a dime a dozen by mid December), some bird netting I had at home and several boxes of paperclips I borrowed from the stationery cupboard (and returned in January).
We’ve averted a last-minute office party crisis: Laura was supposed to organise a punch bowl for the wassail and had forgotten all about it. So she left work at 1pm and went to every op shop she passed on her way home until she encountered a capacious glass monstrosity in the sixth shop she tried, so all will be well. (Adam is quite certain that the magnificence of the wassail will blind everyone to the lack of beauty in the wassail bowl, but I think it’s more likely that the wassail will just blind them full stop.)
 My ex-colleague Donna called it “infestation of baubles” but she didn’t have an artistic bone in her body and was clearly jealous that her trite cardboard fireplace with slipshod cut-out stockings impressed no one.
If you’re Belgian, this morning is when you will find the presents Sinterklaas left for you. And if you’ve grown too big for your dummy and left it in your shoe, Sinterklaas will have taken it away to look after it, leaving chocolate in its place (which is an exchange of vices that may not work in your favour).
As cards come in (if you still have anyone who sends them to you):
Update your address book with the sender’s return addresses (and their significant others, if they’ve mentioned them).
Add the senders to your Christmas card list for next year.
You may want to respond to personal notes (email is fine).
If you get a card from someone you didn’t send one to, pop one in the post to them pronto!
Today is a good day to make lemon butter for your hampers and make sure you keep at least one jar for yourself because it makes excellent Christmas desserts. (See 22 April.)
I am confident that these whipper-snapper ideas people have designed a good office party but I do not know yet that they can execute a good office party so I insisted we have a social club committee meeting at lunchtime today to go over the plans for Friday night. Sure enough, everyone thought everyone else was doing all the work and that they just had to swan in looking lovely. But now we’re all quite clear on who’s buying the alcohol (me: I have the purse strings), who’s mixing the wassail (Adam, who has been practising at home and has been looking quite bleary-eyed as a consequence), and who’s doing the final comms (Laura, who has already drawn a pretty series of posters and written some witty emails). (I particularly liked “R.S.V.P. = Really Special Vintage Party”.)
 Failing to mention significant others may also be significant: the first I knew of my friend Jenny’s separation was when she omitted Richard’s name from her Christmas cards.
 My old neighbour Gustav used to write “return to sender” on his and send them straight back and I don’t think anyone had to be told twice.
 Or passionfruit butter, by swapping passionfruit pulp for the lemon juice.
Decorate! You can do it all in one big hit today (or later on) or you can do a little each day until you’re sufficiently festooned. Either way, remember that one tends to be more enthusiastic about putting decorations up than about taking them down, so be a little restrained.
If you want your de-decorating to be done with military precision, document each section as you finish it so that you can capture every ornament later. The easiest way to document is to take photos but an actual list is the most effective tool in the removal phase. (Then again, it’s fun to spot a rogue decoration still up in February.)
Today is also the first day for playing Christmas music and here are my picks for the day:
I received lots of Christmas cards in my mailbox this evening – and they were all from me! I had used classy black envelopes and I wrote the addresses with a gold pen and stuck address stickers on the back, and the mail-sorting machines found it easier to read the labels than the gold ink and decided all the cards were to me! I’ll cover up the stickers and I’ll take the cards back to the post office tomorrow to dispatch them all over again but I am so annoyed: I timed these perfectly to arrive on 1 December and now they’ll be late, in spite of my best endeavours!
 My friend Jill used to pay a bounty to her kids for any decoration they spied after 7 January. She said they looked so hard that they found lost toys under seat cushions and stray socks behind bookcases, so it was worth every penny.
 There’s more than one way of having Christmas last all year!
 Unless you work in a shop, in which case you’ll already be sick of “White Christmas”.
 This is the least favourite carol of my friend Lisa Hall: she takes it to mean “Knock all of my family to the ground”.
The best day to send your cards used to be the last business day before 1 December so that they arrived on the first of the month, but now that our mail service has been slowed down, today is probably the best day to post your cards. (Doesn’t that feel good? You’ve got that significant task done and dusted and it’s not quite summer yet!)
But if you’re saving money/the environment/your health, deliver neighbourhood cards on foot.
I am relieved that the original idea for doing a floor show at the Christmas party has now morphed into the committee singing “The Gloucestershire Wassail” as we bring the bowl out (which allows me to have as many layers of clothes as I please over my underwear). Laura is also bringing a selection of medieval madrigals and motets but Gemma is composing her own party mix of Christmas standards and we’re both confident that the crowd will want to swap from Laura’s music to Gemma’s early in the evening.
 I don’t understand why this was considered to be a smart thing to do to something that was already called “snail mail” but I don’t pretend to be a business guru so I’ll assume there were good reasons.
 The year my friend Jenny did this, she was miffed to walk ten kilometres to an old school friend’s house only to find out when she got there that he had moved a month earlier, so you might want to check that your address book is up to date first.
If your children will be making cards, the last weekend in November is a good time to begin. Set small children up with crayons and be ready to snatch the cards away when they look good and to write a description of the drawing on the inside. Middle-sized children often like to add shiny things and to cut and paste. Older, less artistic children who feel shy about their skills or short of ideas can adopt any of my adult suggestions from previous weeks.
Grandparents usually like homemade cards and so do crafty people. Some teachers appreciate them. Children of the same age as the artist usually don’t.
My cousin Bronwyn invited me around for lunch and we had a fragrant, vegetable-rich curry and a nut cake sprinkled with shredded coconut.
“You were right,” she said as she served me cake. “Getting on top of pre-diabetes is about exercise, healthy eating and GI, and sugar is just a part of that.”
“Life is better with a little bit of sweetness,” I agreed.
“Life is better when your blood glucose levels are down, you’re feeling good and you’ve lost enough weight to fit into the trousers stashed at the back of the wardrobe,” corrected Bronwyn. “I’d think I was lucky to be diagnosed with pre-diabetes … but then I remember the nerve damage and the kidney failure and the blindness. They trump trousers.”
 My friend Jill advises against a method she tried when her son William was a toddler: she let him step in trays of paint and then run over a sheet of paper and she cut out the best footprints and pasted them onto card blanks. The cards they produced were sweet and quirky but Jill says the mess reached biblical proportions.
 I am fond of shiny things myself, and this is one of the 217 reasons I like Christmas.
 It’s quite safe: my adult cards are devoid of adult content.
 A small slice of nut cake, and it had no icing under the coconut.
If you’re doing all your cards at once, take over the dining table, set out everything and then get a production line going. You can either address all the envelopes, then sign all the letters and so on until the last stamp is licked, or take one card through all the stations until it’s signed and sealed, and then begin the next, depending on what suits you best.
I was at Matthew’s place last night and we were balancing our mugs on our knees because his coffee table was strewn with cards and envelopes, when Hannah came around to drop off some CDs she’d borrowed. Hannah said that insisting young people listen to old music showed that Matthew was getting ready to be a grandfather and when Matthew said that he didn’t think that was likely, Hannah said that he was absolutely going to be grandfather to her children – far more than her own useless father, who didn’t deserve to come near them, so he’d better start deciding whether he wanted to be called Pop or Gramps. Matthew made jokes about christening mugs and bunny rugs for a while and I could see that he was tickled pink.
 My sister Wendy uses the ironing board. She says it’s to keep the dining table free for family dinners but it’s really an excuse to avoid ironing for a couple of days.
 Or stuck. (I concede that sticker stamps are more hygienic but I remember the tingle of subversion I felt as a child in licking an official document.)
 But the second method is slightly safer: my cousin Linda once had a hiccup with the first system and put her cards into the wrong envelopes. It wasn’t a problem for me that I got a note intended for Wendy, but her second best friend was annoyed to discover that Linda had had a lot of fun with her BFF that number two hadn’t been invited to.
 I pick him up on my way through to our theatre outings and he gives me coffee before we leave. He says it’s to sharpen my powers of concentration for parking between the pillars in the underground carpark, but I know it’s because he’s afraid of nodding off in the second act.
 Matthew is an aficionado of big bands and when Hannah said she didn’t know who Glenn Miller was, Matthew decided she needed some education.
 Although she admitted that she’d loved “In the Mood”.
As with the Christmas shopping, you can do all of your cards in one big hit or you can trickle-feed them, depending on your schedule and inclination.
If you’d like to do your cards in small batches, writing a few every night in the evening (or on the train, or waiting for the kids at swimming lessons) can work well and it also makes it easy to stay fresh when adding personal notes.
If you’re using commercial cards, write the names of the people you send them to inside the box. Then, if you have a few leftovers, you can use them next year but you’ll be able to ensure that you send different cards. (Or just send the leftovers to the kind of people who won’t notice the same card two years running.)
My nephew Ben was talking about their South Pacific holiday. It seems they’re all going: my sister Wendy and her husband Don, and their kids, and the kids’ partners and baby Mia. It would be lovely to be rich enough to be able to take all of those people on a luxury cruise but, when confronted with other people’s wealth, it’s also important to remember your own: if you’re well fed, well housed and have access to good hospitals and schools, you’re better off than most people in the world, so you’re rich too.
 And the number of cards – Hannah sent just two cards last year so doing them all at once and doing them two at a time turned out to be the same thing.
 But not in the rain at Little Athletics, which is what Lisa did one year and they were unreadable.
 Sending exactly the same “personal” note to everyone is even easier.