I’ve finally solved the mystery of whether garbos like to be given Christmas biscuits. I was up before the garbos came and the biscuits were still there so I knew they weren’t taken by anyone else, and the garbage truck honked as it left – I assume it was a honk of thanks. Then I found the bag a few metres down the road! Right about where you’d have finished the biscuits if you ate them as soon as you got them!
The department head called me into the office today to thank me for my role in saving the Christmas party. He said he wanted to give me a token of his gratitude and he presented me with Laura’s huge, bulbous op-shop punch bowl. I smiled gracefully – and will return it to my nearest op shop as soon as it opens again in the New Year. But they say it’s the thought that counts and I do appreciate the appreciation.
 So I talked to the department head, and I shook the department hand.
You’ve got a tree, you’ve got a decoration plan – get busy!
The topic of the day at work was, of course, Friday’s party. The consensus was that it was more fun than beer and sausages on the Yarra but that wassailing is a dangerous sport. (Thank the gods we avoided the mistletoe!)
If children are crafting your wrapping paper, they’re likely to make a mess, so dress them in aprons or sacrificial clothes, spread newspapers out to billy-oh and don’t let the kids out of the space until they’re scrubbed clean. (You don’t want scarlet handprints on the walls and glitter footprints in the carpet. Not even at Christmas.)
Start at least a few days before you plan to wrap the presents because if you’re using glue or paint, you’ll need time for it to dry. You’ll also need a drying space: the clothesline will be fine if the weather is fine, otherwise you may need to set up clothes horses on the veranda or in the garage.
Although it’s Sunday, the party cubs and Gemma and I were in the office by 10am and we pulled down all the holly and the ivy and the pine boughs and gathered up all the punch cups and pickled onion jars and gradually turned a bacchanalian forest back into a conference room. When our colleagues come in on Monday, it will be as if the party never happened. (And from the amount of wassail consumed, it’s fair to bet it won’t even be a fond memory for some of them.)
 Old T-shirts that you’re happy to throw out if the paint won’t wash out, for example.
 Aren’t we going to miss the actual paper of newspapers when they’re finally all digital?
 You could argue that putting parcels with wet paint under your tree is a way to ensure that the carpet harmonises with the colour scheme of your wrapping, but it’s not a good way.
 But not in the kids’ rooms, even if you’re short of space. My friend Jill’s busy son William escaped from his cot one naptime and rolled in wet paintings until he looked like fairy bread and then cuddled up to every soft toy he had and gave them all multi-coloured measles.
If your Christmas tree is a lopped pine, you can buy it this weekend and it should still be fine for at least a few days beyond the 25th. They do best away from the heat so don’t put them too close to sunny windows.
My council offers a free tree pick up service in January and yours may too but you might need to register beforehand.
We had planned to undecorate the conference room today but first Adam and then Jessica and then Laura texted me to say that they were sick and wouldn’t be able to make it so I texted them all back and said that we’d reschedule to tomorrow. (Being hungover is a self-inflicted injury and I don’t think it should get you out of cleaning up.)
This left me with plenty of time to meet up with my book club friend Sharon to exchange presents. Hers was wrapped in paper covered with her own whimsical cat sketches and she said that a local craft shop had persuaded her to design some gift wrap. It had turned out very well but she was agonising about whether doing a series of greeting cards would be too commercial.
I don’t see why it’s considered unartistic to make art that appeals to the masses but perhaps that’s why I’m an office worker rather than an artist.
 And my niece Emma told her mother that you also shouldn’t take your eyes off the baby when she’s close to the tree: she knew little Mia would enjoy crawling under the piney splendour but she didn’t know that Mia could actually reach up to the lower branches until she found a golden star in her mouth. (Both the baby and the bauble survived the experience.)
 My colleague Murray mulches his tree each year and spreads it on his flowerbeds – where you can occasionally see a shard of glittery plastic from a decoration he missed.
Cook your gingerbread. It will easily last till Christmas and it’s good to have some on hand for unannounced Christmas guests. Also if you package some up now (in festive cellophane or whatever), you’ll have some Small Presents ready should you suddenly need them.
The board room looked like a medieval forest and the astonishment on the party-goers’ faces as they walked through the door was worth all of the holly pricks. I’d just finished adjusting some shaky foliage when Mariella from Corporate Comms shouted out to me from the opposite corner of the room.
“Janet!” she cried. “There’s something I have to tell you!” And she broke away from Meredith and Murray and headed toward me.
“What is it?” I asked when she reached me.
“Nothing,” she replied. “But I had to escape from Meredith. She’d already told me about every azalea she has ever planted, and she was about to start on her compost secrets.”
“Glad to be of service,” I responded.
“No, wait, there is something after all: have you tried the cheese?”
I hadn’t. (I’d been too busy anchoring the shaky pine tree by the window, which was threatening to crush the guests and turn Merrie England into the tragic chapters of Seven Little Australians.)
“It’s awful,” she said.
Jessica organised a bulk discount on cheese, and I hadn’t thought to tell her that quality is still important, even when you’re negotiating on quantity.
“People who don’t like cheese are refusing to touch it, and people who do like cheese are taking one bite and then backing away.”
I looked around and saw that Mariella was right.
“Maybe they’ll fill up on bread and pickled onions,” I said, hopefully.
“I don’t think so,” said Mariella. “You’ve done a good job with the wassail, and they’ll fill up on that instead.”
And she was right, but everyone was seemed to have fun (and the shaky pine tree stayed in place) so I’m counting it as a successful party.
 Although my friend Jenny had to keep Christmas treats in the linen cupboard to stop her kids finding them and eating them all in one sitting.
 This is the excuse my colleague Murray uses for buying an entire trolley-load of shortbread each December.
Would you like to sing carols on Christmas Day? If so, it’s time to start brushing up on them:
Choose very familiar carols and print off plenty of copies of the lyrics: practically no-one knows the second verse of even the most famous carols.
Practise your piano playing or guitar strumming or glockenspiel tapping or remind your accompanist to do so. Or get out your karaoke carols.
If your gang are slightly musical, you might like the rounds mentioned on 25 June.
If your gang are more musical, here’s a comparatively simply but very effective SATB arrangement of “Silent Night”. (You’ll probably need to distribute this today to give people a chance to practise.) silent night
If your gang can be persuaded to sing but are not particularly musical, you could do “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a memory song (so you’ll be making up your own gifts around the circle) and emphasise that it’s about memory and not pitch to remove performance anxiety.
I don’t know what I’ll be doing about carols this year. Wendy and I usually do a sing-along but Matthew seldom sings the right note and I haven’t a clue if Auntie Gwen or Susan or Gemma or Paul are willing to warble “Wenceslas”.
The social club committee blocked out our calendars this afternoon so that Laura and Gemma could go to Laura’s uncle’s farmlet to cut down pine saplings and Adam and Jessica and I could drive to my house to bring back huge quantities of holly and ivy. I had recommended that they all wear gardening gloves and I would have taken such an instruction to mean that I should even cover up my hands but Jessica pretty much only covered up her hands and was wearing a skimpy top and a tiny skirt and suffered dreadfully (but manfully – she didn’t complain) with the holly.
 This is the plural “you”, not the singular “you”: the evening Uncle Geoff tried to pressgang his unmusical children into doing carols did not go well.
 But I like to sing, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground,” while I’m pulling up blackberries. (It’s from one of the less joyful verses of “Joy to the World”.)
 Consider “SATB” a shibboleth: if you don’t know what it means, you may not be ready to conduct this version of “Silent Night”.
 We once ended up with, “Five runner beans, four sides of beef, three mince tarts, two turkey rolls and a partridge in a pantry”.
 Matthew claims that he does hit the right note, just not at the right time.
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.
If you have kids, get them making paper chains because they are fun and festive.
The old-fashioned way is to glue strips of paper into loops, linking them as you go, but it’s easier, faster and less messy to use staples. And it’s easier again to use streamers (the boat kind rather than crepe paper) as links: just tear them off into the appropriate lengths and staple them together and you can churn out metres and metres of chain per hour. (This will be part of the appeal: small children will be thrilled that they’ve made something long and larger children will want to hang chains in every room. I draw the line at the wet areas myself but why not let them go gangbusters everywhere else?)
To be green, cut up old glossy magazines for the links and use paste made of sustainable flour as the glue.
I roamed around my back garden this afternoon noting where the best holly was and I’m glad to say that I have some spitefully prickly stuff that looks very Christmassy. In fact, I’m wondering if I should clear it with Health and Safety before we decorate.
 My father came home late after an office Christmas party when I was a kid, sneaking in the front door without turning on the light so that he wouldn’t disturb anyone, and a paper chain came adrift from its mooring and tried to strangle him. He fought it off successfully but the surprise attack unnerved him and he wouldn’t let us drape paper chains over anything he counted as a fire exit from that point on.
 Or, as I more commonly refer to it, my back jungle.
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.