12 December

O Tannenbaum

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!)

7 December

Deck the cubicles

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”[1] 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).

Cascade of baubles.

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.)

[1] 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.

6 December

Influx of cards

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).[1]
  • 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![2]

Today is a good day to make lemon butter for your hampers[3] and make sure you keep at least one jar for yourself because it makes excellent Christmas desserts. (See 22 April.)

Who loves you?

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”.)

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] Or passionfruit butter, by swapping passionfruit pulp for the lemon juice.

29 November

Pop it in the post

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,[1] 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.[2]

Down the hatch!

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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

18 November

In print

Polish your letter until it sparkles and then proofread it carefully to catch any mistakes. If possible, ask someone else to proofread it too (since it seems to be impossible to catch all of one’s own errors)[1] and then format it attractively.[2]

Finally, print out the right number of copies of your letter and remember to do one for your archives.[3]


The office Christmas party plans are beginning to crystalise: it’s wassail and fruit punch with a “King Winter” theme and we’ll decorate with the holly and ivy that I still have way too much of in my backyard. We’ll describe the food as “medieval” and it will be bread and cheese and pickled onions (which means it could also be described as “cheap”) leaving the bulk of the budget for the wassail.

[1] Which, unfortunately, seems to be true in life in general as well as in writing.

[2] Having too much text to fit on two pages is not a cue to use a tiny font: it’s a cue to cut.

[3] Or not. Carol’s hoarding mother has carbon copies of every letter she wrote in her youth and, although these may potentially have historical value one day, the copies of every bill she has ever received have less narrative interest.

8 November

Present problems

Today is the day that St Nicholas arrives in the Netherlands by steamboat from Spain.[1]

If you don’t have enough ideas for presents yet, here are some suggestions for generating suggestions:

  • Check out the websites you bookmarked during the year.
  • Ask others: your kids may have good ideas about what their cousins want, for example.[2]
  • Quiz the people themselves! Many people enjoy being asked what they’d like.
  • Get them to initial your catalogues (see 14 October).

And remember that you’re buying to their taste, not yours.[3]

All I want for Christmas is…

It seems that Gemma has been listening when I’ve been talking about my blog and she offered up a brilliant compromise solution to the office party problem: a wassail bowl. This would be exotic as well as Christmassy and we could probably do it for nearly the same price as beer. I immediately suggested that we add a fruit punch for anyone who wants to stay upright, both ideas were accepted and I am starting to think that we might be able to make this work. (I have seen what a disaster to morale the bungled birthday cake roster was and I am afraid that a bad Christmas party could bring this company to its knees!)

[1] See? I’m not the only one who starts Christmas this early.

[2] And bad ideas too. My son Jeremy has tried to persuade me to buy all kinds of wicked practical jokes for his cousin Jack but I knew my sister Wendy would boomerang it all back to me faster than you could say “whoopee cushion”.

[3] Although I learned not to entirely ignore my own feelings when I gave my brother a record called “Disco Duck” when he was ten. He really wanted it and he was only ten so that doesn’t count against him but I hated it, and had to listen to it five times a day until he finally got sick of it.