Ask the Past: Christmas party

I love Christmas, but what I don't love is all of the drama around my work Christmas party. Negotiations around the secret Santa distribution method run to at least three weeks, and there is always someone who has too much to drink and says something deeply offensive, and then the whole office is at war about it for days. What's the best way to deal with this? Can I just not go? Or should I be the one that drinks too much this year so that at least I don't remember any of it?

Unfortunately, most books of etiquette agree that getting drunk is probably not the way to deal with this. Australian Etiquette goes a little further on the subject, and suggests that maybe serving booze at parties isn't the done thing at all:

People who entertain should also be cautious as to serving wines at all. It is impossible to tell what harm you may do to some of your highly esteemed guests. It may be that your palatable wines may create an appetite for the habitual use of wines or stronger alcoholic liquors; or you may renew a passion long controlled and entombed.

If your work party is willing to ignore this sound advice and risk renewing anyone's passions, the advice in Mrs Oliver Harriman's Book of Etiquette is less strict, but she does have a few choice words for anyone who drinks at a party:

Naturally a woman and a man exercise the same moderation in drinking as they do in eating. They recognize that overindulgence in one case is as bad as it is in another. The well-bred person knows when to drink, when to stop.

If you already know that your secret Santa person is going to be one of the drinkers, then perhaps that piece of advice, nicely cross-stitched and framed, would be an appropriate thing to give.

Not going at all, on the other hand, is a solid option, and indeed, if you're single or young and it's in the evening, might actually be the most polite thing to do. Again, from Australian Etiquette:

Dinners are generally looked upon as entertainments for married people and the middle-aged.

If you are going to give it a miss, the polite thing is to let the rest of the office know by letter, either delivered to them individually, or, if you find it more convenient, just by putting one letter up on the fridge in the tearoom for everyone to see. The Book of Good Manners recommends the following format:

Mrs. Field regrets sincerely her inability to accept

Mrs. Griswold's

very tempting invitation for Tuesday evening. Another engagement must deprive her of the pleasure.

Australian Etiquette doesn't really feel like that's enough, though, and requires you to give an actual reason why you can't go, using this format:

Mr. and Mrs. Barton

Regret exceedingly that owing to (whatever the preventing cause may be), they cannot have the pleasure of dining with Mr. and Mrs. Stewart on Thursday, October 13th.

With all that in mind, it might be more trouble than it's worth to stay away. If you decide to go after all, you could consider relieving your feelings by offering to arrange flowers for the table and making up a bouquet as follows (as usual, all from The Language of Flowers):

Foolishness - Pomegranate

Vice - Darnel

Disgust - Frog Orpheus

(Incidentally, darnel is also known as 'poison darnel', and it can cause symptoms ranging from dizziness and nausea through to confusion and disorientation, and then coma and death. I can't find a specific recommended antidote, but it seems it's related to ergot poisoning, for which Harmsworth's Household Encyclopedia recommends a strong cup of tea.)

And remember, if the whole thing gets a bit much and you need to leave early, instead of individually saying goodbye to people, you can achieve the same effect by tossing a handful of sweet peas (departure) into the air and then making your exit.

I'm sure that will help.

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