Office tips and tricks

Holiday Party Etiquette: Lessons from ‘The Office’

It’s time for the office holiday party. But before going full-on jingle bell rock with your coworkers, you’ll want to relive these lessons learned from the greatest television series of all time.

It’s that time of year again, when we deck our desks with holiday knick knacks and get ready to celebrate with our coworkers.

That’s right! It’s time for the office holiday party—the year-end gathering that only 36% of employees actually enjoy and that opens employers and employees alike up to a smorgasbord of risks and dangers (horror stories, anyone?). Or, at least, that’s what I hear from my friends. Because I, Terri, have never actually been to a real office holiday party.

Still, I feel confident in offering you, dear reader, some office party advice. That’s because, while I’ve never had my own cubicle in a traditional office, I have watched all 9 seasons of The Office dozens of times. I may or may not have gone to New York to see The Office! A Musical Parody and to grab a real New York slice (RIP Times Square Sbarro). My boyfriend may or may not have made me a hand-bound book of the scripts from seasons one and two.

I guess what I’m saying is, I know The Office—and I know all seven holiday episodes of The Office, and, because I know The Office, and I know The Office holiday episodes, I also know about the office holiday party. So, hang the mistletoe (don’t; you don’t want to be a creep like Robert California), spike the eggnog (don’t; Toby’ll whine about it), and enjoy my gift to you: this list of holiday party lessons that I’ve learned from the hardworking heroes of Dunder Mifflin.

Respect people's cultural traditions

Each person’s holiday traditions are unique, based on their familial, religious, and cultural backgrounds as well as on their own personal preferences. It’s important to remember that, no matter what your coworkers’ traditions are, they’re valid, and you should treat them with kindness and respect. At the same time, it’s important not to make your coworkers with different traditions feel awkward or singled out, so avoid explicitly ethnic party themes (a la Phyliss’s Morroccan Christmas in season 5). And you should probably steer clear of inclusivity overcompensation, like the well-intentioned Kwanzaa wreath and Black santa decorations that set Stanley off in season 8’s “Christmas Wishes” episode. I mean, I love “Santa Claus is a Black Man” and in my house Chocolate Santa is the only Santa we acknowledge, but if my white coworkers decorated the break room with a dashiki-clad Blanta, I’d probably tell them to “just give me Plain Baby Jesus Lying In A Manger Christmas!” too.

If you’re not sure, just invite your coworkers to contribute to the celebration in ways that feel comfortable for them and follow their lead. It might turn out that you all celebrate in similar ways. But, if your deskmate happens to be a Scrantonese Schrute and comes dressed as Belsnickel, just enjoy the gluhwein, dig in to the hog maw, and have a good time.

Stay within the Secret Santa budget

Secret Santa. Kris Kringle. Manita-Manito. No matter what you call it, the basics of this office holiday staple stay the same: pick a name, buy a gift. And if you go a little bit over the agreed upon budget, that shouldn't be a problem, right?

WRONG. So very, very wrong.

If I learned anything from The Office’s first holiday episode, it was this: follow gift exchange rules and protocol. If the spending limit is $20, spend $20. Because if, like Michael, you splurge on a $400 iPod Shuffle for a temp that you’re inexplicably obsessed with, things are going to go off the rails real fast. Before you know it, you’ll have forced everyone in the office to play a made-up game called Yankee Swap, you’ll have deeply offended Phyllis who, sure, maybe isn’t the best knitter but worked really hard on that oven mitt, and you’ll unintentionally hold up the corporate courtship that the whole series is leaning on.

Seasonal depression, and how not to deal with it

The holiday season is supposed to be a time of happiness and connection, but for some of us, it’s a little more complicated. Whether the culprit is seasonal depression, stress and fatigue, or anxiety about engaging with toxic family members, there’s a good chance that at least one person in your office doesn’t feel jolly this time of year. If your cubicle buddy is feeling a little down, there are lots of ways to support them, but one thing you don’t want to do is cheer up a despondent deskmate by taking them out and getting them drunk, like Andy did when he took Michael to Benihana to get over a pre-Christmas breakup. And you definitely don’t want to then bring them back to the office with a pair of Benihana waitresses who aren’t even the Benihana waitresses that waited on them at the Benihana.

But even if your coworkers do drink too much, or a salacious affair is threatening to tear the sales team apart, really, the most important lesson from The Office Christmas parties is a simple one, and leads me to my last tip.

Mind your own business

Sure, you might want to stage an impromptu intervention when your oft-intoxicated coworker sets her hair on fire (*cough cough* Meredith *cough cough*). Maybe you’ll feel the urge to get revenge on an uptight accountant by letting the whole staff know she’s been jingling a salesman’s bells in the warehouse.

But before you say anything, just take a second, and think about the ghosts of Office holiday episodes past. I promise, when you do, the truth will come clear: The best gift you can give your coworkers—and yourself—is to chill out, put your head down, and just let everybody get that holiday party over with so that you can all go home and start your vacation. Happy holidays, everyone.

Terri is a writer, researcher, and program coordinator for the US's first academic trivia league for HBCUs. She lives and works in New Orleans, with her partner, their 3 kids, and an ever-growing book collection.

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