The ghost of Christmas past

The other day I found this passage in one of my favorite anthologies of all time: Drinking, Smoking and Screwing. (Also not to be missed is the companion volume: Lying, Cheating and Stealing.) It is the opening to "The Office Party" by Corey Ford:


There are several methods of getting through the Christmas holidays. One is to board a ship in San Francisco and sail for the Orient, arranging to cross the International Dateline at midnight on Christmas Eve. As a result, the next day on teh calendar, will be December 26th, and our Christmas will have been a total blank.

Another way to make your Christmas a total blank is to attend an Office Party the day before . . .

The annual Office Party statrs along about noon on December 24 and ends two or three months later, depending how long it takes the boss to find out who set fire to his wastebasket, threw the water cooler out of the window, and betrayed Miss O'Malley in the men's washroom. By the time the entire Accounting Department has been dismissed and the painters have finished doing over the two lower floors which were ruined when somebody turned on the sprinkler system at the festivities' height, the moment has arrived to start planning next year's party, which everyone vows will be even more hilarious than the last one. Next year all the guests will be supplied with shin guards and hockey sticks.

There's something very revealing about the tropes that drop out of the popular literary imagination. Last night, I was talking to a friend about American Inventor, and it occurred to me that the crazy fellow who tinkers in his basement with inventions that never quite work has pretty much entirely fallen out of fashion in literature and movies--even though the show illustrates that the phenomenon is still very much alive.

Similarly, the wild, drunken office Christmas party used to be a staple of television, books, and movies. Now I feel as if it's dropped pretty thoroughly out of the popular imagination; the only example I can think of recently is a fleeting scene in Bridget Jones' Diary. Were office holiday parties really that much wilder in the past? Or have we just stopped noticing, literarily?

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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