Vintage Business #3: The Office Christmas Party

The office Christmas Party has long been a source of embarrassment, hedonism, bonding and, according to a Harvard study, thousands of pregnancies. Company Christmas parties go waaaay back - there's even records from the days of King Richard II of office parties to celebrate the holidays.... given the amount of ale on the menus, it would seem Christmas party drunkeness is a centuries old tradition!

In this post, I've pasted together some quotes and facts relating to the office Christmas party that I found interesting or amusing. I hope you enjoy reading it. Cheers!

"What I don't like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day."
- Phyllis Diller

image source: Harvey Kurtzman's hilarious magazine HELP (1961); much like MAD magazine

This article from LIFE magazine describes what Christmas parties were like in the late forties. I found it pretty revealing. Evidently, they were pretty hedonistic back then.  All the ones I've been to at my own workplace have been pretty stuffy and awkward - nothing like the ones described here.

"On one night or another just before Christmas the lights burn late in many American business houses. The occasion is the great leveler, the office Christmas party, an antidote to social formality which ranks between a few discreet cocktails and a free-for-all fight.  Then all business barriers collaps; executives unbend; the office clown finds a sympathetic audience.  This is the only time when the pretty file clerk gets kissed in public, and the homely one gets kissed at all."
- LIFE magazine, December/1948

MKULTRA, was the code name for a covert CIA mind-control and chemical interrogation research program, run by the Office of Scientific Intelligence. This official U.S. government program began in the early 1950s, continuing at least through the late 1960s, and it used United States citizens as its test subjects. In one instance the CIA tested it on unwitting individuals within its own agency, the Technical Services Staff (TSS).  The punch at the annual Christmas party was spiked with LSD! One partygoer, Frank Olsen, experienced horrific hallucinations and threw himself from his tenth story room.

"We note that the office Christmas party is declining in popularity. This trend may be related to the replacement of secretarial personnel by electronic equipment."
- Kiplingers Personal Finance, January 1960

"People think office Christmas parties are fun and games, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, office parties are social minefields that will cost an estimated 2.2 million workers their jobs this holiday season alone, government studies show."
- Weekly World News

"For the afternoon of the office Christmas party is a timeless limbo of complete abandon. Aloof secretaries shed their Kelley Girl demeanor, and starch collared junior executives unwind their springs. The whole atmosphere takes on the faintest touch of a Roman orgy - and if you've ever been touched by a Roman orgy... it's really the shivers.
- Topper magazine, January 1962

A Historically Bad Office Christmas Party: The 1968 Beatles Apple Boutique Party

In 1968, The Beatles held an ill fated Christmas Party for the new Apple boutique. and, incredibly, George Harrison invited members of Hell's Angels to the shindig! He was quoted as saying, "They may look as though they are going to do you in, but are very straight and do good things, so don't fear them or uptight them.”

John and Yoko showed up dressed like Father and Mother Christmas, and acted very scrooge-like. “Complete with false white beard, John seemed altogether lacking in seasonal spirit, and made the most miserable-looking Santa I had ever seen in my life," said a fellow partygoer.  (John was doing heroine at the time.)

I hope all you readers have a good time at your office parties. Avoid public humiliation and stay safe. And if you happen to work for the CIA, take my advice and don't drink the punch.


  1. love the post & the vintage pics!

  2. I mentioned you on my blog today. Hope it brings you some traffic.

  3. I want to know just where these wild office parties ARE, because no place I've worked or even heard about from friends and family has had anything other than tame, boring parties, if their workplace has them at all.

  4. I think THE classic Office Christmas Party is the one in Billy Wilders The Apartment.

  5. By the time I joined up, my office's Christmas parties had become fairly subdued, but every year the oldsters tell colorful tales of bygone debaucheries.

    We still close up early and enjoy booze provided by the company, but the parties are lighthearted as opposed to bacchanalian. Very disappointing. I want an over-the-top "Mad Men" style Christmas party!

  6. i can't imagine hanging out at my workplace one minute more than i have to, so i always turn these parties down...

  7. Wow! This post brings back memories of my own magical office Christmas parties. You know, the forced converstion, the awkward silence, the jokes going over like a lead zeppelin. People constantly looking at their watches to see how how much longer they have to endure this train wreck. (I hope you are feeling the sarcasm).

    I gonna have to agree with Prof. Grewbeard, I usually come up with a fake illness to miss these disasters.

  8. I think the BBC's The Office perfectly captures the modern day xmas party - awkward, politically correct and nobody really wants to be there except those who have nowhere else to go.

    People put up so many walls around themselves these days that you'd need a gallon of Jagermeister just to get someone to put their guard down and have a good time and not give a damn about what everybody thinks.

  9. Great post! And you've dug out some fantastic photos, too!

  10. Maybe office parties are boring nowadays because we don't have as much repression to let out?

  11. Today you don't want to get slapped with sexual harassment, so you have to be careful.