The office was busy for a Friday afternoon but I had committed to the action and was determined to see it through. I went into the toilet and checked myself in the mirror; I straightened my tie then donned the large Santa hat. I turned to the side, someone else would make this look good, I thought. There was a banging on the door.
"Come on," Jess shouted from the other side, "what are you doing in there?"
I walked out to see Jess in her business suit, her hat at a jaunty angle, a little blonde hair sticking out the front.
"Oh, look at you," she said.
"Let's just get this over with."
In our company, 'inclusivity' was the new watchword. The fear of offending people had paralysed our already cautious HR function, and we were doing our best to make everyone feel equally loved. In the aftermath of a particularly acrimonious discrimination claim, the head of HR decreed that we were no longer to recognise any religious holidays. Of course there was only one 'religious holiday' that anyone cared about, even unbelievers such as myself appreciated elements of the shopping season. Once again, HR had stamped out a perfectly innocuous tradition.
I walked into the office with my Santa hat and pulled my tie askew to suggest zaniness. As I approached the first pod, I ran through the agreed lines in my head, mindful of the prohibition on certain terms.
"Hi everybody," I said - two people turned to face me, Linda and Owen.
"Well, look at you," said Linda, a middle aged newly promoted manager.
"Yes, look at me," I shook the bucket of coins I was holding, "how are we all?"
"Busy," she said.
"Aren't we all. So, anyway, have you guys got your tickets yet?"
"Tickets for what?"
She was testing me. I fixed my hat.
"The party," I paused, "the Winter Party."
Owen looked at Linda.
"When is that, exactly?" He said.
The posters had been up for weeks.
"Oh, right, just before Christmas then?"
Linda was gathering herself. She was an old school catholic, the fire and brimstone type, an offence taker. Presumably, HR were dragging this sacred time back to its pagan roots. I needed to shut them down.
So," I said, approaching with the bucket, "you want a ticket or not?"
On the other side of the office, Jess was weaving between desks, dispensing tickets and jokes with aplomb, working up the room in a joyful zigzag. It wasn't fair, I thought, she had all the good people on her side. The marketing team, already in their ironic Christmas jumpers, were laughing along - Jess was winning on every front.
I looked back to my side, the analysts had their heads down. I skipped across to the other side, intending to scoop up some of the good cheer meant for my colleague. I approached Christie the digital marketing manager, she cast a disparaging eye on all of our corporate initiatives - she was however kooky, her LinkedIn profile picture was a selfie. I had also kissed her at the last Christmas party.
"What are you supposed to be?" She said without looking up.
"The ghost of Christmas future," I said, "Rita wants us to inject more fun into head office."
"Your new boss? The woman who introduced the new casual Friday."
I felt a twinge, I knew someone was going to mention that dreadful aberration - it was the wound that refused to heal.
Christie said, "I loved it, she sent a rambling memo about being casual, which made no sense - basically, men can wear whatever they like, so long as it's a shirt and trousers."
"No different from normal then."
"You can wear chinos," I said.
"Yeah right. So, what she done now? She destroyed mufti day, what's next?"
"Come on," I said, clutching my bucket with both hands, "don't be a Grinch. Have you got your ticket yet for the Winter Party?"
"The winter what? You have got to be joking."
"I am not."
I shook the bucket again, like some infernal chugger.
Christie smiled, "because it's you, put me down for two."
"Excellent," I fumbled with the ticket book.
"Listen, just tell me this, why are HR so terrified of offending people? Everyone knows your department had the lowest employee engagement score, maybe you should stop offending each other before you worry about the rest of us. Oh, and tell her we want Christmas back."
I tore off a ticket and thrust it into her hand.
"I know, Christie, but hey, let's not worry about that stuff, it's Christmas. Or winter. You know, the party."
She smiled, "ok, I'll let you off."
I said, "Maybe I'll see you under the mistletoe again this year!"
"Oh, so mistletoe is allowed, is it?"
"Come to think of it..."
"Listen," she said looking around, "we've been over this, I was pretty drunk last year."
"And if you mention it again, I'm going straight to Rita."
Christie went back to her work. I turned towards the next pod, shaking my bucket. Up ahead Jess was telling an elaborate joke, everybody was laughing. Only seventeen tickets left, I thought.