the snowflake dance, the infuriating elves, and other stories of holiday madness at work

Here are 10 of my favorite stories you shared about holidays at work earlier this month.

1. The snowflake dance

“I work for a large publicly traded company and during one Christmas party there was a game where people wore a Kleenex box as a fanny pack and had to twerk out all of the snowflakes that were inside. The person with the fewest snowflakes left was the winner. The CFO, who was present for the party but not paying attention, was visibly none too pleased as he stood next to others and finally figured out what he was going to have to do. The Christmas miracle was that once his discomfort was over, he had like 100% commitment and just twerked like his life was on the line. He won. After the party another executive went around and extracted promises that none of the videos taken would be released, though I can’t help but think it would’ve bumped share price up a little.”

2. The engineers

“I love the engineering department at my old job for being The Most Engineers.

Their holiday gift exchange is: everyone who wishes to participate brings a $15 gift card. The gift cards are placed in a bowl. Everyone removes one (1) gift card. End of exchange.

Last year they had a festive holiday presentation on environmental compliance policies because ‘everyone’s already in the same room.’ The compliance people put some holly on the first page of the PowerPoint.”

3. The elves

“Our office did Elf on a Shelf last year to determine who worked the holidays and who didn’t. The office had always closed for a week at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year with pay but the brass had decided they wanted people working in office during the holidays. Instead of telling us months in advance so we could mitigate our plans and come up with a fair way to distribute work and time off, they told us the week after Thanksgiving and thought it would be fun to get a bunch of those creepy Elf on a Shelf things, put them in every department and have the ‘Elf’ decide who works.

Every morning we’d get a company wide email from different department ‘Elves’ narcing on people and whoever has the most Elf ‘demerits’ had to come in over the holidays. Technically the managers were the ‘elves’ in this scenario so as a manager I got stuck with a lot of rightly angry staff.

Demerits had nothing to do with performance. Other managers chose things like ‘being late,’ ‘not enough holiday cheer,’ or ‘Sara wore blue and Elfie hates blue!’ Deadass serious. We’d get dinged as a department for not having the most creative elf scene. Other departments made a huge mess with powdered sugar and ketchup of all things trying to make an ‘elf scene’ so after maintenance gave us all a slap on the wrist I told HR I wasn’t making my staff participate because they all had plans in place for months and that this whole thing was weird and exclusionary to our staff who didn’t celebrate the holiday and I was not making my staff come in unless they volunteered. To be honest, I was very angry about the whole thing. I had people in tears in my office daily, and one of my best employees came to me and very politely and professionally explained that this was a final straw for her and she would be looking elsewhere.

Apparently I wasn’t the only manager to protest this because HR sheepishly admitted everyone was getting the holidays off anyway and that ‘Santa’ was going to email us all with the surprise later in December but it was such a disaster they were going to pull the plug on it. They just wanted to raise morale, I guess.

They nixed it, to everyone’s relief. My best employee stayed for a while but left on much better terms. Our department kept the Elf. They named him F*ckface (which I allow so long as we keep it chill) and blame him for errors and system outages. This year FF lives in a tissue box turned outhouse in the supply closet and comes out on staff work anniversaries. So it did raise morale, just not how they thought.”

4. The pager number

“In high school I worked for the company my dad owned. I had a few drinks at the holiday party and ended up making out a bit with one of the warehouse guys who, as it turned out was married with kids. Oops. I was fairly certain he didn’t know I was the owner’s daughter. When he asked for my number later on that night, I gave him my dad’s pager number. He quit a few weeks later.”

5. The subpar party

“Many years ago, my boss at the time decided to invite the whole team (plus spouses and children) to his house for a Christmas party. And just us – no one else.

Now, you have to understand – the boss was one of those guys that exuded both ‘rugged country man’s man’ and ‘enough money to have fancy things,’ like some sort of discount Tim McGraw. He was managing a team of programmers. Which is not to say anything negative about myself and other programmers, but… well, the closest any of us got to ‘rugged country’ was ‘having a back yard.’

So we show up at his home – in a pretty nice subdivision in a fairly rich town – with our spouses, and a few kids, for this Christmas party. And it was … well … Ever been in a room with six introverts and a taciturn man’s man who all know each other from work but don’t really socialize outside of work, a pack of kids who don’t know each other but at least there’s Xbox, and a group of spouses who don’t know each other at all, one of whom is trying to keep socializing going because it’s her house and her husband is failing at being a warm and welcoming host? For a Christmas party in a big house with minimalist spotless furniture and holiday decorations to suit, with the adults standing around the kitchen counter and breakfast nook table idly picking at overly fancy snack foods and trying to make small talk?

Yeah. It was like we’d all forgotten how to Human. You couldn’t cut the awkwardness with a knife, but only because we were being suffocated by it.

Eventually, one of our more extroverted coworkers had to leave to take their kids somewhere and started making apologies. That opened the floodgates. Simultaneously, and without consulting each other, all of the rest of us programmers and our families ALL said our goodbyes and fled the scene like the house was on fire.

…The next year, the boss ordered pizza and made us watch ‘A Christmas Story’ in a conference room instead.”

6. The baby boom

“My former company had a fancy dinner at a hotel party with an open bar. It was a great event. Many people got hotel rooms but my spouse and I went home. I must have missed something because HR sent out an email saying that in the future there would be a two drink limit, beer and wine only, no shots or hard liquor.

And as a side note, almost exactly 9 months later there was a minor baby boom in the company.”

7. The ex

“We had an employee RSVP to our Christmas party for himself and his longtime girlfriend. They broke up a few days before the party, and he let us know in he was not going to be attending the party after all because he was too upset over the breakup. Imagine our surprise when his now ex-girlfriend showed up at the party anyway! Our boss didn’t want to make a scene so she let her stay.

The ex-girlfriend proceeded to get very drunk. During the gift exchange, she grabbed a gift that had been set aside for the owners of the company. Let’s say we sell teapots, and this gift was a teapot that the staff had spent time covering with photos and memorabilia and signatures. It was not a useful item – it no longer was a functioning teapot, it was very clearly a sentimental and personal gift and was nowhere near the gift exchange pile but the ex-girlfriend found it, claimed it, and refused to give it up. The staff were upset, the owners were upset, and the employee that orchestrated the creation of said teapot was in tears. Someone messaged her ex, our employee, to see if he could help but he was just upset that we let the ex-girlfriend stay and he didn’t want to get involved. People were trying to trade gifts with her, but she would not give up the teapot until she was bribed with cash to do so – the staff took up a collection and gave her $100 to buy our gift back. She stayed for the rest of the party (which wasn’t long because the mood had been ruined at that point) and then drunkenly staggered out of our lives and into company legend.”

8. The stickers

“Every year, at my company holiday party, they place a sticker under one chair at each table. If you happen to be the lucky person sitting in the sticker chair, you get to take home the centerpiece! Wow! Except no one ever wants the centerpieces, and people tend to say they don’t have the sticker even if they do. (They’re lovely, but large, and not convenient to haul around the after party and public transportation.)

Toward the end of the party, if it seems like no one is leaving with the centerpiece from each table, the CEO will go around and start identifying the lucky new owner of each centerpiece. There is a polite but forceful questioning if you decline.

People tuned in to the sticker situation and started pre-inspecting their seats so as to choose one without a sticker. But! The planning team caught wind of this, and there were no stickers under chairs this year. We became hopeful! Perhaps this year the awkward centerpiece hot potato dance could be avoided! Sadly, we were fooled—after his remarks, the CEO proudly announced the stickers were under the plates instead!”

9. The playing cards

“My husband worked at a tech company just evolving beyond startup stage, and one year as part of the holiday gifts, they printed up company-branded decks of playing cards. Seems pretty innocuous, right? EXCEPT. They had the cute idea to use headshots of senior leadership for the face cards in the deck, broken out by gender and seniority. So they had four C-Suite men as the Aces, four VPs for Kings, four more high-ranking men as the Jacks… then apparently they couldn’t even come up with four women in any leadership role at all, so two of the Queens cards were just left BLANK.

Oh, and the best part is they printed the headshots on the BACKS of the cards, so the deck isn’t even actually usable or playable. I still have it somewhere, though, for the sheer wtf of it all!”

10. The purses

“One year, my boss’ uncle had a job as a distributor for Coach (the purse company). He and the partner of the law firm decided to use the discount to get myself and our secretary Coach purses for Christmas. In order to find out what we wanted, he asked us what kind of purse we suggested for his girlfriend.

The secretary immediately printed out her favorite purse on the Coach website and gave it to him. I, however, was focused on helping him find the perfect purse for his girlfriend. So I quizzed him incessantly on the size, shape and color of his girlfriend’s current purse. He ‘didn’t know’ and kept asking me, ‘But what do YOU like?’ which I refused to answer because “purses are very personal and every woman has a preference.” Finally, I told him to look at her current purse and get her something similar in size and shape and color.

He took my advice and bought me the Coach version of my then-current purse. (I loved it!) When he gave it to me, he expressed his (comical) annoyance at me for not playing along, but then thanked me for educating him on how to buy a purse for his girlfriend. (She loved hers too! And she’s now his wife.)”