Party Protocol

Do's and don'ts of holiday revelry

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At this point, if you're either employed by a business large enough to offer direct deposit, or sleeping with someone who is, then you've probably already attended a holiday party or two this year. In fact, most years, this past weekend would've marked the end of the holiday party season. People generally try to plan their parties pretty early in December, not only because lots of folks travel, but also because they want to prevent conflicts with multiple other parties. (It's nearly impossible to avoid throwing your party on the same night as at least one other, and that's acceptable. But the risk of your party just absolutely sucking rises exponentially with each additional simultaneous shindig.)

This year, however, the focal point of all this revelry falls on a Saturday. Such a circumstance always eradicates the period of less intensive party activity — most of us call it "Christmas" — that usually provides a respite between the end of the lengthy pre-holiday build-up and the Night Before New Year's Eve/New Year's Eve/New Year's Day (Hoppin' John's) marathon. There's just something about a Friday-night Christmas Eve that turns plans for quiet, reflective family time into yet another liquor-fueled rager, complete with Mom saying some uncharacteristically witty things before "resting her eyes" on top of all the coats in the spare bedroom, and Dad expressing a sudden, deep interest in the musical tastes of his teenage daughter's friends. In addition, nothing facilitates a post-family-time second wind on Christmas Day quite like knowing it's Saturday night, and something might actually be going on somewhere.

This year, chances are, you've still got some Yuletide partying to do. I suggest you avail yourself of the opportunities. Unlike the other, often disappointing soirees that occur throughout the year, Christmas parties are usually pretty interesting, if for no other reason than you get to observe people you barely know (or don't know at all) interacting in an environment where the usual social and professional protocols can go by the wayside in an instant. This is as close as mass American culture gets to international waters, or the Wild West.

Your boss isn't going to stop by your boyfriend's band's CD release party and try to start a fistfight with somebody over differing tastes in fashion; that guy who dates your ex and smells funny isn't going to get ejected for pissing into a fake potted plant at an art opening or fundraiser; the sexy girl from Accounting nobody knows isn't going to loudly consider taking two of the bartenders home for a three-way while attending your kid's bar mitzvah.

(OK, so maybe they might. But the possibility of something similarly salacious happening goes way up this time of year.)

So attend, and enjoy. But don't be the someone who does the bad thing everyone remembers most about any given get-together. If you're worried that that someone might end up being you, what follows is a list of Do's and Don'ts to help you safely navigate the Christmas/New Year's party season without ending up on anybody's Naughty List.

Do: Attend your annual office party. It's just a nice thing to do, and gives the impression you don't loathe your job and co-workers. Plus, there's free booze, and the chance to talk to that person at your gig that you'd actually like to know a bit better, but never run into outside of work.

Don't: Expect your annual office party to be an existence-defining moment. It's usually early, and you don't want to spend your whole night waiting for everyone to loosen up enough for a spectacle to occur. Stop by, have a cocktail, say hi to everybody. And if things don't start to cook, seek your thrills elsewhere.

Do: Attend everybody else's office parties. Anonymity breeds freedom. You can mingle at will, unencumbered by shop-talk drama, preconceived opinions of everyone in the room, or even a shred of the truth, if you choose to be so bold. Tell people you're an efficiency expert brought in by management to "streamline things," and see what happens.

Don't: Overstay your welcome. A bottomless platter of Swedish meatballs and hastily manufactured alter ego are wonderful things, but backing the last five guests into a corner and bellowing at them about how organized religion is the Achilles heel of human civilization is no way to express your gratitude. Plus, such behavior guarantees they'll remember you, after a minute of searching, when you deliver a pizza to their house two weeks later.

Do: Eat something. Christmas-party cocktails have a way of blindsiding you, so make sure you hit the buffet table. Look, Narcissus, nobody's gonna think you're a pig for grabbing a few chicken wings and broccoli florets, all right?

Don't: Eat anything described with a wink as "rasta pasta," "spice cake with extra spice" or "the casserole with the psilocybin mushrooms in it," if you're on probation, employed by a corporation that does random drug-testing, or have somewhere to be within the next 36 hours or so.

Do: Be a social butterfly. As mentioned earlier, any given weekend night in December might hold a multitude of different parties. Don't hunker at one and get hammered — go on safari.

Don't: Decide to become a social butterfly at 2 a.m. after cocooning yourself in vodka tonics at one location all night. Stumbling into a near-stranger's near-empty house after last call, avowing that this party's just getting started, is a great way to get crossed off someone's Christmas card list. Believe me, I know it's difficult to accept, but it's over. Call a cab — and tell the driver your home address, not to take you someplace that's "down past the Denny's, just take a right at the bus stop where I threw up last year, and I'll find it."

Do: Thank your hosts for a wonderful time, even if you didn't have one.

Don't: Forget to apologize for whatever the hell it was you did that you can't remember.

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