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The Nicest Party I've Ever Been To: A Christmas Story

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As an employer, you see Christmas parties one of two ways: something you have to do or something you want to do.

And the party you throw shows which you believe.

I've been to both kinds. I've had the good food, I've had the bad food, I've shown up in jeans, I've shown up in slacks, etc. And I'd rather not talk about the bad Christmas parties, where you can feel the boss's teeth grinding while he watches his employees eat the Mexican buffet he felt he had to buy just to please someone other than himself, like you love your job 364 days out of the year and on Christmas, should be buying him dollar store gifts.

No, I'd rather talk about the best company Christmas party I've ever been to, in hopes that employers will give a second thought about their Christmas party and employees.

In 2007, I was working as a screen printer at J&M Promotions in Orange, Calif. Jack and Michele Ohanian ran J&M Promotions, a uniform, specialty items and screen-printing company. 

The headquarters was an office with an attached warehouse. Those in the office were generally adults and those in the warehouse were generally obnoxious.

I was of course in the warehouse.

My job was pretty ideal actually. The warehouse crew was 10-20 local high school and college boys who all knew each other somehow. We got the job done, but we got to talk while doing it. We rarely had to talk to customers and we were paid a couple bucks above minimum wage for a job that I'm pretty sure robots could do.

December rolled around and I received my invitation to the Christmas party in the mail. Quite formal for a job where you know everyone's name and see your bosses and co-workers every day, I thought.

Having attended previous work Christmas parties at roller rinks and bowling alleys, the location of J&M's Christmas party caught me off-guard. It was at The Catch, a slightly upscale seafood restaurant.

"[We had to] find a facility that could accommodate our 40 guests and a place where we knew the food was good and we would be well taken care of," Michele recalls.

Since my good friend Chris also worked there, I carpooled with him and his girlfriend, Traci. And since my girlfriend was abroad at the time, I brought my buddy Rex, who made an exceptional substitute and plus one.

The four of us strolled in and couldn't believe we were in the right place. It was a legitimate company Christmas party with all the attendees dressed so much nicer than they usually were (at work). It was in a festively decorated private room with a piano and a Christmas tree surrounded by gifts.

Jack and Michele welcomed us like family and we greeted our peers with handshakes and hugs instead of high-fives. The Ohanians took cutesy pictures of the couples (Rex and I posed magnificently and would've probably won if there was some kind of contest) and asked employees to write down their favorite Christmas memory on a piece of paper upon arriving. Furthermore, there was a table of appetizers and an open bar, complete with a bartender who was generous with the whiskey.

After an hour of talking up good cheer, we took our seats. Jack gave a toast and we ate, all amongst our several different tables. Like actual adults. Again, most of the payroll were twentysomething dudes that I usually saw in jeans, so such a formal event seemed almost spiritual in nature.

There were two bottles of wine on each table and a box of See's Candies on each plate. They served steak, ahi tuna and vegetarian pasta. We all conversed much more politely than we did at work, many of us in ties now with our girlfriends present.

After dessert was served, employees would take turns reading aloud a fellow co-worker's name and favorite Christmas memory, and the person would choose a wrapped gift underneath the Christmas tree, while the rest of those at the tables clapped and yelled jokes.

"We wanted to have some sort of a fun little game to get to know each other a little better at the party. We had all the employees complete this statement, 'My favorite Christmas memory is...,'" Michele remembers. "And it was fun to hear what everyone's memory of Christmas is, from family time to actual events and gifts received. Each employee also received a $50 gift card for various things, such as Best Buy, Trader Joe's, iPod music, gas cards, restaurant gift cards, Nordstrom, etc."

It was pretty wild and actually slightly suspicious to me, since I had never had such warmth and respect at a job before. I recently asked Chris what he thought of last year's party. Knowing full-well I was writing this blog, he said, "I felt like the belle of the ball. I felt like first prize and I was being awarded to myself. Keep that. You're going to quote me on that, right? Say that I said that."

Once dessert was finished, we stood around talking in different social circles, holding our gift cards, chocolate and fourth round of the open bar. It was warm, it was friendly, it was Christmas. It was like all of those old holiday songs were written about this party, though there was no fireplace, no snow or sleigh rides and I don't think anybody's eaten chestnuts in anticipation for Christmas since the 19th century. By the end of the evening, Jack was cracking jokes with Rex, and Michele knew Traci's name.

On the way home, eating our boxes of chocolate, the four of us compared the J&M Christmas party to previous work parties we had each attended over the years. This was the first one any of us had attended with an open bar. "Anytime you can get drunk and your boss pays for it, that's a Merry Christmas," Chris says.

An open bar to twentysomethings is like a free candy store to kids.

"We had an exceptional year [of 2007] and we wanted to have a nice celebration of our appreciation of the wonderful people we have [and had] working with us," Michele says. "We do have nice Christmas parties each year. Sometimes, we celebrate in our home and sometimes we celebrate at an outside facility. Each year we try to have something memorable for the employees to show our gratitude."

The Ohanians spent around $6,200 on J&M Promotions' 2007 Christmas party. And that didn't include the bonuses each of us received, either.

However, business has slowed down considerably this year, along with many small businesses across the country. And sadly, it's affected the Christmas party. "[This year] is a little different in that we did not extend an invitation to include employee spouses or guests," says Michele.

But that won't stop the Ohanians from treating their employees to a nice Christmas celebration.

"This year, we are hosting a luncheon for our employees at Mr. Stox," Michele says.

Now, I don't know if you've ever been to Mr. Stox in Orange, but it's the type of place where the valets need valets and the food looks like it's delivered by The Food Network. I've only been there once and it was for my father's 50 birthday. The only restaurant I could imagine nicer is one run by Helen Mirren and James Bond somewhere in Dubai.

So, really, next year when you throw your companny Christmas party...be the employer that wants to do it, wants to show appreciation, wants the pat on the back to last another year. If you give a little extra in December, your employees will give a little extra the other 11 months.

Because I'll tell you right now, nobody wants to work for The Grinch.

Because I'll tell you right now, nobody wants to work for Ebenezer Scrooge.

Because I'll tell you right now, nobody wants to work for Mr. Potter.

Ok, you know what? I can't think of a way to end this whole thing so it doesn't sound campy, cheesy and stupid. Just throw an awesome company Christmas party. Bottom line: be kind for a better bottom line.

Merry Christmas!

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