The Best Office Christmas Party Ever!
One of the more memorable and rewarding jobs I had before finding my way to Florida was working as a Bicycle Safety Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension in my hometown of Cortland, New York. Yes. I’m that annoying person who cheerfully nudges you to wear a helmet when you ride your bicycle. You’re welcome. In addition to helping encourage children and adults to wear helmets and follow some pretty basic and common-sense safety rules when riding bicycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles (for native Floridians, those are motorized sleds that travel through the snow – a Jet Ski for snow), I had the good fortune to work with an incredible and caring group of individuals. One year, as we were trying to decide how to navigate planning the whole Secret Santa and Office Holiday Party, we decided to be honest with one another.
After dancing around the subject for a little while in an effort to spare everyone’s feelings, we realized that all of us felt guilty about the office Secret Santa Gift Exchange and ‘Swap Auctions’ that had been going on for years. Between trying to find the perfect gift for $20 or less that would render a colleague both speechless and in awe of our creativity and generosity at such a bargain price, we were all exhausted and not a bit jolly. What if, we wondered, we could each put that $20 towards a real, meaningful gift that would make Christmas special for a family we knew might not otherwise be celebrating? Wouldn’t that beat swapping out the same bottle of Bailey’s® over and over again? We all agreed it was a great idea, but with one unanimous condition – we all agreed that our gifting MUST be done in complete anonymity – indeed, Santa himself would make the delivery.
It took less than thirty seconds for the colleagues who worked with the parenting skills area of our office to come up with a family in crisis, and before we had a chance to reconsider, we started divvying up the responsibilities and who would handle food, gifts, a tree, ornaments, and holiday-related paraphernalia. Of course, any Cooperative Extension office worth its salt is crawling with staffers who canned, baked, preserved, and crafted, so within a couple of days, we found ourselves back at the office conference table, joyfully wrapping, decorating, and packaging a veritable mountain of gifts, goodies, and groceries. There was laughter and merriment, squeals of excitement, and more holiday spirit than any other office Christmas party any of us had ever experienced before. When everything was wrapped and boxed, it was all loaded into a nondescript colleague’s minivan, and a few staff members unknown to the family set off into the snow to deliver our Cooperative Christmas in complete anonymity.
Just as they arrived down the street from the recipients’ home, the group bumped into a local package carrier we all knew who, moved by the group’s desire to do good anonymously, agreed to help with the stealthy operation and was the only one present to knock on the door and make the actual delivery. None of us ever got to see the faces of those we gifted, but it didn’t matter. We saw the light in one another’s eyes, and our souls and spirits soared! It was the best office Christmas party ever!
There isn’t a Christmas that goes by now when I don’t think about what a surprise it must have been to the family. While we heard later that the family was touched and confused by the special delivery the humble package carrier said he was delivering from the North Pole itself, every one of us in that office felt that we’d been the ones who’d truly received the most wonderful gift. Having a chance to come together and share in the experience of giving together with joy and absolutely no expectation of acknowledgement – well, it was the purest expression of Christmas many of us had ever experienced. It brought us all closer and helped develop some of the most lasting and genuine friendships I will ever know.
I’m sharing the story today because it’s getting to be time for the annual holiday gatherings at work, and I fear I’m becoming known as a curmudgeon or notorious Grinch for not choosing to participate. It’s not that I don’t love this holiday – in fact, it’s my favorite season of all. What I don’t love is that so many of us feel compelled to participate in the office gift exchange, swapping trinkets and gushing honeyed thank-you clichés for a three-speed hairbrush or Chia-Pet® none of us need or really even want. If you feel the same, maybe your office will consider adopting Cooperative Christmas idea from so many years ago. If so, I’m happy to connect you with a local nonprofit organization that can direct you to a family in need, and I’ll even do my best to help get your gifts delivered anonymously – or by Santa himself, if I can pull a few North Pole strings. Meanwhile, I hope you won’t mind if I take this opportunity to thank you for helping make the Treasure Coast as much my hometown as the one I was born in. We may not have snow for Christmas, but the kindness of this community glows as brightly for me as that brilliant star in the East did so many hundreds of years ago, leading all who followed it to pure goodness and peace.
Wendy Dwyer is a woman of many hats. A full-time Associate Professor at Indian River State College, she serves as a creative consultant for a variety of nonprofit organizations in the area. She also writes regularly for Luminaries, STUART Magazine, and a variety of other publications.
The creative force behind a variety of unique and wildly successful fundraising programs locally, including the Jewelia Project, the “What’s in Your Bag?” Food Drive, and the Silver Bells Holiday Home Tour, Dwyer is an active volunteer in the community as well, serving as a founding board member of the Van Duzer Foundation, and assisting a variety of local charitable organizations including: Mustard Seed, HANDS/VIM, Southeast Florida Honor Flight, Creature Safe Place, the Inner Truth Project, Guardians for New Futures, Fort Pierce Jazz and Blues Society, the Sunrise Theatre Foundation, LifeBuilders of the Treasure Coast, Heathcote Botanical Gardens, United for Animals, and many others.
An award-winning writer, educator, and public relations professional, Dwyer is always willing to assist non-profit organizations and provide dynamic and engaging public relations trainings for Treasure Coast charities. Her book Asshats to Assets: How to Turn Crappy Jobs into Career Gold is available at www.amazon.com. When she is not working or volunteering, she enjoys writing, walking, and spending time with her husband Dan and a large variety of rescued animals at her rural home west of Fort Pierce.