One of the trickier elements of the festive season is undoubtedly the works Christmas do. Leaving aside its reputation for an unhelpful conjunction of body parts and photocopiers, to say nothing of ill-advised fumblings in the stock cupboard after a surfeit of something brash and black-curranty from the new world, even a relatively tame trip to a restaurant to indulge in cracker-pulling and rubbery chicken with colleagues can leave one bored, dyspeptic and longing for Newsnight.
We had ours yesterday, in a fashionable eatery, albeit at an unfashionably early hour. Some, I note, are naturally good at knowing what to wear at these things. They either go to the trouble of packing their party frock and bringing it to work, or they manage to add sparkly bits to the business attire, turning the serious professional into a party monster at the drop of a sequin. Others are less successful, turning up tired and dishevelled in the garish outfit they’ve worn all day at the charity jumper event. Still others haven’t even managed that, the removal of a tie or a smearing of fresh lipstick being about as far as they go down Celebration Boulevard.
The seating arrangements can also be a white-knuckle ride of indecision and blind chance. Those with clearly-defined tribal loyalties usually arrive together and sit in a discrete group, looking exclusive even if they don’t mean to. But those with no particular belonging or who work across an entire organisation are drawn into a game of random distribution in which they wonder about trying to squeeze in among the beautiful people and bright young things; to take pity on whichever group seems to have been consigned to social Siberia; or (wisest and best course) to sit in the first available place and let the evening unfold.
And this is the purpose and great redeeming feature of the works do. We spend time with those we might not often spare more than a Good Morning, and listen to those we normally only ask How are you? without attending to the answer. Even those who sit in their department groups are showing and seeing different sides from their nine-to-five selves, maybe even saying some important stuff before the volume is driven skywards by the wine, and the thoughts of many turn towards the boom-boom-boom of dancing and spirituous liquor.
But in those quieter, perhaps quite trivial moments over the pollo prosciutto and chocolate mousse, links are made that form and strengthen us. The sharing of a meal and party hats is a laying-in of resources for tougher times when battles rage. The one who tells us now the great saga of the replacement hip or windows will then, perhaps, be the one who feels just a little bit more able or inclined to inch closer in our need.
And what better time for this than Christmas? Even though for many the gospel has long since ceased to resonate, or possibly never began, it is still a time of midwinter light for the giving and forgiving of friends and families and the turning to a new year in optimistic hope.
And it’s a time for hearing again that it was God’s beautiful face and loving heart that we were shown when a baby was born in Bethlehem, and when the baby grew — to say and do and die and rise just as he did.
So pull that cracker with abandon. Put on the paper crown. The people around you may save your life one day.
The baby did.