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"The waste is what I hate," she said. "Let's face it, no one is going to keep those bars of soap, cheap candles or fart buttons. No one."
We were talking about Christmas and the annoying Kris Kringle tradition that heaps another misery on time-poor office workers. Ambushed yet again by the festive season, their precious lunch hours are spent trawling through $2 shops, filling up baskets with plastic geegaws destined to become next year's landfill.
And when the time comes to open the gifts, the forced smiles of the recipients barely conceal their inner thoughts. "Can I regift this? Will I chuck it straight in the bin?" One estimate a few years ago suggested Australians spent about $400 million on unwanted gifts - much of which are chucked out with the prawn heads and leftover ham. That was before the pandemic and the cost-of-living crunch which followed it.
There are good things about working in an office, the human contact, the idle chat, the sense of belonging and common purpose among them. But Kris Kringle and the office Christmas party are not. Along with the dirty dishes in the lunchroom sink or the colleague forever clearing his throat and coughing, the compulsion to join the festive merriment is one aspect of office life I do not miss.
After the venue for the party was finally settled upon - a discussion that began in October, was resolved late November and never pleased everyone - the day was marked in my calendar with all the enthusiasm of a dental appointment. Years of going to these things taught me I'd find myself seated next to someone I'd normally cross the road to avoid.
It might be the drunk, all smiles one moment, tearful the next, never making much sense as they slur their way through their life story. It might be the clown, still quoting Monty Python in the 21st century and telling dad jokes only he finds amusing. Or it might be the poor introvert, crippled into silence by awkwardness, whose face - like mine - says they'd rather be anywhere else but here.
They're all tolerable folk in the workplace, where codes of behaviour apply. But the reasons they're not part of your friendship circle all come out at the Christmas party as their inhibitions recede. "Oh, I've never noticed how much you talk with your mouth full of food," you think as the bloke from sales spray paints your face with a fine mist of Tandoori chicken.
Now that you're convinced I'm the Grinch, let me set you straight. I actually love Christmas. This year especially.
The in-laws are coming as well as all the nieces and nephews - my adoptive family. In a rare alignment of busy schedules, we'll all be gathered in the one place at the same time. Presents will be exchanged but they'll be modest, thoughtful ones.
The best gift of all will be time. And none of that will be wasted.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Are work Christmas parties fun or duty? Will you cut back on spending this Christmas? What are the gifts you'd prefer not to receive? Email us: email@example.com
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- The trial of a defence whistleblower has been delayed with the man seeking to have a judge's decision appealed, after a finding he had no public duty to disobey orders. Former military lawyer David McBride faces five charges relating to the theft and disclosure of classified documents to journalists, which detailed alleged misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan.
- Wages are growing at their fastest pace on record but workers are still going backwards because pay gains are being outstripped by inflation. The wage price index jumped 1.3 per cent in the September quarter, the biggest increase in the measure's 26-year history, pushing annual wages growth up to 4 per cent.
- A Sydney jumping castle business has deleted its social media account after facing backlash for refusing a booking request from a Jewish school. It comes as a police vehicle was seen at Masada College in Sydney's upper North Shore on November 15, after Western Sydney Jump posted about rejecting the school's "blood money" on Instagram.
THEY SAID IT: "Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store." - Dr Seuss
YOU SAID IT: The last thing we need is the Middle East conflict to be imported and spill over onto our streets.
Ian writes: "Protesters from both sides waving either Israeli or Palestinian flags at their respective rallies are displaying their tribalism which is the last thing we need in resolving the Gaza issue. Violence begets violence and intransigence begets intransigence. If there is to be flag waving, I'd like to see a demonstration in which both flags are waving together. However, pigs might fly."
"I would like to thank Chris Minns for lighting up the Opera House in white and blue," writes Mike. "By doing that, he has held a mirror up to us Australians. As hard as it is, what we see reflected back at us, is the truth. This is Australia in 2023. The way forward will require hard and painful conversations. I trust that we are up to that."
Marlene writes: "If I thought for one moment that protests in Australia would be of any assistance in the Middle East, I would support them. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is internecine and nothing we do in Australia will assist in any way. The Middle East, by its very nature, will always be a place of conflict and I strongly object to importing it into Australia. Australians have provided a peaceful, generally accepting society where migrants can live without the fear of bombs exploding in our backyards and terrorists pouring over our borders. And that's the way it should stay. While I, like most Australians, completely sympathise with Palestinians and Israelis living in Australia, I suggest they keep in mind that they are currently safe, albeit worried about their relatives and friends and affronted by the situation."
"Right again, John," writes David. "Apologies for the metaphors but this is another case of politicians shooting from the lip without asking themselves if it's really a good idea to get involved in ripping the skin off the suppurating sore that is Jewish/Islamic relations only to find themselves astride a barbed-wire fence."
Annette writes: "I, too, am sickened by the loss of life in Israel and Palestine and understand how upsetting it must be if you live in Australia but still have family members there. However, I fail to see how any amount of protesting over here will make the slightest difference to the so-called leaders making the decisions over there. I am thankful every day that I live here in our beautiful country."
"Of course, both sides of the conflict are wrong," writes Maggie. "And the conflict is between Hamas and the Israeli government, not between the Jewish and the Islamic people. Anti-Semitism and islamophobia are misguided at any time, but especially here."
Anita writes: "Thank you for highlighting Minns' wrongful choice in 'picking a side' regarding victims. I was horrified on seeing the Opera House sails lit up thus. Has he been watching Sky News? How else could he miss the agonised screams of children brought to our attention every night? Three-quarters of the world is against the actions of Netanyahu and this has absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism."