Downtown Working

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December 15, 2003 // UPDATED 11:09 am - April 30, 2007
By: Kinda Koutsky
Kinda Koutsky

How about that 'holiday party'?

Sure, it was early in the morning -- around 5:30 a.m. -- but there was no mistaking what I heard. The crew of the "Imus in the Morning" show on MSNBC was talking about their office "Christmas party." They actually called it a "Christmas party." That really woke me up.

Where have they been? Obviously not in corporate diversity training.

It's been years since most businesses referred to that-party-in-the-month-of-December as anything but a "holiday party." In today's more sensitized corporate culture, "holiday" has morphed into corporate patois for any celebration that remotely touches this time of year -- Christmas, Hanukkah Kwanzaa, the end of Ramadan or "Thank Goodness We're Still in Business."

After several years of decline, the office holiday party is making a comeback. Spokespeople at The Grand Hotel Minneapolis, 615 2nd Ave. S.; Hyatt Regency, 1300 Nicollet Mall, and The Marquette Hotel, 710 Marquette Ave., all say corporate holiday parties are up from last year -- still not at the 1999 levels, but definitely better.

"Budgets are still tight," said Maggie Barnard, Director of Catering and Conventions at Hyatt Regency. However, she added, "Companies are not interested in spending on the extras like linens, florals and decorations."

Oh, and that open bar that used to be a holiday tradition now seems to be very 20th Century. These days, a partygoer either receives a limited number of drink tickets or is served a glass of wine only with dinner.

Gone, also, are those holiday bonuses. According to a study by Hewitt Associates, a global outsourcing and consulting firm, only one-third of companies still give holiday bonuses or gift certificates.

"Companies weren't getting the bang for their buck. Gift certificates and holiday bonuses had taken on an air of entitlement," explained Ken Abosch with Hewitt Associates, whose Downtown office is at 45 S. 7th St., Ste. 2100. "Employees expected the gifts, but didn't know what they had done to get them."

Of course, efforts to be politically correct around the holidays can backfire. Take the Winter Solstice party David Brauer, editor of Skyway News and sibling publication Southwest Journal, attended in the late '80s.

On the surface, celebrating Winter Solstice seems culturally neutral. After all, it is a hemispheric event. But, culturally neutral it is not.

The party was at the former Cricket Theater in Loring Park, now the Music Box, 1407 Nicollet Ave. Our boy David was happily downing champagne with other partygoers when the hostess surprised everyone, announcing that there would be a short program.

As the guests were ushered into the theater proper, each partygoer was given a velvet pouch. Once inside, a muumuu-clad musician chanting for peace while drumming a large kettledrum "entertained" them.

"I will take the sound to my grave; the slow metronomic banging of the drum as the woman intoned, 'Chant for peace, this is a chant for peace,'" said David.

He was not comfy. And his discomfort only increased when audience members were asked to take the crystals out of their velvet pouches. As the lights lowered in the theater the hostess explained that as the spotlight traveled over the audience the light would "reflect off our crystals and intensify our hopes," recalled David.

"It was the first time I ever felt religiously violated in my life," he said. "These were proto-New Agers; they assumed no one could possibly disagree with their ceremonies or beliefs. They were clueless that they abused our right to express our belief in our own way."

So while some people may think its silly to call it a "holiday party" instead of a "Christmas party," this Melba toast word really stands for so much more -- religious freedom. Not a bad thing to celebrate any day of the year.

Happy holidays -- whatever they may be!

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