Beware the party

"You got fired because your company had a Christmas party? You're going to have to explain."

"Look, I've been going to company Christmas parties a long time. The mix of office politics and adult beverages has caused some nutty things to happen over the years. But now everybody is so serious and so easily offended, things are worse than ever."

"What did you do?"

"Well, the owners of my company threw a traditional office Christmas party after work one evening -- the last such party they'll ever have. Thanks to me and the boys in the sales department, adult beverages were flowing. I thought everybody was having a good time. But something was missing."

"Missing?"

"There was no Christmas tree. I went out to the woods and cut a couple of pine branches and put them in a vase. I went to my desk and made a paper star. I placed the star on top of the tree. I figured everybody would love it, but somebody filed a complaint with Human Resources."

"A complaint?"

"Some fellow said I was imposing a specific faith on him -- that I was creating a hostile work environment. He said I was insensitive to people of other faiths -- that even though the Supreme Court ruled that a Christmas tree is a secular symbol, the only acceptable tree would be a diversity tree that represented everybody's point of view."

"I see."

"Anyhow, about then -- I believe the boys and I had a few more drinks -- we started singing Christmas carols: 'Silent Night,' 'Hark. The Herald ...,' 'The First Noel.' We were working our way through 'Hallelujah Chorus' when it happened again."

"Another complaint to Human Resources?"

"Bingo. I don't know why anybody would be upset about Christmas carols being sung at a Christmas party. Something about Christian songs being insensitive to non-Christians. But that was the least of my worries. Things got worse when we conducted our annual raffle."

"I can only imagine. Go on."

"Well, every year the boys and I buy the finest bottle of hooch we can find. We raffle it off and give the funds we raise to charity. How was I supposed to know that some religions are offended by gambling and alcohol? As you might expect, the raffle caused another compliant. But that was nothing compared to what happened next."

"Things got worse."

"Oh, yeah. Just after the boys and I had a few more drinks, in walks one of the ladies from order entry. You wouldn't believe some of the clothing she wears to work -- or, to be more precise, the clothing she doesn't wear."

"Please don't tell me there was mistletoe."

"How'd you guess? The boys bet me 20 bucks I could coax her under the mistletoe and give her a little peck. Silver-tongued devil that I am, I began commenting on how great she looked in her scanty duds when --"

"Another complaint was filed with Human Resources?"

"You're good, buddy. She dresses like a pop star and I'm the one hit with a multimillion-dollar sexual-harassment lawsuit?"

"I recently read about such Christmas office-party woes in The New York Times. Because our work force is so diverse -- and because people have so many different social styles, religions and points of view -- the article said many companies don't know how to approach Christmas parties anymore."

"You can add me to that list, pal."

"Employees are so sensitive and easily offended, employers can't please one without agitating another. Some say Christmas parties are too overtly Christian -- others that they're not overt enough."

"They're not overtly fun enough."

"Traditional Christmas parties are rife with liabilities, too -- company-funded alcohol consumption is a huge red flag. Thus, more companies are abandoning the traditional Christmas party for dull, generic, daytime events -- another trend that reflects how humorless, serious and overly sensitive America is becoming. Though you have to admit: You were awfully boorish and brash at your Christmas party."

"Sure, I admit it. But I've been boorish and brash every year. It's just that nowadays you can get sued and canned and for it."

TOM PURCELL, author of "Comical Sense" and "Misadventures of a 1970's Childhood," is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated. This is an excerpt from Purcell's new book, "Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty."