the Christmas bureaucrat, Secret Santa questionnaire, and other stories of holidays at work

It’s more holiday stories!

Tradition dictates that as we head into the holiday season, we must revisit holiday stories previously shared by readers. Here are some favorites.

1. The depth of flavor

“Not my story but my dad’s, and it makes me laugh every time. His workplace hosts an annual chili cookoff and everyone would bring in a crockpot of their chili, put it in the kitchen, and then judging and mass chili consumption would happen at lunch.

One year, one of his coworkers brought in an empty crockpot in the morning, took a bowl of chili from every other crockpot and dumped it in his crockpot while people were working, stirred it up and called it his own chili. He ended up winning that year for his ‘depth of flavor,’ and confessed after he got asked for the recipe and had no answer. Everyone wanted to riot!”  (2021)

2. The Secret Santa questionnaire

“When my office decided on a Secret Santa gift exchange, we all filled out short questionnaires (clearly labeled as being for the Secret Santa) that gave us an opportunity to describe things we like and don’t like. I drew my coworker’s name and was curious to know what she’d put about her likes/dislikes. This coworker, despite being very good at her job in many respect, was known around the office as someone who occasionally needed to be reminded to slow down and listen to or read the entirety of what someone was saying before speaking/acting. So I should not have been surprised to see that she’d listed her likes as ‘walks on the beach’ and ‘sunsets,’ or (my personal favorite) ‘making love.’”  (2021)

3. The jazz casserole

“I worked with a very sweet older lady who always hyped up her special casserole for potlucks in this same way. She called it ‘Jazz!!’ casserole and always made jazz-hands when she said the name, which she pronounced with a drawn out A sound, like she was in the cast of Chicago doing a musical number. It was basically pasta and cream of mushroom soup, super boring and not jazzy at all. She was so sweet that everyone took a little bit to be mannerly and told her it was good, which meant that she kept on bringing it to every potluck until she retired.”  (2022)

4. Not a pickle

“One year, I was The Pickle Lady. I was obsessed with pickling, especially lacto-fermented pickles. I pickled anything I could get my hands on and, since my pickling was so prolific, I often shared the fruits of my labours with people in the office. I also talked a lot about pickling and would happily offer guidance to anyone seeking the way of the pickle. This also expanded into talking about making vinegars and kombuchas, and I freely offered bits of my SCOBYs to anyone who would ask. I often joked that I was the Queen of Controlled Rotting. In retrospect, I was probably a little obnoxious, but it was all in good fun.

One sweet, lovely coworker watched all of this happen without engaging with me about it much, so she must have misunderstood how fermentation works. She picked me for Secret Santa that year and when the office got together to open gifts, I ended up opening mine near last. It was this beautiful gift bag, just to my taste, and I pulled out my gift to find … a jar of mold. Just grey-green fuzziness throughout the entire jar. I was deeply confused and not originally sure what it was, so I tentatively opened the jar. The smell was eye-watering to say the least, and it quickly spread to those around me. They reacted with a mix of polite confusion, low-key revulsion, and concealed amusement. After a few jokes and confused noises, we all made nice, set the jar of life aside, and moved on with the party.

Later the coworker came to me, red in the face and with tears in her eyes, asking why everyone had hated her gift. I asked her to clarify what it was supposed to be. She said she knew that I loved all this ‘controlled rotting’ business, so she had put some of her favourite foods in a jar and let them go bad in the hopes that I could use the mold to make my own treats. That way it would be like we were making them together. It was so adorable, so endearing, so loving, and so misguided. I thanked her for her intentions and we were eventually able to laugh about the misunderstanding.

Now I love to tell the story of the time I was gifted a jar of mold.”  (2021)

5. The elf’s vice

“The dreaded Elf on a Shelf got passed around the different departments. At the end of the day, someone from the department that had it last would go to another department and pose the elf. For the most part, it was okay: cute poses with rubber duckies, a little bathroom humor (the elf pooping a Hershey’s Kiss), that sort of thing… until my department got it. He was snorting hot cocoa using a $1 bill besides a naked Barbie doll. I work in HR. The department that left it was Legal! I don’t work there anymore and I’ve banned Elf on a Shelf from my current job.”  (2017)

6. The Christmas bureaucrat

“Last year, the head of our department brought leftover seltzer water from her wedding to the department potluck, slammed it on the counter, and said, ‘I brought this in because nobody wanted it – it tastes like cough syrup.’ Prior to the party, she mandated that the Christmas tree could be no taller than one foot, and demanded a written plan for where we intended to store the department snow man (made out of scraps from a previous project, approximately 10″ tall). I even got a panicked Saturday slack where she needed to discuss holiday decorations with me asap. Needless to say, I left this job shortly afterward.”  (2022)

7. The dance

“Our CEO loved hosting the annual Christmas party as he felt it was his personal thank you to all of the employees. He would spend weeks planning out the decorations, tasting food for catering, hand selecting the gifts, and always made sure there was a huge open bar with premium drinks for everyone to enjoy. The party started at 7 pm, ended at 12 am, and then he would do an extended “after hours” party until 2 am. Needless to say, people wound up pretty wasted at these parties and the CEO was the most wasted every year. Luckily, he was a happy go lucky type of drunk who usually just ended up thanking everyone profusely for their work.

One year the dance floor was pumping and everyone was having a grand old time when the DJ decided to play ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’ (you know, the song from Dirty Dancing). Suddenly the dance floor parted. The CEO stood at one end of the dance floor, zoned into the music. The VP of Sales locked eyes with the CEO and they began to fully run toward each other, each clearly assuming the other would catch him. They leapt into the air with drunken grace and enthusiasm. ::smack:: They landed on the concrete with a smack you could hear over the music and crowd. All we could see was some blood and two bodies trying to untangle.

They had both cracked their heads on the ground and gotten concussions. Neither gentleman wanted an ambulance called so someone’s sober wife packed them into her SUV (each of them with a roadie in-hand) and drove them off to the ER.

The next day we got an email from the CEO with the subject ‘Each Year Gets More Epic’ and a picture of him and the VP of Sales posing together at the ER with stitches on the side of their heads.”  (2021)

8. Excalibur

“We usually have a potluck at the end of the year. Some people make a fancy dish, buy a thing of cookies or chips, a veggie tray, etc. My favorite was last year when someone unwrapped a block of cheddar, put it on a plate and stuck a plastic fork in it. Like it was Excalibur.”  (2017)

9. The cherries jubilee

“Working first position after residency at a smallish regional heart center. The head chef for the cafeteria was a retired Navy cook. Started out on destroyer, finishing as the chef for an admiral. This Christmas dinner at the hospital he went all out for the staff: steamship round, roasted turkey, all of the fixings, all from scratch. His finale was cherries jubilee. He made a great show of the preparation at the center of the cafeteria, then flambéed the concoction, setting off the sprinkler system and soaking all assembled there.”  (2022)

10. The first job

“Many, many years ago, at the start of a new job, I was put in charge of the holiday party for over 200 people. I was young and this was my first professional job in my chosen career field. My boss left on maternity leave with little direction. I got the caterer who did my wedding. My assistant was a party planning expert and she handled decorations, etc. based on previous parties.

It was a fiasco. We ran out of food in about 45 minutes. Before she left, the boss got karaoke for the entertainment and nobody wanted to sing in front of basically a group of strangers with some coworkers thrown in. It was open bar, so everyone sat around and drank … and drank. We had one of our maintenance guys dressed as Santa with a sleigh and artificial snow. He drank too. The end result was not pretty. The next day, Santa had to be bailed out of jail for DUI, the rented Santa suit was a total loss, and the local leadership was scrambling to hide the entire fiasco from our corporate HQ. Yeah, the party the next year was quite different. I was still in charge, we still had liquor, but I learned so much.”  (2022)

11. The hometown hero

“This is actually a heartwarming story that despite being more than 15 years ago still makes me really happy.

So mid-2000s. I worked at a pediatric hospital. Anyone who is in-patient on Christmas day is SICK. There are no scheduled surgeries, everyone who can be safely discharged for a day generally is. It is rough for families who observe.

This is when American Idol was THE thing. And a contestant from our city had done well the prior season — hadn’t won, but kind of ‘hometown hero.’ I didn’t watch the show so wasn’t super familiar, but I’d heard about him. We heard he was visiting with his family. Figured that they’d stop in a couple rooms, get some photos/PR, and go on home.

Readers, I kid you not, this man, his brother, and their parents visited every single child in the hospital. They were there for hours and hours. They put on gowns, masks, and gloves and took them off again. They held babies. They sang carols with families and staff. The singer guy was, uhh, surprisingly handsome in person. He made the adults and teenagers blush with his charm – including me.

I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since. It must have been so exhausting for him and his family — both physically hard, rough on their voices (so much singing!), and emotionally fraught — so much heartache and sadness. But the joy they brought to everyone, including this pessimistic Jewish woman who always works on Christmas cause it isn’t my holiday … well, it was certainly my most memorable Christmas.”  (2022)

{ 196 comments… read them below }

    1. Elsewise*

      I actually had to get up from my desk to go laugh in the bathroom over that. I have no idea why I did that, I work from home.

    2. Bike Shorts*

      I like to imagine, both men running towards each other, triumphantly thinking to themselves, “No one put’s Baby in a corner”

    3. Aeryn*

      It is my all-time favourite!

      And I think the CEO sounds lovely, honestly. Clearly self-aware and able to laugh at himself.

    4. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

      One year we had a company fundraiser with the caveat if we raised enough money, the executives would sing karaoke. One came out dressed as Slash and did “Sweet Child”, one sang “9-5,” etc. For the finale, the two (straight, male) organizers of the fundraiser sang the “Dirty Dancing” song as a duet. Clearly no one had vetted the lyrics. When they got to the part that goes “I want you more than you’ll ever know…I know what’s on your mind when you say ‘stay with me tonight'” their faces went pale and they started giggling uncontrollably. We are a pretty straight-laced company, and the rumor was that they got a stern talking-to. LOL!

    5. Mimmy*

      I think I remember reading this before but I still cracked up. My husband was like, “what are you laughing at??” lol. Oh honey, you have no idea the shenanigans that are described on AAM! LOL.

    6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      The part of that story that makes it so good is the fact that the VP and CEO were able to laugh at themselves – and share that laughter with the rest of the staff.

    7. Ms_Meercat*

      Dirty Dancing really seems to be a thing around holiday Christmas parties. Many moons ago, we were a group of interns in a fairly small office full of also pretty young people. We all went back to the office after the Christmas party and continued in the conference room. The conference room was lower floor level of an old building – so basically a repurposed cellar.
      Time of my life comes on – my friend intern and the head of sales (still young-ish guy) get ready to do the lift, they semi-successfully pull it off, and she smacks her head on the (quite low) ceiling.
      She was fine so it was funny in hindsight, but I’ll never forget sales guys’ face of shock and horror when he thought for a split second he may have done some serious damage. It did sober us all up for about 3,5 seconds :D

      1. La Triviata*

        There are so many variations on that dance. One of our higher-up execs loves it, so I sent her a link to the one of the Kentucky Colonel doing a variation with Mrs. Butterworth, including a lift. There’s also one where He-Man and Skeletor dance in a bar. He-Man has one of the bar maids hold his sword and she topples over from the weight. Also highly amusing.

    1. MouseMouseMouse*

      So adorable! Love that the colleague’s thought was that by gifting the mold, they’d be making treats together.

      1. Random Dice*

        I skipped all the rest of the letters just to comment. My heart is a melted puddle. Hilariously off in execution, but heartwarming ON in heart.

    2. Blue Horizon*

      I’m very glad she said something, and it turned into a shared funny story instead of a cringe-making experience to be buried and repressed forever.

      …not that I would have handled it that way.

    3. Flossy*

      Completely agree; she meant so well! What an absolute darling (even though the smell probably would have made me hurl, personally)!

    4. Christine*

      My husband has become a pickle guy. His latest experiments have been making kimchee.
      I loathe pickled anything. A jar of mold = kimchee in my opinion!

    1. The Rafters*

      I know. I was crying in laughter over Elf on the Shelf, now I’m crying over the sweetness of 11.

    2. Becca*

      I was feeling a bit grumpy because the dinner I cooked didn’t turn out as I hoped – not any more. It’s wonderful to remember there are people like this in the world. I hope life is as good to them as they are to others.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I know – so heartwarming. It’s just like the egg rolls in the other collection post today.

      I love that Alison includes those ones last – it’s a bit of faith in humanity restored.

    4. Les Cargot*

      Someone must be cutting onions for the turkey dressing, where are the tissues? Seriously, #11 is sooo sweet! To all who celebrated, Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Bronze Betty*

      I think #11 may be my favorite Christmas story ever. It reinforces that, yes, there are very good people in this world.

        1. Oui oui oui all the way home*

          Thank you so much for sharing his name. He deserves credit for being such a kind soul.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yes. Yes I am. Unabashedly so. I would love to know who that is to go look him up online and reward him for being the real deal.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Based on googling, probably David Radford, season 5, who is still active and touring. I think he’s very good looking, timing is right (over 15 years ago), and with a religious service ethos that matches this story. He and his wife are Grey Havens music, and they did a tour with several other bands in the fall of 2023.

        You can find a list of all Chicago-based contestants at (add https:// before the american):

        And yeah I’m crying. I went to hunt for him before I saw anyone else wondering.

        Season 12 has several people, but it’s too recent and they all just auditioned in Chicago, they’re ‘from’ other places.

      1. Idol fan*

        Ace Young. He helped raise millions for a family amenities center in Denver and also worked with MDA and visited children in hospitals for years going back way before he was on idol.

  1. Erin*

    Secret Santa survey gal with “long walk on the beach” and “making love” made me lol the first time I read it, as well as today!

    Also, the Hometown Hero story is so incredibly sweet. How lovely and unexpected!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That’s funnier than the “beaches at sunset” photo calendar she’d have gotten from me!

    1. Kombucha*

      I work in Legal, and our standard morning greeting conversation seems to somehow revolve around possible uses for chainsaws. Why anyone thinks Legal are sensible is beyond me…..

      1. RPOhno*

        Kinda like how Safety’s humor usually involves horrible death, mutation, and dismemberment. “I think I still have all my hands… one, two… three… yup, we’re good!”

      2. Feotakahari*

        I used to sit one desk away from our contract lawyers while they discussed their particular brand of anti-immigrant politics, interspersed with loving descriptions of plane crashes. So glad I work from home now.

      3. Freeforever*

        Try working in a criminal courthouse, when your box of exhibits might include a skull. I worked in one courthouse where the clerk’s office used a knife from a murder case to slice birthday cakes and a hammer from a murder case referred to ( by me, at least), as the “Bang Bang Maxwell’s Silver Hammer Goes Down On Your Head” case, to hammer nails into the wall to hang up pictures.

    2. Jaydee*

      Yeah, as a lawyer it did not surprise me AT ALL that legal left the NSFW elf on the shelf display for HR.

    3. Tiger Snake*

      Honestly, I thought that Legal made it widely inappropriate BECAUSE they were giving it to HR and not anyone else.

    1. Tupac Coachella*

      My guess was Sanjaya Malakar. Normally I adhere to Allison’s “no speculation” rule, but I imagine she can indulge us a little on making guesses about who might be a super nice, charming, all around good guy.

    2. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

      In 2010 (2011?) Elliott Yamin did an pregame ALS event at Angel Stadium. Mrs. NoIWontFixYourComputer was thrilled to meet him!

      1. Idol fan*

        It is actually Ace Young. He and his family did this every year going way back before he was in Idol. Ace actually helped raise millions s of dollars for Denvers children’s hospital and helped build their family amenities center which is dedicated to he and his fans that donated. Ace recieved Children’s Circle of care award for all his work. He was known to visit Children’s hospitals all over the US on tour. This was a passion for he and his brother for some reason. Not just once but like 17 years of it.

  2. Wow, really?*

    That last one is so touching! I wish I knew,who that was, so I could look them up online.

    I am eating lunch in my car and laughed so hard at the Dirty Dancing one that I hope no one aks me about it.

  3. François Caron*

    #10. If the party was truly a fiasco, they most likely wouldn’t have assigned the same person to organize it again the following year. :)

  4. Irish Teacher.*

    I feel for the coworker in #4. They had such a sweet idea, wanting to contribute to the LW’s hobby and to feel like they were “making the treats together,” but it just went so wrong. I’m glad they could both laugh about it afterwards.

  5. The OG Sleepless*

    The “Jazz” casserole always makes me think of my late MIL. She was a sweet, ditzy person, and she was more baffled by cooking than anyone I’ve ever known. When she stayed with us for awhile after she had surgery, she kept telling me that in return for my cooking, the last night she stayed with us she was going to make “my chicken casserole.” She kept talking up “her” chicken casserole and how great it was. It turned out to be canned chicken, cream of mushroom soup, and water chestnuts topped with cracker crumbs. I mean, it didn’t taste bad; it wasn’t interesting enough to taste bad. Dear, silly woman. I miss her.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      There’s a cooking show on PBS called “The Jazzy Vegetarian.” There is nothing jazzy about her. And her recipes seem to be aimed at a similar demographic as the jazz casserole lady and your MIL.

      1. No Longer Working*

        She’s a jazz singer/musician, that’s what the “jazzy” refers to. (Laura Theodore) The cooking is her side gig. Her cooking is vegan and a very different audience than those who would go for that jazz casserole.

    2. Lime green Pacer*

      My mom makes “colorful chicken casserole”. I guess the “colorful” part is green peppers, because all the other ingredients are white or yellow.

    3. Margaret Cavendish*

      I have a soft spot for these stories as well.

      After my grandmother died and my grandfather remarried, somehow his wife got the idea that my sister and I really loved what we call “church lady squares” – particularly a version made with Kraft peanut butter, margarine, sugar, and mini marshmallows. It made my teeth hurt just to think about them, even at the time.

      I assume at one point she had asked her new husband if there was a special treat she could make for his granddaughters, and this was the first thing he thought of. And she wanted so much to be part of our family, that she made a big point of making our “favourite” treats every Christmas! So of course we made a big point of thanking her – which of course reinforced in her mind how much we loved them, and the cycle continued. The squares themselves are pretty awful, but it was really lovely of her to make them for us.

      1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        *googles Kraft peanut butter* Ooohhh….how precious, with the bears! Unfortunately, that green is the Kraft Parmesan green here in the US. My brain can’t wrap my head around this issue.

        1. Margaret Cavendish*

          We have Kraft Parmesan here as well, with a slightly darker green. I hope nobody gets the ingredients mixed up when they’re making their church lady squares!

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, I had to step away for a minute after reading that.

      It made me think of a party where a friend ran up to me while I was on the buffet line and urgently whispered that the lasagna was made with ketchup. The another guest said “What’s wrong with that?” Horrifying.

        1. Juicebox Hero*

          My mother used to eat pasta with ketchup and American cheese, the kind that comes in individually wrapped slices. I used to get queasy every time she ate it. Thankfully she never tried to force us to eat it.

        2. Julia*

          They do the same in Sweden. I hate ketchup and seeing my cousins in Sweden do it always blew my mind.

          There is also something in Sweden called “American Sauce” which is sort of like french dressing with chopped pickles. It of course goes on hamburgers which I discovered when helpful servers would put tons of it on my burgers because I’m American. I also witnessed something in Stockholm called a Chicago hot dog which of course is a hot dog with mashed potatoes and gravy. Weirdly the Boston hot dog was closer to a Chicago dog in terms of toppings.

            1. TriviaJunkie*

              I usually see French dressing as a white sauce, so I was thinking maybe Ranch or an attempt at recreating it?

              1. Misty_Meaner*

                French dressing is usually orangish red, and oddly very similar in looks and taste to Russian dressing. Pickles might actually improve it because both of them are horrible IMHO.

            2. allathian*

              We have the same thing in Finland, American Sauce’s very similar in flavor to Thousand Island dressing, but thicker. The consistency’s more like mayo, so something you’d put on a hamburger rather than on a salad.

              When I was a poor student, I’d frequently eat pasta with lentils for protein and ketchup and herbs for flavoring.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        A guy I once knew was getting all snooty at me about how he was POSITIVE his chili recipe was a zillion times better than mine, and I allowed as how maybe it was, mine consists of canned tomatoes and canned beans and frozen corn and ground beef before the seasoning, it’s pretty basic, how about yours? He goes “Well, first I get two jars of Prego….” and I said “This conversation is over, sorry, you lose.”

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I make multiple types of chili, including a very simple one using canned and frozen ingredients. (Great when it’s been a busy day and you still want something hearty.) Not a single one of my many chilis use canned Italian sauce.

        2. OyHiOh*

          I mean, I will occassionally (like on the nights when I get home with children **late** because of school activities) make tomato bisque beginning with Prego and in that context, thinned out with milk, it works. Chili – NOPE.

        3. Rainy*

          I used to work at a barbecue place. We smoked all our own meats etc and the meat was legit INCREDIBLE. Our “housemade sauce” was…fine, I guess? but not great. It started with food-service size jugs of Kraft BBQ sauce (which we had to rip the labels off, rinse, and then squash and hide in the Dumpster out back) and some kind of hot sauce type thing that he made (or “made”) at home in glass jugs by the gallon. I have always suspected that it was a mix of homemade hot pepper extract, liquid smoke, and commercially available hot sauce/s, as the pepper liquid tasted a lot like a wildly oversmoked, eye-wateringly scotch bonnet-y Louisiana-style hot sauce, but I never got confirmation.

          I grew up making barbecue sauce from scratch with similar flavours but a distinctly different method, and the first time I was entrusted with the making of the sauce, I honestly couldn’t make myself use his method, which resulted in a weirdly runny sauce with visible specks of unblended French’s yellow mustard and a set of strong aftertastes of the inadequately married flavours. Left alone in the kitchen that afternoon, I did it the way I was used to making sauce, resulting in a smoother, slightly thicker sauce with a pleasing mouthfeel and well-combined ingredients. There were no random specks of unblended anything, the texture made it cling better to the meat, and the flavour felt “finished” to me. These days of course I’d never do something like that, but I was chock-full of 19yo moxie and I thought I was helping. My boss was *furious*–I’d ruined a whole batch of sauce!–but also cheap and after making sure I didn’t do anything handling-wise that would have compromised the safety of the sauce(I hadn’t, for the record–I come from a restaurant family), he approved it, we containerized it and stuck it in the walk in, and when the previous batch ran out, he sent my sauce out.

          While there were definitely customers who said “Trying something new?” in a disapproving tone, there were a ton of people who complimented the “experiment”, and when it ran out, people were disappointed. I never did it again, obviously–and if I’d been a little more experienced I wouldn’t have done it the first time, but I really hated the texture of the house sauce and it really was such a ridiculously easy fix. Oh well.

    2. StephChi*

      I’m also Italian. When I was in college I made my family’s traditional lasagna recipe for my roommates. I spent all day cooking, since I made the sauce (not a bolognese btw) from scratch. I also had to go out of my way to find a grocery store which sold ricotta cheese. One of my roommates said she didn’t like it because it was too cheesy. I refrained from asking what the heck she thought was in lasagna.

      A couple of weeks later, one of my other roommates said that she wanted to make her family’s lasagna recipe for me, since I made mine. Readers, hers was lasagna noodles, ground beef, and Velveeta. The taste wasn’t a problem, but I was horrified at it being called lasagna (but masked it) since it was just basically Hamburger Helper with lasagna noodles instead of elbow macaroni.

      1. Rainy*

        The star of my MIL’s culinary repertoire is a very 50s cafeteria style “stroganoff”. The ingredients are ground beef, sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, and a little garlic powder (don’t want it to be too spicy!, imagine me saying this in a very suburban Illinois accent). She serves it over farfalle/”bow ties”, my least favourite pasta shape.

        I did a little research and made a more reasonable version of beef stroganoff (and served it over potatoes since I absolutely despise egg noodles and farfalle) and Mr Rainy was blown away by how good stroganoff could actually taste.

  6. seespotbitejane*

    In my family we joke that cream of mushroom soup (Campbell’s obv) is what makes a dish a casserole.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I had a coworker who could not wrap her head around the fact that I never use condensed soup in a casserole. Her definition of a casserole was much more narrow than mine.

    2. Frickityfrack*

      I hate mushrooms, so I used to use cream of onion when I made green bean casserole. I think any “cream of” soup should count, though.

      1. Rage*

        Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of cream of mushroom soup either, so I generally use Cream of Celery instead. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Cream of Onion though. That sounds very tasty.

        1. Misty_Meaner*

          I once spillt all of the beef gravy as I was straining… without a bowl underneath… it was a hot mess. Literally. I salvaged the meal with a can of cream of onion soup, mixed with some beef broth and what remaining drippings I had and then running it thru a strainger (WITH A BOWL UNDER IT), and it was damn good! I now often start gravies with cream of X soup and strain out the “X”. Plus, no need for a thickening roux! Is it gourmet? Nope, but it works and it’s the quickest gravy around!

    3. whingedrinking*

      My family is white and Canadian; my brother is engaged to a woman who’s black and American. The first year he was invited to American Thanksgiving with her family, and obviously wanting to make a good impression, he ate everything he was served with gusto. Afterwards, he asked his fiancee if that gloppy green bean thing was some kind of family specialty, since her aunt seemed so excited to serve it to him; he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but, uh, it was kind of weird to him, especially since everything else was so delicious.
      As it turns out, the aunt had heard that white people at Thanksgiving *always* have green bean casserole and insisted on making some so my brother would feel welcome; she used a recipe she found online and was pretty sure it came out right.
      Thing is, we certainly never had green been casserole at our family’s Thanksgivings or Christmases, nor can I remember having it at anyone else’s (and my parents are from Saskatchewan, where Jello and canned soup are practically food groups). It just doesn’t seem to be something Canadians do. So you’ve got my brother thinking, “What is this weird American thing?” and his fiancee’s family thinking, “What is this weird white people thing?”

    4. londonedit*

      In British English, ‘casserole’ tends to mean ‘stew that’s cooked in the oven instead of on the hob’. It’s confusing seeing people referring to things like lasagne as a ‘casserole’, because we definitely wouldn’t describe it as one.

      In more ‘two nations divided by a common language’, I’d also always assumed ‘seltzer water’ was just sparkling water – again, we don’t have the word ‘seltzer’ here and somehow I’d inferred that it meant sparkling water…but sparkling water doesn’t taste like cough medicine, so now I’m confused by that!

      1. Phryne*

        I was aware that casserole meant something different in the US than in Europe (I only knew it as a specific French dish containing beans and sausage), but I looked it up, and it seems it can mean pretty much any dish containing a sauce cooked in the oven in the US…

        Also the discussion about what kinds of canned soup to use in a dish… I occasionally see reels on insta where some (white middle aged, sorry, it just always is) American lady shows her ‘secret recipe’ oven dish of three kinds of highly processed canned food boiled to mush together and is completely flabbergasted that no one from outside the US thinks it should be classified as either food or cooking…

        1. Phryne*

          To clarify, I’m not saying that you cannot make a tasteful dish with canned soup as sauce. I simply would not know as that is not something I’ve ever encountered. Just that it sounds really strange to me.

          1. La Triviata*

            A friend of my mother’s once gave her a recipe – take veal scaloppini and pound it thin. Saute it in butter; when it’s done, put it in the oven to keep warm and deglaze the pan with white wine. Then use the drippings and crusty bits and wine to make a sauce and serve with rice. Once my mother got through with it, she took veal chops and fried them in bacon grease, then used, yes, cream of mushroom soup to make a sauce/gravy. One evening, the friend came over and was horrified by “her” recipe.

      2. ClaireW*

        I think it does mean that, but there’s ‘hard seltzer’ which is basically alcoholic, flavoured sparkling water – we get some US brands importer here, like White Claw and stuff I’ve seen in Tesco and some brands like Kopparberg tried their hand at them I think. I’m guessing if it came from a wedding and was super-sweet it could have been the flavoured alcoholic version.

  7. Cabbagepants*

    #1 — it’s a known secret that a blend will often taste better and be more broadly appealing than single origin. This also applies to coffee, Scotch, and wine!

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I do think it’s a little dicey for your competitors to have access to your chili while unattended though; what if someone decided to sabotage their competitors by putting something gross or (heaven forbid) dangerous in the other chilis? I know it’s alarmist, but considering that people have brought dog hair cookies to the office and ripped apart chicken with bare and unwashed hands, it’s clearly not that out there.

  8. Rage*

    #9 reminds me of when I worked at a mid-sized hospital in the southeast US. The assistant director of food services had gone over to “the other hospital” and his replacement was a retired Navy chef. (The first problem we had with him was his insistence in storing the honey packets in the walk-in cooler. “But that’s where the Navy keeps them” was his only defense. It took a while to sort that one out.)

    Any-hoo. He’d been with us for about 3 months and, as Thanksgiving approached, he hand-crafted a cornucopia out of bread. Or maybe it was puff pastry? Anyway, it was of decent size, the opening at the front was probably a foot in diameter, and stuffed with all manner of harvest fruits, vegetables, fall leaves, etc., etc. Really an impressive piece to grace the entrance to the cafeteria.

    But the “tail end” of the cornucopia was….ahem…uh….rather phallic in shape. And quite larger than it should have been, even for the size of the entire piece. And instead of a graceful curve ending in a narrow point, it stuck straight up in the air.

    1. SAS*

      Yeah, as a full grown adult who’s had to spend a Christmas in hospital, the choir they bought in on Christmas Eve was the most heartwarming thing I’ve ever experienced. The people who do that kind of thing honestly can’t imagine the impact.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. When I was 14, my grandfather was in hospital over Christmas with the pneumonia that would ultimately kill him in January. When we visited on Christmas Eve, they’d just had a visit from a local choir, and he was very happy about that. When he died, the fact that his last Christmas had brought him at least a moment of joy was a great consolation in our grief.

  9. MrPotPuffer*

    I don’t think my potluck story is as funny as these, but I did have a boss at an old job who, every year for possibly over a decade (so I had heard) would, for the office Secret Santa exchange, bring an item with his face on it. Half the office found it hilarious, the other half did not. But we pretty much had to all pretend we found it endearing and funny or Boss would not like you.

    I worked there for 4 years, and during that time he had brought an iPhone case, a clock, and a wallet- all customized with a photo of his face. Some of the most “famous” gifts he had made also included a 2015 calendar with all 12 months featuring Boss in numerous poses, and a game of corn hole where the “goals” were his face. Yes these got constantly traded around and sometimes brought back the following year (especially corn hole) and yes I ended up with an item with boss’s face more than once.

    They all ended up in the trash; ah well so much for his funny gifts.

    1. Employee of the Bearimy*

      I absolutely love that and I think it’s an excellent example of leadership setting the “tone” for the Yankee Swap.

    2. Celeste*

      I would actually find that hilarious, but it would have been nicer to include a more normal gift in the package as well so that no one was disappointed.

    3. Seashell*

      I would have kept the cornhole board. If you dislike your boss, throwing beanbags at his picture sounds fun. It’s not like a phone case that you have to see daily either.

      1. allathian*

        Not the right season for it, but how about an office party with a piñata of the boss’s head? Preferably a Janus with his face on two sides. Then the employees take turns at whacking “him” until they get showered with candy…

        When I was a kid, one of our Christmas games was pin the tail on Eeyore. We had a picture of Eeyore taped to the wall, and then we’d have to try and stick the tail in the right spot (with blu tack) while blindfolded. Much hilarity always ensued when the tail was in a random spot. This could be adapted to pin the nose on the boss.

  10. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I have to salute #5. It’s one I would do. #2 brings the laugh. But #11 is my favorite, far and away.

  11. Cat on a Bar Cart*

    The Cheese Excalibur is perhaps my favorite snippet ever to appear on this site.

    #11-Elliot Yamin?

  12. Employee of the Bearimy*

    I absolutely love that and I think it’s an excellent example of leadership setting the “tone” for the Yankee Swap.

  13. Juicebox Hero*

    Clearly the only thing to do with Cheese Excalibur is to grab the fork and take the whole chunk of cheese with it, and wander off nibbling it like an oversized lollipop.

    1. Pennyworth*

      My first response to the Cheese Excalibur story was to wonder how the Arthurian legend would be if Excalibur had been a pitchfork instead of a sword.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      I’m guessing she just didn’t think and just answered the exact question she was asked. Some people are very literal-minded.

  14. Alex*

    The cheese made me think of a woman in my old office, where we had several potlucks. The rule was you had to contribute to eat. Well, she would show up with….a single banana. And put it on the table, whole.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      What an asshole. At least bring the classic bag of tortilla chips and single container of salsa.

    2. coffeespoons*

      Perhaps she should have lunch with the dude who brought a single, uncut bell pepper to a pitch-in.

  15. Amber Rose*

    Last year for our holiday charity event we had “pay to throw a pie in a manager’s face.” The one manager said he’d only be willing to be hit with a pie if we put him up for auction and he was allowed to counter-bid. He put his whole bonus up against the rest of us, but we all had our bonuses too and we were willing to pool funds. He didn’t stand a chance. We paid $5000 to the food bank for the chance to absolutely smother him in whipped cream. :D

  16. monan*

    I work in a field of statistics that is centered on using multiple different estimates of the same variable, which is shown to be more accurate than a single estimate. Merging all the different chilis into a single superior chili would be a huge hit in my office.

    1. Rainy*

      My dachshund does this with beds–periodically no single bed will do, so he drags every bed he can find into the same spot, prods and scrabbles until they are in a pile, and then lies proudly couchant atop the pile.

      We call it “Superbed”.

    2. Rage*

      I just talked to a coworker, and we’re totally doing this next year for our Annual Chili Cook-off.

      We’re in the Compliance Department, so we’re going to call it Comp-LIE-ance Chili.

      And we will gladly forfeit the award, just for the opportunity to do this plus make a horrible pun out of it.

    3. Hawkgal*

      The church ladies of my hometown church would prepare a potato salad for funerals this way – they would all bring in their individual potato salad and mix it up at the church. Always tasted delicious, although I was happier not knowing the recipe.

  17. Scout*

    #4 is honestly so incredibly sweet to me! The idea of being able to make treats together in some way is really adorable, she just had no idea how pickling actually worked. She’s a little confused by she’s got the spirit!! I’m glad she and the letter writer were able to laugh about it later.

    1. MouseMouseMouse*

      “She’s a little confused by she’s got the spirit” is a great summary! What an adorable story.

  18. Rainy*

    Number 11–my heart, my heart. Thank you for sharing this really lovely story.

    Pardon me while I dry my eyes on the dachshund.

  19. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    One theme that comes up at this time of year = Holiday parties in (or for) the office or workplace.


    Exclude no one.

    And do not – DON’T – come up with crazy rationalizations for exclusions.

    “Oh, they’re not employees, they’re actually contract workers even though they’ve been here full time for a year.”

    “The receptionist? She’s part time. No need to include her.”

    A number of doozies – involving remote offices and remote workers.

    Office holiday parties are supposed to allow everyone to bond with each other. And unite everyone. Excluding certain individuals is counter to that – it’s divisive.

  20. Jay (no, the other one)*

    I’m also a Jewish doc who worked Christmas my entire career (now retired) and I love #11.

    My first year after residency I volunteered to take call on Christmas Day and my closest friend was a third-year resident who had call that night. We would have otherwise had dinner together, so we decided to collaborate and host dinner for all the residents and attendings in our department. Since she was working nights and I was working all day, that meant our husbands made the dinner. They’re both good cooks. They lived close to the hospital so her husband did the turkey and veggies. Mine made the stuffing and sides. And since he was bored, home alone, and hates football, he decided to spend the day making a black forest cake from scratch. It was quite an undertaking and it was GORGEOUS. And delicious.

    I went off call at 7:00 and we had dinner at 7:30, so the woman who took over for me joined us. As each dish appeared, she looked at one of the men and said “you made THAT?” By the end of dinner they were both a little annoyed. Then the cake appeared. She flat-out refused to believe that my husband made it and basically accused him of lying. Honey, just because your husband is incompetent in the kitchen doesn’t mean it’s encoded on the Y chromosome….

  21. You want stories, I got stories*

    I need to share my own Secret Santa story.
    We exchanged names and each person was supposed to write a few items they might want.
    This person wrote some kind of candy, I had never heard of. We are talking like tobasco licorice. Just two words that made no sense. After some google fu, I thought this one specialty candy store might have it or something similar, but they closed at 5, so I’d have to leave work like 2 hours early to get there. Finally I decided to forget it, and got him something different.
    Afterwards I asked him about the treat, he looked at me and said, “Oh, I didn’t know what to write so I made up something.”
    So yes, I spent 3 days looking for a made up treat.

  22. Jolene*

    #10 “The next day, Santa had to be bailed out of jail for DUI, the rented Santa suit was a total loss…”

    You win.

    1. Who, Me?*

      In my book, #7 wins: the email from the CEO with the subject ‘Each Year Gets More Epic’ and a picture of him and the VP of Sales posing together at the ER with stitches on the side of their heads.
      Publicly making fun of your own accident (and indicating you’re still alive) has an element of greatness.

  23. Who, Me?*

    ‘m a lady and #5 (elf snorting hot cocoa using a $1 bill besides a naked Barbie doll) made me laugh and laugh. I work pretty close to development – we display this fine specimen of IT humor in a New York minute :-)
    But then, part of my email signature in the late 90s read:
    “Only two interesting things came out Berkley – BSD and LSD”.

  24. Idol fan*

    These are all so great! Thank you.

    The Idol for people wondering is Ace Young from season 5. Many people don’t know all the charity work Ace has done without looking for acknowledgement. He has a history of this going back way before Idol or Broadway. When he was on Idol he had a charity called High Rollers with Heart that was a play on his name and Fandom. He and his brother actually helped build a family amenities center in Denver. Ace did this for something like 17 years in a row and recieved Children’s Hospitals Circle of Care award for all his work. He was known to visit kids and always visit the terminally I’ll kids all over the US while on tour.He went in to do a lot of work for kids with Neuro Muscular illness as well and helps hos the MDA telethon. He had this effect on many and never advertised it. Most people just thought of him as the good looking guy and never knew just how beautiful his heart is. I love reading this story. Only a few of us Ace fans really know.

    1. TeaCoziesRUs*

      I know you’re adamant that this is Ace… but unless this was YOUR story that YOU submitted, please give some air to other Idols who are also lovely human beings and have done a tremendous amount of charity work. There’s more than one good egg in that bunch. :)

      And if this was your story, THANK YOU for sharing it!

  25. Madame Taffytail*

    re: elf on the shelf

    in high school a teacher had an Elf on the Shelf named Pee-wee Herman and during the December i was in year 10 he held a scavenger hunt with Herman as the prize. my best friend won, meaning he got custody of him until next December. he had so many plans for him and this is what he got up to between year 10 and 11:
    – he was randomly dumped in people’s lockers for them to be scared by and then returned to best friend because Herman had a “please return to [his locker number]”
    – a mutual friend kidnapped him before she went on a month-long trip around the country. she would take scenic polaroids featuring Herman and mail them to my best friend’s house despite this being only a few years ago, we all had smartphones by this time, she literally could have just texted him. he made an album out of them
    – he would find out where and when the year 7 students had class, go to those rooms, and scare them with Herman – one example was taping him up on the roof like he was crucified and writing in a dripping blood red style “HI YEAR 7 :)”

    i’m still shocked somehow he stayed with my friend all until the next christmas and nobody stole it, minus his kidnapping/cross-country holiday. last thing i heard is that he now lives in the library on the similarly christmas-mad librarian’s desk

  26. MamaSarah*

    I love all of these stories! Just what is about chilli cook offs that push people to the brink??
    And number 11…wow. I dislike Christmas a little less now.

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