It is the most wonderful time of the year, as Andy Williams' famous Christmas jingle reminds us when he sings of parties for hosting and marshmallows for toasting along with carols, mistletoe and glowing hearts.
Enlighteningly, the song's lyrics do not mention the commonly accepted practice of gift-giving: a convention that will leave many who attend this year's office Christmas bash marinating in total misery.
A bizarre, unsuitable, disappointing or tasteless office gift can make it a Christmas bash to remember for all the wrong reasons.
In many workplaces, Christmas gift-giving follows a Secret Santa model.
Employees' names are placed in a hat before each colleague chooses a name and becomes responsible for buying a gift for the person selected, usually with a prescribed upper- and lower-dollar value limit. The gift is usually handed out at the office end-of-year party and in front of your colleagues.
Over the years, the challenge of choosing an appropriate gift has become somewhat complicated if not treacherous, with many workers struggling to buy a gift for someone they might not know well, or not like, or really like.
Increasingly those gifts are landing the givers in hot water, with even the most colourfully decorated packages containing something inappropriate, highly suggestive or just "plain wrong".
And when a workplace-gifting program ends up totally anonymous and often untraceable, disaster can strike, with careless colleagues assuming the role of bad Secret Santa and failing to scan their own common sense first.
Let's face it: our colleagues and bosses can give the worst gifts, making it more a case of the thought didn't count.
Take Joe from Accounts Payable, well known for his lingering body odour, who receives a bar of soap on a rope and a deodorant pack. Dan from Human Resources, who recently fell out with his manager, receives a voodoo doll that is the spitting image of his boss and office supervisor Mary, who has a reputation for micromanagement, receives the book Management for Dummies.
Then there is the devout atheist who receives a bible as a gift, the smoker who is gifted a month's supply of nicotine patches and the newly engaged colleague who unwraps a lingerie voucher from her ignorant boss.
And the list goes on - the $25 gift card for an upmarket restaurant, the marijuana leaf ornament or smoking apparatus, and the weight-loss cookbook.
The ultimate insult for most workers is to discover you have been a victim of re-gifting.
While this can work a treat if the original packing is intact, be very wary of offering a tie you wore to work only days earlier before deciding it was not for you, gifting a toaster with crumbs in it, handing over a gift voucher you have had for some time and which will expire in four weeks, or presenting a new-looking but stained coffee mug.
But perhaps the worst Secret Santa gift is no gift at all, when the colleague who drew your name out of the hat just happens to be Scrooge to leave you hopelessly humiliated and unappreciated in front of your colleagues.
So this Christmas, avoid office gifts including those with sexual overtones that might lead to allegations of harassment; those that ooze a style of humour that might backfire; self-help books which might be taken the wrong or even the right way; insulting T-shirts that might offend; diet books or products which might upset; personal hygiene products that might be suggestive of grooming issues; and anything related to religion.
Instead, stick to safer Secret Santa gifts such as chocolates and sweets, plants, a donation to a person's favourite charity or even a board game.
That might just help this Christmas become the most wonderful time of the year.
- Professor Gary Martin is a workplace culture expert with the Australian Institute of Management.