DRUNKEN confidences from colleagues in party hats, the horror of the karaoke machine, awkward dancing and – the worst – being groped by the office lech are some of my worst memories of office Christmas parties.

Leaving the festive corporate bash behind was one of the bonuses of going freelance 20 years ago and the only ones I’ve been to since have been tasteful affairs, one memorably held in a Michelin-starred restaurant, with wonderful food and wine and convivial company. I’ve ducked out of a promising one this year in a fashionable London restaurant with lovely people, but the distance and concerns about Covid made me politely decline.

I’m not the only one – Christmas parties hang in the balance this year as some companies avoid large gatherings as coronavirus continues to spread and the new variant insinuates itself into the population.

Some companies like Edinburgh-based online travel agency Skyscanner have given staff a choice how to celebrate with small in-person celebrations for those who feel comfortable supplemented by larger virtual parties.

In Japan, the pandemic has put paid to the tradition of drinking, eating, and drinking more with colleagues, even though restaurants and bars are fully open and busy after 18 months of restrictions thanks to a dramatic decline in Covid cases.

December is usually the bonenkai (forget-the-year) party season when workers get together for an evening of nomunication – a mash-up of the word for drink, nomu, and communication. Surveys found that many of them dreaded the season as they had to be well-behaved in front of their senior colleagues, with one describing bonenkai as “utter torment”.

Around 60 per cent found the after-hours ‘social bonding’ unnecessary, with some regarding it as unpaid overtime. There was relief that the risk of a new wave of infections this winter has forced 70 per cent of companies to cancel the annual festivities or hold them online. Not everyone shared this Grinch-like attitude with 11 per cent in favour of the bonding experience.

Back in the UK, health and social care minister Sajid Javid said it was absolutely fine for people to go ahead to Christmas parties of hundreds of people despite fears of the new Omicron strain, but encouraged guests to take sensible precautions, including a lateral flow test.

A quick look on the internet shows plenty of venues in Scotland setting up for ‘Christmas Party Night’ and ‘Festive Party Lunch’ with party packages and Xmas menus. No doubt, there will be those who have been working from home, deprived of office gossip and banter for more than a year, who will seize the opportunity to put on their glad rags and hit the town to a jolly backdrop of Slade and Mariah Carey.

And perhaps office parties have come a long way from the ones I remember in my years as a young reporter. There were some humdingers that really stand out: coming late to the restaurant to find the only place empty was opposite the big boss and having to make small talk to a backdrop of raucous laughter from my pals in the cheap seats.

That’s the problem with sit-down affairs – you don’t always end up next to a congenial chum. And there was always someone who didn’t pay their share of the bill with an unseemly wrangling at the end of the night while the maître d’ stood looked on, stony faced.

Then there was the year I ended up sitting next to a red-faced columnist who kept putting his meaty hand on my thigh until I had to move. It was a lesson learned not to wear leather trousers to an office party in the days when that kind of behaviour was given a pass. You had to be light on your feet to slalom round the minority of unreconstructed men, their grasping hands outstretched like someone out of a Benny Hill show.

That night ended at the kind of cheesy pit of a nightclub that you only ever went to after too many drinks – West Enders of Glasgow will know the one I mean – dancing with the bemused crime reporter, still in his rumpled Columbo-style raincoat.

I was younger then and felt obliged to go, and I also feared I’d miss out on the fun. But as I’ve got older, I realise my idea of a perfect night out at this time of year is a dinner with my husband and close friends in our favourite Glasgow restaurant, which, when I called to check there would be no turkey and tinsel, proudly announced: "we don’t do Christmas".

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