It's that wondrous time of year when we put on holiday finery, let our hair down, and mingle with co-workers at the annual holiday party.

If you find yourself planning such an event, you know that what is meant to be an entertaining time for all has just the teeniest possibility of turning into a career-ending fiasco. Why? Because any time people let their hair down and consume quantities of an innocuous-sounding, but head-slamming beverage like “Madge's Snowman Punch,” disasters can and will happen.

Most party planning meetings start out with someone from the budget committee suggesting that in these difficult financial times, a holiday breakfast would be different and fun. No matter how eloquently put, the words fun and breakfast simply don't belong in the same sentence unless we're talking breakfast in bed, which, for obvious reasons, is a non-starter. There's nothing fun or festive about watching bleary-eyed drones shuffle around a fluorescent- lit cafeteria with a plate of steamtable scrambled eggs, or worse yet, oatmeal — even if someone takes the ghastly step of festooning it with red food coloring and sticking a holly leaf in it. Everyone should immediately shelve the budget maven's breakfast idea, possibly by having the planning meeting over breakfast.

That leaves either lunch or an after-hours party. Here again, the budget folks will push a fun and productive lunch, so everyone can have some laughs and then return to work. No one's going to fall for that one either. After all, it's hard to have fun when everyone is nervously glancing at the boss and wondering whether they should say, “I'm sorry, but I've got to run — so much to do!” All you'll end up with is an empty, decorated lunchroom while everyone mutters at their desks over cold Swedish meatballs.

This leaves the after-hours party, which unless carefully planned, can be a perilous affair. Act with caution if you choose to serve alcoholic beverages: We've all heard those stories of imbibers getting a snoot-full and then telling off the boss. Always avoid an open bar, and suggest a limited number of tickets for each guest. Make sure the bartender is experienced enough to ferret out suspicious looking tickets — the ones that have “Fun-o-Rama,” “Tilt-a-Whirl,” or “St. Agnes' Bingo” printed at the top.

Another budget-friendly idea is to make the evening party a potluck and have everyone bring their favorite holiday treats. The next day, people will wonder whether they're feeling queasy from the oddly colored cosmos, having too many “Rudolf Red-Nosed Meatballs,” or that extra ladle of “Twelve Days of Christmas Stew.”

If you follow these helpful tips, the holiday party will be a huge success and, with luck, not make it into the local newspaper's police log. Not only that, but you'll be around for next year's party and not the subject of a story that begins with, “Remember Dorothy, the one who planned the holiday party? I wonder whatever became of her?”

When he's not writing humor columns, Mike Donlin writes technical and marketing articles, presentations, and press releases for the electronics industry. He is based in Hudson, N.H., and can be reached at