The corporate holiday party is a night when everyone’s supposed to pretend there are no organizational charts, no office hierarchies. Interns can kick back with the bosses—and theoretically do more intimate things with them—and the next morning everyone’s just supposed to snap back into normal behavior, hangovers be damned.
During the boom years, startups and other profligate spenders would blow colossal amounts on these events, which were as much about chief executive ego and coolness as employee morale. That’s still happening to some extent: In 2010, the Blackstone Group rented out the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the party centered around cutting a mammoth cake with the word “accountability” emblazoned on top. In 2011, Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund famous in part for its parties, rented out a 10,000-seat arena for a holiday bash; while details were kept under wraps, past events have included mud wrestling. Billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, of Tudor Investment, puts on an annual light show (the “Jones-a-Palooza”) synchronized to music at his estate in Greenwich, Conn. Are the parties any less awkward for their extravagance? Not really. Even the greenest 22-year-old attendees sense they’re witnessing something unsustainable—a lot of someone’s venture capital being tossed into a fire pit.