christmas at work

Christmas is coming up way too fast for my liking.
I'm not ready for it.
The heat, the crazy crowds....

I started thinking of Christmases when I hadn't been working at Coles.

Years ago, I worked in a shoe factory.
Clarks Shoes. Yep, the one that makes all those kids school shoes and baby and toddler shoes too.
Remember Baby's First Walkers?
We also made men's shoes, the Hush Puppies line, and women's shoes, which I could never buy any of because the fittings just weren't wide enough for my slabs of meat. (feet)

All year, the bosses would bring in the orders and we'd jump through hoops getting them made and sent out.

Christmas was a different story. Orders still had to be got out to the shops, but we'd be closing for three weeks, so there'd be a bit of a rush going on.
But the atmosphere underwent a bit of a change.

Tiny Christmas trees began appearing on people's work desks.
Tinsel got strung around the machinery.
Shiny hanging decorations in the form of bells, trees, stars were everywhere.
We were all looking forward to breakup day.

On that day, we'd arrive at work earlier than usual, some of us wide awake, others straggling in later, half asleep, some hungover from partying the night before.....we'd sit around the big christmas tree that had been erected in a cleared space and chat. Some people exchanged gifts.

We were waiting for breakfast. On this one day of the year, we took things easy, sitting around, no work was to be done by us, (until after breakfast) today was the day the bosses did the work.
Outside, tables and chairs had been dragged out from the cafeteria, shades had been put up to keep the sun off us, barbecues were being fired up.

All the bosses, even the factory manager, would be cooking and serving. We'd move ourselves outside as soon as cooking began, the smells of sausages, eggs, bacon luring us to the eating area.
Huge stacks of paper plates, plastic knives and forks, tray upon tray of barbecued food and mountains of toast were waiting for us.

Everyone was in a happy mood. We'd laugh and joke with the bosses, make fun of those who'd chosen to dress up as chefs, others who had worn Santa hats, remind them not to burn the bacon, ask which one of them had laid all those eggs.
We'd line up and get a paper plate each, some plastic cutlery, and file past the barbecues and stacked tables to collect as much breakfast food as we wanted. There were tubs filled with ice containing juice, soft drinks, milks plain and flavoured.

During breakfast more people would turn up, mostly younger single people who had slept in and now straggled in bleary eyed and smelling strongly of the drinks they'd had the night before. They'd get themselves a heaped plate of greasy bacon and eggs, a stack of toast, somehow manage to eat it all before they were fully awake. One year a few of them actually fell asleep at the tables!

It was a great party atmosphere, quite different from the occasional sausage sizzle lunches put on during the year to reward us when a particularly important order had been finished and sent to the shops on time.

After about an hour and a half, the barbecues were turned off and clearing up began, by the bosses of course, not by us, although a few people chipped in to help. Leftover food was stacked on one large table to be eaten by anyone who wanted it during the rest of the day. The tubs with drinks were moved inside to the cafeteria and left for us to help ourselves to all day long.
Sometime during breakfast there'd be a speech or two, thanking us for our hard work during the year and the Christmas raffle would be drawn. I remember one year I won a bottle of Scotch, which I passed on to my ex when he came to visit the youngest boy that Christmas.

Then the work of the day began. We still put in some effort, but nobody really worked hard.

At morning tea time the bosses would come around to everyone and hand out bags with mince pies in them, some would eat them cold, many would go and warm them up in the microwave ovens. A few of us, (me) would bring in our own mince pies since we didn't like the mass produced ones.
The day before, many of the workers brought in such things as home made chocolates and cakes etc to share around, I remember one year I'd bought in enough tiny chocolate Christmas puddings that I'd bought, to give one to each of the bosses. I took them around and there was one left over. Thinking I'd miscounted, I shrugged, and ate it myself. Then, (oh, I still feel awful), the one that I'd forgotten came to my work table and asked if I had one for him. I felt so very bad as I lied and said I must have lost one somewhere as my basket was now empty. I promised to bring him one the next day, at the breakfast, and I did, but it wasn't the same...

Work on that day always finished early, at lunch time. After the morning tea break, work in progress would be gradually finished up with those at the beginning of the line turning off their machines as they finished and cleaning up their areas, before moving along and helping those still working to get finished . Machines were thoroughly cleaned, floors were swept, lights were turned off.

Then as we clocked off and filed out through the doors, there were the bosses again, wishing us Merry Christmas and handing out Christmas puddings.
Jokes were made, hugs and handshakes were given, and the factory closed.
Dark and silent for the three weeks until we returned.

First day back at work?
All decorations had to be removed.


  1. What a lovely, lovely story. Thank you.

  2. Nice memory from the days when shoes were made in Australia. We shouldn't pine for the old days, but sometimes you really miss that sort of thing. Do you have a celebration at your present workplace?

  3. EC; Thanks, I tried to make it a story, rather than a factual account of the day, but really, I'm not a writer. Still, it's better than a bullet point list of happenings.

    Andrew; I was so disappointed when the factory closed doors and moved offshore. I loved that job and the people and hoped to be there until retirement. We do have a Christmas lunch here at Coles, but it isn't everyone together, because the shop is still open for business. Food is laid out in the lunchroom and shifts of people help themselves as the day goes on. By the time a shift or two has come and gone, the table doesn't look very appetising anymore, with everything already being picked over, so I usually don't bother eating anything from it. We do all get a box of chocolates and some people exchange cards.

  4. Great memories....did you work on the clarks wallabies? I used to buy those for work in the pharmacy. Way more comfortable than nurses shoes and great for standing on cement floors. Sunds like it was a really good place to work.

  5. Such happy memories. I've never had it so good at Christmas time on any of the jobs I've worked. Must have been sad to take the decorations down though.

  6. Dear River : What beautiful memories and how sad that most products are no longer locally made. Your bosses sound like they had the ingredients that make a business thrive.
    You are a writer, River. I love to read your posts. You write from the heart and I understand what you write about. In fact, I think you have a gift for writing.

  7. Bonza walk down memory lane. When i still worked in the workshops i remember celebrating the same way until all the workshops were sold to private companies that put profits before the worker :-(.

  8. It is such a shame that businesses like that have gone offshore, you obviously enjoyed your job and the atmosphere :)
    Great memories :)

  9. Delores; I worked on the men's Hush Puppies line. When there was a big order of school shoes to get out before the start of the school year, we'd do some of those too.

    Snowbrush; since it was the next year already, none of us minded taking the decorations down. We knew they'd go up again the next Christmas.

    Manzanita; thank you so much. I know nothing about running a business, but I thought the factory was doing okay. The bean-counters back in head office apparently didn't think so, it was their decision to close us down and move to where the shoes could be made cheaper. I remember most of our bosses there and I don't think there were any that I didn't like.

    Windsmoke; in my opinion, too many businesses are sold off in the name of more profits for the shareholders, leaving the workers to struggle while going through the whole job search process all over again.

    Jayne; the people I worked with were a big part of why I liked the job so much. I've never known a happier, more co-operative bunch of men and women.

  10. Hi River,

    "Christmas is coming up way too fast for my liking.
    I'm not ready for it.
    The heat, the crazy crowds...."

    The heat??? The heat??? How lucky you are. here Xmas is cold and freezing. I suppose in the northern hemisphere that sounds appealing for the atmosphere; short days, frost, snow etc.

    But sometimes, I dream of being able to walk around in shorts on Xmas Day,

    One day ...




  11. Plasman; I have to admit the snowy images of northern Christmases I see on TV, in magazines etc, do look appealing, they're so sparkly and pretty, but I know I couldn't stand that level of cold. When you visit Australia, be sure to come for Christmas so you can experience our heat, along with the flies, the dust, cold Christmas dinners, often hams, salads, seafoods, or perhaps barbecues instead.

  12. Beautiful reminiscence, River. It's part of Aussie working history, isn't it?

    In my first job at the ANZ the decorations had to be down by the 29th December, straight after the SA public holiday for Proclamation Day. Done before 9.30am when the doors opened for customers, of course.

  13. Kath; we do love our barbies don't we? Even better when the bosses are doing the cooking. There's nothing like toast with barbecued egg and bacon served by the head honcho.


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