Spicing Up the Holiday Staff Party

By Katherine M. Finley, PhD, CAE, Executive Director, Organization to American Historians

Here we are again nearing the end of the year and once again asking, ‘what can we do in the office to “spice up” the holidays and create some holiday cheer?’ The ISAE Digital Marketing Committee members put their heads together to share some fun ideas for work holiday parties and activities. Given that not everyone celebrates the holidays, none of these activities or parties should be made mandatory.

Some of our best ideas:

  1. Secret Santa. This is actually a fun activity and a way for staff to learn interesting tidbits about their fellow coworkers. Each staff person draws another staff person’s name and then for four days, buys them a small gift (under a dollar). The small gift can be a piece of chewing gum, a song download, a nice note, or a can of soda or bottle of water, but nothing expensive or elaborate. Then the fifth gift is one that costs no more than $5-$10. To do the Secret Santa, you’ll need to have everyone fill out a form with information such as favorite color, favorite non-alcoholic drink, favorite scent, favorite sports team, favorite music, favorite movie, favorite cartoon or cartoon character, favorite snack, etc. Make sure the staff member filling out the form puts his or her name on it. All staff who are participating draw a form (hopefully not their own), and then over the course of a week or two weeks, the Secret Santa gifts are given. Usually staff go to great lengths to not reveal who they’ve drawn and to make sure gifts are delivered so the recipient does not see who delivered them. After the fifth gift is delivered, the Secret Santa for each gift is revealed. It’s nice to have the “big reveal” at a pitch-in lunch or breakfast and see if everyone can guess who each other’s Secret Santa is.

  2. A New Twist on Bad or Dirty Santa or Secret Santa. In Bad or Dirty Santa, staff hold a gift exchange. Everyone brings in a wrapped or bagged gift (with a limit set on price). Everyone draws a number and starting with the lowest number, the person gets to pick a gift. The person that follows, can either pick a gift or steal a gift that has already been opened. Usually, a limit is set on how many times a gift can be stolen (usually, three). It’s interesting to watch who is really competitive in the organization and who has no compunction about taking something from a colleague that is highly desirable. A twist on this activity is to give prizes for the most creative gift, the ugliest gift, the best disguised gift, and the most popular gift (because of the number of times it’s been stolen).

  3. Christmas Carol Charades. Reprise a tried and true old game but add the holiday theme. You can also include holiday movies into the mix. There are places to actually purchase a holiday charades game. Also, there are also Christmas trivia games out there. Check out Amazon.com.

  4. Bowling. Bowling centers are available to host parties, and lane rental is usually fairly inexpensive. Some bowling centers have food that can be purchased there. Others may allow pizza to be brought in.

  5. Holiday Photo Booth. At your holiday party, set up a photo booth. You can do a festive background with wrapping paper and then print out props such as Santa hats, elf shoes, snowflakes, reindeer antlers, etc., or buy cheap props at the dollar store. Staff can have fun posing for photos, and you can even have a photo contest afterwards for the most creative photo, the most festive, etc.

  6. Themed Holiday Party. To spice up your holiday party, consider a movie theme such as White Christmas or Christmas Story (with plenty of leg lamps and pink bunny pajamas) and decorate the party area accordingly. You could also play trivia games related to the theme.

  7. Community Volunteer or Outreach Activity. Either instead of a holiday party or as part of the celebration, get into the holiday spirit by having the staff do a volunteer activity. You can contact local charities and see what type of group activities are available. Maybe it’s decorating for a nursing home, helping wrap presents for a charity like Toys for Tots, the United Way, etc. Remember, this is the season of giving and oftentimes, giving to those less fortunate than us can be more satisfying than receiving gifts. The activity can also build camaraderie among staff.

  8. Save Money. Instead of having a catered event or an offsite one, have a pitch in where everyone signs up to bring a main dish, side dish, or dessert. Most people like to show off a holiday recipe. And for those who don’t like cooking, there’s the opportunity to bring plates, silverware, and drinks.

  9. Other contests. Other contests that can be held over the holiday season include an office/cubicle decorating contest, an ugly sweater contest, an ornament or cookie decorating station at your party, and if the party includes adult beverages, hold a cocktail recipe contest in advance of the party and then feature that drink at the party.

Remember that whatever you decide to do, the parties/contests should be fun and should not add a new level of stress to the holidays. Have fun and enjoy!

Many thanks to ISAE Digital Marketing Committee Members Ashley Roy, Raybourne Group; Alyssa Gibson, American Association of Orthopaedic Executives, and Dawn Sparks, SparksFly Copy & Content for contributing these holiday party ideas.

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