how do you throw a great office holiday party?

I usually publish a lot of questions about holiday parties in between Thanksgiving and Christmas — which isn’t always enough time to change anything for that year. So here are two early questions about holiday parties as this week’s “ask the readers” questions, in the hopes that it’s early enough that the advice can be used this year.

Here’s the first letter:

My office is starting the holiday party planning process, and I’m already nervous. Some of the suggestions for activities include “Holiday Carol Singing” and “Talent Show!” which both make me think, “Oh, please no!” Our party will be mid-day and very low budget, and my office is generally friendly but quiet. 

As one commenter said at the end of last year, “Ah, but who writes in because the holiday party was awesome? There’s no advice in that case.

So, I’d like the ask the readers — who has experienced an awesome holiday party? What’s your company’s secret?

And here’s the second letter:

I recently joined the committee to help organize our office’s three-hour Christmas party (we have about 150-200 people who will likely attend the event). As the committee organizer was going through the to-do list, she noted a number of different activities available for children (i.e., craft table, movie watching, etc.). I asked if there were any different activities for the adults or if our only option was to talk for the entire three hours. The reply was that they had never organized anything but I could certainly look into it and bring back some options.

As someone who is very introverted and enjoyed a previous Christmas party where I could take food into a theater and watch Elf, I would really like to propose a couple different options for the staff who want to show up but don’t want to talk for three hours or be in a loud room for the entire time. Do you or your readers have any suggestions? 

Please use the comment section to weigh in!

{ 712 comments… read them below }

  1. PB*

    I’ve been to an awesome office party. Here’s what makes it work:

    *Make it truly optional
    *Have copious food
    *Take into account any dietary restrictions so no one’s left out
    *Open bar (worked for us, but I think this depends on your office!)
    *Hold it during the work day. No one wants to come in on an evening or weekend.
    *This is a hard one, but having coworkers you want to spend time with. If you don’t have this, then the “truly optional” part becomes all the more important.

    1. pleaset*

      I agree with this. BUT I suggest starting it around 4pm and allowing it to go later if people want to stay later.

      Also, no “activities” other than perhaps the CEO of someone thanking people for their work and giving best wishes for the coming year.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I feel like late afternoon is a good start time. You can still do work if you need to and just leave early if you don’t want to deal with it or leave at a normal time still.

        1. Genny*

          Our office tends to start the party around 1, which I like because it’s basically like getting a half day. Some people choose to leave early (and they don’t have to use PTO for that) and others like to keep the party going well past 5. It works well for us, but then again, December is a relatively slow time for my office.

          Regardless of when it starts, I think the two most important things are having lots of food of various options and no forced activities (I’d lean more towards no activities of any kind, but I might just be curmudgeonly on that front).

        2. ArtsAdmin4Life*

          Late afternoon is perfect for those of us who are working parents. It drives me crazy when my company has parties that start at 5 p.m. Some of us have to pick up our kids at daycare and/or haven’t seen our kids since 8 in the morning and we miss them!

          1. Not a helicopter parent*

            Due respect, your kids will survive if you (gasp) don’t see them from 8am until 7pm, rather than 5pm.

            They might even learn to live independently when they grow up.

            1. not a helicopter parent either*

              What a condescending comment. Many parents literally have no choice or back up when day cares close at 5 pm and they have to pick up their kids at that time. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend time with your family that you see for only a few hours a day (especially with little kids who go to bed early) rather than the coworkers you’re already around for 40 (or more) hours a week.

              1. not a helicopter parent either*

                Meant to say 6 pm. I know I have to leave right on time to get my kids at the end of the day, and that is typical for a lot of parents I know.

            2. Elizabeth*

              Most daycares charge a fee if a parent is late for pickup. The people working there want to go home, too. gasp!

            3. Liet-Kinda*

              Due respect for the obvious amount of experience and understanding you’re bringing to this question, but there’s factors beyond your superior (/s) sense of practicality and parenting ethics, like the fact that most daycares close at 5:30-6pm.

              And, gee, I guess I need to spin down the rotors, but my kid goes to bed at 8. While he will probably learn to live independently when he grows up, he’s four right now, and he seems to rather enjoy spending time with his parents, and probably benefits from seeing me more than an hour or two of every twenty-four.

            4. Book Badger*

              Apparently in BizarroLand where “not a helicopter parent” lives, toddlers can care for themselves independently (and apparently drive home on their own as well).

          2. Oxford Comma*

            3:30/4 strikes me as a good time to have a company holiday party. It’s a break from the work day, but not so late that you’re cutting into your own personal time to attend or messing up childcare or other arrangements.

      2. limenotapple*

        I’ve enjoyed parties with activities, but they weren’t the forced-happiness-hey-get-out-of-your-comfort-zone activities. They were things like movies, jigsaw puzzles and board games for people to do (especially great for those who don’t like standing around talking, as mentioned in the original post), etc. You could choose to hang out a table and play scrabble or you could just stand around chatting and catching up with people. I thought that was a nice happy medium with something for everyone.
        If you are talking about the first type of activities, then that’s a hard pass for me-and probably for others as well.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Eh – I’m actually not a fan of the movie idea. I would really hate to be forced to sit and watch something I wasn’t interested in with a bunch of coworkers. Someone at my office said we should go see White Christmas for the holiday party, and I was filled with a lot of ‘Oh please no, not that’. Plus then you get into people wanting to see a Christmas movie thing.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            Ugh! Now I’m picturing some poor person being forced to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I always hated that movie because I found it depressing.

          2. Jules K*

            Movies in a separate room can be nice; if you’re interested you can go in and watch, but no need to if you’d rather not.

            1. SeluciaMD*

              Exactly Jules K! I think this is what the 2nd OP was looking for – suggestions for activities that people could opt into if they were so inclined. Like, in one room there might be a holiday movie playing, outside in a big hallway there could be a cornhole game going (or outdoors if you are in a temperate area), and card or board games at a few tables in another room/area. Personally, I’d love a party where these kinds of options existed and could pop in and out depending on my mood.

          3. Person from the Resume*

            I feel like the 2nd LW’s suggestion of watching a movie in a dark room kind of defeats the purpose of an office party which seems to have an added element of trying to encourage friendly, low-key interactions between co-workers. I do actually think the idea of puzzles or games is nice and allows coworker interactions that isn’t limited to talking.

            1. always in email jail*

              That was my thought too. I like the idea of having a puzzle out on a table. Someone could sit there quietly and work on it, or people can keep their hands busy while they have a light chat.

            2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              I think a movie could work on in the background maybe at a smaller party, to give people something to do during lulls in the conversation- but I agree with you. If you’re not talking to your coworkers to build relationships, I’m not sure what the point of a party is from the company’s perspective.

            3. pancakes*

              There’s a 10-hour HD YouTube yule log that isn’t inherently Christmas-y—no music, just ambient noise—but gives a nice atmosphere in winter. We would have it going in conference rooms at one office I worked at for daytime holiday parties, and I often have it going on a monitor at home because I don’t have a fireplace but would like to!

          4. Yorick*

            Maybe if there’s a movie on in the far side of the room? So you can look at the tv a bit but also get your snacks and chat?

          5. SignalLost*

            The trick is to make the movie also optional. I worked at a place that had a large conference center that was flexible in size. For holidays (we definitely did Halloween this way, and I think one Christmas) they would break the conference center into its “rooms” configuration and show a movie in one of them. Food and other activities (Halloween had a costume contest) were in others.

            For another Christmas, they rented a trendy theater space, which was multi level and walking distance of our downtown location (no one drove to work). We had food, a two-drink bar (you could get more of you wanted to pay), the movie, and small tables set up in the bar area for socializing. The movie was Arthur Christmas, which I heard griping about beforehand but none after; it’s a genuinely cute movie.

        2. Admin of Sys*

          Yeah, I feel like activities, when they’re entirely optional, can help folks hang out and do something w/out being required to chit chat for hours. And I really like the jigsaw puzzle idea, that’s a great ‘wander over and do something for 5 minutes’ option!

            1. TootsNYC*

              but then there’s always be someone to join and talk with!

              We have jigsaw puzzles on the endcaps in our office, and people do them from time to time. I’d suggest a couple of them.

              Actually having one person be “the jigsaw person” with the assignment to encourage others to join might not be a bad idea.

              And with things like card games or board games, having a couple of people volunteer to be the continuity there might get people involved.

          1. Anna*

            My work had a table off to the side with La Loteria (traditional Mexican bingo-like game), and they were shocked at how popular it was! People could pop in and play just one card for 5 minutes, or stay for longer, and you could interact with other people without the focus being entirely on chitchat.

            1. Minocho*

              Boggle would be another fun one that’s easy to wander in and out of, and allows any number of players.

            2. Cardamom*

              Apples to Apples also works well for dropping in and out of the game.

              (Same for Cards Against Humanity, but. . .)

          2. Aveline*

            I always have coloring books at my parties. The adults use them more than the kids.

            See also, classic board games,

            You have not lived till you’ve played Operation after two glasses of wine or Bourbon….

                1. AMPG*

                  I worked at a place that had a giant Jenga game that one of our leadership programs used as a team-building activity. We’d set it up in the corner at the holiday party and it made a great side activity.

                2. Hlyssande*

                  Someone always brings a large jenga set to our company picnic in the summer and it’s a hit. Jenga would be one of my suggestions too.

            1. Prague*

              I….passionately hate the idea of a loud buzzer going off followed by drunken laughter. Repeatedly.

          3. misplacedmidwesterner*

            I also like a cookie decorating station. It can be fun for adults too! (Or they can skip it).
            And then you get to eat the cookie.
            I’ve also seen it done where you decorate however many you want to eat plus one or two to be taking to a local homeless shelter/senior citizens home/etc.

            1. SeluciaMD*

              I love this idea! Festive, functional, delicious (if you get the right cookies) and a way to add a charitable bent if you are so inclined. I’m suggesting this to my office!

            2. HappySnoopy*

              I was coming on to say this. We’ve done that for a few years and its popular. Even judged them (could do an adult and kid contest).

            3. NB*

              Trader Joe’s (and other places, I’m guessing) has ugly sweater cookie decorating kits. It’s fun to decorate a cookie as ugly as you possibly can and then eat it.

          4. Editor Person*

            The good thing with puzzles is that you’re not locked in to it. I’ve been to parties where we play games and it’s fun but you can’t really get up and wander away if you want to talk to someone else and it’s hard to fold more people in. Games like jenga or puzzles don’t have that issue.

        3. LW #1*

          Jigsaw puzzles are perfect! My social group uses them copiously at our parties, but it didn’t occur to me to bring one in to work.

        4. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          For context, we have an annual “Christmas beer” event (we’re in Germany). It is organized by the employees, but the company sponsors the space (our cafeteria and lounge area) as well as copious food (fully catered, cold and hot buffet). Drinks are for purchase ($1.70 for a beer, $1.20 for a soft drink or so). Later there’s either a DJ or live music. As we have about 1,100 employees in the building, it tends to be a large event.

          Placing one of these brain teaser puzzles on each table (we have both bistro-style stand-up tables as well as long tables with seats) might be a good idea. They give people something to do during a lull in conversation and also help the less extrovert as an ice-breaker. What do you think?

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          Or if you hold the event at a place with bowling, shuffleboard, pool, etc then people can eat and socialize as much as they want to, or join in a game if they don’t. That worked well for my husband’s company party. There are bars/pubs with bocce ball and stuff too, or adult mini golf type places, if you’re in a big enough city to have those kinds of options!

          1. Middle School Teacher*

            We did that for our end of year party and it was great. Some people just hung out, some did a bit of everything. It was super fun!

        2. Aska*

          I’m in the planning committee at work, and we look at “how much effort are people expected to make”? The *primary* activity can require effort, as that’s the main thing we want people to sign up for. If you don’t want to do that thing, you don’t sign up. (Nothing my committee arranges is mandatory.) But don’t add on things that are mandatory once you show up, especially not things that require more effort.

          Example 1: Holiday party. People are signing up for a PARTY. Drinking, socializing, dinner or just nibbles, that kind of thing. Anything else needs to be lower effort than showing up for a party. That’s a pretty low bar. Leave some boardgames out or set up a Mario Kart tournament in a separate room, let people play or not play. Or just put on some music and let the party be a party.

          Example 2: Trip to a ski resort or some other sportsy setting. People are signing up for skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, etc. They’re prepared for that much effort. You can sneak in some teambuilding or a job-related speech or something. (Just not those weird, awkward teambuilding things, like writing and performing a song. Please don’t put me through that ever again, I beg of you. No one liked that. No-one.)

          I think our most successful medium-effort activities have been when we give people something to solve. Code-cracking game, escape room, scavenger hunt etc. Maybe less compatible with a holiday party, though. (Our holiday parties tend to be as described in example 1: No effort required beyond wearing something nice and showing up. No complaints so far.)

      3. Middle School Teacher*

        Yes. We can’t have our office party during the day, ever. Ours are usually evenings.

        One thing I would add is, if it’s in the evening, not a Friday evening because most people are exhausted.

    2. Amber T*

      I really enjoy (most) of our holiday office party, which is offsite and after hours. If it’s off site and after hours, make sure –
      – PB’s point of copious food, and lots of types
      – PB’s point of open bar (true that it depends on the office)
      – Very truly optional, including the “I’m going to pop in for five minutes” or “I can only stay for half an hour”
      – Not too far away from the work location
      – Let employees bring a +1
      – I think my office goes above and beyond here, but for those who take public transportation to and from our office, a car service is scheduled for them to get home that night, since train times are weird.

      1. Less Bread More Taxes*

        Letting people bring a plus one is such a big deal! Not only does it make things less awkward, but it makes it so much more interesting. My current company doesn’t allow this and I just can’t imagine that many people are going to go.

        1. pleaset*

          I agree with y’ll about the +1 but also can envision letters to AAM about someone feeling pressured to bring one, or how unfair it is that people in relationships get this perk….sigh.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            For a +1 again it should be optional no pressure to bring someone, and everyone should be given a +1 not just people in relationships. But we would not have this post if companies did things the way they are supposed to do.

            1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

              Yes, definitely. My sister has brought my mom as her +1 to a work event and no one seemed to frown on her for it. She invited me once, but I was unavailable.

            2. designbot*

              Yes this. Our office asks who our +1 is and what their relationship to us is… WTF?! I really want to put “rando I picked up off the street” one year just to see if it gets a reaction.

              1. Archaeopteryx*

                That’s ridiculous; I brought my friend to my company Christmas party for years before I was dating anyone! Everyone or no one should get a +1 (for this kind of thing anyway, weddings are a whole different ballgame!)

            3. Lissa*

              I really really wish that this was normalized in all segments of life, where a +1 doesn’t have to be a “date” but you could bring a friend, brother, whatever. I personally find it really odd when it’s somewhere between “only bring people if you’re in a serious relationship” (which I also get) and “bring anyone regardless of relationship” because then it’s this weird middle ground of “bring someone, but they have to be an implied romantic connection to you.” See all the “gotta find a date to a wedding” tropes.

              1. a good mouse*

                For my older sister’s wedding, she basically said she considered my best friend from childhood as my date. Not in terms of stopping me from having a +1 if I had really wanted one, but actually making the night awesome by having my best friend sit with us at the brides table and everything. It was the best.

              2. Rachel in NYC*

                My office did a summer barbecue once where you could bring family- whoever family was to you. People brought no one, spouses, kids, parents. Whoever.

          2. Kathleen_A*

            I don’t wish to annoy anybody, but I think plus-ones at an office party are kind of silly if it’s held during the work day – which is definitely my preference. I might be biased since I know my husband wouldn’t want to come (sooooo boring for the guy) and also that I would rather he not come since I would feel responsible for whether he had a good time or not. I mean, what in the world is the spouse/date/significant other supposed to talk about with co-workers who aren’t their own? But hey, YMMV. In any case, I suppose if it’s truly voluntary, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

            1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

              I’ve had a lot of fun as a +1 at a holiday party, but the company truly went all out. They rented out a comedy club and had a stand up come in and the bar was open all night with a buffet of awesome food – THEN they paid for hotel rooms for the night so no one had to drive. That was a ton of fun all around – but if you weren’t going to sink a ton of money into amusing us and keeping us fed and drunk and housed for the night I can see how being a +1 could be a huge bummer.

            2. Michaela T*

              With SOs the freedom to come and leave whenever becomes so much more important. My husband will come and socialize with my coworkers for an hour or two but he’s not going to do an activity. A company I know did a whole holiday lights bus tour for 3 hours and THEN hosted a dinner. The SOs were so, so annoyed.

            3. Who the eff is Hank?*

              I went as a +1 to my husband’s holiday party a few years back. The party was held on a fancy yacht that went around the harbor. My husband *really* didn’t like the company or his coworkers, so the two of us got tipsy and found a quiet corner to talk in while watching the harbor go by. It was almost like a subsidized date night.

              I can understand this tactic not working at smaller companies or someplace where everyone is very plugged in with their team, but we were basically invisible.

              1. FaintlyMacabre*

                My company did a 2 or 3 hour river cruise. There was a buffet, open bar and a few other companies. It was great- you could socialize with coworkers, socialize with people from other places, or wander off and just watch the scenery. The downside was that one person got super drunk, but other than calling my boyfriend a “stud” which led to hours of entertainment for us after the party, it didn’t go badly at all.

                My takeaway is that no party is totally safe from shenanigans, anyway.

            4. TootsNYC*

              one thing about plus-ones: The employee ends up functioning as a host to the plus-one, and therefore isn’t as available to interact with colleagues.

              (this is also true for “date” plus-ones at weddings)

            5. Washi*

              I agree. I think plus ones are great if it’s after hours, but if it’s during hours, it seems kind of weird and I assume a lot of people’s SOs wouldn’t be able to come anyway if they are also working.

          3. Minocho*

            I brought a friend with me as a +1. It inspired a little gossip, I’m sure, but it was a cool party with some non-monetary gambling, and we had fun!

          4. SignalLost*

            Dude. I’ve brought or been the +1 so many times, and I’m never in a relationship with the person I’m with. I’ve been my sister’s +1 a few times, and both female and male friends have been mine.

        2. MatKnifeNinja*

          I’ve been to those parties. It’s worse than being parked at Table #9 for a wedding.

          I don’t mind being an extroverted meat shield for my SO. If SO feels awkward and not knowing folks on his end (he works there), what am I suppose to do when I know no one from Adam?

          I’ve been to black tie +1 holiday parties. Pointless doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s not a fund raiser. Sort of faux networking. The food and drink never balances out the effort to go.

          At 20 to 30 years old, it’s exciting. At my age (GET OFF MY LAWN), I’d rather be home doing anything else.

        3. AdminX2*

          Unless your company is super inclusive, with people in high exec level living open non hetero lives, adding a plus one is a no go. Plus I prefer to keep it to a late lunch with co workers and have better venue/food/drink than adding people and have to go lesser.

          And a reminder- always ensure EVERYONE gets to go to this party. I have so many horror stories of admins being forced to watch phones or cover or prep for important meetings after.

          1. Aveline*

            That also depends upon if plus one is for couples only.

            In the 90s, DH used to work at a place where plus one = bring anyone you want. One dude brought his aunt who was a nun. Everyone thought it would be horrible and a buzz kill. Turns out, she was a badass old lady who literally fought Nazis.

          2. Lissa*

            You think no plus ones should be allowed unless there are open same-sex relationships at the high exec level? I’m not straight myself and I don’t think this is really reasonable – I get that there can be different feelings around this, but I don’t think that it’s a reason to unilaterally say no plus ones. I mean, I personally would be fine with plus ones or not but I think they are very different types of parties – are we talking evening party with lots of food, booze etc? Then yeah partners. During the workday? Then generally not.

            totally agree with your last sentence, reading that sort of thing makes me irrationally angry! Or rationally angry.

            1. LilyP*

              I think that’s a kind of arbitrary rule, but the intent is good — if you’re organizing a holiday party, keep in mind that unless you company is genuinely and *visibly* supportive of non-straight employees, offering a +1 is going to be very fraught for them. Do they take their partner and risk the social and/or professional consequences of coming out to more/any of their coworkers? Do they go alone and suffer through 800 “where’s your [opposite gender partner term]?” conversations where they have to either out themselves or lie or dodge the question and risk people accusing them of “lying by omission” (barf) if they come out later? Your holiday party can’t get rid of those anxieties because you can’t fix homophobia in our society or reverse a lifetime of judgment/shame/trauma, but it’s a good thing to be aware of (even if you do have openly gay execs)

        4. Bagpuss*

          I feel plus ones can make it much *more* awkward – you wind up with lots of people who don’t know anyone but their partner, and while I wouldn’t see it as an unfair perk I do think that it can make things much more difficult and uncomfortable for anyone who is single, and even more so for any one who is LGBT but not out.

          I think if the event is more informal – a BBQ where kids and other guests are there is may be less of a issue, but if the party is or includes a sit down meal I do think it can be counter productive.
          Plus, if part of the reason for the party is to spend time with coworkers and maybe get to know people you don’t work directly with, a bit better, then I think having a lot of +1s means that happens much less.

          1. Autumnheart*

            Plus, how many partners really want to be dragged to their spouse’s holiday party? “Hey, come hang out with a bunch of complete strangers, and don’t do anything that would make me look bad to my boss!”

        5. RebeccaNoraBunch*

          Actually, as a single person in her mid-30s, the fact that my (new this year) company is having a party and not allowing +1s because we got so big this year is a HUGE relief to me. I am so sick of going to company parties by myself when everyone else is coupled up and I have to make small talk with spouses I don’t know/have nothing in common with except I work with their spouse. Plus, I feel like everyone notices I am there alone year after year and year, because I invariably am, and not by choice. I brought my best friend one year and that was even worse, because I had to spend the evening introducing her to people she had no real vested interest in because she’s not my spouse.

          My company is throwing a party starting in the afternoon for several hours at a really nice restaurant, ending in the early evening, no +1s, and for the first time in a long time I’m truly looking forward to a company party. :)

          1. Unlovable Worm Eater*

            4 billion times this, yes. I have brought friends as plus ones before, but 9 times out of 10 the implication is that they’re a romantic partner (if a company makes it super clear that it’s not just that, then that might work, but I’ve never been anywhere that’s even tried that) and I’ve ended up the butt of ridiculous gossip as a result (definitely) and/or had a lot of awkward explaining conversations (I felt). The other option is finding the other singles and hanging with them (if there are any) or being a sore thumb.

            A non +1 social event is much, much less fraught for me, and I’m only single, not having to pay for extra childcare, not having to worry about a same gender or non binary partner, etc. etc., which is harder to navigate

        6. Less Bread More Taxes*

          Okay, to clarify: I had one office party, which was a summer barbeque, in which everyone brought a +1. Everyone’s partners did such wildly different things to what we do, so it made the conversation really interesting. I didn’t see any couple hiding away on their own. Everyone talked to everyone else. It was comfortable.

          If you know your partner is uncomfortable in social events where they don’t know anyone, don’t bring them! I think that goes for any social situation. Otherwise of course it will be awkward.

        7. anonny*

          I agree! My work holds our party starting at 4pm so we start the party on our own and our +1s gradually trickle in as people finish up with their own jobs. It’s nice because we get some time on our own and mingle and the SOs join us later, so things aren’t weird or isolating for people who are there on their own, but our SOs still get to meet our coworkers (I love bringing my partner to meet all the weirdos I’ve been complaining about over the last year to get her opinions)

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        I agree. The commentariat here skews heavy towards the introvert side so you get a lot of the “never during non-working hours” comments. But I enjoy our holiday party, which is off-site and after hours.

        1. grace*

          Yep. Ours was at a nice restaurant last year with plus ones, and it was a ton of fun.

          I think it helps that I like my office. :)

          1. Michaela T*

            Yeah, liking your office is important. My old office did fancy Friday-night holiday parties, and everyone would have fun dressing up and trying to meet the theme. But it was fun in part because I was friendly with coworkers, otherwise I wouldn’t have put the time and money into dressing up.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I worked at a place where the party was offsite, after hours, and had music and dancing.

          That was the year that a bunch of us took turns exhibition dancing on the landing of the stairs between levels; it was fun! Those who danced were cheered good naturedly and enthusiastically, and others were urged to dance if they looked at all interested, and those who didn’t dance got to laugh and cheer and egg people on, and other people left the room and got hors d’oeuvres.

        3. Ronald Coase's ghost*

          Exactly. The commentariat is so skewed to introverts that it’s more like “no parties at all, if you must it’s gotta have a jigsaw puzzle.”

          The best holiday party I ever attended was at Madam Tussaud’s in London. It was held in the evening. Somehow people came. The world revolved around its axis.

          1. Roja*

            Yeah, I think we’re heavily skewed towards a specific demographic in terms of socializing. I’m an introvert too, but my husband’s office is quite friendly and informal and I quite like going to the Christmas parties. Since I already work at home it’s great to get out and see people, and hey, the food is good!

        4. KTB*

          I agree as well. My last company had a great holiday party that started around 7PM on a Friday night, had a live DJ, a huge food spread, open bar, arcade games, and a completely voluntary baking contest. Plus ones were welcomed, and the company paid for Ubers home. It was quite a lot of fun for the three years that I worked there.

        5. laura*

          I have also enjoyed the off-site, after hours holiday parties I’ve attended. I worked for a law firm that used to hold their holiday party at one of the country clubs in town, with dancing, karaoke, a casino room with play money, etc., which was a blast. When we were in the D.C. area, my partner’s company always held their parties at one of the Smithsonian museums after hours. One year it was the Air and Space museum and the next was at part of the Natural History museum. It was amazing to be able to explore with just a few other people instead of fighting the crowds. Both also had lots of food and drinks provided too. A buffet style spread of different dishes can be better for mingling and chatting as well.

        6. Neptune*

          I agree. If anything, I’ve found off-site after-hours parties to be much easier to deal with at times when I don’t want to socialise because it’s much less noticeable if you just don’t go. If it’s halfway through the workday and everyone is putting on their coats and leaving for the lunch and you’re the only person who stays at their desk, it’s really obvious and becomes a Thing; if the party is at some hotel on a Saturday and you don’t show up, a lot of people might not even notice and will have forgotten about it by Monday.

        7. AMPG*

          I think it’s really just important to know your office’s culture. I’ve worked at “100% after-hours” and “100% daytime” places, and really I don’t mind either one, as long as the parties are well done and people are happy to be there. But trying to fit one type of group into the other type of party is just a recipe for disaster.

        8. Archaeopteryx*

          Yeah, all the work parties I’ve been to have been at A) a nice restaurant (free meal and drink tickets), B) bowling/ shuffleboard type bar, or C) after work in the conference room with an open bar. They were all pretty fun, and to me, more enjoyable than Angela’s midday party on The Office would have been.

      3. Hush42*

        I would add- whenever my company does an event with drinking of any kind involved an Uber or Lyft to get home is expensible. In December I planned a Painting with a Twist night as a team building event the company is paying for the painting portion and the food but it’s BYOB. However, Uber and Lyft are still expensible. We would rather pay for that than have employees drive home if they shouldn’t be driving.

      4. anon today and tomorrow*

        I honestly hate work parties if there’s a +1. Partially because it almost always means “bring your spouse or LTR partner” and also because for those of us who are wary of being out at work, it pretty much means we’re left with the age old “can’t bring my same-sex partner even though I may want to”.

        There’s definitely the idea that a +1 can only be a romantic partner, and over the years I’ve seen a lot of AAM have some very judgmental ideas of people who want that +1 to be a friend or relative. I’ve been miserable at parties where everyone has their partner and I’m lumped in with the other singles who weren’t given a +1.

        Work parties should be for employees to just avoid any +1 complications.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Agreed. All or nothing. I didn’t attend a cousin’s wedding simply because her mother (my aunt) was running things….and being married at the time, I could bring my spouse, but my sister couldn’t bring her boyfriend….long term boyfriend with whom she had a child.

          1. anon today and tomorrow*

            Yes. I don’t like the idea of +1 invites being judged on who is and isn’t worthy to attend. It shouldn’t be the case, but we’ve had enough letters and comments trying to determine the “right person for a +1” that I think it’s always going to cause issue.

            Let everyone have a +1 with no qualifications or no one at all.

        2. Aveline*

          Agree. As I said above, plus one should be anyone.

          A dude husband used to work with brought an aunt who was a nun. Sounds horrible on paper, but she was a cool, Nazi fighting nun (yes, she literally fought Nazis in France in WWII).

          1. Anon, a moose!*

            I’ve brought my roommate as plus one to several functions at my office, though in fairness it’s possible that my coworkers just assume we’re dating on the down low…. but it’s never been an issue and I don’t think anyone really cares.

            I have the sense that we’re a little outside the norm, though, based on other comments here!

        3. Hush42*

          I think +1s shoudl be +1s regardless of their relationship to you. If the company is willing to pay for you to bring a guest then their relationship to you shouldn’t matter. We just had our big fiscal year end party, it was held at a local casino and everyone who wanted one got a hotel room at the casino. Of the six members of my team (including myself) only two of them had romantic plus ones- One brought her husband, one brought her boyfriend, myself and two other co-workers brought friends because we don’t have romantic partners, and one brought her brother. We all had a blast and no one cared that most of our +1s were not romantically involved. As someone who doesn’t have a boyfriend I would feel a bit left out if everyone else had guests and I was not allowed to bring one.

      5. Person from the Resume*

        No plus one for workday office parties. For evening or weekend parties, yes, because don’t ask your employees to come to a party and leave their partner at home.

        However as a more often then not single person, the +1 is fraught with issues. I don’t have a +1 but all the partnered co-workers will bring one so it’s extra awkward because I’m there alone while most people aren’t. It’s they “duty” of a partner to be a +1 at events where they know no one, but if I can bring a friend they’re only going as a huge favor to me and not because they’re going to have fun.

        I much prefer a workday party with no plus one all around.

    3. Cat*

      Yeah, our office does all of these things except they do it after work (but starting near the end of the workday) and invite families and alumni. It is always pretty nice. I don’t know that I’d call it awesome, but it’s nice to catch up with people who haven’t worked there for a while as well as coworkers’ families.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I agree with all of this (minus the open bar) and also suggest having OPTIONAL activities.

      One thing old toxic job did well was a holiday afternoon thing. They would show movies in some of the conference rooms and there were games and crafts in other places. Or people could just hang out and chat or whatever.

    5. CmdrShepard4ever*

      It has been while since I went to it, but if I remember correctly it followed all of these guidelines. It was held during work hours and was optional, people could stay at their desk/office if they wanted, or come down briefly make an appearance and then head back to work (party was in the big office lobby). I think we were let go early that day, and this applied to everyone even if you did not attend the party. The food was really good and there was plenty of it. It was open bar for what it is worth. It was a company with admin support staff, associates, and partners, the stations that were not self serve were being worked by the partners of the company, making/handing out drinks, and serving food.

    6. The Original K.*

      Re: your last point, there was a letter here not long ago from someone who couldn’t come up with a good holiday party, and the issue was that her department just didn’t like each other so any forcing them to spend non-work time together wasn’t going to work out. Forcing folks to try to get along for the sake of having an office party doesn’t make sense.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*


        1/2 day off with pay.

        People needing to get their drunks and bar food fix, arranged that off site themselves.


        I can have a good time with people I marginally care about (at best). But I really would really rather be home with folks I actually want to be around.

        Keep your candy canes, sandwiches and faux caring. Time off and cash is the best gift.

        1. Lia*

          I’m a deeeep extrovert and I prefer this option. I want to socialize with MY friends, not my coworkers!

        2. Wren*

          I like most of my coworkers, am an extrovert, and love the idea of getting paid to hang out and eat and drink with them. A half day with pay means I will probably go home and watch tv for a couple of hours. Not really a celebration for me.

    7. Quickbeam*

      I won’t attend anything with an open bar. Don’t drink and don’t want to be around colleague once they start tying one on. So I’d be the opting out coworker.

      1. BonzoGal*

        As a former party organizer, I second your motion on no open bar. Even if 99% of the employees don’t overindulge, the 1% who do make life a misery for the organizer(s). I had to pack people into taxis all too often, as well as pull people off the floor of restrooms and/or from behind shrubs in the parking lot. And the aftermath of things that should never have been said or done due to alcohol… yikes. A little wine/beer is usually okay, but I find that people get a little greedy with open bars.

          1. Aveline*

            I generally fell that the people who cause issues at open bars are gonna cause issues no matter what.

            It’s not an open bar problem, it’s an asshole problem

          2. BonzoGal*

            What is that supposed to mean? “One in every crowd”? I offered my POV as an event organizer. You can’t make a comment on the topic without disparaging me?

    8. Robot With Human Hair*

      This is all perfect. The last great holiday party I went to was at a university I used to work at (left there 2 years ago and even then, they had long since cancelled the all-staff holiday parties for “budgetary reasons”, but then replaced them with lavish ones just for executives and donors).

      Middle of the work day, lots of food, carving stations, live music, spiked eggnog and an open bar. That was also back when I had a co-worker I absolutely loved working with (in addition to some great faculty and adjuncts) and it was an amazing time. Did we possibly overindulge in the eggnog and open bar? Sure. But I have very, very fond memories of that party at a place where the fond memories tend to fade more and more in my memory.

    9. CR*

      Not just a weekday, a Friday night. That way everyone is cheerful because it’s Friday and no one is hungover at work the next day.

      1. debby*

        …unless someone is Jewish and traditionally observant of the Sabbath, since it means they can’t attend at all.

    10. many bells down*

      Mr. Bells’ work holds an awesome holiday party. No open bar, but there are drink tickets and sometimes tasting stations. AND they give everyone a cab voucher for the ride home, so no one is driving drunk.

      Tons of food, great raffle prizes, karaoke and casino games. This year’s theme is “Masquerade Ball” and I’ve been shopping for masks all week. Can’t wait.

    11. Linda Evangelista*

      I actually disagree re: an evening – SO’s office had a Friday evening holiday party that was fantastic and a lot of fun. But I guess it depends on your office culture!

  2. Alfonzo Mango*

    The best office holiday party I’ve atteneded was for Halloween. They had a pizza-and-salad lunch for everyone, tons of candy and baked treats (brought in potluck style), goody bags, and may different activities throughout the afternoon. There was an area for crafts, an area for a donut eating game (it’s on a string and you can only use your mouth), a movie area, a trivia game, and people were allowed to opt out of any of it, of course.

      1. Alfonzo Mango*

        It really really was! That office had a strong work culture, employees were super friendly and a lot were friends outside of the office. It was also a major corporation that clearly could afford to expense it. It was a special place to work. I can imagine it wouldn’t fly everywhere.

    1. Psyche*

      We had a cookie baking contest that was pretty popular (and optional). Anyone who wanted could bring in a batch of cookies to enter and anyone who wanted could taste and vote for the cookies with no pressure to do either.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        We have a chili cook-off that is a lot of fun in the fall. Totally optional, you can enter the contest, or bring a side and if you don’t want to bring something but still want to try all the chili you pay a small amount of money to partake. Everyone tries and rates all the chili and it is a lot of fun.

  3. laura*

    We had a faux casino set up one time. There was a party organization that came in to do it. It was fun because you weren’t playing with real money, and it was something to do that didn’t involve chatting with your co-workers about nothing in particular. It was entirely optional, and set off to the side.

    May not go over well in a particularly conservative work environment.

    1. Cait*

      My husband’s company did this one year, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had at an office party. They had tables for blackjack, craps, and Texas hold’em. The money was all fake (handed out at the door when you arrived), but at the end of the party you could use your “winnings” in an auction for real prizes. These included things like gift cards for local restaurants, a few technical gadgets (headphones, back up cellphone batteries), and other things. The most coveted prize was a cooler that came packed with beer, but I don’t think there was anything that cost more than ~$100. It added a nice level of friendly competition to the night for those who cared. (I ended up donating all of my winnings to one of my husband’s co-workers)

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        This sounds like a lot of fun! We did something like this at my High School all night party, but I was less knowledgeable about gambling at the time. I would love to do it at an office party.

      2. Hope*

        I did event photography (company paid for two photographers–one to do portrait-style and group photos, and me to do candid shots walking around the party) at a massive office party that did the faux gambling thing (they also had tons of food/drinks/etc.). It was hands down the best company event I ever took photos at during the 3 years I worked for that studio. Everyone seemed to be having a ton of fun.

        1. S-Mart*

          Argh, please no random wandering photographers. I strongly dislike having my picture taken, and I know I’m far from alone in this.

      3. AMM Newbie*

        My husbands work party did this last year and I think the year before and it was a blast. The event was a Saturday night at a hotel there was a really buffet, two drinks on the company, and a faux casino with real prizes at the end. Everyone there had a great time and it was fun to meet my husband’s coworkers and their spouses. I can’t wait for their holiday party this year as they do go all out.

        The holiday parties we had at my old job were nice as well – they always started at 3 or 4pm so our work day ended a little earlier and there was tons of food and one year wine/beer. It was nice to see and talk to colleagues – some people stayed until 6pm some left at 4:30pm so pretty open. For my department we always did a paid meal together at a small restaurant or catered at the office and got to leave right after which was a nice perk.

      4. Yorick*

        I went to an event like this once and it was very fun. At the end they did drawings for prizes. Everyone got one ticket when they came in, and you could trade in the chips you had left for extra tickets. And I think it’s a nice way to lightly socialize with people you may not know too well.

    2. It's Pronounced Bruce*

      This is what I was going to say– I really enjoyed the holiday party I went to that had 1) food and 2) a bunch of casino tables set up from one of those companies that does this for parties.

      It was for a high-budget company so it also had a lot of other goodies like great live music that are likely not generally feasible. But the games gave you something to do, there was no money or prizes so the stakes were just to have fun.

    3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Casino parties are the savior to the office parties. When I was young in my career I ended up on the dreaded ‘planning committee’. The typical holiday parties up until that point had been the sad bland hotel dinner with a depressing band or dj that (thankfully) nobody danced to. It was super awkward and decidedly not fun.

      We managed to convince my stick in the mud boss that if we found a cheaper dinner place (we got a private room at a middle of the road restaurant that served decent food (much better than cold tasteless banquet catering)), booked a casino venue, and bought decent but not spectacular gifts. We had poker, craps, roulette, and blackjack. Everyone got to choose a present, and you could ‘buy’ raffle tickets with your winnings for extra prizes.

      Even Johnny-No-Fun Boss admitted that everyone enjoyed themselves and stayed much longer than usual. Honestly I was surprised he admitted that, because he thought I was a devil’s spawn employee most of the time.

      I actually think the casino parties opened the door to companies being a little more adventurous with their planning and started the trend of introducing activity in their parties.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        I should mention in case it wasn’t obvious… all winnings were fictitious and obviously the stakes were nil for the employee.

    4. Sally*

      When I worked for a state legislator, we had a fundraiser that was a faux casino party. The funny thing was – when it was time to leave, I started betting large amounts of fake money so I could get rid of it, and then I won a bunch of hands in a row! It was super fun because it was play money, and there was no risk, so I could get the thrill of making bets I would never do with actual money.

    5. Ceiswyn*

      One of my previous employers did something very similar. There was also the party where someone brought in their Xbox and hooked it up to Customer Support’s big status window, which I think was also the one with the Scalextric races.

      The catering was pizza and doughnuts. We were OK with that :)

    6. ThankYouRoman*

      We did casino night for our 10yr high school reunion. I didn’t bother with the games but it really loosens up the atmosphere and is low cost.

    7. CupcakeCounter*

      YES! My husband’s company did this last year and it was a blast. I talked to the organizer and she said that it was quite a bit cheaper than previous parties as well.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        The casino near me once did a Christmas party for my smallish (25+) office. There was dinner in a private dining room, and a demonstration of how to play Blackjack. Everyone got a bag of slot machine tokens next to their plate, but I don’t think anyone won anything!

    8. Aveline*

      Friend has an office that did a casino party and said it was for fake cash. At the end of the night, the had the woman who won the most come up. They handed her a list of charities and told her to pick one becaus they were donating read cash in her name.

      Turns out, one was for a veterans charity and her brother had ptsd. Not a dry eye in the house

    9. jake*

      That would be the best party I can imagine. I love gambling, but I hate losing money, so I never gamble. This would let me have all the fun of gambling with none of the downside.

  4. Constanze*

    To be honest, it is not that complicated : I found that when too much planning is done, the partu can be really boring or constraining. The parties that were enjoyable had all these elements :
    – during work hours, bonus if it means you can go home early
    – good food and good beverages, plenty for everyone
    – not too far from work or at work if possible
    – not too many speeches, and no PowerPoint…
    – not too long in general
    – no mandatory activities !
    – but optional ones such as : musical blind test / pub quizz, Secret Santa, karaoke are always fun.
    – entertainment from people who actually want to do it : we have people who like to sing or play music, and it is always good fun to listen to them for a little while
    – no children !

    1. Loopy*

      If I have to listen to karaoke, I don’t consider it optional :P

      But really, I’d flee from karaoke, please keep in mind people have to hear it, not just sing it!

    2. Anon Anon Anon*

      It would be great if people could come and go from it. Like, “For the holidays, there will be food and activities upstairs from 12 – 3 for anyone who wants to participate. After that, you can all go home early.”

    3. limenotapple*

      – not too many speeches, and no PowerPoint…

      Really, I can’t stress this enough. No holiday party should contain a powerpoint. Any information about how the company is doing or how this year went, etc. should happen in a business meeting, during work hours. My husband’s work did this, and all the plus ones were just so bored, not to mention it took up employee free time with work things.

      1. Michaela T*

        Yes – short speech welcoming everyone and thanking them for their hard work AT MOST. My last Christmas party they made important announcements about the organization that you only heard about if you were there or someone thought to tell you afterwords. Sucked for those of us who left early.

      2. TheMonkey*

        I may or may not have slightly-too-loudly-not-entirely-accidentally complained about the owner doing this at my spouse’s previous job. Small company, small party, after hours at the boss’s house (weird, but catered by a pro chef with an open bar, yay!) but a 40-slide Year In Review was entirely ridiculous and boring for the employees themselves, much less everyone’s plus one.

        The year afterward there was no powerpoint. I still consider it a personal victory and my spouse hasn’t worked there for three years.

      3. Master Bean Counter*

        My husband’s last employer did this. But there was a bar. Me and the rest of the plus ones turned this into a drinking game. On the good side we were all lots of fun when the carol sing along happened later in the night. The traditional “12 days of Christmas” may or may not have turned into the redneck version. This may or may not have ended the inclusion of this long boring song into sing along.

      4. JustaTech*

        We had a PowerPoint at one holiday party, but it was more of a slide show of one of the founders who was retiring.

        Another year we had a slideshow of pictures of employees through the year, but by the time of the holiday party most of them had either been laid off or quit, so it *really* didn’t improve the atmosphere.

      5. Person of Interest*

        Ha my husband’s old company did a PowerPoint every year at the company party and we still make fun of it. Usually a few points touting their major wins for the year, and then a bunch of inside jokes about the owners pranking each other, which 99% of the room didn’t get or care about.

    4. CRM*

      +1 this is a perfect list (excluding the karaoke, that would be horrific- especially if its during the work day)

    1. Justme, The OG*

      For me, the best holiday party is when my boss or some other higher up tells me to go home for the day at about 3:00.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        THE HIGHEST OF FIVES @Justme, The OG.

        I love having a good time. I love being with people. Work is work is work. I polite and pleasant to everyone. I’ll help my coworkers out. I’ll do everything to make it a drama free zone because everyone is here getting paid to do job.

        How people think we are BFFs after 3 pm, and I want to share happy fun times with them is a hard nope. Unless I’m suppose to circle back on things at the “party”, and catch up on work related stuff.

        I don’t consider that a party, but a working lunch.

      1. MatKnifeNinja*

        I guess if you have outside interest with your coworkers, hearing about kids, wedding planning, Fortnite, or rice carving isn’t bad.

        I don’t hate my coworkers or wish them ill, I just don’t want to burn up anymore of my life with them than I’m required.

        Hence time off for everyone without being force to drink punch or eat pinwheel sandwiches works for me. I did all my holiday parties in elementary school.

          1. TechWorker*

            +1 – I actually love company socials as times I get to catch up with my coworkers I don’t see outside of work… plus free food and drink what’s not to love :p

        1. Holly*

          At my office everyone gets along really well and we love the opportunity to catch up (including and especially about wedding planning!!) I am sorry you don’t feel that way, but there’s a large universe out there.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      I enjoy the party of “catered food is in the lunchroom” and there’s food allergies and dietary preferences taken into consideration. Nothing after hours during a super busy time of the year and you can fix a plate and continue working or socialize.

    3. Clisby Williams*

      I agree, and I don’t remember ever having an office holiday party. Maybe I just skipped it. I do go with my husband to his office parties (usually start around 6 p.m.), so I can recommend:

      – No kids allowed
      – Good food and drink
      – No activities beyond eating, drinking, and socializing
      – Not noisy (one year, the music at his office party was deafening, and a whole bunch of us wound up just grabbing our drinks and fleeing outside.)
      – Doesn’t last long – 2 or 3 hours, max.

    4. LilyP*

      Maybe the best kind of holiday party is one that is *truly* optional, so people like you can skip and people who will enjoy it can go. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean no one else does!

    5. Shannon*

      Hear hear. Let us go home early. Give us all gift cards that total the amount you would have spent on the party. The end.

  5. Guy Incognito*

    The best holiday parties are held on Friday afternoons. At your own homes. Because you should just give people the day off.

    1. Genny*

      People suggest this a lot, but isn’t the point of the party to foster team spirit/cohesion? Giving everyone the day off might improve morale, but it doesn’t really foster team spirit. Besides, a lot of people actually like being able to casually chat with co-workers over food and drinks.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        Yeah. And as someone who worked with a lot of remote employees, having a party and gettting to actually see people in person periodically was really helpful for workplace cohesion.

        The point of office parties is partitally to reward people, yes, but it’s also to keep the oil going socially and make sure people feel connected.

    2. anon today and tomorrow*

      Eh, I know this site tends to vary towards introverted and “parties are a nightmare”, but not everyone feels that way. My company gives us the last two weeks of the year off and then we have a New Year Winter Kickoff party in January where you can either take the entire day off or go to the party that’s held during work hours. A surprising amount of people prefer the party to the day off.

      1. Lissa*

        I don’t think it’s surprising at all! I think that the commenters here really aren’t representative when it comes to things like office activities in general… I like getting ideas on how to make things actually fun for as many people as possible, but even if we get 40 threads here of people who say “best holiday party is none!” it doesn’t really mean you shouldn’t have one.

        1. anon today and tomorrow*

          Oh, I know they’re not representative, but sometimes when the commentariat is such a hivemind/echo chamber, you end up feeling like you’re strange for liking something everyone else hates.

      2. TooTiredToThink*

        Introvert here with some social anxiety. But even I still like going to Holiday parties (up to a point). But mostly because Christmas, for me is a big deal, and since I am single with no family it also means its the only event I get to go to. So there is that. I may feel differently if I had actual holiday plans.

  6. Four lights*

    My department (20 people) does a sit down dinner at a nice restaurant. I would say people may be more appreciative of really good food than “fun games.”

    And of course not everyone celebrates Christmas…so for the first letter any carols should stick to Jingle Bells or Sleigh Ride, or generic songs like that.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Because of the unending malaise of “Christmas, but not religious” marketing, I grow sick of the generic non-religious carols by Dec 1. Fie on singing them at work.

      1. Beth*

        I can’t agree with you more! I would rather sing a hundred religious carols, even though I don’t believe a word of any of them, than endure one more inane repetition of any of the generic carols. The very thought makes me want to scream and run out of the room.

        1. Lissa*

          Same here, I’m not Christian but would still rather hear them. I thank my years of retail and chain restaurant etc. work for that, now anything like Santa Baby or Walking in a Winter Wonderland makes me want to run screaming into the night.

    2. carols*

      I mean, non-religious Christmas carols are still Christmas carols. They’re possibly less offputting to non-Christians, but they’re still definitely Christmas songs.

      1. curly sue*

        Yup. And adding the two Hanukkah songs everyone knows isn’t much better. If I have to sit through another school concert full of kindergartners massacreing ‘I had a Little Dreidle’ one more time… (which I will, and I’ll clap because of the kids, but ARGH. Why do the decent Hanukkah songs with reasonable choral arrangements never get any play?)

          1. curly sue*


            (Argh. But I laughed out loud at the code!)

      2. Cheesehead*

        The songs listed by four lights do not reference Christmas, Santa, etc in their lyrics at all (unless there’s a line I’m forgetting – the radio doesn’t have them on infinite loop til next week, haha). Are they and other winter/sleighing/snow songs still off putting because they are associated with Christmas in the popular culture or do they pass the sniff test?

        1. Admin of Sys*

          First line of jingle bells (though it’s rarely sung) “Merry Christmas ladies”
          Sleigh ride has entirely secular lyrics, and was originally written in response to a heat wave – I’ve always thought of that one as pro-winter but not Christmas based. Same with ‘Let it snow’
          Winter Wonderland is iffier – there’s no specific reference to Christmas, but ‘Parson Brown’ is the one offering to marry them, so it has Christian overtones still.
          ‘Deck the Halls’ /technically/ doesn’t mention Christmas, but it’s got ‘yule’ mentioned a couple of times, so it’s inclusive for Pagans and Christians, but not anyone else.
          Honestly though, for me it’s worth avoiding them all just for the constant constant repetition. I am sooooo very tired of the music by the time the holiday season roles around, and it has very little to do with not being Christian, it has to do with hearing them in 90% of the retail locations starting a week before Thanksgiving.

        2. Wehaf*

          Some of them were actually written specifically so non-Christians would have good winter holiday song options.

          1. LilyP*

            But like, nobody in America is going around writing fall-themed songs so non-Jews can have “good fall song options” for when they’re not celebrating Yom Kippur* or something. Assuming that everyone should celebrate in December while pretending it has nothing to do with Christmas and Christmas has nothing to do with Christianity is weird and annoying, and taken as a whole that part of our culture of is alienating to many non-Christians.

            *Not positive on the season on that one so correct me if I’m wrong

            1. kilika*

              That’s the key thing to me. Not all cultures have “winter songs”, because not all cultures have this big holiday in the winter that’s seen as a holiday season and a reason to sing songs. Jewish culture, for example, has far more autumn/spring songs than winter songs. The major holidays are all in autumn/spring, and all the nature-songs are related to things like the first rains, the first flowers, the first fruits, that sort of thing. Incidentally, Hannukah songs are not about winter, as a rule. They’re about lights in the dark, and massacring the enemies who came to kill us. Very specific.
              So yeah, when somebody makes a big deal about winter songs and winter holidays and pretends it’s not based on the fact that some very specific religions have holidays at that time of year… nah, not fooling anyone.

      3. Amy the Rev*

        It’s sad bc I think songs like Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland, Baby its Cold Outside, Let it Snow, Jingle Bells, etc just started out as regular old winter/romance themed songs (think the old-fashioned, winter version of Kenny Chesney’s “Summertime”), but got absorbed into the ‘secular’ cloud of Christmas.

        I’m an ardent supporter of the separation of Church & State, and as a pastor it frustrates me so much when people claim that Christmas is a ‘secular holiday’ or try to use that as an excuse to shove Christmas down other ppl’s throats, so I’d totally cede the point that even while those songs have zero mention of religion, christmas, or holidays, they’ve become Christmas songs in our cultural zeitgeist. And maybe they wouldn’t have become seen as xmas songs if our country wasn’t so damn Christian-normative!!!

        1. Amy the Rev*

          (and by Christian-normative, I mean that even my Dawkins-thumper, fundamentalist atheist, think-all-religious-people-are-sheep-and-arent-afraid-to-say-so ‘friends’, put up xmas trees and host xmas parties without batting an eye)

        2. Random comment*

          I once read an article that proclaimed “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was offensive to Muslims because it’s too sexualized. Can’t please everyone.

            1. media monkey*

              agreed. creepiest “holiday” song ever. especially the tom jones/ cerys matthews version – the age difference just makes it worse.

      4. Cardamom*

        The really old carols are pagan and predate Christianity/Christmas (e.g., see wassailing). However, those are far and few between in the contemporary repertoire of carols.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I am a big fan of getting out of the office for the holiday party. I personally really like it when they take everyone out to a good restaurant (key is good food -doesn’t have to be fancy or upscale, as long as it’s good) for a later lunch and then just let everyone go home afterwards. So if you lunch at 1 or so, have the party until 3 or 4 and everyone still gets extra time in their day. Order some apps to pass around the table and let everyone order at least one drink (if the office can afford it) and whatever they want for an entree. Maybe have an activity, but make it low stakes.

      1. Anonyish*

        That is what my office does and it works well. We all pay a very modest contribution (£10, which in the context of the workplace is clearly affordable by all staff, I think we sub the interns) and they cover the rest of the cost including wine (chosen by the organiser, they aren’t stupid!)/beer/soft drinks. Menu is a choice from a set menu, with special diets catered for as required. We are a bunch of about 40 people who get on quite happily, but realistically aren’t going to party together, and commuting and other responsibilities would exclude some people from an evening event. We have a fun celebratory lunch and then get to leave early. Attendance is entirely optional, but nearly everyone will attend, because it is a pleasant low stakes couple of hours.

      2. betty (the other betty)*

        Late lunch, and then everyone can go home early, was my favorite kind of holiday party. It works well for a group of, say, 20 or fewer people.

        My favorite was an afternoon at a sushi restaurant that everyone agreed on. We ordered a bunch of everything for people to try (and those with dietary restrictions or preferences were able to order things that they wanted specifically, with extras in case others wanted to try that too). There was limited alcohol (maybe one cup of sake per person) for a toast.

        After the lunch, some people wanted to extend the celebration, so they invited everyone to join them at a non-work happy hour at a nearby pub. Some people went home, some went to happy hour, everyone had the kind of day they wanted.

        1. Expat*

          Too bad you never worked in Russia! At a holiday party there about ten years ago, everyone got a whole bottle of vodka!

      3. Joielle*

        This is what we do too and it works really well. We do all pay for our own lunch (government office) but it’s a nice place with good food, and not too expensive. The only “activity” is a silent auction, with money donated to our agency’s charitable giving program. It’s kind of fun to see what everyone donates for the auction – mostly handmade stuff, so you get to learn more about your coworkers’ hobbies and talents. Very low-key, optional to attend, and everyone gets to go home a little early.

    4. Boo Hoo*

      We usually did this in my last company as there weren’t many people. Last year us ladies went to the restroom as we were all filing out and then men walked outside. My boss owns his company but is a distributor for another company. The BIGGGG boss from that company, his wife, came up to us asking where she could buy some coke the party for the rest of the night. We just stood there in shock! WHAT! Told my boss about it later and he was laughing his butt off. For the record I have no idea where one would buy such a thing and sooooo odd for THAT person of all to ask us that. Apparently he was fired not too long after and his wife and him are now divorced, no idea if any of that has anything to do with it but I have heard through the rumor mill there were other incidents similar.

  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Some thoughts:
    1. Make attendance optional.
    2. Try to use “winter” themed decorations instead of Christmas-specific decorations.
    3. Offer a wide variety of food options, and if you’re covering drinks, ensure there are non-alcoholic options.
    4. Try to hold the event in a neutral space (i.e., not a bar).
    5. If any kind of Secret Santa or White Elephant exchange is contemplated, provide clear guidelines for participants and be strict about the financial caps on gifts. Let people opt out, and don’t make them feel marginalized for doing so.
    6. Ask folks for their input in the planning process. This doesn’t have to mean form a committee or circulate a questionnaire, but in my experience, most people have strong feelings about the holiday party.

    If children are attending:
    1. Incorporate activities like designing/frosting cookies or building gingerbread homes. Require parental supervision to participate. Bring smocks/aprons. (Bonus: adults are usually happy to participate in these sorts of things).
    2. Ensure there’s a quiet, supervised space that can serve as a nap room and/or decompression place. Kids can get really overstimulated.
    3. Make sure there’s a separate, quiet and private space for nursing.

    1. Delta Delta*

      Totally seconding a variety of drinks. I’ve been to corporate holiday parties where there isn’t anything that isn’t alcoholic. Sometimes I don’t feel like drinking, or if I feel like I’ve had enough I want to switch to something without alcohol. Definitely need a variety.

      1. Observer*

        No non-alcoholic beverages is just stupid! Do you really want to pressure someone into drinking more than they should? Or face a lawsuit that claims you did that, and THAT’S why Staff person got into an accident?

      2. Anyone There?*

        Agreed. I always have to tell people, some people don’t drink, you know that right? We have tea, coffee, soft drinks, water, and juice.

      3. Serendipity*

        I agree with the non-alcoholic beverage options!
        I just attended a work function with an amazing array of beverages, including four different fruit punches and expensive champagne… and the only non-alcoholic option was sparkling water. One bottle. For 250 people.
        It somewhat ruins the experience when your options are water or water.

      1. Autumnheart*

        My company does this as kind of a pop-up event around Christmas. Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, hot chocolate or tea, whipped cream, crushed candy canes, milk. For 4000 people.

    2. Aphrodite*

      Repeating for the importance of this:

      5. If any kind of Secret Santa or White Elephant exchange is contemplated, provide clear guidelines for participants and be strict about the financial caps on gifts. Let people opt out, and don’t make them feel marginalized for doing so.

      And I’d add, especially if you have departments that are primarily men, that any sexually-suggestive or “girlfriend-type gifts are absolutely, positively no-nos. If they have any doubts at all, they should find something else.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        But what if I want to give one if these really cool new things called ipods to one of my specific subordinates that I want to become my best friend? Should I just give it to them directly in front of everyone?

        1. Dweali*

          Joke’s on you, we all know the best gift is the home made knitted pot holder

          *Reverse psychology my friend* :-)

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I would actually really enjoy a knitted pot holder, most of the time I end up using a folded kitchen towel as a pot holder and or hot mat.

        2. Joielle*

          What if I only care about my coworkers a homemade oven mitt’s worth? Or maybe a jazz babies poster. ;)

      2. Amy the Rev*

        Yeah we had a Yankee Swap and then someone got offended that I swapped their contribution (a book that I wasnt particularly intrigued by) for a nice-smelling candle and sbux card when my turn came around…

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I read the gift you swapped for as “nice-smelling candle and subx card” I thought someone brought a homemade card/coupon (the kind you make your parents for parents day or bday offering a free hug, to clean the bathroom etc…) offering to be a submissive for a day. Would that exceed the $5 value limit?

      3. JustaTech*

        Yes, please be very, very specific about White Elephant/ Yankee Swap. We had that at work one year and it was great and everyone had a good time (I wrote very specific instructions about “stealing”). The next year everything was going great until we got to the gift brought by our brand new VP. Where everyone else had brought a new or near-new gift, he had brought an obviously used laptop backpack from his previous job, at our competitor.
        The guy who opened it was clearly upset, and it was mostly luck that we had a spare gift (if you have the budget, buy a spare gift or two). It was *super* awkward and really impacted a lot of people’s opinion of the new VP. (He apologized sincerely to the guy who got the backpack and the social committee swore to be far more explicit about what kind of gifts to bring.)

        1. Ashley*

          The best ones I have been actually had a (mild) hoarder supply all the gifts. She had an amazing collection of stuff from home so all were preapproved and no hurt feelings if one wasn’t popular.

      4. another scientist*

        our white elephant is entirely opt-in. Out of 100 employees, 70 or so will attend the holiday party and 30 will play. Our instructions are also very clear about the gift-stealing procedure and the nature of the gift. We say to bring something ugly, useless or hilarious, either from home or bought for less than $10. Non-participants enjoy watching the show as we unwrap terrible Xmas socks or someones old kitschy china. It takes up a good 30-45 minutes of the party and provides fodder for small talk afterwards.

    3. Pineapple Incident*

      So happy that the holiday party I’m helping to plan is so far checking these boxes. It’s just for staff so no kids, but we are doing an ugly sweater contest (people will wear participatory stickers so we don’t accidentally have a “winner” in a sweater they actually like…) and a gift exchange. We are adjusting from a Santa person (we were going to nominate a woman to sort of handle the actual gift exchange) to a “Snow person” – not sure what we’re going to call that, but it’ll be more inclusive than a Santa for sure. We are still potentially having an ornament decorating station, but I think the cost of that will be off-putting for my manager to finance once he gets a look at it. The invites and decorations will be more winter-y and not Christmas-y, and it is truly optional but my incredibly enthusiastic coworkers will be hand-delivering invites, so if you can say no to that pressure, you’re welcome to haha..

      1. Hope*

        For snow person, maybe you could have a Jack/Jacqueline Frost? Not sure if Jack Frost is still too associated with Christmas, though.

        Instead of an ornament-making station, you could do a paper snowflake cutting station–all you need is paper (maybe of different colors?) and scissors!

        1. Aphrodite*

          Great idea! I love the idea of a station like that. Maybe you could have a variety of projects. Here are some I have bookmarked myself:

        2. Pineapple Incident*

          Thank you! I so appreciate this!!! The snowflake station would be a great (also super cheap) way to have a craft that is fun, especially for people who have kids at home or just really like this sort of thing (we have a number of creative types in the division.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I am assuming you are nominating a women to handle the gift exchange because there are only women in the office?

        1. Pineapple Incident*

          No, we have a fairly diverse office, we just had a woman seem the most interested when one of my coworkers (also female) brought it up.

    4. Bethany*

      What ideas do you have for neutral places that will do alcohol without killing the location budget? We have too many field people who live no where near the office and to many. Part of the point of the party is to see field people who aren’t frequently seen by other field people so mingling opportunities are key.

      1. Ali G*

        Depends on the venue. If you are in a bar/restaurant you can limit what is free. So house liquor only, and pick 1-2 bottles each of red/white wine on the lower end and pay on consumption only. If someone wants something more pricey, they pay for it.
        If you are in a rental space, buy the alcohol yourself in bulk. At my wedding we did beer and wine only. The added benefit is that you don’t need to pay a bartender (depending on your state laws) if people are self-serving. Part of the expense of having booze is paying for the bar tender(s) who are licensed to serve alcohol (we still had bartenders at our wedding just to expedite the process for our guests :P)

  8. Lily in NYC*

    The best one for me was when I worked at Sports Illustrated (worst job of my life). We got an email saying that instead of having a party that year, they were just going to give us all $100 instead. I was so happy because I hated almost every single person at that horrible place.

    1. BRR*

      I love that! I know I can’t change company culture, but I would much rather get the money the company spends on me for the party directly. Or at least not hire the DJ, we can just put on pandora (or nothing since it’s hard to talk over the music).

    2. Aphrodite*

      Lily, I’d love to hear more about that workplace. Would this be an appropriate discussion to ask if you would consider elaborating? (It’s not necessary; I just feel nosy today.)

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        Agreed! Please share but I think it will be better for Alison if we wait until tomorrow. Lily in NYC–please elaborate in the open thread tomorrow!

        1. Proofin' Amy*

          Wow, I had a great experience working for Sports Illustrated. Of course, that was only for 6 weeks in 1995, so I bet things probably have changed a lot.

          1. Holly*

            I can’t speak for Lily in NYC, but I’m pretty sure ANY job at a publication was better in 95 than it is now…

    3. Hannah*

      I completely agree. I even like (some of) my coworkers, but I would 100% rather get money than go to a party. I can hang out with my coworkers on my own if I want!

  9. Loopy*

    My favorite holiday parties are:

    1) During the work day (and you don’t have to make up time!)
    2) Have free raffles! Love the possibility of taking something home.
    3) Lots and lots of food that accommodates everyone!

    If you have activities make them very very opt in, like ugly sweater contests, a bake off, etc. I do enjoy watching but don’t want to be forced in!!!

      1. JustaTech*

        Do you have a way of making sure that one person doesn’t win more than one raffle? That happened at our party last year and it was super awkward because there were only 5 prizes.

        1. Yorick*

          1. If drawing names, take the person’s name out once it’s been drawn.
          2. If drawing tickets (and people have multiple tickets in), have them decide whether to keep the first gift or swap it for the new one. Then draw again for the gift they swapped.

    1. Aphrodite*

      If you have raffles, which is a great idea, either have the executives opt out or at least choose the least expensive gifts.

      1. anon today and tomorrow*

        My company does raffles and gives the lowest ranking employees the most free tickets, and the further up the line you are, the less tickets you get or you can opt to buy extras (the money goes to a charity).

        The prizes are pretty good and I like the idea that an admin gets 10 tickets while a department VP gets 1, and exec leadership opt out entirely.

    2. ER...*

      Ours hits all of those and I agree completely!

      We’re done at noon the last scheduled workday – which since we get paid holidays Christmas Eve and Christmas Day means December 23 or earlier depending on weekends.

      Food and non-alcoholic beverages are provided.

      There’s free raffles of the giveaways we’ve gotten from vendors (if you’ve ever ordered from Uline, there’s some pretty good options!) supplemented with gift cards.

      No other activities but I don’t think the group would really like that option.

      Salary folks are off course paid like usual with no expectation of working but our hourly staff who typically work until 4 get paid until 4… and that’s regardless of when you leave. Most stay an hour or 2 before heading out…

      I think we do pretty well on the holiday party front!

  10. Squeeble*

    It’s gotta just be no strings attached. Make it optional, in the sense that people can either go home or go to the party, with no repercussions (even unintentional) if they leave. Have lots of food. Don’t bother with big games or activities, except maybe a raffle.

  11. Elemeno P.*

    My favorite holiday party was early evening on a weekday (during the operating day was not optional; we were a full-coverage entertainment venue). There was really good food, a photo booth, and an ugly sweater costume. We also had a Secret Santa (optional) and gifts were exchanged for those participating. We also had a fake award ceremony. There was no alcohol, but it was a good time.

    1. Elemeno P.*

      That was supposed to be an ugly sweater costume *contest. They didn’t make us all share one ugly sweater.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oh, I love ugly sweater contests. I totally forgot that that was an option :)

        1. EnfysNest*

          Our holiday party theme was “Holidays at the Beach” a couple years ago and we had a contest for the best Hawaiian shirt that was a big hit, too – lots of really great, bold patterns showed up. (I’m in Florida, so most people already had these on hand.)

  12. Kat*

    Our office Thanksgiving Party is today and it’s pretty fun. I have no idea how it is funded. They basically do a big raffle. Everyone gets a couple of tickets for showing up and you can buy more for $1 each, going towards a scholarship fund. They raffle off a lot of thanksgiving related items like a turkey, bag of potatoes, ham, decorations and lots and lots of booze. Light snacks and drinks are provided. It’s low-key but silly and almost everyone goes home with something.

  13. Anyone There?*

    As someone who organizes our annual holiday party and summer picnics as well, here’s how to make it work:

    1. Make location accessible for all. You need to think about those who may have any difficulty walking or standing for too long. We also make sure people have ways to get there by metro or by walking. The room is large with tables and banquets for seating.
    2. Keep price for non-senior staff at a reasonable level. We always request donations and luckily our senior staff always comes through to make up any differences in order to make sure non-senior staff can attend.
    3. Make it open to friends/partners/spouses/etc. We just let them know if you bring another adult you have to pay for them.
    4. Since I have been doing this for a while I know everyone’s dietary restrictions, we still always request people let us know when the save the date with the menu goes around and we ensure the venue and caterer knows about food restrictions and keeps things separate.
    5. Divide up duties so not one person is slammed with everything. Have one person responsible for collecting and tracking people/funds. Assign people the day of to be responsible for certain holiday activities at the party.
    6. Allow senior management the time to do a welcome and a closing speech.
    7. Open bar (you are responsible for paying for alcoholic drinks, everything else is included in the cost of the meal). It is still generally understood no one gets blotto. I have never seen that happen at one of our events. But I would make sure you keep a general eye on things. I had one intern one year who was all “shots shots shot” and I pulled her aside and quietly let her know, that’s a no to the shots.
    8. Have it happen during the work day and make sure that no one is expected to return to work. We always do a fun happy hour. The whole day except for about 3 hours in the morning is just a freebie day.
    9. Ignore the people who will never volunteer, but will tell you how they would have done things differently.

    1. pleaset*

      “Keep price for non-senior staff at a reasonable level. ”

      Don’t have a party if people have to pay. Or at most, a paid bar. But paying for food or admission to attend a party? No no no.

      1. Psyche*

        Yeah. Throw a party the company can afford or don’t throw a party. I would not be happy to be asked to pay anything towards a holiday party. If you have no budget, then maybe try a potluck but only if it would be truly optional.

        1. Autumnheart*

          I’d add to that, “Throw a party the company can afford LONG-TERM.”

          I’ve worked at, and knew people who worked at, way too many start-ups who blew their wad on a ridiculously lavish holiday party, then 6 months later they have to lay people off and make drastic budget cuts.

          I have two friends (married to each other) who both worked for Code 42, a fairly well-known data management company. The company rented a resort up north for all employees for an entire WEEKEND, provided a ridiculous amount of swag, catering, you name it, they must’ve spent over a million dollars on this party. Less than a year later, one friend was forced out and the other lost his job two months later in a re-org.

          My employer has been known to throw quite a shindig in the past (e.g. the musical act at one of them was Lenny Kravitz) but they knocked it off when the Great Recession hit. The parties haven’t returned with the economy, but you know what, I’m okay with that. I’d rather be employed.

      2. Colette*

        There are plenty of people who don’t mind paying for a party – and I’ve never worked anywhere (including my years in high tech) where you didn’t have to pay for a ticket.

        From the perspective of someone who has planned this kind of thing, people are far more likely to commit and show up if they have to pay.

        1. Anyone There?*

          Agreed. I don’t mind paying. Since I have been working for the government since I was 23, I have never been to one event that I didn’t have to pay to attend. Maybe dessert was covered, or drinks, or food, etc. but I still had to pay something.

          1. media monkey*

            i have known parties where managers and above had to pay with the amount increasing based on level. never a huge amount, so manager might pay £10, directors £15 and everyone above £20. junior staff don’t pay.

      3. Typhon Worker Bee*

        I worked for a public healthcare provider for many years and we were absolutely not allowed to spend any of the org’s money on parties (or any food or coffee or anything for employees, unless it was for an all-day meeting). So for me, it’s perfectly normal to pay $20 or so for your Christmas party. As long as it’s optional, it’s fine, IMO.

        1. Anyone There?*

          I agree! We keep it reasonable for summer and since I work in DC the price goes up by about $10 for the holiday events. It’s really hard to secure a venue due to how many agencies are trying to grab up spaces.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Unless you’re a government employer, I agree that you should not charge employees to attend the party. If you’re a nonprofit, a potluck is fine, but not charging folks. For nearly all other private employers, the company should comp the cost.

      5. Quickbeam*

        x 1000, I will not go to any work event that I have to pay for. QB’s rule. That includes “fun” events, chili cookoffs, Halloween parties, Spring Flings etc etc. It’s just wrong.

      6. Recovering Journalist...*

        I agree: I worked at one newspaper chain and the chain’s main party required us to pony up $30 per person. I had always thought that the holiday party was sort of the company’s “thank you for another year’s hard work.” I don’t want to pay for the privilege.

        But, on the other hand,

        That same year, our division had a last-day-of-work-before-Christmas party which was mandatory for all three satellite offices. Imagine the joy of having to drive a half-hour (on northern Midwest wintery roads) to the main division office for….
        …deli trays.
        That was it.
        just deli trays.
        Then the head honcho, who was well known for his daily three-martini lunches came in, made a sandwich ala Saul Siler (That Thing You Do), and says “Nothing like a good lunch meat sandwich…”
        Then we all had to troop back to our satellite offices (another half hour) to finish our work.
        So glad I’m outta there.

        1. WellRed*

          You had to pay $30 for deli trays! If I have to pay $30, or even $20 to attend a COMPANY party, there had best be free alcohol. And yes, I can have a glass of wine without becoming drunk or crazy like another commenter inferred above.

          1. Recovering Journalist...*

            Sorry, I wasn’t clear: There were two parties that year.
            1. Party 1 was a corporate wide evening event at an upscale restaurant/banquet center. — think wedding banquet without the bride and groom. Spouses were encouraged to attend. It cost $30 a head to attend. It was not mandatory. I chose not to attend based on my belief that the company Christmas party should be the company’s “thank you for another year of hard work” and thus employees should not have to pay.
            Party 2 was the last-day-of-work-before-Christmas at the main office of our division. We did not have to pay but we did have to attend (with many of us driving a half-hour on dubious roads) for deli-tray food.

      7. It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's SuperAnon*

        We pay for a “ticket” to the event (~$5), this is more of an insurance that people who say they’ll come actually do and the amount of food ordered is more accurate, rather than having too little or too much.

      8. Person from the Resume*

        I’ve spent my adult life in the military and working for the federal government. We can’t use tax payer dollars for office parties so tickets do cost money. There was a sliding price scale. A lot of times the booster club did fundraisers to offset the cost, but it wasn’t possible for it to be free.

      9. Lia*

        This this this. I worked a retail job at one time and the cost for the holiday party was $25/person! And most people made under $7/hr! AND there was a cash bar: I think food was covered but that was it — obviously, I did not attend.

      10. Anyone There?*

        Government worker here. We cannot use appropriated funds to throw parties. So every agency I have worked at has done this. At no time has SES or senior management paid for a party. I wouldn’t expect them to. Considering they donated thousands of dollars for us to have it out of the office, will not complain about it.

    2. Chickena*

      Just a matter of semantics, but I have never heard the term open bar used for when you pay for alcoholic drinks – I’ve always heard what you describe as a cash bar. In my experience “open bar” means that all drinks, including alcoholic ones, are free and unlimited.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. What’s being described sounds like a closed bar. (i.e., people pay for their drinks.)

    3. MsMaryMary*

      If there is food there really needs to be seating and tables for everyone! Last year our office party had awesome food, but not enough tables. It’s hard to eat filet mignon if you can’t put down your plate down to cut it.

      1. Bored IT Guy*

        And appropriate utensils! Have you ever tried cutting a steak with plastic utensils? I snapped 2 or 3 forks, and at least one knife trying to do just that.

    4. Snarkus Aurelius*

      You really shouldn’t be making people pay. If you can’t afford a party, then give people the day off.

    5. AnotherKate*

      RE: #2, if I have to pay to go to a party, I don’t go.

      RE: #3, my company has never allowed spouses or partners, which kind of sucks, but ultimately I think that’s what makes them able to fund it fully. Plus, it’s nice for people who don’t HAVE a partner that it’s not just a room full of people talking to their own spouses and not interacting with each other.

      RE: #7, that is not what I understand an “open bar” to be. Pretty much everywhere I’ve ever been, open=free everything, including booze.

      RE: #8, I totally agree–I wish our company would have them at 3pm on a Friday instead of 5pm (which inevitably turns into 6pm, because people sit at their desks like scared rabbits instead of just packing up and going).

    6. Psyche*

      I think having it during the work day makes it ok to not allow guests. If it is in the evening then people won’t be too happy about that.

    7. Liane*

      Reminder: Generally, people who work for governments at any level, at least in the US, have the choice of paying for their party or not having one. It’s laws/regulations &/or perception of wasting the taxpayers’ money*.

      *I feel differently, but a lot of people do hold that opinion

    8. It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's SuperAnon*

      #9 absolutely. There’s tons of Monday morning QBs who are happy to tell you what they didn’t like. Sometimes the feedback is valid, but don’t get sucked in to the negativity.

    9. cierta*

      Some organisations specifically can’t pay for a party (eg government organisations in some countries have a ‘you cannot waste taxpayers money on this’ policy). While parties you have to pay to attend are a bit sucky, when the alternative is ‘no work party ever’ it might be the lesser of two evils? Alternatively bring and share can work round this, but some people find that much more stressful than ‘optional meal out, it costs X’.

      1. Clisby Williams*

        Not having an office party is hardly an “evil”. It’s probably a relief to a lot of people.

    10. Governmint Condition*

      As a government employee, either we pay for the party ourselves, or we have none. The employees’ union usually pays a portion of the cost, unless they’re fighting with management. (Then they say that they don’t want managers to benefit in any way from their funds, so everybody has to pay more, including their own members.) Anyway, according to our agency’s rules, we can have one party a year, and you may go home early from the party. If you don’t go, you have to work regular hours. Put another way, you can pay to go home early. Some people participate for that reason alone, not realizing that they may be paying more than what their hourly wage would be for that time. I will be extending my perfect record this year of 22 times not attending.

      1. Anyone There?*

        The union members at one of my former places of employment tried to demand the management employees totally front the costs of our team holiday party. I worked at a place that was about 3,000 people, so one of our teams were several hundred people in multiple locations. It made zero sense to me to even think they would go for that.

  14. Stephanie*

    1. Truly make it optional.
    2. Make it during the day (or late afternoon).
    3. Pay for it.
    4. Copious food (and account for dietary preferences).
    5. Limited “mandatory fun” activities–just let people socialize.

      1. Anyone There?*

        Potlucks are a pain. We had one the first three years at my current job and you had to sign up to bring a main dish, side dish, snacks, dessert, etc. And I just felt ticked about spending hours cooking or baking, having to drive in that day with said dish, and sit around a crowded and hot conference room eating people’s not great food.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        THIS!!!! That always makes a few people get stuck with the burden of the work and cleaning up afterwards.

        1. Autumnheart*

          My department actually has a Fun Team (opt-in to join) that organizes all the office events *and* is responsible for cleaning up afterward. And it has a pretty even gender split, avoiding problematic optics. Being on one of the organizational teams is a good way to pad the “Living the company values” section in your yearly review, so the Fun Team has like 40 people on it.

      3. BRR*

        Yes! I recognize they are a necessary evil sometimes (like government offices), but they’re another version of requiring employees to pay and as Lily said are a ton of work for often times a select few

      4. Psyche*

        I think it depends on the place. I worked somewhere that the employees did regular potlucks (that they organized) so having a potluck holiday party was seen as fun.

        1. Doug Judy*

          Within our department we would do seasonal potlucks but there was still an organization wide Christmas party that was catered.

        2. Someone Else*

          For me as a person with dietary restrictions and food allergies, potlucks always basically mean bring my own food for me, because I can’t trust things made by other people. Not because they’re malicious, just… a caterer with a reputation for being careful about cross-contamination (whose business depends on not screwing that up) I trust more than Joan from Accounting. Depending on the proportion of people with special food needs, even if a lot of people think potlucks are fun and not burdensome, I trust a (vetted) catered event more.

      5. Autumnheart*

        Ours is catered for the main meal, and people may bring a potluck dish if they wish. It generally works out to having lunch and a dessert buffet, which is completely fine in my book!

        1. Stephanie*

          My department did this for our annual picnic. I think it worked out ok–people didn’t feel obliged to bring like the entire meal or feel guilty if they didn’t have time to cook.

        2. Sarcastic Fringehead*

          That’s how we do our Thanksgiving party – the firm buys the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, & gravy from a caterer, and we bring sides and desserts. I don’t feel any pressure to participate, because even if nobody brought anything, there would still be enough food for everyone, and the people who do want to show off their cooking skills also have that opportunity.

      6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Generally yes, unless you have a culture of potlucks or there are other limitations. When I worked for the feds, all our “parties” were potlucks because you can’t spend public money on a party. Folks preferred to potluck than to pay into a pool for food costs when it came to parties.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I think I’ve underestimated the budget companies throw at this. I just knew it was more than our goose egg. I don’t actually mind, but it’s interesting to see how differently the other half lives.

      7. Typhon Worker Bee*

        Potlucks are the worst if you don’t drive to work.

        Apart from one job that was really close to a Whole Foods, so it was easy to just pick something up on the day, I’ve always had to choose between trying to carry my food on a crowded bus where I usually end up standing for at least part of the way, or trying to bring it in my bike panniers and usually ending up with everything all broken and jumbled up. (We only have one car because I usually bike to work, and my husband absolutely needs it to get to his job site. We don’t have Uber etc. here yet and cabs are expensive).

        It’s always the people who drive to work who want to do potlucks. In my old job there was no point pushing back because that was just The Way We Have Always Done It (even though the vast majority of people didn’t drive to that office), but in my new job they’ve been extremely receptive to my objections!

      8. ThankYouRoman*

        Yes! Potlucks have their place, quarterly lunch events at best, to spice up the lunch hour kind of thing. But for a company sponsored event, it shouldn’t require work or money spent by the employees.

        1. JaneB*

          For a few years we did a holiday bake sale – coffee and tea provided, those that wanted to brought goodies, bought or home made (& people who wanted to buy were encouraged to bring stuff like fruit, to increase the range of options), and if you wanted a snack with your coffee you put some money in a closed box (so no one could see how much). The money went to a non-religious charity and there was a sign making it clear you could also choose to just donate the money you would have put in the pot to a charity of your own choice if you disliked that one – low key, some people said hi & picked up a snack and coffee and went back to their desks, some stayed and socialised the whole 2 hours. It was nice to do something, but we had the same no taxpayers money on frivolous stuff rules…

      9. nnn*

        Building on this, if you can’t cater it or are considering potlucks for any other reason, allow people to contribute either by bringing a dish, or by putting money into a pot that’s used to order food. This approach better accommodates both people for whom bringing a dish is a burden, and people for whom spending money is a burden.

        (At this point, some people are thinking “But nobody minds bringing a dish!” In that case, this approach will result in a potluck.)

      10. C Average*

        Yes yes yes! Potlucks are horrible for so many reasons. They’re a pain for people who can’t or don’t cook. They’re a pain for people with dietary restrictions and allergies–they have to wonder whether their colleagues cooked those Brussels sprouts in chicken broth, or whether they understand what “peanut-free” really means. They’re a pain for anyone remotely germ-averse. (I won’t use the phrase “germ-phobic” because it implies irrational fear, and there’s nothing irrational about wondering whether the office dudebro or cat lady follows good food safety practices.)

  15. Thaisajs*

    My previous employer had a great tradition of having a holiday staff lunch (with wine etc) at a nice restaurant. The office mgr purchased white elephant gifts for everyone in the office (nothing cost more than $10, I think). Everyone drew numbers and were able to select a wrapped gift or take a gift from someone who had previously gone. (There was a limit on the # of times a gift could be taken away.) It was actually a lot of fun, didn’t take too long and provided some much-needed bonding among the staff. This probably would only work in smaller companies, tho.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      A former job did something similar, but one thing I remember is they gave us all $35 and asked us to go out and buy and wrap a present. Then we did the gift exchange like you mention. That allowed us to buy something we liked, just in case the other presents weren’t better. I did end up with the fish tank I bought, and the fish I bought with the enclosed gift card is now nearly 20 years old.

  16. Autumnheart*

    My office throws a White Elephant exchange every year, usually in mid-December or January. It’s a major retailer, so carving out time for this is pretty challenging, but the silver lining is that we’re so focused on selling things over the holidays that potentially religious overtones get pretty overshadowed. (Right now the campus is celebrating Diwali. In February we celebrate Asian New Year, in June we celebrate Pride, etc etc. The company does a pretty decent job of being inclusive.)

    Anyway, the White Elephant started out as a handful of people spending their lunch hour in one of the meeting rooms, but its popularity (and our department) has grown to such a degree that now it encompasses three hours and over a hundred people in one of the largest conference rooms on campus. They cater lunch, people can bring treats if they like, and it’s really the best party of the year.

    The main secret to its success is to have a really creative team, of whom several are stand-up comedy-level funny. There are some “traditional” gag gifts that make a reappearance every year (such as the giant foil ball that continues to grow in size), a lot of hilarious things that people actually had or bought, and a few genuinely awesome items that always drive the competition and make it interesting. People like to participate so much that some will bring extra gifts for those who want to play, but didn’t get a chance to think of a gift themselves.

    1. Chawley*

      Here here on the white elephant. My office has been doing this for years – we are relatively small, and it’s been great to see some of the humorous gifts get passed around greedily.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Ours is huge, but most of the team has been working there for quite a while, so we have a good sense of everyone’s personality. And the “have a few extra gifts for anyone who forgot” aspect is a good way to bring the newbies into the fold.

    2. DivineMissL*

      If you don’t mind me asking, what are the rules for a white elephant swap? Is it the same as a Secret Santa? Or are the gifts intentionally bad/tacky?

      1. Jack Be Nimble*

        For a white elephant, everyone brings in a wrapped gift and puts them in a pile. Person A selects a gift from the pile, and then Person B has the option of picking another gift from the pile OR stealing Person A’s gift (in which case Person A goes and selects another gift from the pile). Everyone ends up with something odd, useless, broken, or tacky, and it’s a lot of fun.

        Years and years ago, my high school friends and I had a taxidermy fox that traded hands every year at our white elephant, but we were a big pack of weirdos, so ymmv ;)

        1. TootsNYC*

          You need to have clear rules.

          The ones I’ve been in on have been best when the rule was: Nothing broken.
          Tacky, ugly, etc., OK. But nothing that’s truly garbage.
          Something that someone, somewhere, might possibly love.

          We did a gift exchange on an organizing-the-home forum that was “send your clutter to someone else to throw away for you.” So the thing that you knew you should get rid of, but couldn’t bring yourself to take to the Goodwill, you sent to the person whose name you drew (along with something edible, so that it was fun).
          And then they posted and said, “here’s what she sent, and here’s what I did with it.” The funny thing was, some of us actually used the item, if only for a little while. And then when we tossed it out, it wasn’t the emotional problem it would have been for the person whose nephew gave them the gumball machine he’d made in shop class.

      2. TootsNYC*

        and then there’s Dirty Santa, which is more of “nice gifts, and people steal them from one another.”

    3. MCL*

      I worked in a place that did a white elephant and it took an age. It started out pretty fun, but I got tired of it when we hit our second hour of it.

      1. Clisby Williams*

        These white elephant things sound like 3rd-grade games to me. Why are adults doing them?

        1. Autumnheart*

          Because it’s fun. Baseball sounds like third grade games to me, but you don’t see me saying they should stop having the World Series.

      2. JustaTech*

        This is exactly why when we did them at my company I wrote up the rules beforehand and said “each gift may only be stolen once, each person may only be stolen from once”, just to keep things moving along (and to try and head off hard feelings).

        Good fun was had by all (except the one bad gift that was a mis-understanding).

        I’m genuinely sad we won’t be able to do it this year (space problem).

    4. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Just fyi for those who aren’t familiar: People tend to use these phrases for gift exchange interchangeably–White Elephant, Yankee Swap, Dirty Santa. They are gift exchanges with a swap element. I have seen White Elephant elicit bad feelings from people who had their desirable gifts swapped out. Stupid, but true.

  17. SigneL*

    My favorite holiday party was the one where we were assigned appetizers (stick with me!) – I was assigned 24 appetizer servings of something vegetarian and GF. I went to a gourmet store and bought a quart of marinated olives and some toothpicks. Done. I’m pretty sure Bad Boss wasn’t happy, but I was.

    1. JaneB*

      I would have been very happy with you too! Marinated olives are a fave with this complex-dieted vegetarian…

    2. ThankYouRoman*

      I love olive bars, it’s actually a great option. I’m not mad. I’m not mad when someone brings chips and dip either. I’m easy like that.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      Stick with me… toothpicks… I saw what you did there, even if you didn’t mean to do it.

  18. Completely anon for this*

    Best holiday party ever: Office manager came around, handed out holiday bonus check and told us we could leave for the rest of the day to go shopping.

    2nd Best: Owner came around just before the lunch hour, told everyone to prepare to leave the office at noon and not come back. We were treated to a great lunch and holiday movie, then got to go home for the rest of the day.

    These work for a small business. For a larger employer, at least make it voluntary and during the workday. Nobody wants to spend their evening time at a work party.

    1. Anon Anon Anon*

      It would be amazing if an office announced some kind of dreadful holiday party and then surprised everyone with a day off and bonus checks instead.

        1. pleaset*

          I was pointing out something that is factually and meaningfully wrong.

          What’s your point?

          Do you actually think attending a company party after hours is anyway nearly as unpopular as going to the dentist?

      1. Clisby Williams*

        Oh, that depends. At most of the ones I’ve attended with my husband, there’s good food, free drinks, and friendly talk. No kids, no games, no secret Santa, no stupid sweater contests, no raffles, no door prizes. None of the annoying stuff that would make me say, “Oh, you go without me.”

    2. ThankYouRoman*

      I would be annoyed AF if someone handed me my bonus and instructed me to go shopping. I’ll do what I want with my money and it’s rarely spent on an impromptu shopping trip. Ick.

      1. Kate R*

        You’re likely taking it too literally. It’s common for people to say, “Treat yourself” when they give you surprise money. It doesn’t mean they’ll be asking for receipts.

      2. The Original K.*

        I doubt people were actually required to go shopping – I imagine it was an off the cuff comment, like how people say “buy yourself something nice” or “don’t spend it all in one place.” I doubt that folks who didn’t want to go shopping were required to stay in the office.

    3. Jen RO*

      I and many of my coworkers do indeed want to spend our evening (and night, gasp!) at a work party, and we actually look forward to it for most of the year. I like my coworkers, I like my company, I like going out for drinking and dancing when someone else is paying. It starts at 7 pm, ends at 3 am and it’s very fun for us.

  19. LDP*

    One thing my office does well is the holiday party. We just have a lunch, and they cater in from a restaurant nearby and make sure there’s plenty of food for everyone, and that any dietary needs are covered. One of my coworkers usually writes a holiday poem every year and puts everyone’s names into it, which is fun. (He’s pretty snarky, so we all get a good laugh out of it). We’re in mall management, so we typically get the mall Santa to come down and take photos with everyone for a little bit, so different departments take advantage of that. It’s a really low-key event. I’m sure you could opt out of it if you really wanted to, but I think everyone enjoys taking a long lunch during the busiest time of the year to just sit around and enjoy each other’s company.

  20. BottleBlonde*

    When I was growing up, my mom’s company’s holiday parties were always “a night at the movies.” They would buy out a few auditoriums at the local movie theater and I believe every employee got three tickets to bring themselves and a couple of guests (Unless you had more people in your immediate family, you could request more. My mom was always able to bring my dad, my brother, and I.) Everyone got a little bag of popcorn too. Not sure this would work on a limited budget with the price of tickets these days, but it was always a great time. Really more of a perk than a compulsory, dread-worthy event.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      Renting out a theater is less expensive than you would think, but nowadays the theaters want you to do it in the morning rather than evening.

      1. Lia*

        Even better — give them the afternoon off afterwards!

        Of course, then you have to find movies that suit the whole culture. I’d sit through a superhero movie, but my preference is horror and that’d …not go over well here.

    2. ThankYouRoman*

      When you buy an auditorium, you’re not paying the listed pricing by a long shot!

      You get corporate wholesale pricing for rented spaces. The only time most venues jack up costs are weddings and funerals.

    3. jam*

      When my dad was in command of an army unit, this is what he did for his unit party (later, in corporate world, he was the guy who just distributed the party funds to everyone as a gift card rather than have to have a party). It was a really nice event.* The theater was able to get Muppets Christmas Carol (fun for all ages) and there was popcorn and soda for everyone. It was an army theater so this was pretty economical to accomplish, I don’t know what a commercial theater would charge for this.

      * Although the projection had a technical problem that cut the movie short, so seen from another angle it was not all that successful.

  21. Post it note*

    The last three years, our small department (generally about 10-12 people) has chosen an afternoon and gone out to lunch and to see a movie (usually a Star Wars film, although not this year!). Participation is optional – usually everyone comes to the lunch, but some skip the movie and head home for the afternoon. Since we work at a religious-affiliated institution, the company will only pay for food and non-alcoholic drinks, but our boss often buys a round for the table on his own dime. It’s very relaxed and the movie is something introverts and extroverts alike can enjoy.

  22. BRR*

    I’ve been pretty content with all three of my professional job holiday parties. I just realized they have all followed the same format: Lunch (so during company time) and you are expected to stay for a bit but can leave before the end of the work day. No activities really and nothing like a secret santa that some might not enjoy. And I’m not saying this goes towards a great party but all three companies had a lottery type prize system. Gift cards. Extra days off (people were able to use all of their PTO no problem). A pie from our department VP (gag gift). I enjoyed things being given out but I can see some people not liking how only certain people got extra things (one company did prizes for everyone but they scaled down over time).

    TL;DR. During company time, food and various levels of booze only, can leave early

  23. Snarkus Aurelius*

    1) don’t make it mandatory, and don’t punish people who don’t want to go by making them work instead

    2) don’t make it three hours unless you’re planning on serving a full meal or having unlimited appetizers and drinks

    3) don’t make it outside work hours; I’d like to keep my time spent with coworkers during the work day

    4) don’t make anyone pay; you’d think that doesn’t have to be said but it does

    5) don’t make it a million miles away from the office

    6) order plenty of food and make sure it’s good; you don’t need gourmet food but rubber, hardened chicken and stale crackers suck too

    7) don’t make people play games; this isn’t elementary school

    8) if your party is outside of work hours, allow kids and provide something for them to do

    9) my preference is to not have one at all and give people the day off and use party money as bonuses divided up

    10) order plenty of food; two years ago, my employer ran out when I got there

      1. Bunny Girl*

        I so agree with everyone saying make it optional. I really, really, really don’t like my job seeping into my off time. I would definitely skip it, or come up with an excuse to bow out, if they had an off-hours office party at my current job. No way. Noooo way. But I have had other jobs when I would happily hang out with my coworkers off hours. I guess it would also depend on my mood that day.

        I agree that end of year parties should be catered. I think of it more as a thank you. That being said, I do like the occasional potluck. Simply because my hobby is cake baking/decorating and I don’t get to do it a lot in my two person household.

    1. Smarty Boots*

      #10 for sure. Nothing worse than being asked by your boss to help out and answer the phone for an hour and then getting to a party (billed as a lunch!) with no food left. The next party I just went home after manning the phones.

  24. Mystery Bookworm*

    Keep it relatively unstructed.

    Be very wary of gift-giving games that require people to spend their own money buying things for colleagues they may not know well.

    Have a variety of good food and plenty of it! No one should be hungry.

    Get offsight if it’s possible!

    If the budget is having trouble stretching, seriously consider having a party in January instead. You can generally get more bang for your buck and people would usually rather have a good party over a Christmas party.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      (offsight – if possible and reasonable, I should say – it shouldn’t add lots of travel time or anything)

  25. Anon Anon Anon*

    I haven’t been to a lot of office holiday parties, but I like the idea of optional activities for adults! It would be nice if there were a few low key things that people could come and go from. It could even be charity-related like quilting, or some other kind of craft where the result would be donated to a good cause. It could be arranged so that people could just talk or participate in stuff, whatever worked for them.

    Professional entertainment might be fun – music that most people would like.

    Based on other stories I’ve read here and elsewhere, it seems like it’s good to have these parties during business hours and limit the amount of alcohol involved.

    Also, don’t go to any extreme measures to make sure everyone attends. Just let people know that since it’s part of the work day, they have to be there unless they use their time off or get permission from their manager.

    1. Stone Cold Bitch*

      Keep it simple. We had a monthly meeting for admin staff, and in December we planned an hour of casual crafts, hot drinks, non-alcoholic beverages, snacks and candy. It was the final hour of the usual meeting time, participation was optional. We prepared supplies for simple holiday crafts that most of us haven’t done since school. Most staff joined in and had a lot of fun. Some just hung out, ate chocolate and talked. It was totally optional, so some went back to work and some took an early (and extended) lunch.

      This will not work for every office, but it worked for my old team.

  26. Nanc*

    At a former job the holiday party was always planned and carried out by the department heads (yay!) although they asked for input. There was always something like a white elephant grab bag (I still have cute candle holders). One year they personalized stockings for us (I know–not everyone is religious but this was 20 years ago) and filled them with Jelly Belly jelly beans they picked specifically for each person (and other stuff). Mine were popcorn flavor because I was going through a popcorn snacking phase and had an air popper in my office! It was really nice because they put a lot of thought into each person’s stocking stuffers and they did ALL the work from set up to clean up.

  27. Sara without an H*

    I seem to recall an old Miss Manners column, in which she said the best holiday party was an invitation from management: “Why don’t you go home early?” along with a check.

  28. ZSD*

    I loved the parties we had two employers ago. The dean took us out for lunch at the kind of restaurant most of us normally couldn’t afford on our own. We’d have a fancy meal of lasagna/steak/salmon/whatever (always with a few options to choose from, of course), and some of us had fun dressing up in fancy clothes (completely optional).

    There was a committee that organized a few low-key games with prizes, and the highlight was the white elephant exchange, where people usually where able to find a gift they truly enjoyed.

    Some disappointing things subsequent employers have done that I’d recommend against:
    -Having boring pub food or pizza instead of something special
    -Holding it after hours so it extends your workday

  29. Not Maeby but Surely*

    The makings of a good holiday party are simple:
    -Have plenty of food and beverages (including NA options if you’re serving alcohol.) Ice water isn’t particularly festive.
    -Don’t have too many activities, and if you do have activities, let people opt-out without a guilt trip. My least favorite holiday party involved everyone having to take part in one of six different games which were honestly more age-appropriate for, like, pre-teens.
    -Unless you work at a church, don’t make it a “Christmas” party, even if you think everyone in your office celebrates it, because there’s probably at least one person who doesn’t.
    -Consider doing a photo booth area with little props (elf hats, scarves, mustaches on a stick, etc.) People have a lot of fun with that. Maybe one of your office introverts will be happy to take the pictures so they don’t have to do all the social interacting.
    -Keep it low key… holidays are stressful for lots of folks, no reason to add an element of stress to an event that should be fun.

  30. Shark Whisperer*

    I think I am going to echo what a lot of people have already said, but the best work holiday parties I attended had the following things:
    1. Lots of food that met everyone’s dietary restrictions
    2. Optional secret santa where people quietly went up to the person who’s name they got and gave them their present, there was no big production around it
    3. Optional activities for when you don’t want to talk to people, one party we had a centerpiece making station with lots of greenery that we had collected outside, but this worked because it was a department of creative outdoorsy people
    4. It’s truly optional, but people get paid to be there, especially if they are the lowest wage-earners.
    5. Appropriate gifts from management to staff, usually something small like a pin, with a heartfelt note about working with them (and gifts were still given to people who chose not to attend, they just got them later)
    6. No kids or significant others

  31. Sleepytime Tea*

    I was lucky to have some good coworkers for this one, so I know it won’t apply to everything. But when in a low budget situation in particular, we were just a big fan of a white elephant/stealing gift exchange. The rules were made extremely clear ahead of time. Not just the financial cap, but a full on explanation of what type of gift (white elephant means different things to different people), what types of items were ok (alcohol was fine, but no… ahem, adult toys, etc.). Also how to play, because we had people from different cultures who had never even heard of it and we didn’t want them to be confused, singled out, etc. Then we had a ridiculous amount of food. Put on some holiday music (winter themed, not Christmas carols). We sat around and ate, we had the gift exchange, and THEN we had some additional games that people could stay for if they felt like it. Not a single person was shamed into staying when they wanted to get out of there.

    Second best situation is having the last half of the day for some decent food, drinks, raffles, etc. You could go home after management gave a thankfully short spiel which they actually put some effort into making interesting that year instead of just having it be a powerpoint. People could go home afterwards if they wanted or they could stay and drink and hang out for a few hours. That was a ton of fun but most places I’ve worked don’t have or want to give the budget for that.

    1. JustaTech*

      Yes to music! Any kind of decent music really improves a party. The times we’ve had work parties and no music the vibe is totally different (much more “I have to be here” and “well, while you’re here let’s talk about that work thing” and much less “this is nice/fun” and “how about [non-work subject]”).

  32. Jennifer Juniper*

    Why on earth would children be invited to the office holiday party? I’m confused about that one. This is in reference to the second letter.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I went to all my mom’s workplace parties as a kid. Lots of kids were there. We all got presents from Santa and got to decorate cookies and play under the watchful eye of a group of babysitters while the adults mingled and had drinks.

      I loved them. I have no idea how mom felt about them.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        We have a separate “Visit with Santa” day here. What I mean is, it’s not part of the Christmas party at all. It’s just a Saturday in December where employees can bring their kids and grandkids in to see Santa, who sits in our (enormous) lobby near our (enormous) Christmas tree. I’ve never been, but those who have say it’s really nice.

    2. ThankYouRoman*

      We used to have ours at a pizza place with a playground attached. Kids came.

      But it’s a pizza parlor and 90% of the crew had school age kids. It was spouses, dates, your dates kids whoever you wanted.

    3. Constanze*

      I agree, this is just not a bad idea. Nobody wants to interact with children, except their own parents, and when children are there, the party is always less fun.
      You are forced to make cutesy faces at them, watch your language, there is much more noise…

      1. Bunny Girl*

        Yeah… Small children give me really bad anxiety and I don’t really enjoy being around one or two, let alone a bunch. If my office said people could bring their kids to a holiday party, I’d be calling in sick that say. I’d probably end up going home with a stress migraine anyways.

        1. Holly*

          That is an extremely uncommon reaction – I am sorry you have to deal with it, but it would be very strange to bar children from parties because it might set off someone’s anxiety.

          1. Bunny Girl*

            Oh I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to. I would just excuse myself for the day. Sorry if that’s how it came across.

      2. Jen RO*

        At my previous job, the work party was basically Santa (a coworker) bringing gifts to the employees’ kids. I don’t have children and nothing else happened, so I was bored out of my head for 2 hours.
        Current job has a separate Christmas party just for kids, which is much better.

      3. Holly*

        My job has a lot of late 20s through 30s employees and while they don’t bring their kids around often, or to holiday parties, pretty much everyone gets excited when they make a special appearance. I am not trying to challenge your personal opinion, just the notion that nobody wants to interact with children… plenty of people love children.

    4. Autumnheart*

      My company has a specific “bring the kids to meet Santa” party for employees and their kids that takes place at the end of the workday. There’s a daycare on campus, so it’s particularly convenient for employees whose kids are only just downstairs–though people will also leave, get their kids and bring them to the party. Pretty much like going to the mall to meet Santa, except it’s at work.

    5. Anon From Here*

      So that the party can be more inclusive for the swath of employees aged roughly 25 to 55 who have kids that can’t be left home alone. In my experience, when kids are invited/permitted, the parents who bring them leave on the early side, anyway, before the people who would overindulge start doing so.

    6. Guacamole Bob*

      My spouse works at a firm of maybe 40ish people, many of whom work there their entire careers. The holiday party is nice catering at the office, with families invited. The firm gives a gift to each of the kids (and someone dresses up as Santa, usually), and has a children’s entertainer doing balloon animals and magic tricks and such in one of the conference rooms. It’s a little too Christmas-specific for my taste, given the number of non-Christians who work there, but it’s nice to get to know the other families over the years, nice not to have to get a sitter, and the kids have a ton of fun and are excited to see where their parents work.

      My spouse may well work there until she retires (we’re in our 30’s now). Having families and former employees and retirees and other friends of the firm come to the holiday party (and other occasions like partners’ retirement parties) makes it feel like a community of people and not just a job.

    7. Lia*

      My mom worked at a department store when I was growing up. Their holiday party was on a Sunday in December after the store closed. They’d have a huge buffet set up, a Santa who gave everyone a goody bag (candy and age appropriate toys for kids, candy for adults), and then a room for babysitting/games for kids. A few staff would be on the registers and you could shop as well if desired. Used to look forward to it all year — it was really fun.

  33. Not Paul Hollywood*

    My favorite holiday party happened when I worked at a place in Midtown Manhattan. They held it at the Planet Hollywood and reserved a floor for us. There was an open bar and a TON of food – like pasta stations, a bread section, meat carving, desserts, etc. Music and “party motivators” (people hired to come in and try to get you to dance). An optional Secret Santa happened and we all brought our gifts and put them under a tree, and then the boss gave them all out at one point. You could stay however long you wanted, not go at all or stay all night. Also, it was on a payday Friday and everyone got their bonuses that day before the party started around 6 p.m., so everyone was in a pretty good mood.

  34. nuqotw*

    (1) Whatever I would otherwise wear that day should be appropriate for the office party.
    (2) Lots of food. Delicious food. It should be the kind of food that people want to take home as leftovers.
    (3) Give me the option of a paid half (full?) day off if I don’t want to attend the party.
    (4) Small (or large if you want to and can afford it?) presents from the company to workers. (I got a mug one year; everyone got a mug. I can buy a mug, yes, but it was a nice gesture, didn’t clutter anything, and we all had an additional work coffee mug.)
    (5) If it’s a party or raises/bonuses but not both, raises/bonuses.
    (6) If you must have a party outside of work hours, provide some child care at no cost to the employees.

    1. Clisby Williams*

      As for (6) : At one of my husband’s office parties, they not only provided child care, they rented rooms for people who wanted to stay overnight at the party venue. If this had not been a party with deafening music, it would rate as my #1 example.

      1. JustaTech*

        Or if you can’t afford hotel rooms (we used to do this back when we had money), then provide taxi vouchers or a Lyft or Uber code so people can get home safely.

  35. Collarbone High*

    For LW2: Having a quiet room to watch movies actually sounds like an awesome addition. My high school’s after-prom had a dozen activities, but the single most popular thing was a big room where they’d put down wrestling mats and were showing classic Disney movies. After hours of being “on,” most people needed a break! Get some popcorn and snacks, make a theater in a conference room … people could duck in and out, since they’ve most likely seen the usual holiday movies a million times, or just have a low-key afternoon.

  36. Res Admin*

    My current office does pot lucks–primarily for the staff, however the faculty are invited to drop in (and bring a dish if they want). Lots of fun because we have fun faculty from all over the world and we get some cool dishes and great conversation. No one feels obligated to stay for the whole time (usually blocked from 11:30ish-1:30ish) and the left overs are available in the kitchen for the rest of the afternoon so the party kind of continues there a bit.

    Christmas includes a Dirty Santa gift exchange with an understanding that some of the “gifts” are going to be gag gifts that are traded from year to year and some will be real things that people will actually want. Everyone gets a kick out of both vying for that cool bottle of expensive wine and retelling the story of the crazy mug left behind by a grad student 10 years ago.

    This is helped by the fact that we all get along pretty well. None of us takes ourselves too seriously. And we are respectful of each others needs–with 3 vegetarians, 2 celiac, 1 lactose intolerant, and 1 allergic to eggs this becomes important when sharing food.

  37. YarnOwl*

    My company’s Christmas party happens one or two Fridays before Christmas. At 11:30 we all go to the country club in our city, mingle for an hour (with an open bar), and then have a nice lunch. The CFO and COO make short presentations about how the year went, there’s usually a fun little holiday game, and they make all the people who started that year stand up together and sing a Christmas carol. Once lunch is over, we all get to go home.

    It’s a lot of fun, and everyone really likes it. We get a half day, it’s optional (although it’s pretty rare for anyone to opt out), they accommodate everyone’s dietary restrictions, we don’t really have to do anything besides show up and enjoy ourselves, and it truly feels like they’re making an effort to show they appreciate us and want to treat us to a nice afternoon. They also pass out bonuses that day so everyone can go do some Christmas shopping if they want to.

    1. WellRed*

      they make all the people who started that year stand up together and sing a Christmas carol

      How horrifying. I hope everyone that’s forced to participate at least celebrates Christmas.

  38. Dz*

    My favorite thing my office does is buy stuff for a family in need for the holidays. The local victim’s rights organization gives us the list of items the family has requested. The company provides a huge budget for it. Someone goes out and buys everything the family needs. Then everyone is invited to wrap the items. If anyone wants to buy additional small items, they are welcome to but not required. We also have a party with an open bar and an activity like cornhole or ping pong tournament, but I really like the family thing. It makes me feel like my company gives a crap.

  39. Amber Rose*

    Aside from the one major downside, our parties are pretty great. We do a nice dinner on a Friday night at a hotel where all the taxis are covered or there’s discounted rooms available, everything is free including the alcohol, and some of the games are silly but not awful, like trying to toss candy canes so they hang off the edge of boxes or unwrap chocolates while wearing oven mitts. There’s usually a DJ playing music and everyone’s spouses (but not kids) are invited. There are little gifts and stuff. And it’s 100% optional. Nobody has to attend, and nobody gives anybody any crap for not attending. There’s no work related speeches.

    The one major downside is the rest of the games. Some people have seen me post about those before. For every innocent round of candy cane toss, there’s usually a coupe horrible, inappropriate games. Even if there’s no kids at your party, keep it PG. There are plenty of fun and innocent party games, you don’t need to traumatize people like me who blush easily and are easily embarrassed.

  40. Laura*

    My friends used to compete to be my plus one
    Large buffet
    Open bar
    Free ice cream coupons
    $75 gift certificate to one of the areas nicest restaurants
    Oh and a performance by Faith Hill, Harry Connicj Jr, etc

  41. Lily in NYC*

    Here’s what’s not to do: ice-skating. We rented out an entire rink (outside in NYC, brrrrr) and it was a disaster. Two people sprained their ankles, one person bonked their head really hard and we had to call an ambulance, and so many people fell down and hurt themselves (nothing serious). I had a feeling it was going to be awful so I took the day off.
    Now we rent space where we can bowl, play pool, and use batting cages. There’s also plenty of places to just hang out if you don’t feel like doing anything. We have lots of food and no open bar (they will usually give us a free drink but no more open bar after an epic party full of drunken shenanigans 8 years ago). It’s not bad and people seem to like it.

    1. The Original K.*

      One of my favorite holiday parties I participated in was bowling at Chelsea Piers (it was just for our department, not the whole company – there was a company party too). You could just sit around and eat crappy food and talk trash and keep score if you wanted, and for those of us who bowled, it was such a low-stakes, not-much-athleticism-required activity that we all had fun. It was late in the day so people could leave when they wanted. Everyone had a good time.

      1. Proofin' Amy*

        Nearly 20 years ago, I worked for the publishing company who published the book which kicked off the children’s fantasy trend. You know the one. We had a party in Chelsea Piers, but at the restaurant. And they made us go to an award ceremony before we could eat and drink. And then it was a long. cold slog across the West Side Highway and several long avenues before public transportation is available. Or we could take one of the very infrequent company-provided shuttles across town. I wish we’d gotten to bowl instead.

      2. Person of Interest*

        My office had a bowling party one year also and I thought it was great. You could bowl if you wanted to but the games were so low-key and no one really notices or cares if you aren’t bowling or if you are terrible. It was in the mid-late afternoon so people could come and go as they wanted, or people could pick up/bring their kids if they needed to but it wasn’t like they were in the way or taking over the space, it was completely non-denominational, and we could bring our own food. Overall one of the better holiday parties I’ve experienced.

    2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      Oooh – I know we are supposed to be doing “good Christmas party” stories and not horror stories, but the latter are so much more fun.

      I’ve got one for you: Ye Olde English Christmas themed. Marriott ballroom. Undercooked Christmas goose and an inedible flaming Christmas pudding. Nearly 30 minutes of heads-down, hands-folded Evangelical prayer time before we could dig into our iceberg lettuce. Upper management off-key caroling in 19th century Dickensian England costume. Literally hours of speeches. Lots of explicit politics from the farthest end of the political spectrum. Signup sheets and envelopes passed around for us to donate to the owner’s preferred cause. No vegetarian or kosher option at my table of mostly Hindu and Jewish lab workers. Six. Hours. Long. Nylons required for the ladies. Suits and ties for gentlemen. 85 degrees in that damn ballroom. No booze.

      It was hell. Hell. hell.

      The factory guys snuck in some bottles of hooch. That table had fun.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          So mandatory.

          Donations to psycho right-wing cause celebre were “voluntary” – but you had to put down your name. And how much you spent. And it pretty clearly wasn’t optional.

          Can I tell you how happy I was to peace the frankfurter out of that particular region and employer?

    3. Undine*

      If you have weak wrists (like: you do computer work), bowling at a work party can hurt you too. Ask me how I know.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        When I worked for the accounting firm, one year the Christmas party was held at a restaurant that owed the firm money and wasn’t going to pay up. Not terrible, but not great.

  42. cheesesticks and pretzels*

    One company I worked at did the holiday party at a local hotel. It was usually held on a Saturday night, completely optional and spouses/SO’s were welcome. It was a great excuse to get dressed up and have a night out. This was great as the group I worked with was pretty close.

    You got 2 drink tickets per couple then it was cash bar. Appetizer buffet and sit down dinner. They would have drawings for pretty cool prizes too. I miss those days…

  43. Aurora Leigh*

    Honestly, the best parties involve coworkers you actually want to hang out with and morale already being high.

    When you don’t particularly like your coworkers, and everyone is worried about layoffs, a free meal (no matter how nice) is just going to be a flop.

    But yes, make it optional, give out any gifts before the party and don’t get upset if a lot people would rather not.

    I also think it’s a plus if SO’s and or kids are invited.

    1. TootsNYC*

      yeah, our company lays a bunch of people off every year starting in October through the end of the year. The December party is never that much fun because of it.

    2. kc89*

      “Honestly, the best parties involve coworkers you actually want to hang out with and morale already being high.”

      yeah, I think that’s key tbh

  44. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I prefer ones where there is an activity or something other than dinner and of all horrors dancing. So, successful parties I’ve attended have either been Casino themed, Arcade like venues (Dave and Busters for an example), there are a lot of venues popping up that have mixed activities available, and a dinner cruise with a piano bar after.

    I prefer holiday parties after hours that include guests, it’s nice to see and interact with coworkers in a different light. *

    *Yup… I get that this not all people’s preference, but it is mine, so no need to convince me that you hate it and I’m wrong :)

    1. Anon Anon Anon*

      I think it’s fine to have it after hours as long as it’s optional. Bonus if they make it easy for people who have kids.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      We had ours at a Dave and Busters once, and it was fine (and really even kind of fun) except that even though it started at lunchtime, it took a LONG time for everybody to get enough food. The D&B servers were bringing in little dribs and drabs of food at a time – as though all we were interested in was nibbling on a few snacks. Well, call me greedy, but at a party that starts at noon, I’m interested in lunch, not a little bit of genteel snacking. The D&B folks eventually figured it out and brought in adequate food, but it took a WHILE.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        lol… I caught pink eye from the D&B holiday party. Although to be fair it wasn’t their fault :) The office I’m at now goes to a local sports bar/adult arcade/inside race track.

        I haven’t managed to be in town for it, but from all accounts a good time is had by all (I think kids are welcome at this one).

    3. LilyP*

      “a dinner cruise”? I would give a hard no to any venue for a work party where someone can’t leave whenever they want!

  45. Dust Bunny*

    Ours are over lunch, so they’re self-limiting by time. We have a catered lunch, door prizes, and one or two *optional* activities with small prizes. Beanbag toss, Wii basketball, sweater contest, something low-stakes and not very physical.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      (We’re a cash-strapped nonprofit with about 45 employees. Our party planning committee actually does really well with a nothing budget.)

  46. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    Okay – my question is about how people see the point of a holiday party. Is it to provide people with the maximum individual feelings of pleasure and fun? Is it to exactly duplicate how they would spend that time and money if it was 100% up to them?

    I’m kind of old school, I guess. I think that there are many social occasions and social obligations that function for the greater good of the group and the culture. You want to make them as pleasant as possible for the participants, but the primary goal is not “don’t inconvenience people even slightly” and it is also not, “everyone has the most amazing fun time they ever had anywhere.” There are things like weddings that have a ceremonial function (but hopefully you have fun) or dinner parties with the boss that have a relationship building function (but hopefully you have fun) or cocktail parties that are about professional networking (but hopefully you have fun). The company holiday party is one of those things. Shell out for really good food and keep the speeches to less than 10 minutes total, and you’re already doing great.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I agree with your take on them.

      Being on the side of organizing holiday parties in my past, the usual goal is ‘provide a nice evening to appreciate employees and celebrate the holidays together’. It’s unrealistic to give everyone the experience of a lifetime or even to find an activity/venue/food option that is going to make everyone happy.

      I’ve attended company holiday parties that were 500+ employee only rent out an entire floor of ballrooms at a downtown hotel to 50 person (including spouses) intimate sit down dinner parties. And have found that the truth is still, plan something the majority of people will enjoy and do your best to be true for all of them.

      Would it be the greatest thing ever if somehow the magical combination of planets aligning could occur and everyone would be equally thrilled, of course it is. But it will never happen, so the best I hope for in a holiday party is a pleasant experience.

    2. Genny*

      100% agree. In my mind, the point of a holiday party isn’t to show the employees they’re appreciated (that’s what bonus or awards ceremonies are for), it’s to build team spirit/cohesion. That requires the team spending time together. Make sure there’s plenty of good food and the event itself is no pressure/generally convenient. That’s really all you need. Everything else (on-site or off-site, activities or no activities, lunch event or happy hour event, etc.) is a matter of personal preference, and you won’t please everyone.

    3. feministbookworm*

      YES! I have been looking through all the comments to see if anyone was making this point. To me, it’s important to decide early on whether the point of a holiday party is some sort of special gift to employees (in which case, yeah, unless you have a small office with a pretty monolithic culture, no way to make everyone happy, just give people money or time off) or whether it’s about a moment of organizational cohesion and an opportunity to meet and interact with coworkers beyond the silos of their usual work responsibilities. I lean towards the latter, in which case, make it easy for people to attend who have responsibilities after work, not exclusionary to anyone (ex: don’t make it an explicitly Christmas party, don’t only have alcoholic beverages, don’t make people pay to attend, don’t make it something that only extroverts would enjoy, etc.) and call it good.

      1. feministbookworm*

        I’d also add… deciding this is about employees socializing with coworkers means no plus ones for the main event. At our office we have a during the day party thing, and then early dismissal and a happy hour. Plus ones are welcome at the bar, but not for the during the day portion.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I agree with you.

      And I’m sort of tired of seeing, almost everywhere in our culture, a sort of “If this isn’t exactly the way I want it to be, I think it’s worthless.”

      Along with the fact that a lot of people don’t seem to understand that THEY have an obligation to help create the party by the things they do and say during the event. If you accept the invitation, you’re supposed to participate and be part of what makes it fun.

      If you’re introverted, then you should try to be a good audience, or seek out other quiet people to talk to.

      1. Lissa*

        There’s also this view that one is super unique/different for not fully enjoying these events. I’m NOT being snarky! I actually used to believe the same thing – that everyone else was really having the time of their lives and just I (and maybe my one friend I could wallflower with) was somehow different in finding them tiresome/not ideal, etc But most people do at least a bit of socializing when they’d rather be at home watching Netflix. There’s the temptation to assume everyone around oneself is an extrovert, loving every minute of parties etc, but it’s often really not true.

    5. Lyman Zerga*

      I agree with this assessment. The point of our holiday party is to gather staff together who might not otherwise see each other often during the rest of the year, and to enjoy some time together. (Or at least prop up the facade that we enjoy spending time together. I think we genuinely do–as far as I know, everyone in our small organization really likes each other–but regardless, we as a company feel it’s important to gather together occasionally.)

      I’m always on the party planning committee, and our goal is NOT to knock your socks off. We are not professional party planners, we don’t have anyone on staff who is, and we don’t want to spend huge resources throwing the party of the century. We just strive for pleasant. That’s it. We aim to go to a slightly fancier restaurant than we think our staff would ordinarily choose for dinner, we let folks order whatever they want on the menu, but we’re not trying to be legendary. Just good.

      Other features of our party:
      1) It is held during business hours (lunchtime)
      2) It is mandatory to attend, and hourly employees are paid for their time, as well as any travel time to the restaurant where we meet
      3) Everything is paid for by the organization
      4) It is generally accepted that you can go back to the office or go home afterward, and everyone is paid for a whole day/not made to use PTO

    6. JessicaTate*

      I agree with your assessment. I think what makes a party “successful” depends a lot on 1) its intended purpose from management’s perspective, and 2) whatever the current tone / morale level is among employees. I think management should take some time to reflect on both of those things to strategically plan a celebration.

      If #2 (tone/morale) is out of whack for the group (or for an individual), nothing you can do is really going to please them. I think good party organization starts with having a feel for your group of staff – what they respond well to, and what’s currently going on at work. If we’re super-swamped in December, I’m not going to make my staff take time out for a lunch which will actually just mean they have to work longer later to hit deadlines. (This may be more at a department level if you’re a giant company.)

      And in my experience, people LIKE getting money, but that doesn’t engender any sense of community. Nor does it automatically engender a sense of feeling appreciated, unless there have consistently been non-monetary signs of appreciation along the way. So… depending on your goal, it’s not a particularly effective strategy.

    7. LW #1*

      I’m with you on this. My office is very quiet and everyone generally keeps to themselves unless they need to discuss work. But, when we can actually pull people out of their offices to chat it’s generally a good time, and I always find out that people are working on really interesting things. So the goal of this party for me is fun and laid back networking + relationship building. All of the comments about, “The only good holiday party is no holiday party” aren’t terribly helpful for that. I am pulling tips from lots of helpful comments about low-pressure ways to encourage interaction, though!

  47. kittymommy*

    The one’s we do here (departments do there own so this is for mine) are always during office hours, are truly optional (we have a couple of people in my department who don’t attend for personal and religious reasons), and are catered out. Typically they are brunch or lunch type of things and there’s no pressure to hurry up and eat from the higher ups. There is no power point or speech, just lots of food. And it being the middle of the day and government, there is no alcohol or other people.

    Some of the other departments have parties as well, most follow this general idea, though if they are smaller it might be a potluck rather than catered. We do have one that plays pre-made funny videos and has someone dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and hand out silly presents. The guys in that departments (it’s mainly blue collar union guys) seem to really get a kick out of one of their bosses dressed up as Mrs. Clauss and making fun themselves.

  48. NLMC*

    The first several years my company would rent out an entertainment venue (bowling, pool, arcade, laser tag, etc), give drink tickets, unlimited food, and just let people do whatever they wanted.
    We outgrew that and moved to place that was mostly for socializing but had a “casino” and a few other optional games set up to enjoy if you wanted, and a band to “enjoy(?)”. However, those were not very popular because it was crowded and not much to do and you still couldn’t bring a plus one.
    Now we rent out a local amusement park and forgo a company party (some individual depts still have them) . Employees are free while friends and family pay a very cheap price for their tickets. It is on a weekend but I haven’t heard any complaints about it. Yes, it’s on a weekend, but you honestly get to chose who you spend your time with because you can bring whoever you want.
    It’s less a holiday party and more of an employee appreciation.

  49. ThankYouRoman*

    Optional is always key. And know your crew, you should be tapped in enough to know if they enjoy these kinds of things. We have high turnout here, lots of laughs and smiles to go around.

    I would loath being sent home early or another day off. It also defeats the purpose of a casual non-business related social time sponsored by the company.

    Know your crew. We like lowkey things like bowling and arcades. My boss had to learn that we’re not interested in parties at museums or fancy dress up places.

  50. Colette*

    Last year, my area at work set aside an hour for games. I was … skeptical, shall we say? I did go, and it was actually a lot of fun. The organizer prepared minute-to-win-it games, and they were a lot of fun. We followed up with a couple of more traditional games. If everyone is willing to participate (and not be jerks), that kind of thing can a lot of fun.

    As far as activities at a holiday party, you want things that are easy to pick up and put down, completely optional, and good for a small flexible number of people. Ideally, they should get people talking to each other as well.

    Possibilities: scavenger hunt, craft (something small but flexible – i.e. decorate candle holders or a picture frame – something where you can do as much or as little as you’d like), trivia game

  51. Delta Delta*

    I think it’s key to keep the awkwardness to a minimum. No long speeches (someday in a bad party thread I’ll post about my favorite bad holiday party speech), no required activities that people can’t or won’t want to do. Food doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be good.

    1. NLMC*

      I agree. Let people be as involved as they want to be. So set up game stations or rooms if you want but don’t make the whole party focus on each event one at a time.

  52. Manders*

    I really like the way my current company handles parties:

    1) NO POTLUCKS. No obligation at all to feed coworkers.
    2) NO GIFT EXCHANGES. No white elephants, no raffles, cards with appreciative notes are given by the boss but that’s it.
    3) Dinner and drinks at a nice restaurant near the office, the company covers everything.
    4) +1’s are invited and the staff makes an effort to include them in the conversation instead of making it all work talk.
    5) The party happens in mid-December, before everyone starts traveling or has other obligations.
    6) No religious label on the party, it’s clearly a holiday season party, not a Christmas party.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is what we have, for the most part – it’s the standard DC Law Firm Holiday Party – cocktail attire, basically a wedding reception with no wedding at a local hotel, entirely optional, plus-ones (any plus-one you want), lots of food, music, and dancing as well as quieter spaces for conversation. They’re well-attended, well-reviewed, and the team who plans them does a great job.

      Holiday parties during the business day are tough because we ALWAYS have people on deadline who cannot attend and meet said deadline.

  53. Typhon Worker Bee*

    Watching Elf as your holiday party sounds *amazing*!

    Last year, we had one of those slightly awkward 5pm appies and wine minglers, with a short speech by the directors. It was fine, but hardly lively or memorable. This year, we’re renting the top floor of a bowling alley (6 lanes, I think) and ordering pizza, then some of us are going to the pub afterwards. The whole thing is optional, spouses and kids are welcome, and there’s no obligation to bowl if you do decide to go – there’s a bar area to hang out and eat pizza in. I think it’s going to be a ton of fun!

  54. CatCat*

    I’d like it if it were optional. I have to make a trip to another city (I’m remote) to attend. And I’d just rather not.

  55. CRM*

    The best holiday party I’ve been to was the annual Christmas party at my previous job. My boss’s boss hosted it at his home because he lives close to the office. The party was catered and they served appetizers, a light lunch, non-alcoholic drinks, and a glass of champagne for each person. It lasted from noon to around 2:30, at which point everyone was allowed to go home for the day (we were still paid as though we had worked a full day).

    Aside from getting to leave early, which was a really nice treat, the best part about the party was the fact that it was fully catered. I absolutely hate potlucks. Not everyone has the time, energy, or cooking skills to spend hours slaving over a beautiful dish for their coworkers. Surely any reasonable person could acknowledge this, yet you can always feel the stares of disapproval when you walk in with store-bought cookies.

  56. Lulu*

    Besides the bar and the snacks, every year we have a staffwide cookie swap that’s always a hit. People love to take things home.

    We’ve also done a hot cocoa bar (with lots of mix-ins, sprinkles, spices, whipped cream, etc), popcorn bar (with fun takehome bags and lots of toppings), and a caramel apple bar (similar to the cocoa bar).

    1. Lulu*

      Also, we do our party in January, partially because we are an events company so we are busy with other peoples’ events in December, but it also helps to have the party after all the holiday craziness!

    2. The Original K.*

      I’ve done a few cookie swaps – I love them. I like to cook and bake and you get a nice little stash to take home.

      1. Person of Interest*

        I got a soft gingerbread cookie recipe from an office cookie swap YEARS ago that I still make regularly.

  57. MsMaryMary*

    OldJob did a nice job of having low-key holiday parties with good food and drinks. Smaller events (like your team only) were usually a long lunch or happy hour that started at 3 or 4. Larger events were often in January, which really helped disassociate the “holiday” party from Christmas. The first 2-3 weeks of December were very busy for us work-wise, and since we worked in a major city 80% of the office either took PTO or worked remotely at the end of December to be with out of town family. The January party was as much “thanks for a great year and all your hard work” as much as it was about the holidays. It also prevented people from feeling like they had to go be festive at a party after working a 7o hour week with all these same people.

  58. Roscoe*

    This is definitely a tough question. What is great for one is often miserable for another. Interested to read the answers

  59. Anon in case*

    When I worked at a game publisher we would use the last Friday before Christmas for an office game day, we worked hard the rest of the year so getting to PLAY games was a treat. People would bring consoles, once a VR kit, and lots of tabletop games. The only real “rule” was not to play the games we actually made, that was too much like working.

    They would buy us lunch, usually something traditional like ham or turkey but sometimes BBQ. And if you wanted to opt out, that was fine. They typically said not to try to do real work but the year I left the CEO sucked and worked all day. I don’t know if they still do it, in fact.

  60. Hooray College Football*

    I’d just mention, try to limit the number of holiday parties. At one point, I had 5 holiday parties (each level of the organization had their own party that I “should” attend. It was overwhelming. Now I’m out of management and while there are still a lot of parties, only 2 are not really optional.

  61. Artemesia*

    I worked at a University where the Dean of our college gave a really lovely cocktail party at her home for the holidays and invited the emeriti — everyone could bring a plus one and it was a very popular event with fabulous food, open bar and just standing around and talking. Optional. People came and went. People loved being able to catch up with those who had retired. The good food and drink was a big plus and there was plenty of neighborhood parking. So it can work off site if it is attractive enough.

  62. lurker*

    Less of a party suggestion and more of a timing suggestion — I am a teacher and we always have a faculty winter party in late January rather than during the holiday season. The holidays are always completely crazy for everyone, and it’s really nice to have something to look forward to in the dead of winter when it’s cold and dark and nothing else exciting is going on.

  63. Boo Hoo*

    Ughh you just reminded me my husband wants us to go to his party this year. He worked on base (retired AF but now works as a civilian) so we have to buy tickets ($15 so not much) and he has to take PTO to go but he feels he should go as he hasn’t really attended other events since he has been there. Frankly it would be more fun if it were just his work people but the whole base is invited so it’s really a room full of people he doesn’t even know and their spouses who even less people know. Plus, on base and his ranking one must be on PERFECT behavior. Not that I can’t be good but when you are dealing with those who may out rank you it is such a bigger deal. You could sneeze on someones wife accidentally and for all you know she is the highest ranking person on bases wife and she gets mad and then…… Just doesn’t make for fun just one of those obligations. Also screws up my whole day as we are down to one car right now (one was totaled and as we are about to move across country, and I am not working until we move we don’t see the need to buy another car here just to move elsewhere on Jan 1.) so I have to wake up at 5, take the kid to school, take my husband to the base, go home, get ready, drive back to husbands work, go to party, go back home, pick up kid, go back to husbands work to pick him up later….ughhhhh. I know I am just complaining but sooooo not interested.

  64. Snubble*

    The least bad Christmas parties for me have been the ones that are just departmental bring-and-share* lunches. The managers let you have a bit of extra time at lunch, you have more cake than you usually would at lunchtime, but there isn’t enough time for anyone to make you play games.

    Secret Santa events always make it worse. Someone is always over-invested in making everyone else Do Christmas Properly.

    I don’t go to the evening events. Our employer does not contribute anything towards the costs and I see these people enough. I don’t need to spend the week’s food budget on a mediocre restaurant to hear the same conversations they have every lunchtime, especially when I can’t leave.

    I am… not a fan of mandatory fun.

    *I think American-style potlucks imply hot food and people cook for them? Our bring-and-shares are all cold picnic food, shop-bought. Still annoying if you’re on a tight budget, but they don’t require much effort. I usually bring sausage rolls because I like to eat them.

    1. Autumnheart*

      Potlucks don’t have to be hot food, or self-prepared. American grocery stores typically have a section in the deli with lots of prepared hot and cold dishes, and Costco in particular is the quintessential place to go if you need sandwiches and a pie that will feed 50 people.

      People will often bring their own prepared dishes if a) they enjoy cooking and b) it’s convenient enough to transport and store the food until it’s served, but it is by no means a requirement that you must cook it yourself and it must be hot. The primary idea behind a potluck is to have a variety.

  65. PromotionalKittenBasket*

    Hello! I am actually an internal events planner and I have planned many a holiday party!

    Most important is to have lots of good food and beverages, and if you can, include a non-alcoholic option that feels special for the non-drinkers (I like a fizzy cranberry punch with floating cranberries and citrus slices).

    I like easy opt-in activities: a scavenger hunt or passport that requires people to talk to others they don’t work with directly or don’t know that gets them a ticket for raffle prize (which can be small and nominal–the point is to encourage more conversation between departments). Packs of cards or board games are always a good for people who like a little more structure, and maybe a festive way to share holiday memories, like writing on slips of colored paper and tying to a tabletop tree with ribbon or pinning to a map (prompt like “what do you remember about a winter holiday from your childhood”, or “best present you ever got”). A collaborative coloring wall or tablecloth can keep shy adults busy but still open to talking. And finally, especially if your company is a little on the younger side, a photo backdrop is a lot of fun! It’s easy to find or make props and since everyone carries their own camera anyway, you don’t have to hire a company.

    Good luck and have a great time!

    1. LW #1*

      Do you have a fizzy cranberry punch recipe?? We’re going potluck (government office) and that sounds like a perfectly festive but still very easy thing to bring.

  66. Anna Canuck*

    I’ve mostly worked in government (different levels) and in a small-ish office, or on a small-ish team. Our team parties now are bowling (managers buy food, otherwise we pay our own fees and drinks). Guests welcome, yes it’s in the evening, but honestly, it’s our one big social event of the year and typically attendance is 100% of the 14 of us.

    Previous job, a few people had large houses suited for entertaining. We’d gather there and have an appetizer and dessert potluck (no mains). A steal-the-gift exchange was usually part of it. Honestly, I miss that. It was personal and low-key, and very low cost. No one on my current team has a big, child-free house, though.

  67. Spreadsheets and Books*

    My company’s holiday parties are great. We’re a F500 but the HQ office is small, only around 140 people, so it’s pretty intimate and most people get along very well. They’re held immediately after work at a local bar or restaurant in a private room, the bar is completely open and fully stocked, and there’s SO much food. Everyone goes, liquors up quickly on company-sponsored booze, eats a bunch of good food, the CEO gives a quick speech, and then everyone leaves. The whole ordeal usually lasts no longer than about 90 minutes. It’s optional, but everyone goes.

  68. DaffyDuck*

    Don’t make the employees pay for the party (food either bought or brought, mandatory gift giving, travelling distance, etc.). I really like the party to be during work hours, outside of work hours it should be VERY optional and kids/spouses/significant others should be welcome.

  69. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

    Best work holiday party I have been to was:
    – In the beginning of January as a “Welcome to the New Year”
    – Was walking distance at a museum event space and included free admission if you wanted to
    – Started at 1:00 pm
    – Served food and drinks that the company paid for buffet style with plenty of options for those with dietary restrictions since the people with the restrictions were put in charge of planning the menu
    – Was open to +1 and kids
    – Was totally optional, meaning you could just leave work instead or grab a plate “to go”
    – The boss made sure to run back food for anyone who stayed behind and wanted it
    – No organized activities beyond the 5 minute welcome speech

  70. Birch*

    Serious question: there are office parties where children are involved?!

    I worked in a department that was great, supportive, fun, kind, professional, and also friendly. Our parties had:
    1. GREAT food–catered, and free for us, with everybody’s restrictions covered. Multiple courses, buffet style, with matching drinks plus a bar.
    2. Very minimal speeches, and light-hearted.
    3. No partners and no children. Keeps the cost down, avoids having to listen to other people’s children scream or be left out when everyone else has brought a partner.
    4. Good music. In our case it was provided in-house by volunteers because many of us were semi-professional musicians, but a decent live band or even a generic playlist is fine. It was rock music, not a constant stream of bland Christmas albums.
    5. No “activities.” I’m not 100% opposed to games, but please, please consider that many people really don’t like playing games, singing or listening to karaoke, or being forced into team building activities! If there are games, make them simple, lighthearted, and really truly no pressure to participate. You really don’t need to fill everyone’s time with activities–many people will enjoy just having a few hours to eat something nice and have a low-key chat.

    The parties were a chance to dress up and have a nice dinner, catch up with colleagues on a more personal level and to chat with colleagues from other parts of the department who we may not see as often. Especially since it’s at a time of the year where everyone is hurrying to reach deadlines and finish up projects. Everyone looks forward to it, no one is offended, it’s low key and drama free.

    1. Constanze*

      I had a workplace where there was an afternoon with children and some presents for them. It was just awful, kids were running around, it was impossible to concentrate, and a lot of people has no interest in going to their “party” so it was really annoying.

      In my new workplace, the HR person told me she is contemplating having that : I will do everything I can to crush this initiative !

      1. Boo Hoo*

        Ya I cannot imagine this being fun at all. Kids don’t need to be at any work event really in my opinion.

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      I’d be very nervous about being anyplace children were invited to! I’d be terrified I’d slip and say a bad word and get yelled at by someone’s parent, then get fired.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Or bump into the little darling or let it slip that I didn’t want to spend the whole party cooing over said darling, followed by parent yelling at me, then getting fired for causing a scene.

      2. Cat*

        We have children at our work party and this is . . . not really an issue. Nobody is going to get fired for accidentally saying a bad word. I think it’s nice to see how kids grow from year to year.

      3. Lissa*

        I imagine it would really depend on the type of party. Some afternoon outdoor event, sure – an evening fancy party with an open bar? please no.

    3. Bulbasaur*

      We have a children’s holiday party which is separate from our main holiday party. It’s usually at a zoo, adventure park or some other place with fun activities for kids, and is generally scheduled for a weekend afternoon.

      I like it because it provides a participation option for people who can’t easily take a break from child care out of hours (special needs child or children, health issues, single parent, limited local support etc.) I have yet to attend the evening party for grownups since becoming a parent, but I regularly attend the children’s one.

  71. Minerva McGonagall*

    I’m on the Party Planning Committee at my job, and this is my first holiday season here but here’s our current plan:

    -It’s on the Monday the week before we close for a week but all the students are gone

    -It’s Brunch food (omelet bar, hot chocolate bar, fruit, potatoes, pastries…)

    -There will be champagne for mimosas and pointsettas (which is champagne and cranberry juice if you’re like me and wondering why we’re debating if we’d be allowed festive plants…)

    -PPC has been told that when it’s over (at 2 ish) we’ll be told to go home

    -We’re doing a Gift Card ONLY White Elephant game with pretty strict rules ($20, must be a recognizable place
    that people enjoy, we have examples for you here they are, if you don’t bring one that’s fine but you won’t be participating) but we are required they are wrapped in fun ways to make the game more interesting. We’re using a giant dice for rolling.

    -There will be a photo wall with wintery scenes for everyone to post to their personal/office instagrams

    -It’s optional but we’re trying to make it fun so people will want to go

    I really like this way much more than old job, because this is just for our department (old job had the ENTIRE university shoved into 1 fire-code violating room and it was “Optional”…), it’s earlier in the day so we can eat and go, it’s earlier in the week so individual offices/areas can do other things, and I won’t have beer spilled on me by a drunk accounting professor.

  72. Panda*

    My division has an appreciation luncheon in mid-January. Great food, getting to hang out with my favorite coworkers, and getting to know new ones, and short speeches makes it wonderful. And we get to leave early that day and not charge time.

  73. The Guacamolier*

    I have been to three really wonderful Christmas parties. Both were during business hours. I worked in data entry for an oil and gas company with about 60 employees. They did a very nice, multi-course lunch at the Petroleum Club. ( ) They provided transportation for us from work to the club and back. I think we were able to order from a limited menu. I had prime rib. The CEO made a very brief speech thanking us for our service and then they distributed Christmas gifts. We each got a pretty glass Christmas ornament and a prepaid Visa giftcard.

    The other one was when I worked as an accountant for a software company with about 100 employees. It took a lot of planning, but was really fun. It was the entire latter half of the day and we were encouraged to bring our spouses and kids in. Instead of buying gifts for us, they spent the entire budget on activites to make it kind of like a festival. We had a catered lunch four days a week. Our Christmas party was on a Friday so we had the lady who did our catering come in but also had a potluck. (The catering was usually a choice of two entrees, four sides, and a soup and salad bar.) We had different “stations” throughout our office as well as outside. (This was in TX so it wasn’t too cold.) We had Santa come to take pictures, we had a petting zoo and a bounce house, we had a section where people could play bingo for prizes, we had a magician. It was a whole lot of fun.

    Oh, another Christmas party, they got us a box at a football game and had a catered meal. They also encouraged people to bring spouses and children. There was a room adjacent to the box where kids could go if they got tired of watching the game and they had gingerbread house kits and Christmas-themed games.

  74. KitKat100000*

    OP#1: Can everyone just go out for a lunch together? I know you said low budget, but I think a casual lunch outside of the office would be pleasant (although some people don’t like to have their lunch hours interrupted). An afternoon of bowling could be a low cost alternative, with appetizers being provided and people buying their own cocktails, if they want.

    OP#2: Does your Christmas party take place at the office? If so, could it be arranged as more of a potluck/buffet where people are free to come and go as they please?

    I think one of the best parts of a work party is getting OUT of the office with your colleagues and so I am always in favor of that!

  75. Four lights*

    On a more serious note (since I had a training on it today), it may be wise to remind people of the company’s sexual harassment policy before the party, especially if it’s off-site / after hours / involves alcohol. Holiday parties are a chance to let loose, but not to the point of harassment.

  76. Elizabeth West*


    2. Make it happen during work hours.

    3. Don’t make employees pay for it. If potlucks are a thing where you work (small office) that’s fine, but the company needs to provide supplies and a space.

    4. Keep religion out of it.

    5. Arrange coverage for front desk, etc. so all employees can get something to eat and socialize a little.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      RE: during work hours

      the best parties I’ve been to have started during work hours (say, 3ish) but have been open-ended, so employees could continue hanging out if they so desired.

    2. Bulbasaur*

      #1 would be the most important on that list for me by far. If you have a busybody that is likely to try and make everyone dress up or do silly dances or whatever, then either have a word with them beforehand or consider creating some physical separation like multiple rooms, so that people can get away if they want.

      For an introvert, sitting on the sidelines with a glass of wine watching the show and making conversation once in a while (with everyone respecting their space) might be their idea of a perfect holiday party. Introverts are not necessarily against socializing – they just want it to be non-stressful, and on their terms.

  77. Anon in Boston*

    This is going to sound like a nightmare to some of you, but I’m as introverted as anyone and it’s actually pretty fun. My company does a VERY elaborate holiday party. There’s always a champagne toast (with coffee/orange juice options) and free breakfast in the morning where the CEO gives the big end-of-year speech and the company awards get handed out. (These are based on employee nominations and the prizes are substantial.) Usually people wear holiday sweaters or other festive attire.
    Then in the evening everyone stops work a little early and gets changed into their party clothes, and either there’s a big seated dinner at the party location (usually a fancy hotel) or teams split up for dinners at really nice restaurants around the city. (Transportation from the office is provided as well as Lyft credits to get home at the end of the night.) Finally, everyone makes their way to the main party which is non-Christmas themed (Harry Potter, Casino Night, stuff like that) for drinks and dancing. I usually last about an hour at the big loud party before heading home, but there’s plenty of free food and drinks and I like hanging out with my team at the smaller team dinner.

  78. Liz*

    – If you’re going to have an outside of office hours party provide booze and allow +1’s. Otherwise, don’t do it.
    – If outside of work hours don’t make it in the office. It’s beyond depressing to be mingling by your cubicle at 7pm trying to relax.
    – If during office hours make it in the afternoon and have it end in time for people to go home early
    – Plenty of GOOD food – no supermarket subs
    – No forced games, costumes, etc. Love the idea of casual games or crafts kind of on the outskirts

  79. Justin*

    All the people saying “the best party is NO PARTY,” okay, we get it.

    I’m on the planning committee for our team, and we choose three things and put it to a vote. If you don’t want to go, you can just go home, as the things usually start at 3 or so.

    Last year we ended up in an Escape Room, which 75% of us loved, and the others… went home or met us at a bar after.

    We also had a small potluck with Secret Snowflake (sigh) beforehand.

    Right now the vote is happening and a pinball arcade is winning the vote. (Look, they can choose.)

    We also give them two date choices.

    THE BEST PARTY IS ME SITTING AT HOME BY MYSELF. So in our group, you would go home! Great!

    Jeez. They asked for suggestions of what to do, and the answer isn’t “NOTHING.”

    1. Justin*

      Here come 5 people to say “I would have hated the Escape Room.” Great! Some of us did, so they didn’t go!

      My real point (aside from my defensiveness at the Kind Of Aggressively AntiSocial vibe) is to let people choose and make it somewhat different from the expected.

      1. Genny*

        OMG, I would have hated the Escape Room. I can’t believe you forced people to actually talk to each other. THE WORST!!!!! /s

        Seriously, I think the Escape Room sounds like a great team-building thing. You have to work together to achieve a clear goal in a limited amount of time. It’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing, so nobody is being excluded. You don’t have to share personal information with your co-workers. The group wins or loses together, so no hard feelings/pouting. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (hence allowing people to opt out), but there’s not obviously offensive about it.

      2. Birch*

        I’m gonna be that person. I get where you’re coming from, that no party is going to please everyone, and the voting is a better idea than the unilateral decisions that usually get made. But a low-key party with optional activities is something almost everyone can enjoy. Making the party centred around a very specific activity is intentionally excluding a lot of people and is something the group of you who enjoy that activity can go do by yourselves. It’s needlessly mean to make what’s often the biggest work treat of the year into an Escape Room Fans Only party or the like so that everyone who isn’t into super active activities gets nothing. How would you feel if the party was an activity you hated? Every single year?

        1. Justin*

          We didn’t choose the Escape room. They did. We weren’t allowed to vote.

          And this year it won’t be that, because we won’t repeat it.

          If it was the one from last year I didn’t really like (a murder mystery thing) I would have been disappointed and then looked forward to the bar afterwards.

          And the people who prefer not to do active things can vote for the less active option (there’s always one out of three), and if it wins, we all do that.

          This would not work on a much larger team. But it works really well with ours.

          And again, the people who don’t like the winning option are not pressured at all, and can just go home.

        2. Justin*

          We also have a runoff if two options are close in votes.

          A low-key party with optional activities isn’t really what we’re tasked with. We start with a lowkey potluck and people who wouldn’t like to do more move on from there. And to be clear, we are not the managerial team (who also aren’t allowed to vote).

        3. Joielle*

          But it sounds like it’s a different activity every year…? Are you saying you hate every possible group activity? That seems like a pretty unusual stance, and it would be hard to accommodate that. AND, not to mention that there’s also an option to do a low-key thing (potluck) before the activity and/or meet up after the activity (bar), so you don’t actually have to do the activity to be part of the party anyways.

          I think Justin’s method is good, actually – leave the activity and date up to a poll, whatever gets the majority is what’s planned, and people can do that, or meet up later, or just go home. My office is pretty introverted, but we still did an indoor mini golf thing one year and almost everyone came. You could play mini golf, or there was a little arcade area, or you could just hang out and have some food and drinks. It was fun!

          1. Birch*

            No, I’m saying there doesn’t need to be main activity at all. I could easily see this turning into year after year of Escape Room, murder mystery, scavenger hunt, arcade, karaoke, theme park, etc, etc. all things that a lot of people really hate or can’t do because they’re loud and involve a lot of movement. It’s obnoxious to make every team building event or party full of activities that cater to extroverts and thrill seekers. Making the big activity the center of the event is just asking for people to get excluded. Sure you can join at the bar afterward, but everyone else is going to be talking about the activity! I wish when people were planning work parties and team building events people would realize that extroverts don’t NEED “fun” activities at work, but a lot of introverts and people with disabilities need to NOT be involved in those activities. And “just don’t come, then” is a really insensitive thing to say when you could actually plan a party that includes everyone, you just don’t want to because it’s not as “fun” to some people. There’s nothing wrong with having these events at other times, it doesn’t need to be the biggest party of the year.

            That being said, I’m not arguing against the polling idea–but I do think you need a serious majority and to communicate with the people who disagreed. It’s a completely different thing to take a vote and say “tough luck” to whoever gets left out, or to actually have a discussion and come to an agreement where the people who disagreed are OK with it. Ideally the main event would be more inclusive and the activities would be extras. It needs to be opt-IN, not opt-OUT.

    2. Smarty Boots*

      Justin, I think the point is that a lot of offices don’t allow “no party” or “you can leave work early if you don’t want to participate.” So while the OP wanted to know what to *do*, it’s imoortant for OP to hear that “do nothing” should be an option.

  80. caryatis*

    Should be:

    1) Within walking distance from work, so no one has to worry about transportation
    2) Cheap or free to the employee
    3) Provide different spaces to accommodate different levels of extroversion/noise tolerance.

  81. Essess*

    For a true inclusive holiday party, ask people to bring their favorite holiday treat for any holiday in the nearby time frame…. so you might get some (belated) Diwali treats, or Christmas treats, or Solstice treats, etc…

    Have an ugly holiday sweater party… people who want to participate can wear ugly sweaters and have a voting box somewhere in the room. People who are participating can be given a number to pin on their back so you know who is participating (to avoid that awkward winner who wore their favorite sweater and wasn’t actually competing).

    I love someone else’s suggestion of a cocoa bar! Make sure to have some other possible beverages for those who can’t have chocolate, such as spiced cider and eggnog.

    You could ask people ahead of time for their favorite holiday traditions and make up little signs to put around the room that people can read.

    Do NOT make the songs be religious music. I went to an office “Holiday Party” that decided to have mandatory singing and all the songs were church songs such as “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “What Child Is This?” and “We Three Kings” and similar songs. If you do have songs, make them more winter songs…. like Frosty the Snowman or Jingle Bells, or ask others in the office if they have songs they sing for other holidays.

  82. MCL*

    I work at a state university, so there’s not really much space in the budget for party stuff. We still do a small celebration, though! It’s not really a holiday party – the end of semester is in December so it’s more of our “Yay the semester is done!” party. This suits us because everyone is participating in semester-related stuff and everyone’s happy for the break, so it totally doesn’t revolve around holidays at all. We don’t even really decorate. It’s done at lunchtime during the normal work day, and attendance is totally optional (most people choose to come!). We have several dietary needs to meet, but so far everyone has been pretty well accommodated by a taco bar with lots of different meat and non-meat options, plus it’s easily made gluten-free. Plus, tacos are cheap! Everyone is happy. This might not seem like much to some others with extravagant holiday parties, but in my department a free tasty lunch that is unconnected to a business meeting is sufficiently celebratory. Plus we get leftovers for a couple days!

    1. MCL*

      I should also say that we close our front desk for this lunch so that everyone can attend from the mail delivery person to the department director. It’s really important that not only can people opt out if they choose, everyone in the department feels invited and included.

  83. DCGirl*

    One of the most fun things I ever did at a holiday party was a guessing game of employee’s baby pictures. We had to explain to the digital generation that, in the past, you took your pictures, you waited for proofs, and you got whatever you got, no matter how dorktastic they ended up. People had a blast.

    For Christmas carols, we had one party (hotel ballroom) where each table was assigned to one of the 12 Days of Christmas. When your table’s day came up, you all to stand up and sign your line. It got people jumping up and down, and people starting acting out their lines (flapping their arms for birds, jumping for the lords a-leaping, etc.).

  84. magnusarchivist*

    The best holiday party I ever had as an employee was
    1) during the workday but extending into the evening (3-7)
    2) had loads of free food w/ dietary restrictions provided for, but limited everyone to 2 (alcoholic) drink tickets. Most of us who left at 5 only used 1 and gave our 2nd to a coworker who was staying later
    3) rented arcade games (think like skeeball, pool, air hockey, etc.) and some people had heated but very friendly competitions
    4) a raffle for donated prizes that were actually really good! like a good bottle of wine, a spa treatment, a night at a B&B, a gift card for a restaurant, etc.
    5) +1s were invited during and after the workday, but most didn’t show up until 5-ish.
    6) we all liked each other so looked forward to a chance to socialize & not think about work for a bit. YMMV if you work with jerks.
    7) if you didn’t want to play arcade games, there were enough tables for people to quietly sit and chat and eat some food
    8) only 2 short speeches: a generic “thank you all for a great year please enjoy the party” speech from the big boss and the naming of the raffle prize winners

    1. magnusarchivist*

      should have added re: raffle tickets — we were automatically given a few tickets and *could* purchase more at maybe $5 each, which went toward the cost of the party

  85. Teapot Tester*

    My current company holds parties at venues with built-in entertainment. The first two years was at a bar with pool tables and dart boards. They also had a fun thing where you nominated people for categories, and then a name was pulled out and they won a prize. Things like “first to the kitchen for free food” or “most likely to be the last to leave at night.”

    Last year, and we’re doing it again this year, was at a pinball joint that also has a bar. People could play pinball and other video games, or just talk. That was a big hit and a nice change from the other place.

    Food is a buffet, catered by a local restaurant, and every adult gets 2 drink tickets. This keeps costs down and also helps to prevent the inclination to drink and drive.

  86. MLB*

    TBH, I’ve had some fun company parties, but they usually entail spending a good amount of money. They usually have good food in mass quantities, and fun activities that would appeal to most without having to make small talk with people you don’t know/like personally. People just want to know their work is appreciated, so if you can’t afford to spend money, find a way to provide a perk (half day with pay, a small bonus, bring in lunch (or go out if feasible) for the department/team, etc.).

  87. Not the Boss*

    We do a cookout, in the parking lot, a few weeks before Christmas. It’s more of an employee appreciation BBQ, than a Christmas party. Everyone gets lunch together in the lot (all paid for by the company, weather privileges of the desert southwest). Boss thanks everyone for the year, maybe makes some remarks about the upcoming year, and then everyone goes home. No alcohol, no games, no plus 1. It’s pretty perfect.

  88. C Average*

    One year, we did a flash white-elephant exchange: in the middle of an afternoon, with no warning, we (the Fun Committee) sent out an email that said, “Happy holidays! In the next 15 minutes, please find something in your cube, bag, car, etc., that you don’t want but think someone else might. We’ll be by your desk shortly to drop off wrapping paper. Once your gift is wrapped, please bring it to the conference room. We’ll have drinks and snacks.”

    It was so fun! People were extremely creative, and nobody had to go shopping. The expense and prep were minimal, and everyone had a really great time.

  89. Allison*

    I think I mentioned this before, but the best holiday party I went to had a casino theme, they gave you some chips when you got there and then there were blackjack tables (and maybe other kinds of games) everywhere. So rather than awkwardly wander around trying to make conversation with people, I was able to park my butt at a blackjack table and play, chatting with others as they came and went. And I’m not exactly amazing, but I managed to play the whole night with the chips I was given. We were able to exchange our chips for raffle tickets, and I ended up with a fair amount (although didn’t actually win any raffle items).

    As a socially awkward person, I always appreciate structured social activities like games at parties, I think that’s why us nerdy folks also like a good board game night.

    The company that threw that party also had a fairly decent party the year before, at a nice venue in the city and amazing food, just with no games.

  90. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

    The best one I ever went to was offsite, a short walk from our office at a quirky little museum specific to our city. The location was transit accessible and I believe there was also parking available in the neighborhood (though no lot). It was open bar with lots of beverage options for those not partaking in spirits, lots of good food, it started right at 5 when work ended and no one got upset about people leaving a few minutes early to head over. Participation was not required, and I don’t believe anyone’s spouse or SO was invited, either. They had hired a photographer to capture our candid moments, and shared those later. The CEO even “raffled” off his personal pairs of tickets to a couple of Broadway shows touring our city in the new year. It was a enuine lottery, though, no purchase necessary and it was open to all 50-some of us in the office. I won one pair and someone who wasn’t even at the party won the 2nd and no penalty for not having attended; he simply got them the next day. We didn’t have to all stay together, were urged to go explore the museum, and a spontaneous group of us starting singing holiday songs as people started to leave.

    I’m really having the feels remembering this now; it already happened over a decade ago. Sometime I think I have experienced my career backwards, where this job and its crazy perks and camaraderie should have been the apex or pre-retirement position and instead was my first permanent job post-college and post-fellowship and after extended un- and under-employment. We enjoyed each other’s company, celebrated all kinds of occasions, had a great event planning team, and the interns/assistants/coordinators from all departments would always come together planned or unplanned to help out when one of us had a big project. Many hands really made light work and the work fun. We were a bit underpaid, but there were a lot of unofficial benefits, and the atmosphere changed a lot when we ended up having to merge with another organization, and then move offices. I may have even rosier-colored glasses on because this holiday party happened just a few weeks after I had had a serious sudden medical situation, and HR were discreet and treated me right and the whole staff was so sweet when I returned. They really made me want to work hard and prove myself.

  91. CAA*

    You have to be a pretty large company to do this, but some of the best holiday parties I’ve been to have been at local museums. They rent the whole place out, have multiple food and drink stations, small tables with chairs, and a dance floor with live music in the atrium. It’s easy to take a break from socializing and browse the exhibits and nobody will notice if you leave early.

  92. Kgulo*

    It’s been said, but I want to reiterate the importance of having enough food. Consider the vegetarians, the gluten free, and dietary restrictions. It’s really easy to accommodate everyone – hummus and pita platters, Mac and cheese balls, etc. If you’re passing appetizers, have a few standing platters of food, too. You want people to be able to access food at all times.

    Having enough food is especially important if you have an open bar. Balance fancy party food with filling crowd favorites.

    Make an atmosphere that is conducive to mingling. You don’t want people to feel trapped talking to the same three people all night at a seated dinner.

  93. A-No*

    The office that I liked the party best was a two event one day kind of deal. We’d go do an activity (indoor go-carting, bowling, but things like mini golf could be fun too) during work hours, usually shut down at 2 pm and everyone is done the activity by 5. Then we would host a dinner / drink thing after that event. We had a couple people who didn’t drink for religious reasons, a few people who were single parents so night time made it hard on them so having one during the work day let everyone have fun and with the two events you could participate at what ever level you were comfortable with – don’t like the activity “oh, i’m a little swamped with work, i’ll see you guys later at dinner” or don’t want to drink/eat with everyone they’d go to the activity.

  94. Sara M*

    My husband works in startups so it’s kind of a different world. That said, the great holiday parties are usually at a cool restaurant. We did Shanghai 1930 which was a history-based Chinese dinner and music and ambience. The place was amazing. Food was stellar. Open bar. Optional attendance, spouses/partners/dates welcome. Poly people could bring two partners if they asked. All around amazing.

    We also did a Mexican place (free-flowing margaritas!)

    Super good times.

  95. Nicki Name*

    If you’re going to have alcohol at your party, make sure your non-alcoholic options are just as varied and interesting. Lots more adults don’t drink than you probably realize, and even some of those who do won’t want to in a work-related setting.

    If there’s music, don’t make it too loud to have a conversation, or else make sure there’s a space where people can get away from the music.

    1. Allison*

      Right, people are going to want to talk at the company party, and depending on the size there’s probably a lot of “I’m Ted, I work in accounting, what do you do?” “I do research for the-” “WHAAAAAAAAAT????”

  96. Millenial*

    To be fair I work for a large, well-funded company.

    My favorite holiday party they threw for us was a tacky sweater party at Dave and Busters. It was after work of course, but they offered transportation to the venue. They were able to rent the entire space, and there was a buffet and open bar, and we each got a game card with so many tokens and arcade game play, and we were able to bring a guest. So you could go play games if you wanted, but you could also just hang out and eat and drink. With all the games available and being able to bring your spouse or partner, people were able to let loose and relax, rather than stand around talking about work.

  97. Enginerd*

    The Willy Wonka room was always popular. One of my previous companies would fill a conference room with sweets including a big chocolate fountain in the middle with a small path to walk through and play the old Gene Wilder charlie and the chocolate factory on repeat. Big chocolate fountain in the middle and displays piled almost to the ceiling.

    We had a casino theme one year with fake money and you could cash in at the end for raffle tickets. The tickets were used for some pretty big prizes the first year (ipads, TVs, Wii) but people were upset when they ended up having to pay for half of it due to bonus taxes. The following year all prizes were $50 gift cards because that’s the limit without having to declare it for taxes.

    Had a party at Dave and Busters one year but that really only worked because it was a small group of us all on extended work travel. There were maybe 15 of us in the same customer location for 6 months so a director flew out and setup the party. Open bar and a stack of game cards for everyone, the downside was that we worked 7 days a week out there so we all had to work the next day.

    My current employer charges “admission.” To enter the party each employee must donate a toy to the company toy drive. There’s no price limit or minimum amount so its interesting to see what people donate. It all stays in the local community which is always a plus.

    1. Paige*

      My previous employer did the toy drive thing, and it was a lot of fun. Our grandboss would always choose the “coolest toy” and whoever had donated it got to be first in line for the buffet(if they wanted).

  98. DNDL*

    I work in a public library, and every December we throw a Holiday Open House. I’m given a smallish budget by our Friends Group, and I use the money to purchase food from local businesses. I really try to stretch my dollar to buy as much food as possible, and we always have a huge spread. The businesses give me discounts in exchange for publicity. I get samosas from the Indian restaurant, taquitos from the Mexican place, pork sliders from the BBQ store, pizza from the local pizzeria, etc. We put together a respectable spread for around ~$800, and typically manage to feed around ~300 people. We provide hot seasonal beverages (no alcohol). Then, the band a staff member’s husband put together comes and takes over our adult space and plays instrumental music (not necessarily Christmas music). We also put a kid’s movie on in our meeting room. We decorate the library with Christmas lights, a tree, streamers, a menorah, and a few other nondenominational winter holiday things. We invite the entire community, and library operations cease for the evening. Staff members clamor to work that night because of how nice and relaxing the festivities are, and how delicious the food spread is.

    Privately, the staff may order lunch one day and do secret santa ($10 limit). Usually our manager gives us a homemade little gift. Last year he gave us each a tiny jar of his homemade pimento cheese.

    I think we do it up right for the holidays, but our situation is somewhat unique since we include the public.

  99. Morgan*

    I really like what my current company does because it’s very low key, during the work day, and optional for employees.

    We do a simple breakfast at a local place (granted, we’re small, so there’s only about 40 of us) and it’s just lovely. It’s a nice way to start the day, it’s very casual, there aren’t a lot of forced activities, and people truly seem to enjoy it. We do have an ugly sweater contest that is completely optional (usually about 1/3-1/2 participate) and everyone gets to vote on the sweaters for different awards. People always seem really engaged and enjoy the parade of silly sweaters. Then we have a few prizes to give out (we’re a nonprofit and do a lot of advertising with local media so they often give us tickets to local events, random swag, etc.). Overall it’s just a nice time for people to chat and relax with colleagues.

    We in HR do our best to not use the word Christmas, but it’s obviously Christmas…that’s probably my only complaint about the event. But I also think it’s hard to avoid Christmas in the US, so as long as there’s nothing overtly religious and it’s not a forced attendance event, it’s not too terrible. This will actually be our first year with someone on the team who doesn’t celebrate due to religious reasons, so I’m hoping we’re very sensitive to her decisions and make it as comfortable for her as possible to choose whether or not she attends.

  100. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Best holiday party I ever attended was a potluck at a co-worker’s very large house. It started at noon and, I hear, ended way past midnight. There were no party games, thank goodness. The house wasn’t festooned with decorations beyond a Christmas tree so we didn’t have an in-your-face holiday party, which was a relief even for those who celebrate holidays.

    Our team of 20 ate, listened to music, ate, laughed, ate, danced, ate, had some wine, ate, talked, ate, and maybe snacked a little. Better than any of the impressive catered events I attended in the 80s, hands down.

  101. HailRobonia*

    Last year my office of about 20 people did a “paint night” event in the afternoon (you know those things with an instructor leading the group in copying a painting). We did a winter landscape scene, it was lots of fun but would be hard to do a larger group.

  102. Observer*

    Some of the activities for the kids can be scaled up for adults very easily. It won’t get you out of a loud room, but they will keep you from needing to talk for 3 hours. Certainly the Movie – if you get one that works for both kids and adults that’s doubly true. But even things like a craft table – you can have different levels of difficulty etc.

  103. LGC*

    A lot of people have covered the basics, but:

    -For the second LW, it reads as if their company has activities for kids because kids get bored. I don’t know if they necessarily need to add on activities specific to adults or if they can just…you know, let adults watch the movies if they so choose.

    -For the first LW, VEER FAR AWAY FROM GROUP ACTIVITIES. As a lot of people noted, activities work best when they’re opt-in instead of being opt-out (either explicitly or implicitly).

    For both: One of my favorite events from my company’s holiday parties was a photo booth – which, now that I think about it, I need to ask HR if they can bring that back this year. LW1 can do a low-rent one since the majority of people have decent-quality cameras in their pockets. Just get together some props. (You can even get a Polaroid camera – I looked on Amazon and found the white on on sale for $70. Link in username.)

    For LW2’s party, since it sounds like a fairly large production, they might consider renting one – that’ll be more expensive, but probably more efficient than a DIY.

    Another thing I’d personally enjoy is having a board games area (with simple-ish games – Catan/Carcassone would be the top level of complexity I’d go for, because you don’t want to spend hours going over rules). This might work better for a longer party – in LW1’s case, if it’s just an hour in the middle of the day, then there’s probably less of a need to fill time. (I haven’t experienced that at my company’s parties, but it’s definitely a suggestion! And board games are becoming more culturally acceptable for adults – I did just namedrop Catan and Carcassone, after all.)

    (Also, I should probably address Cards Against Humanity and similar games. While I personally enjoy it and have the first two expansion sets, it is most definitely not work-appropriate in most situations. Unless you’re okay with your CEO saying, “A bigger, blacker dick.”)

    1. Autumnheart*

      I’ve played Cards Against Humanity several times and it’s been a riot, but as the current political situation has developed, I’ve become uncomfortably aware how much of the humor depends on “punching down” and being an edgelord about truly tragic situations. I’d avoid bringing that game into the workplace for that reason, entirely aside from the issue of profanity. A holiday celebration where you play a game making jokes about slavery, mass murder, etc. when we actually have ethnic minorities being imprisoned and massacred as a result of inflammatory government rhetoric and policy, seems very tone-deaf (understatement of the year).

      I fully support the idea of CAH when it becomes funny again because those scenarios have once again become ridiculous, but this is not such a time.

      1. LGC*

        Even outside of our current political moment, I’m totally behind that reasoning. Part of the “fun” of CAH is that it’s gleefully vulgar and touches on hot-button issues, and that’s something I’d rather shy away from for company functions. I did use a profane example, but there are examples that mock sensitive issues, like religion and politics (I mean, I created “Chris Christie in a Speedo” as a custom card). Actually, even the example I used plays off of a racial stereotype – that black men…err…have notably large genitalia.

        (I wouldn’t categorically call it unfunny, though! I mean, I don’t find it as funny anymore, but that’s because it’s old to me – but I tend to deal with trauma through black humor.)

    2. LW #1*

      I’ll definitely be pushing hard for no-pressure, opt-in activities! From the comments above, I have a small list that includes puzzles, Jenga, coloring pages, and a paper snowflake station. I might add Codenames to the mix because it’s always popular and really great for drop-in/drop-out.

      And yes, please skip CAH! It’s deliberately built around being as offensive and as “politically incorrect” as possible and is not a safe choice for work events.

  104. Anon From Here*

    This year our event is at a local brewpub. Plus-ones are welcome, but kids kind of aren’t. (There is a separate gathering for families on a different day because the office overlooks the route of the town’s holiday parade.) Tickets are under $20 for unlimited appetizer type foods and soft drinks; alcohol is on our own dime. I understand that this is in reaction to previous open bars, in a “this is why we can’t have nice things” kind of way. Mr. Anon From Here and I often go out for a light dinner and drinks on a Friday night, so the party will actually be below our usual Friday night budget.

    Coolest part: the company is comping taxi rides home for anyone who wants/needs it. This is part of what our ticket price is covering. I think it’s an excellent idea.

  105. Polymer Phil*

    My favorite company Christmas party was a potluck at lunchtime on a Friday in December. We actually organized it on our own after the traditional offsite company Christmas party fell victim to changing times; it was not an official company event. There was always a huge variety of food options, so pretty much anyone with dietary restrictions could find something to eat.

    Worst: the company that made second shift workers return to work and clock back in from 9 to 11:30 PM after the offsite company Christmas party ended. No one actually did any work, and many were buzzed from drinking all evening. They just clocked in and sat until 11:30. That company was fodder for a Dilbert strip.

  106. Ms MicroManaged*

    If you have a huge budget, then do something that will make people want to go on their personal time. Casino night, big prizes, amazing food, etc. Sometimes doing this in January – after all the holiday craziness has died down- can make it more fun.

    My current dept is small and no budget (except for the generous Director who springs for lunch out of his own pocket) and we have done Minute to Win it games, white elephant and most fun – Zombie Tag! Our office is in a residence hall, and once the students leave it’s like a ghost town and it was lots of fun to run around the building playing tag. One person is not very mobile, so he was always a gate keeper or some other roll where he could partake, but not worry about not being very physically active. It worked for us – but we are a bunch of geeks, it might not be for everybody.

  107. Boredatwork*

    My favorite was my department would all take a three hour lunch (at a nice restaurant, paid for by the company). We played dirty santa – with $15 gifts – everyone had a good time. Participation was 100% voluntary.

    My current job does a cocktail/formal attire, sit down dinner, with “optional” dancing afterwards, on a Saturday, in a part of town far from the office (30 mins), terrible parking and traffic. They are not very accommodating to dietary restrictions. You will be asked why you didn’t attend on Monday.

  108. AtheistReader*

    I’ll be honest, as an atheist, I’d prefer holiday parties that center around a secular holiday. So throw a holiday in January and say you’re celebrating the New Year or something. Or an end of year party if you want to do it in December! Perfect.

    I celebrate Christmas because I was raised Christian and think it’s fun, but I REALLY don’t want to deal with anything of religious connotations at work. Because the reality is, people judge atheists, and I want to avoid religious talk at work as much as possible. Not to mention all the non-Christian people in the world, and holiday parties so rarely acknowledge those holidays as much as Christmas even if they’re in the same season.

  109. Bunnies!*

    I’ve been to a couple of holiday work parties that were held in museums – one in a science museum, another in an art museum. They were great because if you needed some quiet time, you could go off and explore! And, of course, an open bar always helps.

  110. Former Retail Lifer*

    We have several sites in and around our city, so we pick one each year and have the party there. It used to be done after hours so I never went, but last year we closed down early and had it during office hours so I attended. Attendance is pretty much mandatory but you can leave whenever you want to. Everyone is encouraged to bring something for a potluck but it’s not mandatory and enough people always bring food so there’s plenty to go around. As a vegetarian with a severe dairy allergy, potlucks aren’t my thing because I can never eat anything, but it works for everyone else. There’s always a fair amount of free alcohol, and we raffle off prizes (I got a Furbo dog camera last year; there were also restaurant gift certificates, a big screen TV, an Apple Watch, a Google Home device, and some other cool stuff). I definitely wouldn’t pay to attend or attend after hours, but it’s an enjoyable time when we get to leave work early.

    1. Batshua*

      The good thing about a potluck for me (I keep kosher) is that I can bring something I know *I* can eat. I always make myself a vegetarian lasagna for work potlucks so that I know I won’t be hungry during the party.

  111. twig*

    At my old job at a high-end housing development, our Holiday parties were almost an indicator of the economy (I was there for the end of the housing boom through the 2008 economic crash). In the beginning, when the company was flush, we had TWO holiday parties: one during the workday just for employees (see #1 below) and one after hours at some point that we could bring SO’s to. (the evening parties with SO’s were kind of boring)

    My favorite, even when I wasn’t particularly close to any of my coworkers was this:
    1. The company would “adopt” 4-5 low income families (I think it was through some sort of local program?) that we’d get wish lists for and we’d all split into 4-5 teams (one team per family) and go to Target and go Christmas shopping for them on the company dime. (the last year that we did this, 2008, we were given a spending cap for this by the company, but our CEO paid out of his pocket for any team that went over the spending cap). Then we’d go out to lunch and have a white elephant* yankee swap gift exchange. I usually spent the afternoon, when we got back to the office, wrapping all of the gifts (I like gift wrapping, so this is was fun for me).

    *By White Elephant, I mean “a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.” or otherwise weird. (top white elephant gifts included: a Jock Strap (new! not used!!), a bowling pin, a textbook from the l. ron hubbard school of business management.

  112. Nancy*

    My workplace has a really great holiday party every Winter! I work as a lecturer and writing consultant at a university center for writing, and I generally consider my workplace to be very functional and collegial– we all generally love working together! But we’re often busy doing our independent initiatives within the center, and as the semester progresses, opportunities for more substantive conversation wane. We have a couple unit-wide meetings a month, but beyond that and lingering in each other’s doorways to catch up occasionally, we’re all busy teaching, doing writing workshops, and whatever else.

    The holiday party is usually the Wednesday after classes end, for a couple hours in the afternoon. It is hosted at our director’s house, and there’s a whole catered spread as well as many drink options. It usually has great attendance, but it’s not mandatory attendance. While lecturers have to find their own way there, the staff are able to rent a van and go out all together, which means they can bring the student workers who work our reception area with them. It’s a really nice time to catch up, tell stories from our semester, talk about holiday plans, and just generally have a good time. The director also makes homemade jam, and on our way out, we each get a little jar of it.

    We do the same kind of party at the end of the Spring semester as well.

    This will, sadly, be the last year of all that– our director is on her way out after an 11 year commitment, and we’ll have a new, as of yet unknown, director next year.

  113. Accreditation Org Assistant*

    I work in a small office (there are 16 of us total and 4 telework and 1 is on extended medical leave).
    Our Holiday things are in 2 parts
    Part 1 (usually the week after Thanksgiving) is decorating the office – we start around 3, have snacks, and hot cocoa/coffee and some alcoholic additions and spend about 45 minutes decorating and then get to leave for the day (90% of our decorations are red & black/animal themed because those are our colors and I work for an accreditation organization with vets).
    Part 2 is a lunch usually 2 weeks later – all staff who want to come in and significant others – we go to a nice restaurant and have an open bar – full tab is picked up by the organization and we get dismissed following – usually around 2pm on a Friday so it works out for everyone.

  114. Claire*

    We are a professional services firm of a lot of extroverts. I love our Christmas party because:
    1. Held Friday night after a full day offsite professional development day with catered breakfast and lunch. We all leave early to get ready and come back that night for a great party.
    2. Lots of food, lots of variety, dietary restrictions considered.
    3. Open bar but also non-alcoholic.
    4. A few service and spirit awards are given out but it isn’t over the top.
    5. A few silly activities that are totally opt-in.
    6. Strict ‘no photos’ rule – what happens there should not be shared on social media.
    7. Taxi chits provided to get you to the venue and to take you home at the end of the night (safety first).
    8. Bring a +1 if you want to. Mostly it’s spouses/partners but sometimes it’s a child or friend.
    9. Can leave at any time, no pressure to stay late.
    10. Anyone on leave (maternity etc) is invited.
    11. Big bosses leave early so the rest can party without worrying about the partners seeing them!

    I am very grateful for the effort and money the firm puts in to doing this, as well as grateful for the day of planned professional development and team building activites. Not every company treats their employees this well.

  115. Observer*

    I want to highlight the advice to avoid Potluck.

    Any food you serve gets catered by the company. There are a lot of good reasons for this, but one that I haven’t seen mentioned (Sorry if I missed anything) is that this way you know what you are / are not accommodating. If someone asks about more well known allergies you would probably know on the spot, and for more “obscure” ones, you have some way to find out.

  116. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Saw this in previous threads – other years, etc.


    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      To elaborate – often there are people on off-shifts, people not working in the office all the time, people working at home, people assigned to an office but traveling most of the time — and contract workers who may not be employees but certainly are a critical part of the team/office.

      I know, I know , “Ya but they’re not really EMPLOYEES”… excluding ANYONE can be a morale-breaker.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        I think you can do your best with most of the groups you mentioned, but you’re probably not going to get everyone.

        For Contractors specifically though, I could be wrong, but there is some legal consideration there.

  117. SooperSecretMe*

    I wanted to add some ideas for a smaller department sized holiday do…

    We’ve had success with the following:
    -Free lunch is the obvious first step -Not optional I’m mean, suck it up and eat and chat with your coworkers. It’s an hour out of your day that you are getting paid for (if you want to take another lunch after the team one, go for it)

    During the free lunch-
    -Ugly Sweater Contest -Optional
    -Toy Donation – Team members get paired up and buys a toy that they think their partner would like now as an adult or would have liked as a child – Optional
    -Yankee Swap – I bought all the gifts they ranged from silly to useful all in the same price range – Not Optional

    I’m low on time this year so I may do the Yankee Swap again unless I come up with a better idea.

    1. SooperSecretMe*

      For the Toy one… all the toys were donated after the lunch. I didn’t make that very clear.

  118. swingbattabatta*

    I love our holiday party – we have it at a local restaurant (usually in a steakhouse), in a private room. No seated dinner (so you aren’t stuck), but TONS of really great food and open bar. The restaurants are always festive, but no specific holiday decorations, and plus ones are invited. We usually have it on a Thurs or Fri, and it starts an hour or two before we usually close, so people can have a shorter work day and come for as long as they like. If your plus one can’t get out early, you can stay and partake of the goodies until they get there, since it isn’t in the middle of the day.

    Children do not attend, no events/activities besides a quick speech from the CEO thanking everyone for their hard work, and there is zero pressure to stay long.

    That being said, we are a small company (20-25), and with plus ones, it is a decent sized party (people bring spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, family members, etc), and most of us typically like socializing with each other.

  119. AFields*

    We had a company Holiday Party where we went to “Tony & Tina’s wedding.” It’s one of those interactive plays where the audience was part of this big gaudy Italian wedding. In fact food was the tacky Italian Buffet with sneeze guards and bowling pins on top, right in line with actors arguing and gossiping about the groom’s old dad and his ” 20 something year old bimbo girlfriend. ” They were even in character in the bathroom where ex and the girlfriend traded insults.
    Best part was stodgy C Level male colleagues dancing with bridesmaids and the girlfriend. It was fun with a bigger group because you knew most of the audience being drawn into the show.
    They also did a murder mystery dinner, too, another year. Not as fun IMHO, but still you could be as involved as you were comfortable with.

  120. MechanicalPencil*

    In a smattering of holiday parties:

    A department-wide party held at the department head’s house. Had a homemade pizza made by her husband. Brought cookies for a cookie swap. Games scattered throughout the house. Super low key, low pressure. Come and go. Just take some cookies with you so she’s not left with them all. She and her husband were very adamant about making sure we were all fed and happy. Probably comes from being mostly hourly employees. I think there was some wine scattered about, but mostly sodas. Just bring yourself, no plus one. This was a Friday night deal, after hours.

    Bring yourself to the lunch held during work hours. We voted on the restaurant each year. A few times it was a family-style thing where we didn’t get to pick our food. I think once it was order your own food. Just a big family dinner situation. Low key, no gifts or games or anything special.

    Enormous party. Black tie optional. Clearly not during work hours. Open bar that became a cash bar after 10 or 11. CEO made brief remarks, otherwise just mingling with coworkers/other employees. Buffet style food. Dancing to mostly top 40 and a smattering of Christmas music. Quite loud and warm. Departed early with my plus 1 for quieter, cooler space. Not that fun for me since I didn’t know that many people and my table wasn’t that talkative. Don’t think I’ll go this year.

  121. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    My husbands previous company did holiday parties right.

    One year: A massive, circus-themed party (with like 5000 attendees). Tightrope walkers, giant puppets, a magic show (for adults), a fun step-and-repeat for photos, different bands in different parts of the building, a kids area, various other activities. The only (big) downside was that the food was really lacking — just like popcorn and cookies. No alcohol by company policy (a previous exec had literally died driving home drunk after a previous holiday party years ago; temperance was a company value at that point). On a Friday evening, spouses and kids invited, totally optional.

    Another year: they rented out a movie theater for a week and everyone signed up for the (current, first-run) movies they wanted to go to. Teams went together in the middle of the week, parents brought their kids on the weekends, etc. Movie theater drinks and snacks were free and they set up a “papparazzi” line as you came in so everyone got fun photos to take home. All guests were welcome.

    Me, I work for non profits. The closest thing I’ve seen to a holiday party is the one year my boss took his three direct reports out for pizza over lunch.

    1. Clisby Williams*

      I can imagine that would appeal to some people. To me, it sounds awful. I hope it was entirely optional.

  122. Lily Evans*

    Hold it during work hours. Have a lot of food and a good variety and have it catered. Potlucks can be okay if they’re planned out well so that all the bases are covered and you don’t end up with 12 people who made cookies. But they’re also hard if people have allergies or other dietary restrictions and honestly I’ve worked with people who I just don’t trust to keep a clean kitchen. I also watched my previous roomie make potluck foods and she never washed her hands, so unless I trust the person who made something, I don’t eat it.

    Also have it in a space that’s big enough for people to mill around. There’s nothing worse than being trapped in a too-warm over-crowded space with coworkers you don’t know very well. Make at least a tiny effort to have some ambiance. A few paper snowflakes and some quiet background music really do make a difference. If it’s a big office and there are people who interact very rarely consider providing name tags if people don’t already wear them to help cut the awkwardness of forgetting someone’s name who you only see every six months.

    Consider having an activity scheduled. One place I worked had holiday themed trivia that they did every year and people got really into it. There were a few small prizes and it was a lot of fun.

  123. Ella*

    The best Christmas parties my office ever had were when they stopped work around 2 or 3 on a Friday, drove us to a nearby bowling alley, and gave us a bunch of pitchers of beer and pizza. It was low pressure, you could chose to just sit and eat pizza if you didn’t actually like bowling, and you could leave whenever you wanted, so no one was stuck there after work hours (though a lot of people chose to stay later and go out to a bar afterwards.)

  124. Weyrwoman*

    I’ve been to four truly amazing office holiday/xmas parties. Once because I was dating the employee, and the others because I was employed. The date was for a now-huge video game company, and their party had game art on display, blackjack tables where we could play with funnymoney (to be later used as raffle entries for a variety of prizes), and an open bar.

    When I was at OldJob, the parties were mindblowing. First year, it was in a brewery, so again open bar. Catered food that was nice, but in tapas-sized portions so you could try everything. The only activity was dancing. Second year was much the same. Last year the company had nearly doubled in active employee size, so the party was at a concert venue and Art Deco themed. Same concept, except what really stood out was the massive company name on the stage in old-timey lighted letters.

    So basically, I think, the formula is this: Optional + No Cover Charge + good music + good food

  125. Faith*

    I used to work for a very large company that threw a huge Christmas party that was open to all coworkers and their families. Their offices occupied multiple floors, so one of the nice things that they did was to have one floor reserved as “family friendly” – it had Santa Clause, kid-friendly foods, no alcohol, etc. Another floor was “adults only”, for those that wanted to escape any type of socialization with the little one. That floor had the large bar, the dance floor, and the type of food and decorations that were best kept away from children. The other floors were open to everyone, so people that had older kids that didn’t need that much supervision did not have to be stuck on the kids floor. Obviously, this solution is not feasible for every office, but it was nice to have all the options.

  126. JustaTech*

    My work has done several after-hours off-site holiday parties, and the ones that were the most fun, and best received (and attended) were at locations that were interesting all by themselves. One was at a local history museum and one was at the aquarium. Both locations gave employees and their +1s a chance to see cool stuff, and something to do other than talk to your coworkers.
    (Actually, now that I think about it, I’ve been to a lot of holiday parties at museums. Having something to look at and talk about other than work really helps if you have a really big group where people don’t know each other, or where there’s a big age range of employees, where not everyone wants to be dancing.)
    Obviously that’s not going to be in everyone’s budget, but I was surprised how affordable the aquarium was (given we got a late start planning, though we did have to have our party on a Tuesday).

  127. CupcakeCounter*

    My favorite has always been the bowling alley – company rents out the place for the afternoon in fairly early December. Unlimited bowling and pizza for 2 hours then you go home.

    Second best is my current company. Not really a party but we call it Food Day. Everyone at HQ (250-300ish people) all bring a dish to pass and it is set up in the largest meeting room all day. No organized events or anything just lots of great food and very low expectation of a productive work day since you are wandering around half the day stuffing your face with a third helping of the cake batter chex mix. Wear elastic waistbands that day.

  128. Tavie*

    -Lots of food/variety of food
    -Open bar
    -Raffle off prizes and make those prizes include PTO days
    -As swanky a location as you can manage
    -Non-mandatory and don’t make it specifically about “Christmas”, make it generic “holiday”

  129. dreamingofthebeach*

    My current gig (1.5 years), we have holiday luncheon (meats, main veggies catered in and rest is pot luck), Santa is always present,little to no activities [we have had the money machine (blows air up and swirls money around) with cash, certificates and coupons for PTO days] but mostly just friendly relax time (most of my employees have been with company in excess of 15 years – some over 40!), very little business discussed – mainly just the president thanks everyone – covering highlights of the year, giveaways given out (bonuses, awards, shopping gift cards, gas cards, etc), and then 1/2 day off. Separately sometime between Thxgiving and Christmas, there is an organized lunch (bring your own) with a cheesy holdiay movie shown and ugly sweaters worn. The movie gets about 30 attendees throughout the showing (come in and go as they please)…the luncheon gets 150 – everyone practically shows up to it.

    The pot luck and Santa’s visit were existing before I arrived, and the spirit committee and employees all want both of them at the luncheon — beyond that, they have been surveyed and don’t care…just don’t touch that tradition :)

  130. Thus Spake Zaso*

    We’re a nonprofit, and we open up our staff party to our wider community (volunteers, donors, boosters). What tends to happen is that people who really like what we do or who just want to commune with like-minded people stop by with food, and this leads staff members to feel warmly appreciated. Add that to the holiday cookies that one member of our leadership team bakes for everybody to take home with them, and the overall vibe, while very low-key, tends to be warm and fuzzy. No blow-outs but no blow-ups either. No drama of any kind. Just people being kind and generous to each other.

  131. Duchess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Invite alumni. It gives staff someone to talk to besides the people they see every day, and there are built-in conversation topics–how’s your new job/how are things back here?–which minimizes awkward silences.

  132. Turnturn*

    As an introvert in a very extroverted office I was surprised by how much I enjoyed last years holiday party. It was a low key dinner at a country club nearby during the day. There were activities but they weren’t forced or awkward to sit out of – a door raffle, a couple games like “guess the number of marbles” and some speeches from the exec and planning committees. It was a sit down dinner but there was room to walk around and mingle if you liked. Had a little bit of everything
    Wasn’t really optional tho which is the only thing I would change. You had to take pto if you didn’t go.

  133. Sad Astros Fan*

    1. Make it optional
    2. If you do it during the work day (say, as a lunch) you won’t have to have spouses/partners. That’s either a plus or a minus, depending upon how you look at it.
    3. If you do “activities,” be sure they are optional. Not everyone wants to wear a Santa hat in a photo to put on Twitter.
    4. Make sure all dietary needs are met.
    5. The best “gift” a company can give is letting people leave from work early. Meaning, have the party at 12 noon, let everyone leave for home by 2:30pm.

  134. Bagpuss*

    I think one thing you have to do is ensure that you are clear about what the party includes in the way open bar or not, any transport provided etc. .

    In my first job, none of this was explained (I guess they assumed everyone knew, as the deal was the same every year) The first year I went I didn’t know this and, and got quite stressed about whether I was going to be able to afford even soft drinks in a fairly price hotel bar, and (when a colleague offered to get me a drink) whether I was going to be expected to buy a round, and if I could afford it.

    My current firm used to do an evening party,normally on a Friday. We paid for taxis for anyone who wanted transport, so no one had to worry about public transport late at night, or arranging lifts or staying sober. We would typically have a 3 course meal, and an open bar. We didn’t usually organise separate events but would often go somewhere that had music so you got a meal in a side room, then you could go onto the dance floor if you wanted, or stay in the side room and chat if you didn’t.

    In recent years we have had to scale things down but what we do now is give the social committee a per-head budget and let them decide. I think this year, one of our three offices is planning to go out for lunch one day, another is going out in the evening for a meal at a bar with music and karaoke, and the third is planning to order in pizza and cake (and may, depending on mood, either also have some wine or beer, or put any surplus money into the doughnut-and-bacon-sandwiches-fund for future use)

    I think that giving people the flexibility to leave when they want to is good, and also ensuring that if you plan activities they are genuinely optional, including making sure that there is no peer pressure or bullying on the day.

  135. LadyByTheLake*

    I had two companies that had great holiday parties that everyone enjoyed, and now that I think about it — they were pretty much identical:
    1. They were lunch on a Friday
    2. At a nice hotel
    3. Lots of food choices (buffets/salad bar/dessert bar)
    4. Moderate alcohol and also non-alcoholic beverages available
    5. Attendance optional (but people liked them and most people came)
    6. Rest of the day off/office closed

  136. Short Time Lurker Komo*

    Just adding a vote to the crowd!

    I enjoy how the local office of my company does holiday parties, and this is what we do:

    Everything is optional.
    Our guy decorates starting after Thanksgiving for Christmas/winter. He puts up a big Christmas tree in the foyer and puts up (what I see as) non-religious decorations for the holidays.

    Individual departments will take their peeps out to a nice lunch and generally let them cut out early from there.

    We also have a day in the office with:
    Potluck food for grazing
    Several different games throughout the day
    Hourly cash prizes
    A stealing gift game that runs alongside the other games instead of a Secret Santa. I saw some commenters call this a Yankee something on older threads – everyone who wants to spends up to $30 and puts a present under the tree. Everyone particpating draws a number to get an order, and on your turn you can open or steal. A present can be stolen up to 3 times before being locked. The first person then gets the choice at the end to either keep or steal from the available presents. Everyone walks away with a gift. We generally run 40-50 people participating in this, so this event can run most of the day, especially as steals start getting strategic!
    Department/group contests for decorations that earn us bragging rights and a week of causal wear (business causal dress code usually) – judges are a department that’s not on site nor connected to any department directly in our building

    Last year, they also started doing an optional party at one of the local nice restaurants with finger foods, more prizes, and little games. That one is more a social gathering outside of business hours.

  137. The Other Dawn*

    I enjoyed the parties we had at my current company.

    The first two years I was there the whole department (about 40 people) went to a hibachi place. It was optional, after working hours, fully paid-for unless you wanted something other than the free sake and beer, and it revolved around food. People could leave when they were done eating, or hang around for a bit. And there was always a small core group that went to a bar afterwards. I liked that it was after hours because that made it feel much more optional. Had it been done during the day, I think some people might have felt as though they had to go.

    The last two years it was at a bowling alley that also had lots of other games, a restaurant and a bar. It was after hours, fully paid-for (two free drinks, food and bowling), buffet-style, and it was a set amount of time. I think it was like 6 pm-9 pm. Again, people could hang out longer and some would hit a bar later. People wandered around playing the other games if they didn’t want to bowl, or just talked. It was fun, but the food wasn’t great. That’s really my only gripe about that location.

    What I liked most about these parties (other than hibachi!) was that no one ever pressured anyone into going; it was truly optional.

    Even though these parties were good, I’d prefer either lunch out at a nice place, or a catered meal during working hours. Not because I can’t be bothered to attend something after work or because I’m an introvert (I am!), but it’s just nice to have that break during the day and then be able to wander around for a bit, maybe go back and work a little, and then hit up the desserts (or leftovers) later in the day. It just feels like a nice easy day. I really like the idea of a holiday movie or movies. I like watching movies, so that would be a nice break, too.

  138. Lab Spouse*

    My wife’s company (a small business) holds a great holiday party. Here are the components:

    – It is held at a nice restaurant with passed appetizers and a sit down dinner and they do not skimp on the food.
    – Open bar…I don’t partake, but I find it entertaining to people watch when alcohol is flowing!
    – No speeches, other than the owner briefly thanking everyone for their hard work.
    – Yankee Swap, spending limit of $20 and spouses can contribute their own gift (and get one in return) or couples can contribute a gift together. It’s always a fun mix of nice gifts that everyone would want and novelties.
    – Christmas crackers and other party favors provided by the owner.
    – KEY: The party is truly optional. Because of the food/drink planning, they need to know ahead of time if you will be coming, but people have skipped it in the past with no repercussions or pressure.

  139. S*

    For OP #2 who wanted options for adults, my company has a heavy emphasis on volunteering, and one of the most popular (and fun) events is when we all go to a conference room to make cards, which then go to Meals on Wheels to be delivered along with meals. So, maybe you could have an ancillary room where there are card-making materials, so people can have something quiet to do – and add a feel-good volunteering element to your party!

    Oh, another holiday party idea: give out “awards.” This is a low-cost way to generate a lot of goodwill. Categories can be silly, the vibe can be light, but I tell you I’ve never forgotten getting a “Pulitzer” for my department newsletter!

  140. Proofin' Amy*

    Here’s something to consider when planning the time of a holiday party: How many contract/temp workers do you have? Do you plan to invite them? It definitely feels terrible to be left out to hold the fort while everyone else is partying in the afternoon, but if you shut down the office during the day, they’re missing out on a paycheck. I spent several years as a freelancer, and holiday party time was sometimes good, and sometimes really, really awkward.

  141. Pop*

    Last year, due to a maternity leave, a PT employee, a layoff, and a new employee not starting yet, our six-person office was down to two people for our holiday party. My boss and I left at 10:30 AM to go to a matinee showing of I, Tonya, and went home after. It was great.

  142. Yay commenting on AAM!*

    One thing I’d recommend for an office Holiday Party is making sure everyone can attend. I worked for a community fitness center, so frequently they’d do a fitness activity as the holiday party. Which was fun, but:
    1. A lot of people who worked for our organization had non-fitness (office staff) or lite-fitness (senior citizens who taught arthritis or chair-exercise classes) roles. So when the holiday party was rollerskating, a lot of them were inherently excluded, because many of them could not risk falling.
    2. The Christmas party was usually from 8-10 pm on a Friday. The staff working Friday night did not get to leave their shift until 8:30 or 8:45, and frequently ended up missing the party, which caused resentment. One year the party was an after-hours pool party, which meant that not only could the pool staff not attend the party, they were expected to work outside normal staff hours, which caused even more resentment.

  143. kelly white*

    I think my company does it right- we are very small (about 25 people), and tables are set up in the production area, my bosses have it catered with really good food (and tons of it), we get a bottle of wine at the end of the lunch and can go home early. I’m salaried, but I’m pretty sure the hourly folks get paid for their whole shift. Its really nice to eat together, and as a socially awkward introvert, even I enjoy it.

    Oh- and there are always about a million cookies for dessert!

    It’s pretty low-key, and I think the lack of pressure to have forced “fun” is what makes it enjoyable. It’s a nice time to chat with folks you probably don’t normally eat lunch with.

    They usually do a similar event in the summer with a BBQ. Although I don’t think we get let out early after that one.

  144. Lavender*

    My experience with an awesome holiday party was a cooking class! It was fun, interactive, & we all learned something new. Most of all it was fun, even for someone like me who isn’t into cooking in my personal life. Kids over a certain age were welcome to participate too. It was great to work together to create something delicious, and it was also a great conversation topic. Also, another factor is that it was held on a workday, not on a weekend. Thanks!

    1. Traveling Teacher*

      My husband did this once at a former company! He had an amazing time, it was taught by a great chef, and it was something with really interesting flavors that we would never have thought of making on our own.

      And then, best of all, my husband actually made me the meal he made for the class as a surprise the next week, so I got to experience the meal too, even though SOs weren’t invited to the Friday night, after work party. :)

  145. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

    My general opinion of holiday parties is that they should either be FANCY during non-work hours or incredibly low-key during work hours. The best fancy parties I attended included a Casino Night at a hotel (we were given X number of chips going in. I lost horribly so I have no idea if there were prizes or not) and they also always had a prize drawing. That party did actually cost money to attend, but you could either join the “Holiday Club” (which literally just meant you had a couple of bucks deducted from each paycheck) or pay at the door to go.

    The other fancy one I went to…our CEO had friends who were in a fairly popular U2 cover band, so we rented out a concert venue complete with the bars inside and stuff, had a buffet and a popsicle cart (Steel City Pops is my fav). They did open bar for beer and wine for like two or three hours, and that’s one thing I wish they wouldn’t have done because people got plastered, my boss was like one step away from hitting on me (he was leaving the company like a week later, so I think he may have just decided he could do whatever…I’m not at this company any longer, don’t worry). But the band and popsicles were fun.

    For in-office parties…the main thing I can say is to not force games or gift exchanges. I hated having to participate in an office white elephant on years when I wasn’t even buying all of my friends gifts. Just. Why. The one thing I DID like at that company is that they closed the office down early for the party and order decent food and such. It would’ve been sort of cool if there had been the option to just go home instead of stick around for a gift exchange or whatever (one year I did leave early for a medical thing, but does that ACTUALLY count?), but it was low-key enough to not be terrible.

  146. Marketing Extrovert*

    As the marketing director, I once planned a holiday party for a staff of about 30 accountants and other staff where we had a lovely dinner in a restaurant (buffet), and then brought in a comedy improv show. It was interactive, fun, and got them out of their shells a little, but not too intense. We included spouses as well.

  147. Orange You Glad*

    I’m of the mind that the simpler the better. Don’t overthink it and don’t schedule a lot of activities.

    About 5 years ago my company switched over to more of a happy hour party which I think works great for our company. It goes 4-7PM and is always held at the bar on the 1st floor of our office building. Open bar and appetizers, simple. This lets everyone attend during time that is still the work day and doesn’t mess up anyone’s commutes. If anyone needs to leave to catch their normal train at 5:30 or 6, they can without missing out. Some of the younger employees like hanging out later, which is fine too. This option doesn’t mess up anyone’s daily routine at home. I like it because I usually end of getting home earlier than usual since I can generally only stand to chit chat with coworkers for an hour or so.

    My department usually has a separate holiday celebration. There are only 4 of us so we usually go out for a fancy lunch in the city (multi-courses, wine, dessert, etc). This is a great bonus for us since it basically gives us an extended lunch break during a hectic time of year.

  148. Kate*

    Adult coloring is a nice low-key activity for introverts at a party. Perfect for showers so people have something to do during gift-opening, too. And it doesn’t rule out talking.

    1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

      This was a lifesaver during this one Thanksgiving when I was having to do eating disorder treatment. I already don’t like loads and loads of people being close by, plus the whole meal thing doubled the stress. Someone brought some festive turkey coloring pages that she’d designed and they were great.

  149. Ali G*

    I think my husbands place does pretty well. It’s probably not as secular as is should be – but otherwise I enjoy it:
    1. It is after hours (although 5:30 pm is actually still part of a typical work day – nubs is a consultant, so it’s hard to justify taking people away from billable hours)
    2. You can bring as many adults and children as you want – you just have to RSVP.
    3. There are games and paid entertainment (last year a clown) for the kids. I think Santa shows up and gives each kid a toy – they do a good job occupying kids
    4. You get free raffle tickets at the door and they give really good prizes (I got a basket of wine and cheese – like a whole picnic in a basket one year)
    5. It’s totally opt-in – we didn’t go last year because of my husbands travel schedule – he was home but didn’t feel like going after being on the road so much.. It wasn’t even an issue.
    6. Plenty of good food and open bar
    7. Offsite
    8. No speeches, organized games for adults, etc.
    9. You can come and go as you want

  150. AliceBD*

    It was really fun at my previous office. I think the office contributed a little to buy food and then potluck food. DIY decorations with supplies we had around (see why below) We did a Yankee Swap where everyone brought a gift with a $10 limit and you pull numbers and choose a wrapped gift in order etc you’ve probably done it before. And we had an ugly sweater contest which was extra funny because we worked in the craft industry in a fashion-adjacent sector and were the marketing and product development and graphic design people so the contest was the antithesis of what we did day to day. (Also why we had people who could whip up and then use the fancy printer to print out decorations) No alcohol but it was during lunch and no shame if you only wanted food or if you just wanted to hang out at your desk during it.

  151. zora*

    Our satellite office has had a really small team the last two years (5-6 people), so we have just done lunch out at a really nice restaurant. That was my idea of a perfect holiday. We get some time out of the office to get to know each other better, talk about non-work for a couple of hours, and a really delicious meal and wine for free (to me).

    Now we have joined a larger office, and we are still discussing our holiday plans. But I think the key points are:
    1. Free to the employees (the company should be budgeting for these things, even if it’s just a few hundred dollars, you can throw something lowkey but still have a little bit of time away from our desks.
    2. Free includes my time: Just pay people for a normal day whether they attend or not. Good culture benefits your business in the long run, nickel and diming what people are paid for the day is just ridiculous. Our company is mostly exempt, but we are able to put the whole time of our holiday event as ‘Admin’ time on our time sheets and we all get paid.
    3. Nothing overtly Christmas or Christian (or religious)
    4. Just keep it chill! I guess this is a cultural thing, there are places that are really into parties and I guess there it would be best to go all out. But I’ve never worked at those places. Every where I’ve been people have really preferred not having a bunch of “Assignments” ahead of time (planning activities or buying gifts for a gift exchange) At my office we like good food, so just showing up, having a couple of hours to just relax and not be at our desks, and having some good free food and drink, and we are happy. The more elaborate it becomes, the more it feels like work and less like fun!
    5. Set Expectations!! Clearly communicate with people what the plan is, what is/is not expected of them, and how long it will be. I’ve had previous workplaces where people really didn’t know what the plan was until we showed up, and that was awkward. Even if it includes things I don’t enjoy, if I know that ahead of time, I can be prepared to just get through it for an hour or whatever. But surprising people when they show up makes it so much more uncomfortable.

  152. nnn*

    The thing I find most stressful about holiday parties is that they’re all at the same time of year, which adds up to a huge amount of coordination work – having to be at a certain place at a certain time in appropriate outfit with gifts or desserts or whatever I’m required to bring, and having to coordinate my personal grooming/laundry cycle/shopping/food prep around that, and having to coordinate all the rest of my real-life obligations (which don’t stop in December!) around that.

    I had an employer that would address this by not having a party in December at all. Instead, we’d have a thing on the first day of the new fiscal year. End of fiscal was always a ridiculously busy time, but at the beginning of the next fiscal year we could usually breathe a bit.

    At my current job, we do unfortunately have a holiday lunch, but our major event is International [our profession] Day.

    This also has the advantage of the annual teambuilding/socialize with your co-workers party being based on something related to our job, rather than something from a religion that not everyone belongs to that already has a disproportionate cultural impact.

  153. kc89*

    obviously this isn’t good advice but the best work holiday parties I’ve been to are the ones where everyone got wasted and had a very fun very unprofessional time

  154. Silicon Valley Girl*

    I fully admit to being spoiled by big tech company holiday parties. First of all, they typically are held in January & not associated w/actual holidays, it’s a generic ‘end of year / new years’ event. There’s often a DJ or a live band, tons of food & booze, arcade games (pinball, video), raffles, etc. You’re allowed to bring a plus one & fancy dress is encouraged but not required.

    The other kind of holiday party I’m a fan of is the small group one, for a dozen or so coworkers, such as your department, the folks you work with on a regular basis. For these events, a lunch or dinner at a good restaurant may be enough, but I’ve also had activities like cooking classes where you all “learn” to cook the meal together or indoor bocce ball w/food & drink or wine & painting event, etc.

  155. Granny K*

    My favorite kind of holiday team party was when our manager took us to a long lunch at a nice restaurant. It wasn’t during personal time, I didn’t have to dress up/find an outfit and it was under 3 hours.

    If you insist on the evening ‘do’, add some fun elements like a raffle.

  156. Kate*

    My company did a Casino night with black jack tables. They gave everyone $10,000 worth of chips to start with; there was no monetary value to the chips but you could use them to “purchase” additional entries into the door prize raffle. Since there was no real money at stake, the dealers were chill and spent time teaching people how to play and use good strategy. It was the most fun I’ve had at a Christmas party yet.

  157. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

    I work at a non-profit (~50 employees) that serves marginalized populations.
    Our best holidays have included
    — Recognition that Holiday party =/= Christmas party. There are 14 multicultural holidays in December, and we are intentional about being inclusive, which includes checking in with staff every year.
    — Event that starts midday with food, after which staff are free to leave for the day or stay for additional events below. Office usually pays for the main part of the meal (addresses issues with dietary restrictions); staff bring additional potluck items as desired but not required.
    — Some kind of group game, participation optional, brief. Think versions of Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Apples to Apples. We played Charades one year.
    — We usually “adopt” a family or two, and bring food items and gifts from their wish list to wrap at the party. The office chips in a fixed amount per family for larger/more expensive items. No one is pressured to donate.
    — One year we had a huge snowfall, and several folks headed out to the parking lot to have a snowman-making contest and snowball fight, while others stayed warm inside and cheered them on through the window.
    — Our decorating usually consists of playing the fire log video on the big screen TV in the conference room.

    I guess our underlying themes are
    — be low-key
    — do something to celebrate among ourselves
    — do something to help others
    — be respectful and inclusive

    The holiday parties my office throws are a welcome oasis among all the other year-end frantic activity in my life.

  158. Applesauced*

    My favorite holiday party in memory was at a small company, 20-30 people. They rented a few lanes at Chelsea Pier for bowling, then moved into a party room for another hour or two without the bosses.
    We had:
    Late afternoon/early evening start time
    On a Thursday so everyone could attend (we had a few people who needed to leave early on Fridays for religious reasons)
    Plus ones
    Open bar (or several drink tickets – this was a few years ago, and I can’t remember 100%)
    Lots of passed apps to fit dietary needs
    Best part – the big bosses mad a big show of leaving before the party ended so the staff could relax a bit more.

  159. Earthwalker*

    Worst party: 7:00 pm-12:00 pm on a work night, but you had to change into nicer dress than work wear, optional-but-really-mandatory for employee and for spouse. They had competition games (which can be really creepy in a toxically competitive group) and such loud music that the mingling conversation was generally reduced to “What?? Come again??” Best parties: The whole company was invited to a long free holiday lunch nicely catered by the company cafeteria and served by volunteers from the management team. At another company, the cafeteria held a fancy holiday breakfast buffet at a reasonable fixed price. Teams that wanted to do so could get together there and stay as long as they liked, but since it wasn’t a formal party, anyone who wasn’t into it could skip it. And they had a tuba quartet there! The harmony was amazing!

  160. Chaordic One*

    Well, having lots of money for a nice catered lunch or dinner, or to be able to take everyone out for a nice meal really helps. Every place I’ve ever worked always invited any long-term temps they had working for them, like anyone who had been there for the last month or so.

    One thing that helped was that most of my employers either closed for the party and had message on their answering machine, or else they hired a temp (or a couple of temps) to come in and fill in for the receptionists so they could go to the party. (The temps they brought in to fill in only had a one day gig, and they didn’t get invited to the party, but people did bring back cookies for them.)

  161. Will*

    My coworker and I once gave a terrific Holiday Party. We followed Ann Landers’ idea for a gift exchange and I can’t tell you enough how beautiful it was.

    We went around with employee names in a hat and had everybody draw one. That person would then purchase a new still wrapped toy which reminded them of the person she drew. This was cool because it forced people to find out a little more about their coworkers. I didn’t know the guy I drew, so I had to do some digging. Turns out he was a big golfer, so I found a miniature golf set. We all wrapped our present and brought them to the lunch.

    When it came time for the gift exchange, each person would go up to the front, get their present, and give a little speech (e.g., “well I didn’t know much about my Secret Santa, but I found out that they love golf and shot par last week!”) and then hand the present to the person. They’d then unwrap the toy and–it was really nice to watch because everybody began to feel really happy that somebody had thought of them. One woman who loved horses was given a “My Little Pony” playset. One woman was given a board game with a title that referenced an inside joke she had.

    The best part is, we then took all the toys and donated them to Toys for Tots! So not only did we bring the team a bit closer together and got to know one another, not only did nobody feel disappointed or have to go home with something obnoxious or dumb, but we ended up doing something nice for others. It all felt great and very Holiday. We were sincerely thanked later by even the worst Scrooge of the bunch. It made for a refreshing change.

    1. Traveling Teacher*

      How sweet! I think that’s a really nice idea–I’ve received sooo many mugs and chocolates over the years, which is fine but not needed, whereas those toys probably made some kids really happy.

  162. Kat J*

    I’ve organised a few successful office parties for 30-50 people. The best one started at 4pm, with time for people to go home first to change clothes and collect spouses (if they wanted to). We went to a lawn bowls green, got some coaching, played a competition and other silly games, then there was a buffet dinner. The official celebrations ended after dinner (about 8:30pm) so people could choose to go home or move on to another pub.

    Decorations were of the “balloons and silly hats” variety rather than themed or religious. The music was classic pop and rock played over the sound system. People could dress in whatever they felt comfortable with, as they knew what activities were happening.

    It was more of a “pre holiday period celebration”, as we are often super busy in the lead up to Christmas. The only complaints I got were a couple of people who were huffy that their children couldn’t come – everyone else relaxed and had a great time!

  163. sammy_two*

    One year my husband’s holiday party was cancelled/delayed because of bad weather and it was moved from December until January. It. Was. Awesome. In December, it was just one more thing we had to go to/do while rushing around all month. In January, it was fun! Several people commented at the event about how much more relaxed they felt whcih made it more fun. They also have really good raffle prizes for the employees (gift cards, a six pack of good wine) which makes it fun. It’s from 6-8 (two hours is plenty of time to spend with your co-workers outside of the office IMHO) on a weeknight.

  164. SpaceySteph*

    My husband’s work does the best holiday party.
    – They rent out a party room at a local restaurant for dinner.
    – Families are invited and people DO bring their kids. The room is pretty big so the families usually group at a couple tables together (the kids’ tables) and people who don’t like kids sit at other tables so they don’t have to deal with kids.
    – There are a few activities (the white elephant gets pretty crazy) all optional. Also a slideshow of pics of the group from the year.
    – The food is provided (buffet) but you pay for your own drinks, which is a good middle ground if you have low budget (they’re government so they have very low budget) but still want people to enjoy.
    – I think they do it for like 3 hours so people can come early and leave early, come late and stay late, or stay the whole time. Since its buffet you can get food quickly or get it late when you come in.
    I’m not even in the group but I look forward to this party every year. I don’t even go to my own job’s holiday party, which sucks in comparison.

  165. Lore*

    Last year I went to three work holiday parties of different scopes/sizes, all of which worked well:
    1) my department: lunchtime in the “fancy” conference room. Potluck sandwich bar (people brought bread, cheese, cold cuts, condiments, salads, desserts) and the boss bought wine. $10-limit gift grab bag, all gifts to be consumable (ranged from cider gift cards to baked goods to wine). We’re a pretty introverted bunch but we get along and it was low key but nice.
    2. Division level: catered lunch in the big event space in the building (sometimes catered by a restaurant whose cookbook we publish but not always). Wine/beer/one specialty cocktail/soft drinks; candy station for dessert w/take home bags. Head of division invariably dismisses us for the day after the party (usually on a Thursday in mid December).
    3) company wide: usually in January now that we’re so big; often a Thursday with Friday being an officially sponsored volunteer/service day so you can volunteer instead of coming in. Early evening (5-8) with usually an after party for the diehards, hosted and paid by CEO. Plentiful food (passed apps and buffet), open bar with specialty cocktails/mock tails plus the usual array of beverages. Brief welcome speech by CEO early enough in night you can catch that and be home only a bit late. DJ and dancing for those who wish; mingling otherwise. We’re big enough that I almost never see colleagues from other divisions in the regular course of events so it’s nice to chat. I usually travel there w/my team and then we split and regather throughout the night as we run into people we know. Only bad thing is never enough places to sit and eat.

  166. bookends*

    The best work party I’ve ever been to (not a holiday party, but a reception for a national training at my organization) was at a museum. Specifically, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There was a nice catered dinner first. After that, there was karaoke and socializing, or you could stroll around the museum with a drink. There was no pressure for people to do karaoke. It felt like a perfect balance of activities.

  167. PugLife*

    This isn’t directly related, but:

    If you’re planning an office party, and you want to host it at a restaurant, fine! Good! But:
    – Call the restaurant ahead of time. Make a reservation!
    – Discuss if you want a full or a limited menu.
    – Let the restaurant know how checks will be handled (individually or all together, food only, with drinks, etc).
    – Let your office know what they will be expected to pay for so they can plan accordingly
    – Actually bring the number of people you say you will (more or less)

    I work at a restaurant and people show up for meeting and don’t expect to order food (???) or don’t tip because they didn’t know how the costs were being handled, or what have you. A few weeks ago we reserved our private dining space for a business’s 25 people and 6 of them showed up. An entire room, two server sections, and 6 people.

    Basically: No surprises! Restaurants are happy to work with you but you have to let us. Remember that your servers probably make $2 and hour and if they’re responsible for your holiday party, they may not have any regular tables. So TIP. And if your company has a mandated tipping cap (some do), encourage your workers to toss an extra dollar or two down.

    1. Applesauced*

      “Make a reservation” YES – last year we didn’t have an whole-office holiday party, so after the whole-office meeting our department regrouped at a local bar for a holiday toast. Well, no one told the bar that 30 people would be coming in together at 5pm on a Friday night in NYC. We stood around grumbling for a while before an (totally understandably ) exasperated waitress found us a corner and the boss pulled out the corporate card

  168. sara*

    My small company (approx 25 people) have a pretty good set-up:
    – starting at around 3pm on the day of the party, we do a present swap which is quite fun.
    – there’s snacks and drinks and tea/coffee and general merriment
    – once that’s done, people start to get ready to head out to dinner
    – we have a private room at a nearby restaurant, and plus-ones are invited to this part.
    – we eat, the CEO does a short speech, there’s prizes and then we go home.

    Our party ends up on Tuesday the last couple years because it’s way way way cheaper (like 1/5 of the minimum spend vs having on a Friday). Last year, we were a bit under our spend, so they bought bottles of wine and then did another round of prizes.

    We have a few people who don’t drink, or don’t drink a lot and if they ended up winning a prize that was wine, they gave them a $50 amazon gift card instead. And while some people did end up drinking a lot, there’s also very much a culture of no peer pressure or anything. So if someone didn’t want to come to the party, they could just go home early. And at the restaurant, you could order a fancy mocktail or milkshake or whatnot, with no issues at all.

    And then separate from this party, we’re also getting an afternoon to do a volunteering shift at an empty stocking fund type charity. And if people don’t want to participate, they just get the afternoon off.

  169. Jen RO*

    Our holiday party is after work, optional, and involves free food and drinks. That’s about it. They rent a bar, feed and water us.

  170. stitchinthyme*

    Last year my company rented out the Udvar-Hazy Center (National Air & Space Museum outside Washington, DC), where they had a catered dinner at a long table underneath the Discovery (space shuttle). The motion-simulator rides were open and they showed a movie about the ISS in the IMAX theater, and people could just wander around the museum as they wished. As my company is only about 50 people, even with the addition of spouses, the museum was nearly empty, so it was really nice to be able to wander through without having to fight crowds. And they had the party in January when costs are much lower than during the big party season in December.

    This was actually the third holiday party I’ve attended at Udvar-Hazy; one of my previous companies had one there, as did one of my husband’s. But my company’s was the best in my opinion, because it’s way smaller and so the museum felt way less crowded.

  171. Jessie*

    I’m starting this post by saying that my company has a big, annual, holiday gathering. It’s both well attended, and very much well received. I say that as a caveat that I think historically it’s been such a delight that it’s become a larger budget item than what most companies would plan for!

    Things we do that seem to help keep it successful:
    1. Having the party be optional, and let everyone bring a plus one.
    2. Scheduling a limo for those in our satellite offices, 1 or 2 hours away from the party location. Participation from those offices has skyrocketed since we started providing transportation.
    3. We have the party on a Saturday early in December, so it’s less likely to conflict with other commitments. Many people actually end up making a night of it – either having an after-party somewhere downtown, or even booking hotel rooms.
    4. We have it at an events venue, not onsite, so it feels like the special occasion that it is. Last year we had it at a country club that one of our BOD members goes to, and they waived the venue rental fee. This year we’re having it at a colonial mansion built in the early 1800s.
    5. Stationed food & passed apps, to make sure people get some grub. We pay extra attention to make sure we have as many gluten-free/vegan/vegetarian options as we can.
    6. Open bar (obviously!)
    7. Our President every year gives a little spiel, where he does shout-outs for new hires, new family additions (marriages & babies), and shares kudos for outstanding performance. While I don’t think he likes talking in front of everyone, I know support staff in particular are always excited to either be recognized or hear about their colleagues who they know have gone above and beyond the past year.
    8. New this year for us will be the addition of a live band and dance floor! We had our graphic designer create save-the-dates and posters to start spreading the word early so everyone knows to bring their dancing shoes!

  172. Xay*

    My office does a great holiday party.
    – It’s optional and at an off-site location during the work day.
    – There is an open bar (but 2 drink limit) and transportation available.
    – The only skits/silly entertainment are performed by leadership and party committee members.
    – Everyone gets a gift card and a small commemorative item and there is a big raffle with lots of prizes.
    -There are multiple rooms with different activities. Last year it was at a conference center with a bowling alley so some people could bowl, some people could hang out and talk, and the brave could do karaoke in a different room.

  173. TooTiredToThink*

    One piece of advice I would give: If your company does holiday parties by department and there is a small remote department that has no manager (i.e. has no party); please consider inviting them. At LastJob there were 3 of us whose managers were at corporate; but even though we were in a location with over 200 people; we were never invited to any holiday parties unless we happened to have a site-wide party (which was usually only at Thanksgiving). It was definitely demoralizing and made us not feel like we were part of the company or appreciated.

    1. TooTiredToThink*

      Oh, and to add to that – yes, our actual departments had parties at corporate, so yeah.

    2. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Good point. My office does a company-wide party, but a lot of the departments have their own special holiday parties (off-site even!), and it’s usually the same departments that also have activities and team events throughout the year. BUT my department does absolutely nothing like this–no off-sites, no team-building activities and no lunches, no dinners. It really does feel devaluing.

  174. Anon Cool Holiday Party*

    Short version: The company rents out a theater, and everyone is invited, plus whoever you want to invite to come along to enjoy the film. Free popcorn and drinks for every person, then a big party with lots of catered food afterwards back at the office, along with games.

    Long version:

    The company I work for does amazing semi-annual office parties. For both parties, it’s always during the workweek, though usually near the end of the week.

    For the winter holiday party: They rent out a showing of a film in a theater that most people in the office have a high likelihood of enjoying (we work in entertainment in a specific niche. Most people would be paying to see the newest installment of the franchise anyway, so it’s really nice to see it for free instead, and in English!). Everyone in the office is encouraged to attend (but not required), including absolutely everyone who works for the company, even the cleaning ladies, which is just awesome. You can bring anyone you would like: spouse/significant others, your parents, your kids, your roommates… Really nice, inclusive attitude towards who is your family, I think!

    It’s really fun and relaxed, a true party that is in no way “Christmas-y” or associated with a specific holiday. The food afterwards is catered, lots of different drinks: soft drinks, and there’s a keg or two, as well. (People in this country drink a lot, but usually just to the point of “merry”, not drunk, but YMMV on this, depending on company culture/industry!)

    All of this is probably way past the price point of a lot of companies, but most people definitely enjoy themselves, and most people attend at least a portion of the festivities. Like, a few people didn’t want to see the film but took a break during the time everyone else was in the theatre and played games in the office instead or went to the film but didn’t stay for the meal.

  175. Lalaith*

    I think the major “dos” have been addressed – inclusive, everything optional, good food, etc. I personally like having a +1 because I’d like my SO to meet the people I work with and know who I’m talking about. But that doesn’t really work if you’re having a party during work hours.

    Here are my “don’ts”, from experience:
    – Don’t invite clients. A holiday party should be a reward for your employees, not more work for them. If you want to have a client event, fine, but make that a separate thing that only the people involved with those clients have to attend. None of my clients were local. It was awkward. Also, they had plenty to drink but very little food. I don’t think anyone got sloshed but I was STARVING.
    – Don’t have it at someone’s house. My husband spilled his drink all over my boss’s couch >_<

  176. Heather*

    I had fun at a casino holiday party in the office during the afternoon. You can talk to people if you want, or you can just play or even just stand around the table and watch. Learning to play craps from the dealers keeps you occupied. It was pretty low stakes: you could trade in your chips for raffle tickets for a prize. It’s a fun adult activity that’s an alternative to standing around mingling. Especially if you’re the +1 at your spouse’s work party and don’t know anyone, you can at least entertain yourself!

  177. Quinalla*

    Two best company holiday parties I’ve been to:
    (1) Low key going out to lunch with the office (there are 10 of us) somewhere nice – office pays. During the day, you can chat with folks and free food!
    (2) Event at the zoo in the evening with the zoo all lit up for the holidays. Party was in a nice heated, interior space (we are in a cold state) with food and drinks and then the zoo folks brought in various animals for us to look at and touch. I love animals so thought this was awesome and we were able to bring our kids too, but not sure if this would work for everyone.

    As far as other ideas, I think light board game/party games can work – think jenga, escape rooms, etc. I’ve been to work events where they split the group into teams and then we competed in various things – beer pong, trivia, putting, jenga, etc. and then the team with the most points won a small gift card for each member. I think you need to make stuff like this optional and maybe have something more low-key for folks to do – play cards, watch a movie with popcorn, etc.

  178. Cascadia*

    My husband’s work buys tickets to a local sporting game. They get a group set, and then we all just show up. It’s lovely and fun and it’s a free ticket to a cool game. Totally optional, everyone buys their own food and stuff, but it’s a cool idea!

  179. msk*

    Our company has had a photo-booth type of area where people could pose in front of a nice backdrop and/or use props. One year, they had someone take the pictures and print them out in a strip. another year, it was just a backdrop. It was fun as teams or groups of friends got together. Made it memorable, but didn’t intrude or annoy.

  180. Not Australian*

    One awesome party ice-breaker that kept our family amused literally for decades was a giant wall-mounted crossword puzzle. (No longer available, alas, but it should be possible to source one given enough time.) It was given to my grandparents for their golden wedding in 1972, and my husband and I and our guests finally finished it at Christmas 2014. It was laminated and we wrote on it with Sharpies.

    I’ve also recently acquired a large crossword puzzle jigsaw; make the puzzle first and then fill in the answers. If there’s enough space to spread it out, this sounds like a great way for the more introverted party-goers to amuse themselves.

  181. Gumby*

    Best holiday party? Small company (17 employees) took ourselves off to a local high-end grocery store which also had a cooking class set up on the second floor of at least one location. Our group was divided into teams, each w/ a chef assigned, and put in charge of a dish or two (w/ “mystery ingredient”) and set free to decide what we’d make and make it. Example: my team had dessert and our mystery ingredient was puff pastry which ended up being puff pastry cup thingies filled with chocolate mousse (recipe our chef had memorized and which I still use to this day because it was amazing) and some fruit something or other as a garnish. For those who wished, there was also wine provided while cooking. And eating at the end. My co-workers made great food, we had fun cooking, etc. But we were small enough that we could know that this type of outing would be enjoyable for the whole team.

  182. Anonymous Coward*

    My favorite office party — I’m not even sure whether it was the new year one or not — was when the company bought out an indoor mini-golf place with a restaurant and bar (linked in my name). The party organizers assigned teams of 4 from the RSVPs, so we mingled a bit, and the setup had several types of mini-golf (I remember a virtual one onscreen and one that was like a foosball table) so it wasn’t all about physical competition. I’m sure there were a couple people who didn’t play, which was fine. They served platters of sliders, pizza, etc., and I’m sure they took dietary needs into account. As a non-drinker, I was happy to have non-alcoholic options (and soft-serve!), while others enjoyed a beer or cocktail after they completed the course. It was a daytime activity, and people either left when the restaurant opened to the public around 4PM, or stayed to have a more substantial dinner on their own dime.

  183. sange*

    Veteran of several excellent holiday parties. Here’s how we do ours:

    1) Date as close to the holidays as possible
    2) End of the workday but not evening – ours is usually like 4:30 – 6pm
    3) Venue doesn’t really matter but should be outside the office, if possible, so everyone can enjoy it without thinking about the cleanup.
    4) Copious food and at least some alcohol, if possible – and copious food includes something for everyone, no matter how odd their allergies/preferences/beliefs seem.
    5) No speeches beyond a generic 30 second “Welcome to the holiday party, thank you (Name) for organizing this!”
    6) At least one optional activity, like a Yankee Swap

  184. Roja*

    Whatever you do, make sure the food is really, really good.

    But honestly, I think if the comments on this thread demonstrate anything, they demonstrate that it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Do something that’s reasonable for your budget and office culture, don’t have any boring talks/presentations, and then let the crumbs fall where they may. No one party is going to be perfect for everyone; it’s just not.

  185. Galahad*

    I worked at one mega-retail company that had a (new) policy of not paying for any year end / christmas parties. Probably because 80% of the workforce was near minimum wage and the employee count was huge, yet company profit margin very very slim.

    But, in the 1990’s, they had always had some sort of party, so it was cultural to always have the managers host a party. What this now meant was that they directors / managers had to pay for the party and any employee gifts out of their own pockets. A bit weird, right?! It was a problem for me when I became a manager because I was paid so much less than the other managers and had a young family on a single income….. but that is another story.

    Best party I went to was a sleigh ride with hot chocolate and caroling… around 2pm.. Staff was kinda young and family oriented so your spouse or plus one and immediate kids were invited. It only took a handfull of people willing to sing (during the ride) and hand outs, and most people went along, or just enjoyed the ride. After the sleigh ride, the larger group broke up (groups of about 10-12 persons) and went to a restaurant or the manager’s home for a smaller casual dinner party (at the manager’s $). It was held on a Saturday, on our off hours, but was a lot of fun. And optional.

  186. Love_a_Work_Party*

    For our team holiday party (has grown from 4 to about 12 people since I started), each person sends in their memorable moments from the year and a gif that conveys the vibe or feeling of that moment (e.g., stressed, eye roll-inducing, nailed it). I’ve compiled a presentation with the moments/gifs as a fun look back at the year. We watch it and play other games in one of our conference rooms after hours with drinks and food.

  187. Jules the First*

    My favourite holiday parties were the ones at a low-key family-run business where we finished work at 2pm on a Thursday and the whole office decamped to one of a series of festive activities (you could go ice skating at a local rink, head to the party venue and trim the trees over drinks and nibbles, volunteer for the charity of your choice, watch a festive film, etc) and then we all met up for a buffet dinner. No speeches, no pressure, people were free to attend none, some or all of it in any combination.

    My current job goes all out and I hate it – there’s the team Christmas lunch (with mandatory secret santa), then the office children’s party, then the corporate party (an evening do with drinking, dancing, and a very competitive costume competition where prizes are awarded for *department-wide costumes*, plus a slideshow and boozy award ceremony of cheesy best-ofs), the Christmas party afterparty, and the last-day-before-Christmas bubbles and mince pies mid-afternoon (mandatory, of course!) with a raffle of all the things our clients have bought us as gifts. It’s over the top and totally not tolerant of anyone who doesn’t want to go to every single event.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Wow! That is quite a lot of enforced work Christmas cheer. I can see a kid party and an ONE adult event, and that’s plenty.

  188. HR Lady*

    We have a party every year. This is how we do it for 250-300 people ages 16-90. It’s always after hours so everyone can attend. And always off-site. The off-site location is very important to making it feel like a special event and not work in a different room. Usually at a hotel or larger restaurant to accommodate our size of group. One of the best ways we have found to spark engagement during the party is to have a very good entertainer who encourages dancing. Door prizes announced several times throughout the night. Always have a photo opportunity if not an actual photo booth. And for the love….have alcoholic drinks available for those who are old enough to partake. We have done a virtual scavenger hunt in the past using Goosechase – VERY popular. Also we have had a smaller room available for non-party people where they can play B-I-N-G-O or cards.

  189. bopper*

    Have the company pay for it.
    Have it during work hours, or if after work invite spouses/plus ones.

    We just had a fall party where we played a “Let’s make a deal” type thing where teams were asked for things like a coin with the date of your birth year, a man in high heels, an item with the company logo on it, inside out clothing item being worn, etc. Things you might be likely to have on your person. 1st team with the item gets 5 pts, 2nd 3 pts, and then all other teams get 1 point.

    Also we played Bingo.

    Photo Booths with accessories are fun…bonus if you can print out the pictures.

    We had a snowball fight with soft cloth “snowballs”

    We did a game where you had a race to wrap a present by each person on the team.

  190. MissDisplaced*

    Last year I worked at a large company for the first time and this is what they did that I liked.

    Held during work hours (3-6pm)
    Held onsite (it’s a nice building w/lots of space)
    Open bar: beer & wine only
    Variety of food stations & small tables all over the main areas ensures mingling
    Nicely decorated
    Come & go at will, Join groups and sit together or not
    Business casual

    I actually met and spoke with a lot of new people, which is no easy thing for an introvert like me. I did miss the fun of the gift exchange we did at my other smaller company though, those were quite rambunctious and boozey.

  191. WillyNilly*

    A really well received holiday party activity a former company did was have employees gift wrap toys/games for donation. It was held mid-workday and was drop-in. There were stacks of dozens and dozens of board games, YA novels, toddler toys, etc. Everything was a nice easy rectangle. And tables with several rolls of paper, scissors, tape. Each wrapped gift was then labeled with an age bracket letter (for example A for toddlers, B young kids, C for tweens, D for teens) and put in a big done bin.

    There were also tables with snacking food and dessert foods, and a fancy coffee station.

    People loved getting to do a good deed (or not wrap, it was totally voluntary), there was ample food and beverages, and you could stay as long or as short a time as you wanted.

  192. Bowserkitty*

    If I recall right, we turned one of the meeting rooms into a board game room at one of my old company’s parties. That was a blast. It was a niche thing so you could get away from the loud main cafeteria (where the party took place) and have a nicer, more peaceful setting.

    Obviously, Monopoly was not involved, if we’re discussing tranquil and peaceful.

  193. green*

    I’m the office admin of an office with about 35 people, most of them independent contractors. Our holiday party last year was a huge hit (it helped that in previous years the holiday party was cold Chinese takeout in a conference center adjacent to our office).

    We took everyone out to a nearby (walking distance) restaurant, on the company’s dime. Family-style food and adult beverages for everyone. It wasn’t mandatory, but it turned out to be the best-attended event we had that year.

    We had a White Elephant Gift Exchange that people could participate in but also keep talking through. The gift exchange is an established tradition, and people can participate or not, but most do.

    We also had a little gift (business card holders and candy) in a little stocking for each person.

    I made a point of accommodating dietary needs I knew about (working on doing better at finding those out this year!)

    The whole thing cost about $2,500.

    At the beginning of this year, we started collecting $10/month from each of the contractors as a Sunshine Fund. This pays for food at our meetings, happy hours throughout the year, and will cover a holiday party with an even better menu this year. Might not work at an office with W-2 employees, but it makes sense for our context.

  194. TheRedCoat*

    Make sure there are enough chairs for everyone. (Every year my company has a mandatory holiday party for the whole workplace, and enough chairs for about 50% to sit down. This was super awesome when I was VERY preggo last year and had to play musical chairs). Don’t make the music too loud- Husband’s party had this cool thing where people could set up company sponsored D&D games (with branded dice!)…. and then put it right next to the speakers for the live band.

    Other than that, decent food and yummy non-alcoholic beverage choices. Preferably a wide variety of food options (nothing like skipping lunch because you’re gonna eat in an hour anyway and…. literally everything has cheese/dairy.)

  195. Monika from Germany*

    We do parties twice a year, winter party in January, summer party in July or August. They start at 1pm on a Friday and usually wrap up around 4pm. There’s always lots of food, so much that everyone can take a huge ‘doggy bag’ home, the catering company provides containers for that. Allergens are labeled and the food is arranged to prevent cross contamination. Everyone finds something yummy and safe to eat.
    There’s one short!!! official speach. We do a raffle, where everyone wins something nice.
    So far everyone is happy with the setup, I know I look forward to the winter party.

  196. media monkey*

    most companies i have worked at have had pretty good parties (but we are in the UK and don’t have the same attitudes as some people on this board around drinking with co-workers so YMMV.

    larger companies tend to hire a big space, provide food and a free bar for at least 2-3 hours. often there are games or activities (totally optional) and dancing.

    smaller companies (or individual teams – i have worked in places where the teams could choose whether to throw their budget in with all the other teams for a party or to use it for a team lunch) would be more likely to do a lunch paid for by the company in a restaurant, food and drinks provided. you would rarely be expected to go back to the office afterwards and would often carry on to a pub in the evening. there would probably be a secret santa with a £5-10 limit

    probably the most important thing is the no one is forced to do anything – large party attendance is always optional. for a lunch you’d probably be expected to go but all food issues would be taken into account in choosing the restaurant – helps that we are in london so there is almost infinite choice.

  197. Atalaya*

    The best holiday party at work was when we were treated to a catered lunch at a botanical garden. After lunch we were given free rein to wander around the gardens which were decorated beautifully for Christmas.

  198. Slartibartfast*

    I don’t know if it’s been suggested, but maybe some smallish tables with cards an board games? I’m fairly introverted and socially awkward. It’s not that I don’t want to interact with people, I just don’t know how. Scripted interactions, like interacting with a cashier at checkout is fine, and work is a structured environment so I have a reason for being there and an idea of what I’m expected to do. Calling a friend to go out for a cup of coffee, or a cocktail party where you are expected to mingle and chit chat, those unstructured social interactions are like the third circle of Hell for me. So something structured like a board game would give me a framework I could use as a basis for being sociable. One of my husband’s (many) cousins had board games as the centerpieces on the tables at their reception and I really enjoyed myself. I can’t remember all the games but there was Uno or regular playing cards set on top of classic games like Sorry!, Connect Four, Chutes and Ladders sorts of things.

  199. Rebecca in Dallas*

    I liked my office’s holiday party last year. It started around lunchtime (and the office was closed for the rest of the day), we had a catered lunch. At each table, there was a sheet of holiday-related trivia (questions about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, popular holiday songs and movies, that kind of thing). So you could have something to do with your table-mates while you waited for your table’s turn to get food or while you were eating.

    The previous week, they had announced that there would be a gingerbread-house decorating contest. It was optional, if your team/department wanted to participate, you picked up a decorating kit and then turned it in the day of the party. They had all of the entries displayed during the party, so everyone could go around and look at them and then cast their vote for their favorite/most creative. The winning teams were announced at the end of the party. I can’t remember what the prizes were, something like gift cards to a local restaurant or movie theater.

    We also had a raffle for some pretty good prizes! An overnight stay at a nice hotel in town, airline miles, things like that. I think it was like $1 per raffle ticket and the proceeds went to a fund that we have to help associates in need (like if someone has a severe illness or their house burns down, the company can use those funds to help them financially). The raffle drawings were at the end of the party.

    Oh, there was also a photo booth with props, I still have some pics up at my desk from that.

    I feel like maybe there was some other crafty-type activity you could do? But I’m not crafty so I didn’t do it. But it was a good range of activities and it was easy to sneak out after lunch if you didn’t really want to socialize.

  200. AshRadSki*

    Open question for the commentariat: how do you feel about office parties in the middle of the day, where you are required to work before and after? My office (law firm) is VERY busy and I’m sure management just couldn’t tell our clients that we will be closed for half a day for a holiday party. Unfortunately, it really puts a damper on it (from my perspective at least). My office is also strictly anti-alcohol, if that makes a difference. Usually we have a very mild catered luncheon or brunch (think – just enough food for everyone vs. copious food and beverages), open Secret Santa presents, and then just get on with the work day. I have to say I wish we could have a more festive/sincere/fun holiday party :( Maybe I should just be grateful for what I have though… Thoughts?

  201. Jaid_Diah*

    I work for the government, and of course there’s no money for entertainment.

    My unit is not the most cohesive, so when we get two hours of Admin. time for the holidays, most of us just use it to leave early. We did get some turnover, so maybe we’ll get delivery (need to work out something for the vegan lady and the celiac/egg/milk lady, though).

  202. Gotta be anon for this, the perpetrator reads here*

    Don’t pretend that it’s a party when really you want people to work together on a drafting the new mission statement!

  203. CrazyPlantLady*

    The best party I went to had lots of different rooms so you could easily avoid coworkers you didn’t want to talk to. It was in the office and completely optional. Since there were so many different rooms, no one noticed those who snuck away and went to their desks or left entirely (or the few of us who found our own corner to hang out in and avoid the crowds in the bigger rooms). There was some entertainment for those who wanted to watch/participate (I didn’t so I have no idea what it was), but you could also opt out of it completely and that was entirely normal.

  204. Common Welsh Green*

    Former office did the optional casino games and partial potluck (management provides soda, ham, and fried chicken, everyone else brings a side) with a nice twist. Everyone gets $1000 in play money for the games. After an hour or so, they use their “winnings” in a cut-throat, no-holds-barred auction for a bunch of different toys purchased by management or donated by vendors and employees. The auction is raucous and goofy, people swipe each other’s cash, try to distract other bidders, or sneak out to phone in a secret bid. The winners get to sign their names on little gift cards, and then to much applause ceremoniously deposit the toys in a large Toys For Tots donation bin. Then everyone gets to go home early.

  205. Radical Edward*

    An arts organisation I used to work with always had my favourite holiday parties. Each year was a bit different but the last one I attended had a card-making contest and one of the studio members brought their guitar and strummed acoustic holiday tunes. We didn’t have the budget for much alcohol but we had so many tasty goodies (both bought and voluntarily provided) that nobody seemed to notice. It was so chill and cozy and welcoming, a lot of us didn’t want to leave. (I realise that’s not exactly normal- I am usually one of the stay-at-homers myself!) But that’s why I loved the place. The vibe was always ‘come if you want, sit in one chair all night or not, bring any sort of plus one or not, stay five minutes or forever’, as with most of their events. It is the only place I have ever cheerfully volunteered to help wash dishes after a party.

  206. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Any holiday party should be truly optional, with no pressure to attend. And I don’t mean “show up for 5 minutes”, I mean truly optional. Beyond that, there are any number of (tortuous) party scenarios that one could come up with, but here is my personal preference:

    1. A truly nice buffet-style catered lunch onsite, with quality food, dessert table.
    2. Optional ancillary activities: holiday garb or ugly sweater day, cubicle decorating contest, etc.
    3. Company-sponsored gifts/favors, can even be inexpensive branded promotional items
    4. The No stuff: No gift exchanges, no silly games, no kids, no out-of-pocket cost to employees (in private sector)
    5. Close the office early, say at 3 pm, and let people enjoy the rest of the day

  207. Jenny Grace*

    I’ve been to two good kinds of holiday work parties:
    1. Evening, optional, fancy venue, open bar, company got discounted room block at hotel next door or paid for your cab home so there wouldn’t be a drinking and driving problem, low stakes activities (game stations, photo booths, etc.), good and plenty of food.
    2. 3pm-ish start, open bar, low stakes activities (“casino” theme, so there were poker tables and a roulette wheel and whtanot, with chips to be cashed in for silly prizes), copious food. This one was less optional in that if you didn’t attend you were expected to work (you couldn’t just….go home a couple hours early) BUT the timing made it really easy to go without worrying about babysitters and whatnot, and if you didn’t want to go, you really could stay behind without pressure or drama.
    I realize open bar can be debatable but we have people who don’t drink on our teams and they seem to have fun, and we haven’t had anyone go off the rails at the holiday party.

  208. Best Party Ever*

    Open bar, sit down dinner, and a packed dance floor on a Friday or Saturday night. I usually feel sad when I read about other people’s holiday parties. The best holiday party is an actual frigging party!

  209. Mrs. T. Potts*

    Back in the ’90s, I worked for a small town newspaper. One year, they had the office holiday party at the biggest hotel in town. Great food, a hip band, open bar, you could bring your significant other. It was held on a Saturday night.

    Alas, those days are over. That’s when the paper had a crap ton of money…

  210. cooking class craziness*

    everyone here keeps saying to “do it during the day” but i hate that, because what if they don’t let you leave early afterwards? before my company was spun off from a larger one, ours was at night on a friday, free for employees but held at a fancy venue north of the office, open bar, a huge variety of finger foods. it was mostly socializing but it was nice to do it outside of the office. they even provided free shuttles to the train station downtown at the end of the night.

  211. Erin*

    If your company is big, a holiday luncheon at the office is wonderful. Have a variety of food (catered) to try to accommodate everyone (I don’t agree that you have to go overboard on this, just think vegetarian option, gluten free option, avoid nuts and fish) and let people know they are free to linger over lunch (don’t make your hourly people clock out). If your company is small, take everyone out for a really nice breakfast (don’t start it too early, people have kids, not everyone is a morning person, etc.). I worked at a professional services firm of about 10 that would go to a local private club for a couple of hours in the morning to have breakfast, hang out, do a white elephant, and sign Christmas cards for our client gifts. It was a low-stress way for us to find time together when we still had clients to take care of.

  212. Bella*

    Oh, hey! Finally, something I find in a Google search that is new enough (ish) for me to reply to. The caveat to all of these is that, of course, it depends on the individual company’s budget. I’m lucky that I work at a company that ticks all these boxes, despite being a smaller-sized workplace.

    Here’s the most important thing: A holiday party is for the people. It is intended to show appreciation for your employees who have been working their butts off all year. It’s about them. If it’s not about them, don’t throw an office holiday party.

    1. Let employees bring a plus-one.
    This is super important. Allowing an employee to bring their partner or a plus-one will soften the company image and warm up the party atmosphere. Most people will expect to, anyways, if the holiday party is after working hours. For example, someone I know is not going to their company’s holiday party this year because they do not allow spouses, despite being a large international company and despite the party being after working hours. Instantly gives the whole party a cold, corporate feel, huh? If your company has the resources and doesn’t allow employees to bring spouses, it comes off ringing a bit hollow in terms of a party given to thank employees for their work for the year.

    2. Let people go home early or use the later part of the afternoon to get ready.
    My office makes it clear that its employees are welcome to leave later in the afternoon to go home and get ready for the party. Especially because the dress code tends to be semi-formal, this is an important and valuable thing to have.

    3. Go somewhere else.
    Get out of the office! Everyone will thank you. No one wants to relax or party right near their work desks.

    4. Provide catered food and an open bar.
    Feed your people to show you care. Avoid potlucks or anything of that sort – get professionally catered food. I’d say bare minimum for a holiday gathering of any type at a company would be to just get a catered lunch. (Sometimes, my office will get a catered ice cream bar with all the fixin’s if we’ve all been working particularly hard on something for a client. It’s cheaper than a lunch and is still a nice treat if your company doesn’t have a lot of resources for something like this.)

    5. Schedule the party on a Friday night.
    Then no one’s worried about work obligations the next day, and more willing to relax and not just talk about work all night.

    6. It better be optional. Not ‘not mandatory, but highly implied that you come’ – totally and completely optional.
    If you’re requiring or hinting at requiring attendance from your employees for your company’s holiday party, no matter how overt, this is no longer a party
    for the people. Thus, it’s not even worth having a party at all. It doesn’t matter if some of your employees don’t attend, that’s clearly what they need or what makes them more comfortable. You want your people relaxed and happy.

    My best holiday party was the one my company had last year. They rented out a somewhat-nice club downtown with a dining room until almost midnight on a Friday night. It had a formal dress code. There was a photobooth, a buffet, and an open bar. Plus, I just absolutely adore all of my co-workers so I got to spend a wonderfully fun night with people whose company I enjoy. Afterwards, our office manager took the remainder of the people there out to a nearby bar that we all frequented and opened up a company tab until close.

    The reason it was an amazing holiday party was:
    (1) The people I work with are amazing and the company has a great culture – you can’t fix an unpleasant company with a holiday party
    (2) The venue was beautiful and it was fun to dress up for the event
    (3) I got fed and got to have access to an open bar
    (4) It was on a Friday night, so I wasn’t worried about work the next day
    (5) My spouse got to come so we got to have a fun night out as a couple and he got to meet my co-workers

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