Winter is coming! That means it’s time to get your small business employees in the spirit of the season. Take a look at these unique, creative, and affordable holiday celebration ideas and themes for your holiday office party, Christmas celebration, or New Year’s event.
Here are the top 25 office holiday party ideas from the pros:
1. Provide a Hot Chocolate Bar & Decorate Cookies
Jenn Nicken, CEO, The Chef & The Dish
Build up an extravagant hot chocolate bar, right down to the cocoa! Load up on cocoa, chocolate shavings, and sugar, and then ask each guest to bring something decadent to add. Each person at the party is also responsible for bringing cookies. Perhaps some will bake their own snickerdoodles, and others may buy Italian Wedding Cookies from the store. Then, let the decorating and festivities begin.
2. Celebrate Unity & Shared Values
Dr. Marlene Caroselli, Author & Adjunct Professor, UCLA & National University
Dr. Maulana Karenga initiated the observance of ancient African virtues the same year Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Fifty years later, 28 million people worldwide spend seven days in December affirming unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Gather colleagues, and ask each to tell one way the company affirms one of these values. And then…present the boss with a collective gift to show the staff’s appreciation.
3. Volunteer Together & Spread the Gift of Goodwill
Stephanie L. Jones, Author, The Giving Challenge
A fun way to celebrate the holidays with your office is by giving back. Find a local nonprofit and volunteer as a group. Maybe cook a meal for a homeless shelter and eat together as a team. Or host a party at the local boys and girls club. You can get inexpensive party favors and sweet treats at the Dollar Tree for all to enjoy.
4. Take the Team Out for a Competitive Sport While Wearing Holiday Costumes
Casmin Wisner, PR Representative, Jive Communications
My team loves going to TopGolf for holiday parties and the occasional celebratory event. While this doesn’t sound super unique in and of itself, splitting your team into groups and competing in costume as heroes vs villains, or Who’s vs Grinches would be hysterical. That is definitely an event my team, who loves dressing up, enjoys.
5. Hire a Magician to Entertain Employees While They Nosh
Remy Connor, Professional Magician, www.RemyConnor.com
I am commonly asked to come out to company holiday events, on company property or at event spaces to interact and mingle with coworkers and perform. The guests are always pleasantly surprised to have entertainment. It boosts morale because employees feel like the company is adding more than just standard drinks and food. You don’t have to be a mentalist to see everyone laughing and gasping in astonishment!
6. Get Out of the Office & Enjoy Some Sunshine
Shelley Grieshop, Creative Writer, Totally Promotional
If your business is located somewhere warm, host the holiday party at an offsite outdoor location, like a park or pavilion, to ensure employees don’t feel like they’re at work and can get some rays. At the entrance, provide a display of one-size-fits-all sunglasses — the latest party trend for breaking the ice and setting a fun tone. If you opt to customize the party sunglasses with your company name or website address, you’ll be giving away a gift that will double as a marketing tool for you!
7. Take the Team Ice Skating
Jason Perkins, Founder/CEO, San Diego SEO Firm
Every year, I usually take my team out for dinner or lunch. It is a simple gesture, but it is also a great way to save on cost. After lunch, we engage in a team activity like ice skating to help build relationships and comfort with one another, which I feel is a good start for better productivity in the office.
8. Go On a Dinner Cruise – River, Lake, or Sea
Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com
A few years ago, we took our entire team out on a dinner cruise in the Ventura harbor for our holiday party. We previously celebrated at restaurants, but since our business is based out of southern California, we figured why not go all out at the waterfront? Everyone carpooled there, and we boarded the boat and had dinner and drinks before heading out to the deck together.
Our boat was decorated for the boat parade and the atmosphere was amazing! The lights, holiday decorations, music, lots of laughs, and tons of people. Even the weather was a little misty, making it the perfect setting for a holiday party!
9. Invite the Team to Your House
David Waring and Marc Prosser, Founders, Fit Small Business
David said, “we hosted the holiday party at Marc’s house in New York, and I think it worked out great. The place was big enough where everyone had plenty of room but small enough where people were forced to mingle. I think the personal setting caused people to enjoy themselves more and definitely improved morale. It’s a great way for people who don’t normally work much together to get to know each other.”
And Marc added, “it’s important that you get buy-in from your spouse or partner. In my case, my spouse handled the decorations, ordering and preparing the space to host a party. We agreed the company would pay for cleaning the house and set a budget for which the company would reimburse the family. The cleaning made a big difference in my spouses comfort level in hosting the party.”
10. Celebrate Zulu New Year’s Eve
A family restaurant chain in San Diego, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, does this every year in their Mira Mesa location to keep employees and guests off the road at night, and to avoid conflict with other New Year’s plans that participants might have.
Zulu refers to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). That’s 7-10 hours ahead of most of the US. So instead of starting your party at midnight, start it in the early afternoon, and watch the year turn to 2018 in GMT, perhaps by steaming live TV on your iPad to BBC One in the UK, and projecting it on the big screen.
11. Rent a Photo Booth Complete with Holiday Props
Photographer Adam Mason @MasonPhotoDC from DC-Photobooth tweeted about his best party ever, highlighting photos of the fun had with a photobooth at the party. He stated that “The best part was most of these folks are acquaintances or friends so everyone in the room felt right at home. The props helped folks feel at ease and smile big for the camera at this DC photobooth. There was a steady flow of over 300 people the entire night at the Christmas Party.”
Photo booths aren’t outrageously expensive either — they run approximately $100 to $150 per hour, and you may only need one for an hour or two.
12. View a Ridiculous Movie like Office Christmas Party
Depending on the size of your team, you can bring everyone together in a large conference room with your standard holiday food and drinks, and have your own private screening of a movie that you stream from Amazon Prime or Netflix. If you have a large team, consider contacting your local movie theater, and rent out one of the movie rooms for 3 hours, providing your employees with popcorn and snacks as you view that holiday flick. Other good holiday movie choices include Scrooged, Elf, Home Alone, and A Christmas Story.
13. Light Up a Year-End Bonfire in the Parking Lot
Clear the parking lot and drag a large metal trash can into the center. (Get a local burn permit first if you need one, so the authorities don’t show up and spoil your fun!) Then have each team member share a favorite memory from the year, as well as secretly jot down something they regret. Collect the favorites! Burn the regrets! Then celebrate with S’mores. Who cares if it’s winter?
14. Host a Multi-Cultural Food Festival & Gift Exchange
You can do this anytime of the year, but consider hosting your party in December when many cultures celebrate holidays like Hanukkah, Bohdi Day, Kwanzaa, and even specific dates like Milad un Nabi and the Winter Solstice.
Each person brings a food dish and a smallish token gift (say under $5) that represents their cultural heritage, like a Swedish Dala horse. For example, someone from Germany could bring Lebkuchen molasses cookies, and someone from Hawaii could bring Sweet Bread Holiday Stuffing. Then, as the party gifts are traded, food is tasted, and stories are shared, you create holiday cheer and increase overall cultural awareness and teamwork.
15. Give Employees a Surprise Afternoon Off to Shop
This is one of my favorites because the thing many employees crave most at year end is time off to get holiday errands done. So give them some shopping time with paid time off.
Start with an in-office holiday brunch with bagels, orange juice, and coffee. Then, hand everyone a gift certificate to the mall or to big-box store like Target, on the condition that they head straight over, and spend the next 2 hours buying something nice for someone in their family (or themselves). After that, give them the afternoon off — paid! They’ll enjoy shopping and comparing purchases with colleagues, and will appreciate your thoughtfulness. And they’ll still have time to pick up their ugly Christmas sweater from the dry cleaners before it closes.
Need a way to track employee time off? Consider using Gusto payroll software.
16. Have a Food Station in Each Department
Replace the annual potluck — the most common holiday celebration idea we heard — with something a bit more engaging that requires your team members to work in teams.
For example, let accounting bring appetizers, marketing bring soup, IT bring salad, HR bring snacks, and sales bring dessert. Then head over to the executive suite for a cocktail. Even better, ask each department team to decorate their serving table with a theme, like Nutcracker or Santa’s Workshop. Then travel the office, sample the fare, and vote on the best of each category – food and theme. Bon appetit!
Celebrate with champagne toasts and streamers! Limit the alcohol and end the party by 5 pm local time so no one risks a DWI.
17. Take Kids from Head Start to a Build a Bear Workshop
The holidays are all about family. So why not contact your local Head Start office and invite parents to bring the little ones and join your team at a Build a Bear Workshop on a specific date/time? You or your team can pay for the bear-building materials and watch the joy on little faces as they customize their own bear. Call first to make sure you can bring your ‘party’ to the store, by making a reservation and confirming that food and beverages can be brought in.
Of course it doesn’t have to be Build a Bear — that’s just an example. The idea is to take the kids (and their parents) to do something that, as low income families, they couldn’t afford to do on their own.
18. Plan a Photo Scavenger Hunt with a Holiday Twist
Pick ten or so locations inside a small geographic area (maybe 2-3 blocks) near your office and provide individuals, pairs, or teams of co-workers with a list of clues for holiday items that you’ve hidden or identified in advance (e.g. the tree in Central park, the bear in the shop window).
They’ll have a great time searching for each item and taking a photo of it. The first team to return to the office with photo evidence that they’ve found all 10 items wins. Provide a small gift bag of holiday items for employees to take home so everyone wins. Company culture also wins.
19. Create Outrageous Ice Cream Sundaes
Ice cream isn’t limited to summer or warm climates. In fact, according to kitchn, the people of Norway eat the most ice cream per capita. So go big, and host an ice cream social with multiple flavors and every topping you can think of. Or, make it even more creative by asking team members to bring their favorite toppings, cones, and more. Decorate sundaes first, then judge, and eat the best ice cream sundaes. Of course, you’ll have leftovers. Send them home with your employees, so their kids and family members can share in this fun winter treat.
20. Have a Gingerbread House Making Contest!
Unless you’re Martha Stewart, buy some pre-made gingerbread house kits at the grocery or hobby store and provide one kit to every 2 people in your office. Set the timer, and see who can build the nicest looking (or most creative) gingerbread house within 30 minutes. Add to the fun by purchasing lots of extra icing (in tubes), hard candy, and sprinkles for them to adorn their gingerbread houses.
You’d be surprised, but some of your employees may even add desktop tchotkes to their gingerbread scene. You may find one with a mini Harley parked outside its candy cane entrance, a little wooden reindeer made of sticks, or a bobblehead Santa on the roof.
21. Create a Holiday Cocktail Competition
Ask employees to come up with a unique holiday-themed hot or cold drink beverage recipe and purchase all the trimmings — think ‘Chimney Ash Hot Martini’ — vodka, cranberry juice, red hots and chocolate shavings. Your job as the host is to provide multiple drinking glasses in all styles, blenders, ice stirrers, and cocktail napkins. Then when the beverages are assembled, take photos and drink up! As a bonus, write down your recipes and share them with family, friends, and clients to show them your office and team members know how to have fun.
22. Take Your Team on a Limousine Tour of Holiday Lights
If your team can fit in a 10-passenger limousine, consider taking the whole group on a tour of your city’s holiday lights. It’s surprisingly affordable. Rates (even in New York City) run around $200 for a 3-hour limo, plus tip. You can have the limo pick team members up at the office and plan a fixed route through beautifully decorated areas of town, perhaps with a stop at a Christmas or toy store (for some shopping) or ask the driver to do a drive thru to a fast food place like Jack-in-the-Box just for fun. Provide champagne and snacks in the limo, and let the festivities begin on 4 wheels.
23. Decorate Business-Related Ornaments for Your Office Christmas Tree
Spend a holiday party hour or so at work taking a break from the daily grind, and doing a holiday craft together. If you run an auto shop, buy small scale model cars, hot glue, thin wire and have your mechanics decorate tiny vehicles to hang on the tree.
You may want to set the tree up, provide holiday snacks, and purchase all the supplies in advance. Then, host your office party around the tree, as each employee works to add their own festive touch. Use beads, crystals, styrofoam or glass balls, or anything related to your business and brand. If you’re a plumbing shop, decorate copper 90-degree elbow connectors with glitter. I once worked with an ammo manufacturer, whose holiday decor was made from shell casings.
24. Visit an Art Gallery (like they did in Love Actually)
Ever seen the movie Love Actually? Remember that holiday party theme in a gaudy art gallery full of nudes? While we don’t recommend risque art for your holiday party, many venues like private art galleries, small local museums, and even some smaller retail shops will let you rent their space for a holiday party. Unusual spaces with lots of visual stimulation provide great conversation starters so that everyone’s not sitting there looking at their empty paper plate while waiting for the white elephant gift exchange. Start calling around now. Cool venues go fast.
25. Arrange a Team Art Class
Here’s the one I wish I could attend. Hire an art teacher, one who does acrylic painting, or has access to the pottery studio, or just go to one of those ‘paint your own ceramic’ places, or ask your florist to lead a workshop in your breakroom. Then invite the whole team to learn a new skill, while enjoying each other’s company.
If it is a pottery place, employees can hand-make ornaments and menorahs. If it is a painting studio, then have the teacher plan a group painting in advance, such as a winter snowfall scene in the mountains. A florist can bring materials so each employee could make a wreath. You get the idea. And once you have this event scheduled, invite me okay? I love art.
The best holiday party ideas are those that fit your business culture, drive employee morale up, and put everyone in great spirits. If you all get to learn something new or taste a new recipe, all the better.
You probably already know how to plan a party, right? If not, check out our event planning checklist.
So, whether you give employees cash, gifts, or simply create an environment where team members can have fun with one another and build friendships, hosting a holiday event is a super way to cement a great working relationship with your team of employees and ensure that ‘goodwill towards all’ extends into 2018.