Holiday cheer is not reserved for offices with the budget to rent out a grand atrium, stock an open bar, and curate a selection of artisanal hors d’oeuvres. Companies with small staffs and small budgets can still host memorable holiday parties that pack big fun.
Delight your employees with any of these small company holiday party ideas.
The Anti-Cookie Swap
While the rest of the world passes around Double-Chocolate Butter Nuggets and similarly rich holiday treats, your small company can break the mold by hosting an anti-cookie swap.
Challenge everyone to bring in their favorite healthy desserts with recipe cards so that guests (not to mention their families and friends) can benefit from the healthy holiday inspiration.
While you can never have too much holiday cheer, you can have too much holiday food. Employees will welcome a break from the cakes, cookies, and cheese cubes they encounter at every other seasonal gathering. Instead of contributing to the holiday excess, turn your company holiday party into a celebration of fitness.
Have everyone prepare their favorite fruit- or vegetable-based treat, provide some healthy packaged snacks, and pick a fitness class du jour to entertain employees for one fulfilling and meaningful hour.
Here are some fitness and wellness trends to choose from. We suggest getting employee input so you’re sure everyone will be comfortable with your selection.
Family Day at the Office (a.k.a. Santa’s Workshop)
Get together to decorate the office, hire (or appoint) a lucky Santa, and then open your doors to coworkers’ guests and family members for a day of fun.
As coworkers get together to decorate and plan, this small company holiday party turns into several days of fun.
- Ask for volunteers to form a party committee. This group can iron out all the fun details that will make this event specific to your company.
- Have people volunteer to decorate their offices or cubes. (Mandatory decorating is not everyone’s idea of fun.)
- Have people volunteer for a special decorating project, the centerpiece of your holiday event—turning a conference room into Santa’s Workshop.
- Send out invitations.
- When the day comes, close shop early and open your doors for fun.
To up the decor game across the office, you can even include a traditional holiday decorating contest as part of your day of fun. Let a panel of your employees’ holiday guests judge and announce the contest winner as a grand finale to your event.
Here are some office decorating tips employees can use for inspiration:
Cocoa & Candy Canes: Artisanal Edition
Give everyone’s favorite hot cocoa and candy canes a classy, grown-up makeover, and you’ve got a worthy focus for your holiday office party.
All you need for this party is some fancy cocoa, fancy candy canes, and down-to-earth conversations, provided by your team. Throw on some festive tunes to pull everything together. (If your company is small enough and you have the budget for it, you could even order custom mugs for the occasion and let everyone take one home.)
Here are some resources for finding delicious, healthy versions of your favorite holiday treats.
Fancy/healthy candy canes:
Multicultural Holiday Trivia Night
Honor the diverse range of ways people celebrate the holidays with a night of multicultural holiday trivia. Break the mold of reindeer and Christmas trees and learn about holiday icons that don’t appear as decorations in every major department store.
- Prepare your list of questions and answers. (If you find 50 questions and you take a few snack and conversation breaks, you should have plenty of material for a night of fun.)
- Here are some resources:
- Choose hosts. This team will ask questions, hear answers, and call “right” or “wrong.”
- Appoint a scorekeeper. This person will, obviously, keep score. We recommend using a simple chalkboard/whiteboard scorekeeping system and splitting everyone into teams so the scorekeeper has to keep track of only a handful of team scores instead of 20+ individual scores.
- Purchase snacks and prizes.
Nontraditional Tree Contest
If a cubicle decorating contest doesn’t appeal to your employees, try a nontraditional tree contest instead. Give employees a week to create their best nontraditional tree and then host a star-studded, company-wide night of voting and awards to celebrate the winners.
Encourage employees to get super creative with their nontraditional tree ideas and use items they find around the office, including sticky notes, paper clips, and old file folders.
Take lots of pictures at the event and post them to your company’s Instagram or blog.
Brit + Co collected some amazing nontraditional tree ideas to get the creative process started.
Ugly Fruit Cake Bake Off
Turn the notorious fruit cake into an object of playful holiday fun instead of one of fear and ridicule by hosting an epic holiday fruit cake bake off. Embrace the fact that the fruit cake, no matter how reviled, is here to stay, and have some fun with it.
Have employees volunteer to bake their best (or worst) fruit cake, and host an epic bake off contest. Have a Chopped-style panel of judges, incorporate something cheesy, like a Clap-O-Meter, and order some prize ribbons that look like they wandered out of the local fair’s pie-baking contest. Make the event your own.
Holiday-Themed Relay Race
If you want to throw a company party that focuses on action instead of eating and drinking alone, then consider centering your party around a festive relay race. (This is another perfect event for families.) Make the event last for hours by racing in teams, eliminating groups until one emerges as the winner.
You don’t need special equipment, or even special skills, to plan either of these options. Below are some how-to posts to support your process. Sure, many of them are designed for kids, but that should just give you reassurance that they’re extra fun.
- Candy cane relay (Swap out the nativity scene portion for a secular celebration.)
- Reindeer relay. Grab some reindeer antlers, some spoons, and a red-dyed egg (Rudolph’s nose), and have a classic egg-and-spoon relay race.
Mall Day with Charter Bus
Skip a traditional holiday party in favor of a festive outing that makes your employees’ lives easier: shopping.
Charter a bus and shuttle employees out for a day of shopping at your local mall/shopping center. Everyone will be absolutely thrilled to help each other find the perfect gifts. (They’ll also enjoy the rare treat of avoiding the crowds and traffic that plague most pre-holiday weekends.)
If you have the budget, then take everyone out to dinner on the way home to stretch the event.
Food Truck Feast
Surprise employees by scheduling a visit from everyone’s favorite local food truck. Many trucks offer catering options so employees can go right up to the window and choose from a few pre-selected options. Invite everyone to gather for the feast in a decorated conference room.
During a progressive dinner, diners hop from house to house, eating a single course at each location. These types of dinners suit those who like the idea of hosting but would rather not take on the responsibility of hosting a full-length party.
Here’s how to plan a progressive dinner for your holiday office party:
- Send out a Doodle and choose a date that works for as many people as possible. We recommend choosing a Friday so everyone can leave right after work.
- Ask hosts to volunteer. (If you have about 3-6 hosts, then you’re in good shape. (If you have too many volunteers, then encourage a few of them to co-host.)
- Get hosts’ addresses so you can order the stops and create a map.
- Tell everyone which stop you’ve given them so they can plan what to make.
- Ask for volunteer drivers/designated drivers if anyone will be serving alcohol.
- Match up drivers with non-driving guests. (Make sure the volunteer drivers know where all their passengers live, and confirm that they’re fine with driving everyone home at the end of the night.) Not everyone has to be matched as some employees will prefer to drive themselves if they have to leave early.
Host a Company Wish Dinner
All adults secretly miss writing letters to Santa. Give employees a chance to relive one of their favorite long-lost holiday traditions. Instead of writing letters outlining the presents they want, have them write letters outlining what they want for the company.
Collect letters from Thanksgiving until the date of your dinner. Rent out a space at your favorite local restaurant and have everyone gather for good food, good company, and a reading of all the company wish letters Santa received. This holiday party is designed to warm hearts, but it might just produce some actionable ideas for your business as well.
DIY Tree-Lighting Ceremony
Copy a favorite holiday tradition of cities everywhere and host your own tree-lighting ceremony. You can host the event at your office or even at a volunteer employee’s house. Invite a few leaders to speak about the past year’s accomplishments or about ambitions for the upcoming year. Aside from coordinating speakers, this event can be fairly simple. Serve some hot cider and some healthy desserts, have everyone place an ornament on your designated company tree, dim the overhead lights, turn on the string lights, and enjoy the glorious sight of an illuminated holiday tree.
Holiday Tradition Show and Tell
Gather in a conference room during or after work to have an hour-long holiday tradition show-and-tell instead of a regular holiday party.
Employees can stand up and share their favorite holiday traditions or memories. Give them time to prepare so they can bring in pictures and props. Encourage employees to bring in any part of their favorite traditions that they can share, whether their favorite things involve food, decorations, or holiday games.
Elf Invasion: Surprise Conference Room Decoration
Take a stealth decorating cue from Buddy the Elf and wrangle a committee to stay late after work one night to turn your main conference room (or your entire office if you’re feeling ambitious) into a winter wonderland that will delight your employees.
When everyone streams in (yawning) for your weekly Monday status meeting, announce that the meeting is cancelled and that your holiday party is happening now. Crank up the carols, pull out your stash of healthy snacks, and let the good times roll.
Gift Wrapping Party
Host a gift wrapping party to turn an event that often produces holiday stress into one that produces holiday fun. Simply clear out a conference room and invite employees to bring some gifts in for a night or afternoon of wrapping. Ask everyone to bring in some of their favorite wrapping paper, ribbons, and gift tags to swap. (You could also supply all the materials if you have the budget.) Be sure to bring plenty of scissors and tape, and of course, some healthy snacks and beverages to make the gift wrapping as festive as possible.
If you have many materials left when the event ends, consider keeping the wrapping station running until the holidays are over.
Run a Holiday 5K
If your office includes an athletic bunch, then consider using the time you might spend on a holiday party on a holiday 5K race. Instead of buying decorations and treats, you can fund everyone’s registration fees and maybe even supply some holiday accessories to make any 5K you can find into one that’s suitable for your holiday celebration.
Daytime Pajama Party and Board Games
Pick the last working day before the holiday break to host an afternoon pajama party complete with board games.
- Have everyone wear their pajamas to work that day.
- Have everyone bring their favorite board game.
- Stop working early and have everyone play games as if they were kids waiting to open presents.
With these fun ideas, who needs a big budget? Let us know what your planning in the comments below.