If you’re like most companies, you’re in the midst of planning your annual Christmas or holiday party. There’s been a lot of research done on the ritual of the holiday work party, proving that most employees look forward to this annual tradition. It’s a chance to bond with colleagues, celebrate the successes of the past year, enjoy a well-deserved break - and even learn a bit of gossip. Office parties are a crucial part of creating a positive culture and getting to know staff better, and many individuals report an increase in their overall satisfaction at companies who participate in holiday party festivities.
If that sounds like a lot of pressure, you’re correct! But we are here to help you out with some fun and fresh ideas for your festive gathering. Give any of these ideas a try when hosting this year’s party and it will be an event that’s talked about all year round! While you’re at it, you can check out a previous list of company party holiday ideas here.
Christmas work party ideas for large groups
Every office is unique, and if you work for a large organization, then chances are a simple potluck is out of the question. Here are some of the best ideas for bringing together a big crowd.
1. Holiday game show
This one takes some preparation, but can be a lot of fun for a larger group (when well organized). Start by thinking through a few game shows that people like, and then add a holiday twist. For example, you could come up with the Price is Right, and bring in items that are Christmas themed like an artificial tree, cookie tray, etc. Or, you could choose Family Feud and use themes like “Foods you eat at Christmas dinner” or “Presents you get from your grandma”. Either of these ideas lead to lots of laughs. Depending on the size of your group, it likely makes sense to plan the teams in advance and let people know where they belong upon arrival. You’ll need a large space, a microphone, possibly a projector screen, and someone who is comfortable hosting.
2. Virtual holiday happy hour
If your team is spread out, you may have no choice but to host an online party. It’s important that you still hype this event up and make it something people can look forward to. Have people wear their festive best, whether that includes dressing up or just wearing red and green (or pajamas, as we mention below). Encourage everyone to bring their favorite beverage, and have some games prepared. You can read some of our past posts for ideas on games for virtual teams to play. As a nice extra touch, some companies send out kits to each employee beforehand. The kit could include things like a drink mix with a branded glass, packaged snacks, or a fun accessory to wear on the call. Obviously the purchasing and shipping of such items can have a big impact on your budget, but you’ll be saving on a venue and bar, so it might be worth it!
3. Secret Santa
Who doesn’t love this holiday tradition? Prior to the party, have everyone draw the name of someone who they will need to buy a present for. Set a limit and tell everyone to bring their gift to the holiday party and place it under the tree. If you want, you can have people sign their gift so that upon opening, people will know who their secret Santa was. Some companies have employees guess who their secret Santa was, but that can be difficult in truly large groups. For a bit of added fun, choose the secret Santas well in advance so that they can leave festive surprises for the few weeks leading up to the party - like a little box of candy or some Christmas socks in their cubicle.
4. Candy or cookie bar
If you don’t want to provide a full meal at your mid-day party, try setting up a nice dessert bar with lots of options. Set up long tables with different jars of candy, cookies, brownies, etc. You can either have this provided by a local caterer or baker, or have people bring items they made at home. Supply baggies and ribbon for people to pack a goody bag to take home. Tip: make sure to provide plenty of spoons, tongs, and napkins to keep things hygienic!
5. Photo booth
A festive photo is worth 1,000 words. For your holiday event, bring in a photo booth and choose plenty of funny accessories like Santa hats, reindeer antler headbands, and cardboard signage. It’s a great extra touch for an already fun event, and lets employees take home a memento of a memorable evening.
6. Christmas icebreakers
Kick off the mingling with some simple icebreakers. You can make them holiday themed by having everyone answer questions like “What is the best gift you ever received?” or “What is your favorite Christmas carol?” This is a fun and festive way to get to know colleagues better, and icebreakers are especially important if you’re encouraging mingling of inter-departmental groups. Here are a bunch of Christmas icebreaker games to consider.
7. Hidden snowmen
A fun game that can be played by any size group during almost any party, this “hidden figures” game requires you to print out several small snowmen and hide them around the office (or party venue). Create plenty of them and make some easier than others to find, and include a prize for the winner. You can either print a dozen or so and give all attendees a paper to write down their locations, or you can print many of them (like 100) and have people snatch them as they find them. The route you go will likely depend on the size of your space and the number of attendees. Either way, whoever finds the most wins.
8. Holiday trivia
Trivia is a smart way to engage employees at any time, but is especially fun for Christmas parties. Split attendees into teams, and have everyone answer holiday-themed trivia questions in categories like Christmas carols, holiday movies, festive foods, etc. You’ll need to do some preparation in advance by making up the questions and securing a facilitator.
9. Gourmet cocoa bar
A nice thoughtful touch at any holiday event is a delicious cocoa bar. Set up a buffet table with hot water and a variety of cocoa packets, whip cream, marshmallows, and even peppermint spoons (for stirring - they are amazing!). Set out plenty of mugs, and if you want to use them as a favor, have special branded mugs printed up for everyone to take home after they drink out of them. Again, this won’t be the main focus of any party, but it’s a fun add-on no matter what you plan.
10. Stocking stuffer station
One of the hardest parts of planning a holiday party is coming up with favors. What one person is so excited to get, another will likely throw away. How can you please everyone? By setting up a special bar where attendees can pick their own favors. Pack a table with festive freebies and have employees pick out a few to take home. You can set out a set of empty stockings and then stock the table with items like hot cocoa bombs, candy canes, edible shot glasses, small candles, gingerbread cookies, bottle openers, or mint tins. The options for what to set out are nearly endless, so think about your team and what they might like - and let them help themselves to a bit of everything! It’s worth noting that this can eat up a good chunk of change, depending what you choose, so it’s best for those groups with a larger favor budget.
11. Themed bingo
Always a classic, this bingo game has a holiday twist. For this version of the game, more mingling is required. Create bingo cards that have prompts that will pertain to people - for example “loves eggnog” (or “hates eggnog”), “puts out elaborate lights”, or “has a snowman in their yard”. Then pass out a card and marker to each attendee and, as they socialize, they can mark off each box that pertains to someone they met or chatted with. This game is really great for newer companies where employees don’t know each other well, or for organizations who bring offices together for one big holiday event.
Christmas party ideas for small groups
If your group is on the smaller side, you have a bit more flexibility. Perhaps that comes with a smaller budget, but you can have fun on even a shoestring budget! Note: some of these ideas could be applied to a larger group as well, it would just take more setup and more materials. If you want to check out other ideas for team building activities for large groups, or learn more minutes to win it games for any size group, make sure to follow our blog.
12. Tree decorating competition
This activity could technically be done by any size group, but it can get a bit out of control with too many people. As part of your holiday gathering, host a tree decorating competition with all the fixings. Hand out small trees to each attendee, and make sure to have plenty of tinsel, ornaments, and decor available. Give everyone 15 minutes to decorate their tree and then reward the most beautiful. You can also get really creative and say that people need to decorate with materials from around the office, which is sure to bring on tons of laughs - but people will need more time to accomplish this.
13. Secret desk decorating elf
Rather than a secret Santa, pair people up with a “desk decorator”. Their job is to go into their partner’s cubicle and decorate it as festively as possible. You can provide materials or let people know in advance so they can bring their own. Obviously this idea only works for in-office events.
14. Ugly sweater design competition
Ugly sweaters have become a staple for Christmas-time fun. Help everyone get into the spirit by hosting a design workshop where people can “uglify” their sweater for the holiday season. Each person should bring in a plain sweater of their choosing, and then use the materials you provide to decorate. You’ll need quite a few materials like hot glue guns, iron on patches (and an iron), beads, ribbon, etc. Be sure to have a great prize for the ugliest sweater.
15. Gift wrapping station
If you’re looking for a big thank you for your employees, this is it! Why not hire some people (it can even be high school aged kids of some staff) to work a gift wrapping table during your party? Many parents struggle to get all of their wrapping done before the big day, and allowing them to get this taken care of while they mingle will be appreciated and remembered. Encourage employees to bring in a bag of gifts that they need wrapped, and they can drop them at the gift-wrapping table upon entry and pick them up when they leave. You might also contact a local charity and see if they offer this service - some nonprofits do gift wrapping as a fundraiser during the holidays. Find a whole list of employee appreciation ideas on our blog.
16. Indoor snowball fight
For a rowdier, more physical party idea, try this fun seasonal activity. It’s bound to bring out employees' competitive sides! You can buy indoor snowball kits that consist of plush cloth balls for throwing. Split the group into teams and give each person a bucket of these balls. Then, blow the whistle and let the games begin! You’ll need a wide, open space for this to be fun and safe. For more winter-themed team building ideas, check out our past post.
17. Elf on the shelf photo shoot
Elf on the shelf has become a fun Christmas tradition where a plush elf is moved around each evening to give the appearance of being real and doing things. Prior to your party, let staff know that one of the activities will be a photo contest featuring their elves. Employees can bring in a printed photo of their elf in their most fun, festive, or creative pose. You might be surprised how clever people get with these elves! Have a judge or panel of judges award prizes for things like best-dressed, most mischievous, etc.
18. Minute to win it games
A good idea for any company gathering, you can make these more “Christmassy” by selecting some holiday themed games. For example, “cookie face” where participants place a small cookie on their forehead and try to get it into their mouth without using their hands. Or, a wrapping challenge where players are paired off and one must wrap the other as a gift from head to toe in under a minute. Get creative and think of some fun and silly games that can be played in 60 seconds.
19. “Reindeer” games
The normal name for this is called office Olympics, but this one has a holiday theme. Split groups into teams and give everyone a few minutes to come up with a great team name. Then compete in a series of silly challenges like “present pass off” which is really a relay race with a present instead of a baton, or “Santa’s sack race” which is just a three-legged sack race using “Santa’s” big bag. You’ll need a bigger space for these more physical games, so keep that in mind when planning.
20. Christmas charades
Charades is a game that most people understand and feel comfortable with, so it’s a winner when it comes to adding to holiday party fun. Split your group into teams and have them act out words or phrases with a Christmas theme, for example “Christmas traditions” or “Holiday movie characters”. The Grinch is sure to keep people guessing!
21. Christmas card crafting
As another show of appreciation for your staff, help them to customize those Christmas cards! For this one you’ll need a professional artist or calligrapher. Set up a station with all of the materials they need to create a couple of masterpieces on cards. Or, you could go the digital route and have a graphic designer on hand to create the perfect photo card that they can have printed through an app. Either way, employees will appreciate freeing up some time to create an extra-special card they’ll be proud to send.
Offsite events and activities
If you’re of the mind that people have more fun outside of the office, it’s time to explore some original ideas! Research what is available in your community, and chances are you’ll find a venue for all of these ideas, and more. Popular options are securing a loft space for a cocktail party, renting out an art museum, or signing up for a cooking class. Depending where you live, anywhere from your local library to a nearby zoo might be the perfect venue. Here are some of our favorite ways to get out of the office and into the Christmas spirit.
22. Mixology class
For better or worse, Christmas parties are often known for their bars. Get everyone into the holiday spirit by helping them mix up some spirits! Do some research on local mixology classes, or venues who are hosting special cocktail classes for the holidays - most metropolitan areas will have an offering. You could also reach out to an independent bartender and have them come in and teach you to whip up some special seasonal cocktails. This event is ideal for an out-of-office experience. Make sure everyone has a safe ride home, though!
23. Cooking class
If you want less focus on alcohol, then try putting together a cooking class! Few things make you as warm and cozy as a steaming plate of pasta! Again, you can hire someone to come into your space or you can choose a venue who specializes in these classes. Either way, such a class is a good shared experience which is really important for bonding and relationship building.
24. Murder mystery
This option makes it onto lots of our lists, but that’s because it’s a fan favorite. Though you might think of these events as better suited to Halloween, many venues offer a merry version that’s perfect for Christmas. Get your group out and enjoy a delicious meal and a fun mystery. We’ve even seen “Who killed Santa Claus” parties, or events with an ugly sweater theme. You can’t go wrong by finding a great event space who specializes in these sorts of dinners. As a shared experience with plenty of problem solving, this is a great choice for making connections, increasing cooperation, and boosting critical thinking.
25. Christmas carnival
While some of the events we’ve mentioned have a family-friendly angle, this is the first one truly directed towards families and children. If family life is an important value for your organization, try hosting a carnival with games, contests, and more. It’s best to rent a space for this like a local gym or warehouse. Simple games can include throwing indoor snowballs to knock over empty bottles, throwing Christmas wreaths onto a pole, or pinning the hat on the santa. Include fun prizes like candy and stuffed animals, and serve all sorts of snacks like popcorn and cotton candy. Depending how much time (and money) you want to spend, you can even set up a north pole themed funhouse or hire some elves to help the kiddos with games. Face painting, snowman decorating, and even an ice-cold dunk tank will all add to the merriment!
26. Dessert decorating
For your next holiday party, don’t just provide delicious desserts - show people how to make them. Bring in a pastry chef or professional baker and give decorating demonstrations. You can include supplies for people to get hands-on and try themselves, or have everyone gather round at a certain time for a presentation. Make sure to have boxes or baggies available for people to take home their beautiful sweets!
27. Museum scavenger hunt
A museum is the perfect location for a scavenger hunt. Take your party out of the office and into a visually interesting place that’s made for lots of people! Talk to your local museum about renting it out for an evening, and then set up a scavenger hunt based on things around the museum. The first person to find each item and check everything off wins! Bonus: to put together the scavenger hunt, you’ll need to spend time walking around the museum in advance of the party. This makes a nice outing for the lucky planners!
28. Merry movie night
This one will be popular with kids and adults alike. Ask your local theater about renting out a showing and invite all of your colleagues and their families to enjoy a Christmas classic on the company. Make sure plenty of snacks, drinks, and candy are on hand for the full experience.
Themes for holiday parties
No matter what size of party you’re hosting, or where, including a theme adds an extra layer of fun. Ugly sweaters have been a fun staple for years, but there are so many more choices to consider. Having your party planned around a cohesive theme will help you to choose food, music, favors, etc. Here are some of the themes that employees say they enjoy the most.
29. Bring your pet to party
People sure love their pets, and they feel great when their work understands their passion. Organizing a party in a pet-friendly place shows them that you actually want to meet their furry friends. Note: check in with staff first. Some people may have allergies or other issues that make them not want to be around animals. You don’t want to purposely plan something that makes people uncomfortable.
It doesn’t get much simpler than this standby. If you are on an extra-tight budget this year, let colleagues know that you really value this special time together, but you’re going to keep things old-fashioned. Send around a list where people can sign up to bring food items for all to share. This works best for a lunch or daytime activity, when it’s paired with time off to enjoy. For example, make it a breakfast and let people know they aren’t expected at their desks before 10 am, or schedule a long lunch so people have plenty of time to mingle without pressure.
31. Christmas around the world
This truly great theme highlights the different ways that people around the world celebrate the holiday. It does take some time to prepare since research is required. Gather appropriate food, drinks, decor, and music, and incorporate elements of each throughout the event.
32. Ugly sweater
An oldie but a goodie, ugly sweaters never go out of style and almost everyone can get their hands on one. Simply tell everyone in advance that this is the theme, and enjoy all the smiles and laughter when everyone arrives!
33. Pajama party
Get extra cozy with a pajama-themed evening. Have people wear their (work appropriate) jammies and slippers, then conduct the party as usual. You really don’t need to do anything special; just host as you normally would, but enjoy the extra comfort!
34. White elephant gift exchange
In this activity, people give each other gifts that are normally under a certain dollar amount (normally about $20). Many people make this tradition humorous, giving out silly and impractical gifts. In fact, some groups even make it a contest to see who can bring the silliest gift. But - you don’t have to. Some people bring a crowd-pleaser like gift cards or candles. Decide in advance if you are going the funny route so that no one is embarrassed. Then, at the party, have each person draw a number. When it’s their turn, they can choose from the unwrapped gifts and be surprised, or they can “steal” a gift that they’ve seen opened already. The last person has seen everything and will have a tough decision to make!
35. Family friendly storytime
If you are including families in your festivities, especially those with young children, you may want to have someone play “Santa” or an elf and read a Christmas classic like the Night Before Christmas. The kids will get a big kick out of it and the parents will enjoy watching them soak in the Christmas spirit.
36. New Year's bash
If Christmas-time is too hectic for your employees, bump your party altogether! Consider hosting a New Year themed event instead. You can do a countdown to midnight (even though it’s not technically New Year's Eve) or you could do a New Year's Day football themed party. For many people, that’s their first day back to work after a lengthier holiday break, so make it easier with a New Years breakfast or lunch.
Christmas is that rare time of year when many people feel especially grateful for their own fortune, and desire to help those who are struggling. There are many ways to incorporate corporate charity or volunteering into your holiday event, no matter the venue or theme. If you have (really great) employees that you know care about giving back, add some of these ideas to your gathering. Remember, your event doesn’t need to be centered on the charity element - these tactics can be added on to almost any type of gathering as a way to support the community you live and work in.
37. Silent auction
Ask local businesses to donate something, and then hold a silent auction at your event where people can bid on it.
38. Charity 50/50
At the entrance of your party, have a raffle ticket set up where people can buy tickets (or not). At the end of the night hold the raffle and then the winner keeps half of the earnings. The other half goes to your chosen organization, or you can let the winner choose their favorite charity.
39. Toy drive
It’s a heartbreaking truth that many families struggle to provide gifts for their children. Ease that burden by including a toy drive in your holiday event. You can work through an organization like Toys for Tots, or do some independent research and just drop off whatever gifts are donated.
40. Winter clothing drive
Similar to the toy drive, you can ask people to bring in new mittens, hats, scarves, etc. Talk to local organizations about who could use these items the most, and let your employees know where their goodwill is directed.
41. Can food drive
A lot of homeless shelters work hard to make sure people have enough to eat, and they appreciate canned goods that won’t go bad. Have everyone come to the party with one canned good to donate.
42. Card decorating
Have a station for card creation, where people can make and write in cards that go to great nonprofits like homes for the elderly, or soldiers that are overseas. You don’t know how much they’ll be appreciated, and it only takes a few moments!
43. Volunteer event
Lastly, why not close out a full day of fun with an activity that helps a local nonprofit? Everything from park cleanup to bike building is possible. Look for opportunities that support your local community, but also offer opportunities for teamwork and bonding.
Build on your holiday party momentum
The holidays are an important time to take stock of where you’ve been and think about starting a new year. Christmas work parties are great for bringing everyone together and taking a collective sigh of relief after a long year - but it’s important to think about how to keep those feelings alive moving into a new year.
We suggest companies start planning a company retreat for later in the year as soon as holiday festivities are over. Start the year in January with a commitment to creating the best company culture possible.