Throwing a formal holiday party can be a lot of work. It can also cost a lot of money. Booking a venue, coordinating a date that works for your employees, catering, and simply finding the time to plan a holiday party can be overwhelming.

To make matters worse, there’s often mixed feedback on whether employees enjoy holiday parties and find them worthwhile. Some employees dislike when they take place after-hours, while others don’t want to sacrifice an afternoon of work time during peak busy season. Social butterflies may find them fun and engaging, while some more reserved employees may find them draining and dread having to participate in the office politics they bring about. So why not try something a little different this year?

There are many great ways to celebrate the holidays at work other than throwing a formal holiday event. Here are some great holiday party alternatives to consider. Try one or combine a few of these workplace celebrations this holiday season.


throw a potluck

Hosting a potluck is a great way to get your team together in a less formal setting. You can host it onsite and it takes the pressure of planning the event, since everyone contributes. It’s a great way to enjoy some festive treats, try new foods and celebrate the holiday season. Plus, you can host it during the workday at lunch to ensure everyone can make it. Who knew Mark from accounting baked amazing gingerbread cookies?!

host a charity drive

A big part of the holiday season is about giving back. Hosting a charity drive is a wonderful way to make a difference in your community. Ask your team about local charities they would like to support and come up with ideas to raise funds, and collect gifts and supplies being requested by local organizations. For instance, a toy drive is a great way to get into the holiday spirit that’s not all about money. 

have ugly sweater contest

Everyone could all use a good laugh during the holidays when stress is often at its peak. Ugly sweater days have become a popular way to get into the holiday spirit and the best part is everyone can participate no matter their background or how they celebrate. So, dig out those ugly sweaters and hand out prizes to the employees who have the best of the worst!

set up a holiday photo booth

Photo booths are a fun way for your team to have some laughs, dress up, and get some great shots in the festive spirit. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Gather some holiday props and decorations like bows and ribbons, hats and winter attire, and maybe even a Santa suit. Create a wintery backdrop and encourage your employees to come up with some creative photos. If you don’t want to shell out for a photographer or a camera – a phone will work just fine. You can even host a photo contest if you want to inspire a little friendly competition.

make your own hot cocoa bar

Who doesn’t enjoy getting cozy with a nice warm drink on a cold winter day? Set up a hot cocoa bar in the break room and treat your employees to a hot cup of cocoa. It’s a great way to break up the day, do something different, and celebrate the holidays while still getting some work done. Set out a selection of cocoas (and maybe coffee or cider, if you’re feeling adventurous), marshmallows and toppings to make it a truly luxe experience.

stage a holiday movie day

Block out the afternoon, round up your employees and gather together to enjoy a holiday movie. Serve hot chocolate, festive treats, and enjoy a relaxing afternoon at the office. Make the experience a little more democratic by sending out a poll to vote on what movie you should watch a week before the event.

plan a holiday cookie bake off

Who doesn’t love to snack on festive cookies over the holidays? A bake off or a cookie exchange is a fantastic way to try out a variety of different types of holiday cookies. Everyone has their holiday baking specialties and this is perfect chance to sample them all! Think of all the cookies, tarts, and squares you’ll be able to try!

have a gift exchange

A gift exchange (such as a white elephant gift exchange or secret santa) is a simple way for people to show a small token of their appreciation and have some fun with their coworkers. Hosting a gift exchange can also take off the pressure of wondering whether or not to get gifts for coworkers. Just make sure it’s opt-in only, and keep the spending limit to a reasonable amount (somewhere in the $15-30 range is usually a safe bet!) When determining up the gift exchange rules, try to make them inclusive – i.e. no gifts celebrating specific religious holidays or gendered gifts – so everyone can walk away with a gift they will be able to use.

plan a desk decoration challenge

Want to spread the holiday cheer? Holding a desk decoration challenge is a great way to spice things up around the office and encourage some festive creativity that everyone can enjoy. Employees can create their own little winter wonderland at their desk. Add a friendly note of competition by handing out prizes for those who go above and beyond to embrace the holiday spirit.

organize a half-day of volunteering

The holidays are a perfect time to embrace selfless giving and think about the less fortunate. Volunteering as a team is an excellent way to put this into action. Collecting donations can be faceless and impersonal so it’s nice to get out in the world and make a difference in person. Many companies spend a half day or few hours helping out at the local food bank, charity, or soup kitchen, lending a helping hand and embracing the holiday spirit.


You don’t need to throw a huge formal holiday party to be in the festive spirit. Choose activities that are fun, fit within your company budget, will get your employees excited, and spread the holiday cheer.

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