Q: Hi Steve – I have been asked to organize something for the office for the holidays – a party, an outing, something. In addition, I have been given a ridiculously small budget. How do I do it without making the boss look like a cheapskate (which he is not)?

Annie

A: I bet you didn’t know that the tradition of the holiday party started during the Great Depression when employers wanted to give their staff an affordable perk since things like raises and bonuses were mostly out of the question.

Although they grew over the years, the office party’s glory days do seem to be fading right now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a great party; you can. Of course, to save money you could make it pot-luck (or partial pot-luck), have a “white elephant” gag gift exchange, have one of the staff be the DJ, and/or play some inexpensive, fun games (scavenger hunts, charades, etc.)

To make the party really different, have each person bring an ethnic dish to the pot luck, along with some recipe cards; it is a great way to start conversations and learn something new.

But beyond the traditional holiday party, there are other ways to affordably welcome the holidays:

Have a green holiday party: Bake a cake instead of buying one. Use washable plates and utensils instead of plastic. How about this: Tell everyone to bring their unwrapped gifts from home and offer used packing materials for them to wrap their presents. Or, encourage them to bring possible wrapping material too, such as

  • Old maps, coloring book pages, posters, etc.
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Sheet music
  • Old boxes

In addition, try using material from around the office in creative ways for decorations. Give a green award or present to the most eco-friendly employee. Recycle everything left over at the end.

Bring back the cocktail party: It need not be expensive, and an evening in more formal wear, with adult beverages, hors d’oeuvres, and some Frank Sinatra music in the background could be a blast. But be careful about inviting Don and Betty Draper – rumor has it they are not getting along so well these days.

Volunteer together: An afternoon or a day volunteering can be both a heartwarming and difference-making way to bring in the season as well as being a great bonding and team-building exercise. Ask around and see what people would be interested in doing and then make some phone calls; plenty of organizations would love your help.

Another idea would be to work with a local charity to adopt a few families. You could organize a food and clothing drive, get them some presents, and even a tree. It’s not called the season of giving for nothing, right?

Bake: If someone had a big enough kitchen, the event could involve getting together to bake cookies, gingerbread, cupcakes, etc.

Get out! Organize an outdoor trip to the snow. Sledding, snowball fights and a trip to the lodge for hot chocolate when you are through at the end of the day can be another great, affordable holiday option.

Get arty: What about a group trip to a local winery, or to an art museum followed by lunch?

Time out Consider giving the gift of free time. As everyone is so hectic this time of year, there is no doubt that a free afternoon off here or there would be very welcome way to say thank you.

While it is unlikely that we will see the return of the excessive holiday party any time soon, that just may be a good thing. The personal touch can be a far more affordable, and memorable, way to go.

Today’s tip:
Want to know an easy way to navigate the holiday party when you only know people casually or not at all? One veteran social expert suggests that you pretend you are the host. How would you act? You would be gregarious and engaged.

Alternatively, consider taking on the role of a reporter: Ask people creative questions about themselves. What is their favorite color and why, what was their first car? Before long you will undoubtedly find a tidbit or morsel of information to converse about.

Alternatives To The Same Old Office Party

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