Celebrate the holidays with a creative party


Photo by Paul Moore

Chuck Robinson, owner of Village Books in Fairhaven, hosted a holiday bowling party at Century Bowling in Bellingham earlier this year. He said office parties are a fun way to cut loose and get to know co-workers.


Everybody has a story about the office holiday party.

See that guy over there? He danced on a table last year. And one year Sue in accounting spilled her punch all over the boss’s wife.

But even with all the potential for embarrassment in front of your co-workers, office holiday parties should be a time for everyone to get together and have fun.

“It’s a time of year when people want to gather,” said Anna Schiessl, general manager for Emerald Bay Events. “It’s a time to celebrate, whether it be a corporate gathering or a group of friends and family.”

It can be difficult, though, to get everyone on staff together during the holidays because people have family events to coordinate, too. So if there are only a few dates that work for your company, schedule your holiday party as early as possible, up to a year in advance for groups larger than 100 people, Schiessl said.

“Otherwise you won’t get your first choice of dates,” she said. “When you look at a calendar, there aren’t many times available to have a holiday party. It’s usually just a two- to three-week window of opportunity to get people together, and everybody wants to get together.”

Once the date is set, Schiessl recommends setting clear goals for the holiday party in terms of budget, entertainment and venue. That way, time is not wasted gathering unnecessary details.

And for entertainment, try to arrange something that people don’t normally see, Schiessl said. This can range from a comedy act to live music.

“The main thing at holiday parties is you have to engage people,” she said.


From books to bowling

Perhaps the easiest way to ensure a good time is to get out of the workplace, Schiessl said.

For example, last year the staff of Village Books and Paper Dreams closed shop a little early and got together for a night of pizza and bowling. In the past the group has done everything from karaoke to billiards.

“We usually try to plan an activity that would be fun to do as a group,” said Chuck Robinson, owner of Village Books. “One of the things that is fun about bowling is each time we’ve done it there are people who have never bowled before.”

The company doesn’t do the traditional corporate holiday party — rent a banquet hall, cater a nice dinner and chit-chat or dance — because “we don’t have the average corporate sort of group here,” Robinson said.

And to make sure each party isn’t the same, Robinson said he talks with the staff each year to see what they would like to do. However, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with an activity for 50 to 60 people.

“We’ve thought of some other things like an ice skating party, a gym party where we would rent Bloedel-Donovan and play volleyball, or a pool party at Arne Hanna [Aquatic Center],” Robinson said, adding that there hasn’t been much enthusiasm for a pool party in the winter. “Thinking of new things is a bit of a challenge.”

One aspect of the Village Books holiday party that is always a hit is that it happens in January, after the holiday rush. December is usually hectic for retailers and it can be difficult for the staff to fit in time for a company party, especially on top of family commitments.

“Moving it after the first of the year took a lot of stress off of everybody,” Robinson said. “For folks in retail it’s a good time to relax and congratulate ourselves for making it through another busy season.”


Using what you have

Once a company passes a certain size, it can become increasingly difficult to get everyone together for a holiday party. At Wood Stone Corp., President Keith Carpenter solves that problem by simply having holiday parties at work.

The day before Thanksgiving, the company’s three full-time chefs cook up several turkeys in the company’s test kitchen and treat the staff of 75 to a holiday feast.

“We all shut down and eat,” he said. “We cook a complete Thanksgiving dinner and we do pretty much the same thing right before Christmas. We do it right in the middle of the day — things are usually slow that day, the phone’s not ringing much.”

Carpenter said the company has always done staff feasts, because, well, “we’re in the food service business.”

Plus eating together in a relaxed setting rather than at a formal dinner gives the staff more chances to connect.

“You get people together for a meal like that and that’s when people start telling stories about how they used to do dinners like this at grandma’s house. They tell stories that you wouldn’t normally tell at work,” Carpenter said.


Party for the clients

At The Grotto Hair and Skin Care Studio, owners Karly Lane and Kelli Smith not only throw a party for their employees, but for their clients as well.

Last year, Lane and Smith invited all of their clients to stop by the salon for a day of complimentary paraffin dips, a raffle drawing, and make-up tips.

“We cooked a bunch of food and brought beverages and we gave lessons for how to do your hair for holiday parties,” Lane said. “It was a good way for us to introduce new customers to our salon.”

Though the party was geared toward clients, it was also fun for the staff to get together and host the event, Lane said. Then later in the month, amidst all the holiday madness, the staff closed the salon early on a Saturday and had their own private cocktail party at Smith’s house.


Mix up the entertainment

For more formal holiday gatherings, one way to keep the party rolling is to mix up the entertainment.

At the local office of Moss Adams LLP, human resources manager Judy Upham changes the entertainment “so it doesn’t feel like the same party every year,” she said.

In past years, comedy acts and live music have proven popular. Upham gauges the success of the holiday party by seeing how long people stay.

“There were a few years that we had a band and people danced and stayed as long as the venue was open,” she said.

People seemed to be having so much fun dancing that one year the company booked U&Me Dance to teach swing dancing lessons.

“That was so much fun,” Upham said. “You don’t always know what will work out, but that one turned out great.”


Holiday party ideas and ice breakers

  • Have staff write down an interesting fact about themselves that others may not know. Then hand them out to people and have them find each other.
  • Place trivia questions around the room about the company, the boss, or even your competitor.
  • Dancing is always a great way to get people to mingle and loosen up.
  • Karaoke can bring a bit of goofiness to a holiday party, and you might discover some closet crooners.
  • Who says holiday parties have to be inside during the winter? How about having it at Mount Baker? Take your smaller staff skiing and snowboarding, and stop for dinner in Glacier on the way home.
  • Charter a boat and venture out onto Bellingham Bay for an evening cruise.
  • Go bowling or ice skating.

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