The 12 ways of Christmas! How you can still celebrate with your people this December

Christmas parties are about more than just having a knees-up – they are one of the most fun ways to thank your people and reward them for their hard work through the year. But how do you celebrate during COVID restrictions?

Polymedia, strategic PR specialists, works closely with people management specialist Sally-Ann Hall-Jones and her team at Reality HR to consistently reach out with practical HR advice and resources on key topics.

We worked with the Reality team to explore some alternatives employers could consider – and here are their “12 ways of Christmas”:


Christmas parties are about more than just having a knees-up – they are one of the most fun ways to thank your people and reward them for their hard work through the year. So how do you celebrate christmas during COVID?

Sadly at the end of 2020 when people deserve thanks more than ever,  it looks as if it will be very difficult to have a festive celebration in the way your teams are used to.

Employers of all but the very smallest businesses are likely to be under pressure to find ways to spread Christmas cheer while complying with the Rule of Six, social distancing guidelines, reduced opening hours and all the other restrictions Covid-19 has brought into our lives.

If you traditionally pull out all the stops for a Christmas party, event or meal out, staff will understandably be disappointed that things will be different in 2020. But employers who make the effort to reward and engage their teams in different ways will find themselves on the receiving end of plenty of festive good will.

The Reality team have put their Santa hats and thinking caps on to explore some alternatives employers could consider – and here are our “”12 ways of Christmas”:

Virtually having a wonderful Christmastime…

Like almost everything in 2020, there’s a virtual alternative to the Christmas do.

It’s a safe bet that your teams are Zoomed out or suffering from Teams fatigue, so the obvious Christmas quiz on its own might send them into a slump rather than bring tidings of joy!

However, some preparation can give your online event a lift. You could send out party packs in advance with strict instructions not to open them until the big day.

Then – Christmas jumpers and hats optional – you could ask everyone to open the box. Inside could be:

  • Cocktail making equipment (make sure there are non-alcoholic alternatives for people who are teetotal for medical, cultural or any other reasons)
  • Pictionary – it’s possible – and fun – to play this over video
  • Themed cards, hats and props for a game of charades
  • Festive-themed bingo sets
  • Paints or crayons for a competition – who can do the best replica of the Mona Lisa in five minutes? Who can come up with the best likeness of Donald Duck, Boris Johnson, Darth Vader or the boss?

Once guests have warmed up, you could progress to potentially more raucous activities like virtual karaoke – depending on the dynamics of the team. And make sure there’s a fine for anyone who mentions the C-word (that’s Covid/Coronavirus – not Christmas of course!).

Eat, drink and be merry

Unless your team is very small and likes an early night, it’s unlikely that the big staff meal out will happen this year.

But you could still eat in to help out! At a basic level this could be a simple gift of a voucher for your employee and their family for a food delivery service, so they can dine in on the company.

More ambitiously – and particularly if your employees are all based in roughly the same area – you could set aside a time when a local pub, restaurant or takeaway will deliver so you can enjoy food together, but apart. This is a way to show appreciation while supporting food businesses which have had an especially difficult year. Don’t forget a box of Christmas crackers.

Sssssh… it’s Secret Santa

We’re all going to have to help Santa out a bit more this year – social distancing and travel restrictions are presumably going to be a nightmare for St Nick.

The traditional office-based round of Secret Santa will be difficult to see through in many cases. That doesn’t have to mean the end of it though – there are plenty of online Secret Santa sites that can help organise a present-giving system, either with contributions from the employer or with an agreed spending limit for participants.

With a bit of planning, gifts can be delivered and then opened at an agreed time on a team video call – hopefully with a few laughs thrown in. Just make sure you agree the logistics – who contributes, how much, and who covers practicalities such as postage costs.

A meaningful message

It’s been a serious year, and depending on the kind of business you have and what’s been happening in it through the ups and downs of 2020, you may feel it’s not appropriate to go for full-on festive fun.

If that’s the case, you might want to think about ways to show staff that you understand that it has been a challenging time, and that you are grateful for their support.

Particularly if you’ve not had many team catchups, online or otherwise, in recent months, now might be a good opportunity for a team-wide call at which the owner or MD can deliver a meaningful message of thanks.

On the same note, handwritten, personalised Christmas cards from team leaders to staff are a personal touch that can mean a lot – especially with a gift such as a voucher inside.

All for a good cause

It’s been a challenging year for many, including those who are less fortunate than ourselves. In the absence of a traditional Christmas bash, you may feel it appropriate to make a charitable donation. Choose a cause that means something to your business – either because it’s in your local region, carries out work that is aligned to your own, or for some other reason has a connection with you or a member of your staff.

You could get your people more involved in this by asking them to nominate a cause, or causes, that deserve support. This is the approach the team at Reality HR are taking this year – instead of holding their usual celebrations, they are giving to the Southampton Hospitals Planets Charity, which is raising £250,000 to buy a specialist radiotherapy machine.

Without placing too many demands on your staff, you could see if they would like to support a local cause – perhaps by filling shoeboxes for children’s charities or donating a toy to a giving scheme.

The gift of time

They say that time is precious – so it can be seen as a gift to your employees. Instead of a party, or alongside other activities, think about giving your people a paid day or half day for Christmas shopping, or to see friends and relatives if they are able.

If you have people who would, in turn, like to give their time to others, then you could offer to support employees who volunteer for local charities, help out at their children’s schools, or give time to other local community causes.

Say it with a hamper

Christmas hampers can sometimes feel a bit old-fashioned and don’t always deliver the best value for money – but choose carefully and they can be very well received.

Be thoughtful about the contents – alcohol or meat products may not be appropriate for everyone – and try to personalise wherever possible.

It’s also a nice touch to use local suppliers wherever possible, so you know that not only are you rewarding employees, you’re also supporting local businesses.

Hold your own 12 Days of Christmas

If you can’t have one big event, why not host your very own 12 days of Christmas? You could, for example, set aside a prize fund for each day from December 1st to the 12th. Pull names out of a hat to win a prize each day, with 12 winners on December 1st, 11 on the 2nd and so on until there just one winner on the final day

The prizes get bigger as the number of winners get smaller! One of our team helped an employer with a similar scheme at a site with more than 2,000 employees, creating a daily buzz and plenty of seasonal cheer.

Staff awards ceremony

This year, more than any other, we’re grateful to the people who have worked to keep businesses going through exceptional challenges. As well as thanking all employees with a gift or event, you could pay special attention to those who have gone the extra mile during lockdown and beyond.

Either host an online “awards ceremony” or reveal a winner per day by email. Black tie is not required but silly hats may be!

Several smaller events

Big get-togethers are a non-starter this year. But depending on the size and structure of your business, you could organise several smaller events.

You are likely to be limited by the Rule of Six, restricted opening times and social distancing arrangements – but it may be that a lunchtime meal out in manageable groups is still possible if that works for your business.

Mix it up!

Some people love a Zoom quiz, others love a tipple, and some are up for online games! There may not be one idea that fits everyone, so larger organisations could think about whether it’s possible to go for a mix of several activities. This may also help in breaking the celebrations down into smaller, more manageable groups.

There’s always next year…

Coronavirus restrictions keep changing, and who knows what lies ahead? It may be some way off, but there will be a time when we can get together and party again in the traditional way. While you should try to do something to acknowledge the hard work of your people this year, they will understand that the big “do” may have to wait until we are in more flexible times. As long as you keep people informed, it’s fine to say that the celebrations will have to wait, and you’ll make it up to them. Just make sure you keep the promise!