The best way to throw an inclusive holiday party at work.

There’s a reason it’s called “the festive season”: it’s a time to celebrate! As the year winds down, many people across different cultures and religions take time to celebrate family, friends, and other blessings in their lives. This energy and excitement can be infectious, and, understandably, it often finds its way into the workplace.

It’s important to be as accommodating as possible if you’re throwing a holiday party at your organization. But this doesn’t mean stringing up every religious and secular decoration you can find in an attempt to make sure everyone is represented. While that is a noble idea, you run the risk of misrepresenting a group — or forgetting one altogether.

That’s why it’s best to keep it neutral.  It’s too messy to try to accommodate every single individual faith, custom, and belief. A much more realistic objective is to host a party everyone can enjoy by keeping things unbiased and focusing on the elements that make a party fun, namely:

  • Tasty food and drinks. You might be concerned about the minefield that catering to various dietary restrictions can present, but it’s actually not that difficult. Hors d’oeuvres, sandwiches, pizza, casseroles, salads, chips, cookies, and cakes are always crowd favorites, and can easily be served with vegetarian, vegan, peanut-, lactose-, and gluten-free options. If offering alcohol, make sure non-alcoholic beverages like fruit juice, soda, punch, tea, and coffee are also available.
  • Great music. It’s not a party without an engaging playlist. Many online streaming services have hundreds of neutral holiday songs preloaded so all you have to do is press play. There’s no need to stick to these exclusively, though. Oldies, jazz, and instrumental genres are also good options to keep spirits up.
  • Pleasant décor. Stay away from decorations with loaded symbols like Santa, angels, etc. Icons from nature and generic craft paraphernalia are far more inclusive, and you can find them pretty much anywhere. Snowflakes, glitter, snowmen, and stars are just some of the many things you could use.
  • Prioritized accessibility. With all this going on, it’s important to stay cognizant of accessibility requirements. Does your party location have wheelchair access? Will the lighting be sufficient enough for those with visual impairments? Make sure the music isn’t too loud and that any games you might play can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of ability.

Games and gift giving

Speaking of games, it’s a good idea to offer meaningful prizes that support your organization mission and values. Employees of a gym are more likely to appreciate something like a bosu ball or skipping rope over a random gift card to a fast food chain. The same goes for presents. However, we’ve all been to a gift exchange where the presents were subpar, offensive, or “forgotten at home.” Given the high potential for disappointment, it might be wiser to skip exchanging gifts completely.

You can — and should — still celebrate diversity

Just because your holiday celebration is neutral doesn’t mean employees should be discouraged from expressing their heritage or beliefs. Give them the flexibility to decorate their individual workspaces, dress in holiday attire, and share festive dishes if they wish. Moreover, making note of multicultural holidays in the company calendar will help everyone be more mindful when it comes to scheduling meetings and events, or booking vacation. Many organizations provide float days for their staff to use in lieu of regular statutory holidays. That way they can take time off to observe their own traditions.

Write your own rules

Despite all these considerations, a neutral holiday party might still seem risky to some. In that case, the solution might be to frame it as a New Year’s party, or choose a date that matters to the organization. Perhaps instead of holding the party in December, you could celebrate the date the company was founded, or the date of your first sale. Whatever you decide, the point is to enjoy as a team, so your priority should be creating the sort of event your staff will love. People just want to have a good time. Any event that brings them together in a positive, supportive, and fun way will be considered a success.

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Also published on Medium.