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5 Virtual Ways to Inclusively Celebrate the Holiday Season at Work

The holiday season at work is always fun – endless cookies and candy in the break room, cube-decorating contests and gift exchanges, ugly sweater parties and happy hours. While the pandemic has taken away our ability to safely celebrate in person, it hasn’t taken away our ability to celebrate at all! In this especially reflective time, it’s also important to remember that everyone has different traditions and beliefs. So with that in mind, here are five virtual activities that all of your coworkers can enjoy, regardless of how they personally celebrate this time of year.

Cookie recipe exchange

One thing’s for sure: the holidays are for baking. We all miss traditional cookie exchanges, but this is a super easy – and just as sweet – alternative. Anyone who wants to participate will send their cookie recipe of choice to an appointed person, who’ll compile all of the recipes into a virtual recipe book to be shared with everyone. To spice things up, you might put out a call for original art to be used on the cover and inside pages, giving the document a little extra color and warmth!

As an added way to connect with your coworkers, you can also encourage them to record a short video where they (and whoever else might want to join: roommates, family members, children, etc.) explain the recipe and/or tell a story or share a memory about it. This is a great way to both celebrate diverse traditions and bring people together over the universal aspect of making and sharing food with loved ones.

Conversation starters

One of the things I’ve missed the most about being in the office is simply chatting with my coworkers. Nothing beats that organic, in-person interaction, but virtual channels such as Slack and Microsoft Teams present a great opportunity to utilize the oh-so-classic conversation starter. Go for holiday, winter or end-of-year themed questions that cater to everyone, such as, “What’s your favorite holiday tradition to do with friends or family?” or, “What accomplishment from this past year are you most proud of?”

Consider posting one or two conversation starters a day and encouraging your coworkers to share their thoughts if a particular prompt speaks to them. Every workplace is a bit different, so be sure to phrase your questions to fit your team’s personality. A good rule of thumb is to keep things light and fun!

Quick tip: If your company uses software that has a group chat or channel feature, consider creating a specific chat or channel for these questions (for example, my company has a Slack channel called #break-room, where we post everything from new puppy pics to funny quotes).

Holiday trivia

Trivia is always a crowd-pleaser. As with conversation starters, trivia can easily be posted in a group chat or channel. Multiple choice questions are a good way to go because you can try a process of elimination, or take your best guess from a set of options. Not only that, but you can post each potential answer separately, and participants can react to the answer they choose with an emoji. Cue a bunch of thumbs up, hearts, smiley faces and snowflakes (am I the only one who loves message reactions this much??).

When it comes to finding or creating questions, a few google searches will give you ample content to work with. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice, etc., you’re sure to learn something new!

Ugly sweater conference call

Turn your next team, departmental or company-wide conference call into an ugly sweater party! This article of clothing knows no creed: you can easily find Christmas sweaters, Hanukkah sweaters, Kwanzaa sweaters, winter-patterned sweaters, cute-little-bird-on-a-snowy-tree-branch sweaters (I own one of these myself), and more. Throw on your ugly sweater of choice and rock it! It’s sure to generate some much-needed silly fun after what many of us would call the year of a lifetime.

Arts and crafts

There’s nothing like throwing it back to your little kid days and making something out of construction paper, pipe cleaners, sequins, and anything else you can find. Holding a craft contest is a fun way to relieve the holiday stress and allow people to be creative in a low-pressure setting. Last year, for instance, I organized a “craft a snowperson” contest at my office, and it was a huge hit. I donated my own construction paper for the activity (I had a ton left over from my RA days in college) and cut basic pieces for everyone: white rectangles for the body, black squares for the top hat, and an assortment of colors to choose from for a scarf. I encouraged everyone to use these main components as a foundation, and to add anything else they wanted to give it their own unique flair. The top three winners were a winter wonderland snowperson, a snow-unicorn, and a snowman Elvis!

Granted, you can’t hand out supplies if your office is WFH, but everyone has odd materials lying around that they can put to use. Grab your scissors and glue sticks and get crafty!

No matter how or what you celebrate, these activities give everyone the opportunity to express and enjoy themselves, and can be adapted as necessary across any and all beliefs and celebrations. And even though the pandemic may be keeping you from seeing your coworkers in person this year, there are plenty of creative ways to stay connected. Happy holidays!

Elli Wills

Illinois '18

Elli has written for the U of I at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) chapter of Her Campus, the UIUC literary arts journal, Montage, and the nonprofit online magazine Culturally Modified. During her time as an intern at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, she also had the distinct pleasure of interviewing a fellow intern for the museum blog -- an experience that only confirmed her love for learning about others and sharing their unique stories. When she's not jotting down ideas for her next article, you can often find her binge-watching anime, practicing yoga, or spending time outdoors.