Some holiday office parties are awesome, and others are nightmares. Last year, we asked about gifts, and this year we went out and asked real people to describe holiday parties they still rave about. Keep in mind that these answers come from real humans and not from companies that are trying to market their products, so it might not be what you've read in the past.

Additionally, some may seem contradictory because every office is different. Budgets and rules vary. So some of the ideas below won't work for your office, but others definitely will.

  • "At one of my husband's parties, there was a chance to pose, à la prom, for a professional picture and then receive a free print. A great idea for us, because we don't go out in our finest very often, and have portraits done almost never."
  • "I work in the public sector, and my employer isn't allowed to pay for anything at all. My unit has a lunchtime potluck sometime in December, which is fun and has lots of great food. I think this works--I'd be annoyed if we tried to do something after hours, since we'd have to pay for it."
  • "I worked for a guy who brought all of his employees plus a significant other to the horse track every year. He dressed as Santa and handed out $10 bills all night so that we could gamble with someone else's money. There were also door prizes and great food, and I think each person got two drink tickets."
  • "Every year, one of the bosses reserves a private room at a local restaurant and the company buys dinner for each employee and a guest. Everyone who wants to can bring a gift of around $20 to exchange. It's always a good time. What works best is when we can sit at smaller round tables but have room to move around and mingle."
  • "My favorite party was the one I couldn't attend. I worked for a company based out of Oregon and I live in Chicago. Our boss told all the remote people to go out to dinner and reimbursed up to $200."
  • "Our parties have been on a Wednesday afternoon and the boss cancels all meetings. Everyone brings a ton of food and we do a white elephant gift exchange. A couple of years we said the gift had to be something we already had or some gift we wanted to re-gift. Some of the gifts have been pretty funny."
  • "My husband's Christmas party is either a catered affair at the owner's house--one year they had the restaurant set up a sushi bar complete with sushi chef before the prime rib dinner was served--or a fancy dinner-dance at a restaurant. This year the party is at a ritzy golf course club house. They are also having door-to-door driver service for the employees since the alcohol flows freely at their Christmas parties."
  • "The company my husband used to work for had a very nice, fancy dress-up Christmas party. It was always the night before Christmas eve, and then everyone had off Christmas eve and Christmas day. I miss those events."
  • "My work has done a variety of things. We used to go to a nice dinner, then a comedy club. But as we got bigger, that got expensive, and it got to be total PITA with some of the people who were fuddy duddies, so now we generally do a nice party at our boss's house. It's fine, but I do miss the fancier party. We rarely get a chance to get dressed up and have a really nice night on the town."
  • "My husband's employer doesn't always throw a holiday party, but when it does, it's at the Botanical Gardens in D.C. It is amazing. There are usually light refreshments (e.g., nuts, fruit cake, dried fruit) and a cash bar that mostly serves punch."
  • "The company did separate parties by department and ours was the engineers, managers, and their guests. It featured a massive sushi bar during the cocktail hour, then a yummy dinner, dancing, and nice door prizes. They even offered on-site child care during the party."
  • "My department had our holiday party Tuesday night. We went to 16 Bit Bar and Arcade. The company paid for two alcoholic drinks and all non-alcoholic drinks. It also paid for food from a local restaurant. I work in IT, so the video games were a huge hit."
  • "The best have been catered lunch parties with a sit-down meal just as a thank-you for a year of hard work."
  • "My favorite was the Christmas when one of the staff writers (our office housed three craft magazines) wrote a Christmas story that included every single person's last name (puns were aplenty), along with key directional words (like left and right). We sat in a very large circle and passed nice white elephant gifts left and right as the story dictated. With more than 50 people on staff, it was quite the story and we were all in tears with laughter by the time we got to open the gift we ended up with. I don't remember my gift, but I definitely remember the laughter. That particular party also included a nice lunch at an upscale steakhouse."
  • "Instead of a mandatory work Christmas party, we do a mandatory day of fun, where we all go to the Christmas markets together."
  • "The best Christmas party that I have had was a meal out with the whole company, and then whoever wanted to carry on to bars could do so. A meal can't go too wrong as long as it is quite structured, so no one can get too carried away and then the people who go to the bars afterward are more likely to be the people who don't mind if everyone is drunk!"
  • "Best party--any party during work hours (but only if my workload is actually reduced)."
  • "The owner rented the top floor of a super hip oyster bar for the entire staff and their plus ones. We got unlimited free drinks and fancy tapas, which was awesome, but the best part was that we all really liked hanging out with one another. The venue was quiet and intimate so we could chat and really just enjoy the company. Such a lovely memory."
  • "Our boss has everyone and a guest over to her house on a Saturday night. Her house is lovely and spacious and all decked out for the holidays. She hires servers, a cigar roller, bartenders, and a cab service for those who get a little too festive. She has a a baby grand piano in her home, and one year, her husband built a 'bar' of sorts to put up around the piano. She hired a professional to play the piano, and everyone gathered around and sang everything from holiday favorites to Billy Joel's 'Piano Man.' It was the best office holiday party I have ever attended."
  • "It's a Saturday evening affair at a nice hotel or banquet hall. Fully catered, open bar, door prizes ranging from board games to flat-screen TVs, laptops, Wii's, and nice iPods. Always caricaturists, often for fun casino tables, with chips being exchanged for more door prize tickets. Short on speeches and long on dancing and music. DJ and dance coordinator included, and one year we had a live band with swing lessons. We can bring one guest. We invite some customers, but it's really about the employees. All at no cost to the employees. Just for fun."