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Things I Learned at My Unit's Last Holiday Party

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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Things I Learned at My Unit's Last Holiday Party

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Things I Learned at My Unit's Last Holiday Party

Our annual holiday party is now over for the year. It was a party for most who attended, but for a small handful of was some serious work...that started about a month ago. We opted to rent a community club...a nice large room with a bar area, plates and flatware provided, along with a sound system and a stage for Santa. We had it catered by a favorite restaurant and had everyone bring their favorite dessert. We provided sodas, water and juice boxes, along with some traditional German hot drinks set up in crockpots. Our teenagers set up craft tables along the side to keep the little ones entertained and busy. We also had a door prize type of raffle, a raffle for a donated $200 statue and sold limited edition ornaments and some we made ourselves on CafePress. We ended up with a very tidy profit, tired feet, but many happy partygoers. In looking back, here are some tips I can share that we'll keep in mind for next year.Ideas may include:

  • You can't do it all. Delegate tasks and do it early. A holiday party committee with regular meetings in the two months before the event is a stellar idea.
  • Email invites are great but also budget for snail mail invites and signs around the battalion, company and barracks areas. Also make sure First Sergeants put the information out in formation and at staff meetings.
  • Sell ornaments with your unit crest or insignia. This can be a huge moneymaker. We spent about $4 per ornament (we had a bulk order plus a shopowner discount) and charged $10 each. We uploaded our battalion crest and wrote in the name of the unit below on one of Cafe Press' oval ornaments. It was a big hit and a great memento from our unit. We set up our one shop and our one product (this keeps it free) and ordered our items early. Even though we had a small handful of defective ornaments, Cafe Press immediately sent out replacements and told us to discard the defectives...great customer service. Turn around time to our APO address was only 10 days.
  • Secure donations to raffle off...or sell opportunities to win (whichever is legal in your area). We had a soldier's mother donate a Michael Garman statue. We also got some items from our local USO and other generous donors to raffle off. Someone's father was the member of a military organization, and they sent two checks to buy items. We had a separate raffle for the statue and another one for the door prize items. We used regular raffle tickets for the door prizes and for the Garman, we used a deck of cards. We cut each card in half as a person purchased a "ticket", we kept one half and they kept the other.
  • Identify who will set up and clean up. We did ask the company First Sergeants for help and details to do the heavy lifting and work...but the spouses were also knee deep in the work as well. The most labor intensive work was bussing the tables and running the commercial dishwasher in the back...keeping the plates and flatware coming. We were willing to do this because it gave us a huge break on the rental of the facility. Had we gone with another facility that provided this service for us, we would've spent twice as much. Also, let the companies know, we need a detail of x number of spouses from each company to help out.
  • Be creative at your party. Try something different this year, see below.
How about...
  • Potluck rather than catered (assign each company a type of dish)
  • Use FRG funds to purchase juiceboxes, ice and sodas
  • Have each company responsible for setting up and running a craft table
  • Have the unit bring a laptop and projector for a slideshow. Start soliciting early, through email, for photos or have people mail in CDs. Have one person in charge of putting that together.
  • Identify a sound system and microphone so that everyone stays informed what activities are going on and are upcoming; it may also help to have a whiteboard posted with times of all the scheduled events
  • Fundraise by selling holiday themed items specific to the unit (like ornaments) and sell raffle tickets for donated door prizes
  • If you opt for catered food, have people bring desserts to share
  • Reserve a location early (at least 6 months out or more)
  • Reserve a Santa suit as early as you can or consider paying $300-500 for a rental quality suit you can then rent out to other units every year
  • Instead of having people wait in line for Santa, give out numbers or have people sign up on a numbered list and call out the numbers in groups of five or ten
Even with our success, I would've done a few things differently. That is why our committee is having an AAR on Friday...just like the greensuiters do...after every event we plan and run, we look at the event afterwards...what went right and what went wrong...what we could've done better and what we'll keep for next time. It'll make it that much easier the next go-around, even if you have all new people doing the arranging. Next year, we may consider doing an event just for spouses...perhaps a dining out. Maybe we can set up "Photos w/Santa" for the kids or a kids' holiday party separately. We would also have a back-up microphone and send someone over to the place, early the morning of (the unit who had the place the night before, for lack of a better word...trashed the place and lost the microphone and there was a bit of scrambling as we got them to come in and help clean up...although we never found the microphone). But was a fun forward....we have to concentrate on our PX giftwrapping fundraisier and baking cookies for our single and unaccompanied soldiers...

How does your unit do its holiday parties?

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Anonymous kirsten said...

I just went to a fun spouses party-and with 24 spouses attending I'd say it was a very well-attended gathering too! The hostess sent out a save the date email invite way back before Thanksgiving, then repeated the email on 1 December so the date was firmly in mind as our other holiday functions started happening.

The hostess provided drinks and a beautifully decorated home, and asked the guests to bring a favorite treat/appetizer and the recipe. She also had us bring a candle ($10 limit) for a candle exchange.

We had an holiday- and military-themed icebreaker to get the ball rolling (first question: find someone whose spouse was deployed last Christmas--not hard to do).

Then we chose strips of paper out of a basket, with lines from "Twas The Night Before Christmas" on them. Someone read the poem out loud and when your line was read you got to choose a gift. After the poem we chose a number from another basket and opened the gifts in order (yes there were the usual options to steal etc, and number 13 went second to last instead of after 12 which was new to me).

It was a fun evening and a nice way to get to know spouses we never see because our homes are spread out over the metro area.

Having it after the unit function made it all the more enjoyable because the spouses could talk to people they'd met a week before.

December 19, 2008 at 1:29 PM  

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