The coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible to organize large gatherings safely, but many local companies that usually host large events are finding new ways to celebrate the holidays.
The most notable — and widely publicized — exception to responsible company celebrations was Ramsey Solutions’ massive holiday party. Our partner publication the Nashville Scene and Huffington Post reported that the company invited more than 1,500 people to the party, which happened earlier this month.
WSMV has reported that vendors were encouraged not to wear masks at the event and uncovered videos of large crowds partying at Ramsey’s Franklin headquarters. Religion News Service, which first reported on the party, estimated that about 50 people at the company tested positive for the virus in the month leading up to the party.
The Home Page reached out to Ramsey Solutions in early December, well before plans for the massive event were public, to ask about holiday party plans.
Megan McConnell, a Ramsey Solutions spokesperson, wrote in an email that the company was planning “safe and coordinated volunteering efforts and a few creative things … to help others this Christmas season.”
McConnell did not mention anything about the silent discos, faux casinos and line dancing that were apparently at the party.
The company did send information and photos about volunteering efforts at several local nonprofits where employees sorted canned goods and helped rebuild homes that were destroyed during the March 3 tornado.
“Serving others is crucial to our mission at Ramsey. This year, giving is more important than ever before because so many nonprofits in our area have more people to feed, house and clothe, and less volunteers to sort donations,” McConnell wrote in an email.
Of course, the reason that local nonprofits have greater needs is because of a serious virus that typically spreads at large social gatherings.
After seeing reporting about the Ramsey Solutions party, Devin Sherman, a critical care physician at Williamson Medical Center, wrote a letter telling Ramsey Solutions CEO Dave Ramsey that the party felt like “a direct slap to my face.”
“Mr. Ramsey, you are a community leader that has great sway. You are a business owner that has received millions from county and city tax incentives. And through these latest selfish decisions, you have simply let your community down and endangered lives,” Sherman wrote in a letter shared with the Home Page’s parent company.
Ramsey Solutions stopped responding to questions after Religion News Service reported on the company’s plan to host a humongous party at a time when coronavirus cases were surging locally.
While the Ramsey Solutions party put the health of thousands of people at risk, other companies in Williamson County held much more responsible celebrations.
The Franklin-based company Rustici Software usually organizes an elaborate Christmas party with complicated games and unique themes.
“It's a very elaborate affair,” Managing Director Tammy Rutherford. “We’ve done everything from scavenger hunts to murder mystery to Let's Make a Deal things. It's always highly interactive, definitely in-person, lots of games involved. There's shenanigans along the way.”
This year, that kind of event was impossible to organize safely, but the company did manage to create a digital alternative.
The virtual party’s theme, held earlier this month, was Oh the Places You’ve Been, based on Dr. Seuss’s book Oh the Places You’ll Go! Employees presented photos from trips they’ve taken around the world and their colleagues had to guess who submitted the photo and the story behind it.
"People can be as clever as they want to. If they want to be a little cagey about things they can," she said. "It's a change of scenery for everybody. Something else to look at, and probably a few fun stories to learn more about each other."
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Brentwood retailer Tractor Supply would normally host a large Christmas Party at their headquarters for employees and their families. Previous events included crafts for kids, raffles and visits with Santa.
This year, the company is encouraging individual departments to organize virtual celebrations for their team members. Some departments organized gingerbread house building contests, holiday trivia and ugly sweater contests. Others organized a secret Santa gift exchange or charity drives.
"After all that the year of 2020 has been, we wanted to make sure our Team Members still experienced some holiday cheer even though we couldn’t gather in person to celebrate,” Tractor Supply spokesperson Mackenzie Goldman wrote in an email.
Children of employees at the Brentwood headquarters also received a “care package from the North Pole,” which included reindeer food, mugs with hot chocolate and a letter from Santa. Additionally, all of the company’s 40,000 employees got a gift basket.
Last year, the professional services and accounting firm LBMC, which has a large office in Brentwood, held a holiday party for employees at a Nashville Predators game.
In addition, the company usually allows employees to take some time off during the holidays and volunteer at local non-profit organizations.
This year, the holiday party was cancelled.
"We clearly are not doing that for the safety of our team members, and our community. We really want to do our part to help flatten that curve and not have large gatherings," Chief People Officer Michelle Endres said.
However, the company is still trying to continue its tradition of giving back during the holidays. Instead of having employees volunteer with nonprofits, LBMC contributed to the United Way and invited employees to participate in the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, which provides Christmas gifts to children from low-income families.
"What I love about some of those community involvement pieces is that we're actually enabling people to do things as a family, which I think has an important impact,” Endres said. “I'm delighted to say we've found opportunities to give back to the community in a safe way.”