I used to think it didn't matter if we went to the office party and rarely would go. I'm single and I don't like going to parties alone, especially the office party? At our local IAAP chapter dinner we heard a speaker from an etiquette protocol company Savoir-Faire and she suggested that it was very important to go to the office party because it was more about protocol and networking and how you are viewed as a team player than socializing. And by golly, I think she is right!
Going to the office party is a good way to connect with your boss and other work colleagues and because your boss has to go (it's their party after all), they do notice who is not there. She also suggested being prepared when you go to the party. Have an agenda of things you would like to speak about and people you want to talk to. And by all means try to make a good impression. It is not the time to over indulge in alcohol and dance on the table.
Another misconception I think is about bringing your spouse or partner to the office party. My idea was always how boring it would be for a spouse to go to a party where they don't know anyone, but if they go with networking on their mind then it becomes a whole different scenario. If your spouse is unemployed it becomes even more important for them to go and bring business cards. I wouldn't suggest being aggressive about it, but since it is a work party, inevitably talk about work will come up. You might be embarassed because you know someone will ask your spouse where they work, but even this can be used as an opportunity and they could say something like, "I have just finished an assignment and am looking for another opportunity." They can then give a mini resume and be sure to pass along a personal business card. Now all of a sudden the office party has become a little bit more interesting.
This year again my first instinct was to say no I am not going, but I think I will change my mind on that and go. How about you?
For more food for thought, read this article on why etiquette is important.