Christmas Gift-Exchange Ideas for Large Families

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A family unloading gifts from a vehicle at a holiday get together.
A family unloading gifts from a vehicle at a holiday get together. (Image: Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

With brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and all of their children, some family Christmas gift exchanges become unwieldy and need flexibility so they don't last for hours. Let your family know well ahead of time if you implement a new gift-giving tradition, and allow those who want to opt out of gift-exchange games to feel it's OK to remain in another room participating in a different activity.

One-Present Gift Exchanges

Instead of having each person present gifts to every other person, limit gift giving by drawing names ahead of time to decide to whom you will give a gift, and reveal yourself when you present the gift. Or use a Secret Santa approach and send out small gifts in the two weeks leading up to Christmas, such as a package of gum or sprig of mistletoe, before presenting a larger gift at the exchange. Alternatively, limit gifts to children only and have someone dressed as Santa hand them out at your gathering.

Gift-Giving Games

With passing games, the game itself is part of the fun. For about 20 people or fewer, pile wrapped gifts in the center of the group. Draw numbers and let the first person pick and unwrap a gift; the second participant chooses to open a new gift or "steal" the unwrapped gift, allowing the first person to choose again. For children, reimagine musical chairs and have the children pass gifts around a circle, keeping the gift in the kid's hands when the music stops.

Themed Gift Exchanges

When you decide on a certain type of gift ahead of time for everyone to give, you can control costs and ensure that gifts are equitable. To keep costs low, choose a white-elephant or used-gift exchange or set limits on how much each person should spend, such as $5 or $10; exchange the gifts via a passing game or have Santa read out names on the tags. Other themes include cooking, food or beverage gifts or cold-weather accessory gifts.

Gift Giving as Entertainment

Instead of focusing on the exchange aspect of gift giving, lead an activity with gifts being the items each guest makes. For example, play a holiday trivia game or charades and award simple prizes such as holiday bells or ornaments, or provide aprons and all the materials for a cookie-decorating activity. If your space permits, designate a photo-display site in front of the Christmas tree and provide fabric, cardboard and instructions for making picture frames.

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