Games to Play for Gift Exchanges

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Whether it's a large group at the office holiday party or a family gathering for a gift exchange, playing a fun game or two always helps to generate more festive spirit. Gift-giving among co-workers can be awkward, but a holiday gift exchange ensures everyone participates, sticks to the same price limit and leaves the office party with a gift as well as memories of silly games. Christmas gift exchange games add extra joy to get-togethers among family and friends too. If everyone gets into the spirit of the gift swap, a fun gift exchange game can often be more memorable than the new gift itself. If you've been tasked with organizing this year's gift swap, consider some of the following easy yet fun Christmas gift exchange ideas.

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Preparing for gift exchange games

Most gift exchange games follow a "white elephant" format, which is a little different from the popular "secret Santa" type of exchange. With secret Santa gifts, the gift giver knows who they are buying a gift for while they remain anonymous to the recipient. With a white elephant gift exchange, every participant buys one gift, and the recipient is yet to be determined.

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If you are organizing a white elephant gift exchange, start ahead of time by letting everyone know that they are responsible for buying one gift. Give everyone the same price limit and deadline and ask them to wrap the gift without adding a tag. Depending on the group of people, you might also want to offer some general guidance regarding appropriate gifts. For example, the gift might need to be suitable for a wide range of ages, be workspace appropriate or be nonperishable.

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Tip

If gag gifts or gift cards are discouraged (or encouraged), let everyone know.

Classic white elephant game

If you want to keep your holiday gift exchange straightforward, which is a very good idea with large groups, then stick to the simplest version of the white elephant exchange. This means putting all the wrapped gifts in one place, perhaps on a table or around a Christmas tree, and drawing numbers to see who gets to select and open a gift first, second, third, etc.

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Here are a few ways to turn the classic white elephant exchange into a fun game.

1. Guess the giver

With a "guess the giver" version of a white elephant exchange, each person needs to correctly guess the giver of their chosen gift. Guess correctly and you get to keep the gift; otherwise, you must return the gift and give the next person a chance to select and guess. Once everyone has had a turn, start over with the first person again and continue until everyone has opened a gift.

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2. Dirty Santa (aka Yankee swap)

This version of the white elephant exchange allows each person (except whoever draws number one) to choose between a gift from the table or tree or to "steal" a gift that's already been selected by someone else. Nobody is allowed to unwrap their gift until everyone has their final choice in their hands. This game can be amusing if it turns out that a coveted package isn't the best gift after all.

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3. Trivia game

Instead of drawing numbers to see who gets to choose a gift first, host a trivia quiz. Find a set of general trivia questions or write your own and whoever shouts out the correct answer first gets to select their gift.

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4. Never have I ever

Combine a white elephant gift exchange with the game "Never Have I Ever." Come up with a list of holiday-themed actions that people may or may not have done. Whoever has never done that thing can proceed to the table to pick a gift. The rest need to hang back and wait. Some ideas for "never have I ever" include:

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  • Regifted something
  • Skipped a family holiday dinner
  • Skipped a holiday office party
  • Given noisy musical gifts to someone else's children
  • Returned a gift to the store

Hot potato game

A "hot potato" Christmas party game puts a holiday season spin on the classic kids' game. Everyone participating in the exchange needs to be standing in the same area, with one other person in charge of playing Christmas music. When the music is playing, the guests need to quickly pass a wrapped gift from one to the other as if it's a hot potato. Stop the music randomly and whoever is holding the gift gets to unwrap and keep it. Leave the game if you've unwrapped a gift; everyone else gets to start over with a new gift.

The dice game

The dice game is better for a small group gift exchange and can be customized in creative ways. Everyone involved in the exchange needs to sit in the same place with a random wrapped gift in front of them. One at a time, each person must roll the dice and follow instructions assigned to the number on the dice. You need to plan these in advance, and you can print cards or create a single instruction sheet that everyone can see.

An example is:

  • Roll a one: Unwrap the gift in front of you
  • Roll a two: Swap gifts with the person to your right (don't unwrap yet!)
  • Roll a three: Swap with the person to your left
  • Roll a four: Everyone passes their gift to the right
  • Roll a five: Everyone passes their gift to the left
  • Roll a six: "Steal" any gift you want.

Tip

You can make this dice gift exchange more complicated and allow for more or sillier instructions by playing with two dice.

If you're going to trade gifts with co-workers, friends or family members, why not do so in a really fun way? It's almost impossible to buy the perfect gift, but you can always amplify the joy of gift giving by combining it with party games.

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