Giving and receiving gifts is a joy, but make it playful as well -- create gift games for the kids. The type of game may vary slightly depending on the age groups participating. For young kids, keep it simple and quick. Older kids might enjoy the option to steal a gift away from another child as part of the game, knowing it's all in fun because every kid walks away with a present.
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Games With Steal Options
Part of the fun with older kids is the suspense of whether they get to keep the original gifts they chose. With traditional white-elephant games, the children choose gifts in order, which often is decided by letting the kids draw numbers. The next person in line gets to pick a new gift or take one from a child who already picked. That child then gets to pick another present. You may choose whether the kids open the gifts as soon as they get them so children down the line know what gifts are available to steal, or if the gifts stay wrapped until the end and the kids choose based on box size and shape. As a variation, give each child a playing card. Use a second deck and draw a card after each child chooses a gift. If you draw that child's card, he gets to steal from another child if he wants to. To make it easier, let him steal if you draw a card from the same suit, even if the number isn't the same.
Dice and Bingo
Use a couple of dice and let each child take a turn rolling. The child must roll doubles to pick a gift or you may pick a number, such as six. Decide whether each child gets one turn or multiple chances before moving on to the next player. When most children have picked presents, let the last few children continue rolling until they get doubles or the right number. Creating Christmas bingo cards keeps the game in the holiday spirit. Instead of "BINGO" across the top, the cards might say "CLAUS." Give the children Christmas stamps or stickers to use as markers when they match a letter and number you call. When a child gets five in a row, she may pick a present. The game continues until all the children have gifts. To speed it up, let those with presents keep playing, and if they get five in a row again, they may pick a present for another player.
Passing Gifts Around
Let children pass gifts around to keep the mystery alive of which gifts they will get. Stage the game similar to musical chairs, where the children pass around one gift until a Christmas carol stops playing. The child holding the present when the music stops gets to keep it. When only two children are left, give each a present for them to hand back and forth so they both end up with one when the music stops. In a variation of a right-left game, give each child a present and read Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" book to the children. Every time you say "Who," the kids should pass the gifts they are holding to the left. When you say "Grinch," they pass to the right. Each kid keeps the present she is holding when you finish reading the book.
Gifts don't have to be bought and wrapped. Instead, have the kids make the gifts before doing the games. You might help the children bake sugar cookies in holiday shapes, then let them decorate with frosting and candies. They might decorate small boxes and put the cookies inside. The children also might enjoy baking and decorating gingerbread men to give to others. Making ornaments offers a variety of options, such as painting clear plastic globes or making wood-stick reindeer. In addition to other gift-giving games, handmade items offer a few other options. Each kid can draw a name out of a hat, and she gets the gift made by the person whose name she drew. Or when you hold up an ornament, the kids guess who made it; the first correct guesser gets to keep it.