There are several ways to play gift exchange games at Christmas.
The most popular way to exchange gifts is probably Dirty Santa or The White Elephant Gift Exchange.
This gift exchange is almost like Secret Santa but with a somewhat sneaky twist.
Everyone brings a wrapped gift of equal value, which is then exchanged between guests in different ways before you eventually get to keep one of the gifts. This game is always fun and has many variations.
- What Is Secret Santa?
- What Is A White Elephant Christmas Game?
- What's The Difference Between Secret Santa and White Elephant Game?
- How Do You Play Christmas Gift Exchange Games?
- Dirty Santa Variations
- Gift Exchange Card Games
- Dice Gift Exchange Games
- Christmas Gift Exchange For Families
- Christmas Gift Games For Tweens
- Christmas Gift Exchange Games For Teens
- Gift Exchange Games FAQs
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What Is Secret Santa?
Secret Santa is where everyone gets randomly allocated a person whom they must buy a gift for.
There is usually a price limit so that everyone receives a gift of similar value.
This gift is given to them secretly, so they don’t know who bought their gift. This is an excellent game for office parties and a group of friends for whom you might not usually buy gifts.
Adding a gift exchange element to Secret Santa changes it to Dirty Santa, as players get to ‘steal’ gifts from other players. We’ll discuss how you can ‘steal’ or exchange gifts a bit later.
What Is A White Elephant Christmas Game?
Similar to Secret Santa, in a white elephant game, guests bring a wrapped gift of equal value to a party. Every person draws a number, and the person with the number one gets to choose a present to unwrap. The game ends when everyone has a gift.
To make this game a lot more fun, most people will add a gift exchange game and swap or steal gifts.
White elephant gifts are usually silly, strange, funny, or gag gifts instead of good gifts.
What’s The Difference Between Secret Santa and White Elephant Game?
With Secret Santa, you know who you’re buying a gift for, and you want to try and buy a gift that they will enjoy or that will be useful to them.
In the White Elephant game, you don’t buy for anyone specific, and the gifts are usually silly or strange. Gifts are given or chosen randomly.
The only similarities between the two games are that everyone brings a wrapped gift of equal value and the receiver does not know who bought the gift.
How Do You Play Christmas Gift Exchange Games?
The most common gift exchange game is probably the Dirty Santa / White Elephant gift exchange game.
How To Play Dirty Santa / White Elephant Gift Exchange Game
1. Every guest brings a gift of a specific value. You should confirm upfront if these gifts will be White Elephant (i.e. funny or gag gifts) or not.
2. Gifts must be wrapped and kept secret.
3. You can either place everyone’s name in a hat and pull out a new name for each turn, or you can place numbers in the hat, and everyone must draw a number upfront, and they will play according to the number they picked.
4. The first person then chooses a gift and unwraps it.
5. The next person may either steal that gift or choose another gift.
6. If your gift is stolen, you may choose another gift.
7. You can either play that each guest may only steal the gift from the person just before you, or that you can steal any gift but that each gift may only be stolen once or twice. Just remember that playing this way will give the people who have a turn later in the game more gifts to choose from than those who go first.
8. The person who went first should be allowed to steal a gift after the last person has chosen a gift as well.
9. Everyone gets to take home the gift that they’re left holding at the end of the game.
You can download the White Elephant Gift Exchange Rules and print or email them with your invitation so that everyone knows how to play the game.
Dirty Santa Variations
You might want to consider some fun White Elephant or Dirty Santa gift exchange options or variations.
1. Add A Gift Exchange Theme
You can instruct guests to buy gifts that match a theme.
Ideas for Gift Exchange themes include:
- gifts must be red
- gifts must be games
- gifts must be books
- gifts must be crafty
- gifts must be edible
- gifts must make a noise
- gifts must be locally made
- gifts must be DIY
2. Funny or Gag Gifts Only
As these gifts shouldn’t be expensive, it could be fun to instruct guests to bring funny or gag gifts only.
3. Blind Swap Gift Exchange Game
Instead of being allowed to choose any gift, you can only swap your gift by picking a number or name from a hat which will then correspond to the person’s gift that you can steal.
4. Heads Or Tails Gift Exchange Option
When it’s your turn, you must first flip a coin. Heads, you get to choose a gift to unwrap, and tails, you must steal a gift from someone that has already opened a gift.
5. Rock Paper Scissors Gift Exchange Game
In this version, if you want to steal a gift, you first have to challenge that person to a game of rock, paper, scissors.
If you win, you can steal their gift, but you must choose a gift from the pile if you lose.
Gift Exchange Card Games
Instead of simply switching gifts as you choose, you play with a custom card designed with instructions on what to do.
6. Pick A Card Gift Exchange
Instead of just choosing a gift or stealing someone’s gift, you pick a card from the pack. Each card will instruct you what to do.
- Swap your gift with someone with blond hair.
- Exchange your gift for a gift wrapped in red wrapping paper.
- Trade gifts with the person on your left.
- Switch your gift with someone wearing high heels.
- Swap your gift with someone with blue eyes.
- Everyone passes their gift to the person on their right.
- Trade gifts with the person on your right.
- Switch your gift with someone wearing jeans.
- Swap your gift with someone older than you.
- Exchange your gift for a gift wrapped in red wrapping paper.
- Trade gifts with the person that you’ve known the longest.
- Switch your gift with someone wearing blue.
- Swap your gift with someone with brown hair.
- Exchange your gift with someone wearing green.
- Switch your gift with someone with a mustache or beard.
- You can keep your gift or trade with anyone you choose.
- Everyone passes their gift to the person on their left.
- Swap gifts with the person whose birthday is closest to Christmas.
- Trade gifts with the person holding the biggest present.
- Switch gifts with someone whose name starts with a vowel.
- Exchange your gift with the person with the longest hair.
- Swap gifts with someone who has a cat.
It’s probably best to have one card per player, and once all the cards have been used, the game is over, and everyone gets to unwrap and keep their gift.
7. Swappy White Elephant Party Card Game
Swappy comes with a cute white elephant that holds 20 unique game cards. Instructions are funny and silly with a twist.
Cards instruction examples include:
- Steal from anyone who you can make smile!
- Unwrap or sing ‘Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer’ to steal!
- Unwrap or name all of Santa’s reindeer to steal!
Dice Gift Exchange Games
8. Switch, Steal or Unwrap Dice Game
Using dice to determine what happens to your gift is a fun alternative to the traditional gift exchange game.
Before your guests arrive, print out the Switch, Steal or Unwrap dice instructions.
Throw 1. Switch Gifts Right
Throw 2. Switch Gifts Left
Throw 3. Steal Any Gift
Throw 4. Steal Any Gift
Throw 5. Unwrap Your Gift
Throw 6. Unwrap Your Gift
Ask everyone to bring three small wrapped gifts to the party.
Get everyone to sit in a circle and distribute the gifts so that everyone has three random gifts in front of them.
You will need three dice to play this game. If you decide to only play with two gifts, then you will only need two dice.
A player throws the dice and chooses a gift for each corresponding dice instruction.
I.e., if a player throws 1, 4, and 5, they must choose one gift to switch to their right, one gift to steal (swap with anyone), and they can unwrap one gift.
The game ends when all the gifts are unwrapped, and then guests keep all three unwrapped gifts in front of them.
9. Roll Of The Dice Gift Exchange Game
Everyone sits in a circle with a gift in front of them.
You will need a dice and a card with instructions on what to do when someone rolls a certain number of the dice.
How To Play Instructions:
Throw 1: Switch your gift with the person to your right
Throw 2: Switch your gift with the person to your left
Throw 3: Switch your gift with anyone you choose
Throw 4: Everyone must switch their gift with the person to their right
Throw 5: Everyone must switch their gift with the person to their left
Throw 6: Choose to keep & unwrap your gift or roll again
If someone throws 6 and chooses to keep & unwrap their gift, that gift is locked and cannot be taken away from them or swapped again.
This player is basically out of the game. Depending on how many players you have and how large your circle is, they can either move back a little bit, indicating that they’re out of the game but still feel like they’re part of the group or if the group is very big, then can step out of the game completely.
There are two possible endings to the game. Either the game ends when all the gifts have been unwrapped and kept (i.e., everyone has thrown a 6 and chosen to keep their gift), or you can decide how many times everyone gets a turn to roll the dice. For example, once everyone has thrown the die twice, then guests get to keep the gift in their hands.
10. Dice And Oven Mitts Game
Everyone brings a wrapped gift and places it in a pile.
You will need two dice and some oven mitts.
Everyone stands around a table and takes turns rolling the dice. When someone throws doubles, they put on the oven mitts and try to unwrap the first gift. If they manage to unwrap the gift, they get to keep it, and they’re out of the game.
However, if someone rolls doubles before they’ve unwrapped the gift, then that person puts on the mitts and continues to unwrap the gift.
The game ends when all the gifts have been unwrapped.
It’s a really active game with lots of cheering people on to pass the dice and loud laughter.
Christmas Gift Exchange For Families
11. Gift Card Exchange Game
Instead of buying gifts, guests buy gift cards instead. Be sure to let everyone agree on a gift card amount so everyone gets a card of equal value.
Gift cards can usually be used at several outlets, and guests get to choose something they really want or need.
The fun part of this game is that guests must wrap their gifts in creative ways.
Some fun ways to wrap the gift cards include:
- Gift card hidden in a cake
- Gift card hidden in a gingerbread house
- Gift card wrapped in a ball of yarn
- Gift card frozen in ice
- Gift card hidden in a jar of candy
- Gift card hidden in a plaster of Paris mold
- Gift card hidden in a flower arrangement
- Gift card hidden in a photo frame
- Gift card hidden in a DIY Christmas ball
- Gift card hidden in a balloon
Watch this video which has some lovely creative ideas to wrap your gift card:
12. Christmas Gift Exchange Auction
Guests arrive with two wrapped gifts which are handed to the host.
Give your guests equal amounts of fake money (monopoly money is excellent), and then they get to bid on gifts at your Christmas Auction. Whoever wins the bid gets to unwrap and keep the gift(s).
13. Guess The Guest Gift Exchange Game
Collect each guest’s gift as they arrive and write a number to it.
Put the same number on a piece of paper and ask the guest to write a funny or strange fact about themselves on the back.
Put all the slips of paper into a box. During the distribution of gifts, have your guests draw a paper, read the statement on the back, and guess who it is about.
The first person to guess correctly wins the gift and is out of the game.
Keep playing until everyone has received a gift.
Christmas Gift Games For Tweens
14. Follow The Cobweb Gift Games
This is an enjoyable game for younger kids but does take a bit of setting up by the host upfront.
The host ties a gift to the end of different color yarn and rolls out the whole ball of yarn zigzagging across the room, making it hard for the guests to unwind it around table legs, behind couches, etc.
Each guest gets a yarn color and has to follow the string through the cobweb of lines until they find their gift at the end of their ball of yarn.
15. Musical Gifts
This is a combination of Secret Santa and Pass the parcel. Everyone brings a small gift of equal value.
Your guests sit in a circle, and you choose the first gift and give it to someone in the circle.
Play music (Christmas jingles), and everyone must pass the gift around the circle.
When the music stops, the person holding the gift can unwrap it.
You can either play that people who have already received a gift cannot open another gift, i.e., they will need to pass the following gift to the person sitting next to them if the music stops with them again.
Alternatively, you could decide that they can choose if they want to pass on their opened gift or the new gift to the person sitting next to them.
16. Pass The Parcel
In this fun gift exchange game, guests must wrap up their gifts using multiple layers of wrapping paper, and each layer has an instruction written on it.
If you want them to wrap in four layers, then give them four instructions each, like the examples below.
Give a gift to the first person in the circle. They read and follow the instructions written on the wrapping.
The person who gets the gift unwraps the top layer and then passes the gift on as instructed.
Keep passing and unwrapping each layer, following the instructions given, until finally the gift is revealed.
The person who unwraps the gift gets to keep it and then sits out of the next rounds.
The next gift is then given to the second person in the circle, and the game continues until everyone has unwrapped a gift.
- The top layer says to pass the parcel 2 people to your right.
- The gift is passed to the 2nd person on the right and they unwrap the top layer, and the next layer says to pass the parcel 3 people to your right.
- That person unwraps the 2nd layer, and the next layer says to pass the parcel 2 people to your left.
- That person unwraps the 3rd layer, and the next layer says to pass the parcel 5 people to your left.
- The last person to unwrap the gift gets to keep it.
17. Spin the Candy Cane Gift Exchange Game
Use a large candy cane as a spinner in this Christmas version of the popular kissing game.
Seat your players at a large table.
Spin the candy cane to find out who gets to choose a present from the pile of wrapped gifts.
When the straight end of the candy cane points to them that player chooses a gift.
Players open their presents and show the group what they received.
If the candy cane points to them a second time, they can choose to keep their gift and spin the candy cane again for someone else to choose a gift, or they can swap their gift with someone else.
The game is over when everyone has spun the candy cane at least once and everyone has a gift.
Christmas Gift Exchange Games For Teens
18. Christmas Never Have I Ever Gift Exchange
Never Have I Ever is a fun party game for teens, and you can easily turn it into a Christmas gift exchange game.
Like most games, you can play Never Have I Ever in a few different ways.
The basic game is played where someone says “Never Have I Ever …” – and they fill in the blank with something they’ve never done, i.e., broken a bone, visited Africa, eaten snails, etc.
Everyone has to answer whether they Have or Have Not done this thing.
For the Christmas gift exchange game, everyone must stand in a circle with a gift in front of them. Teens who have done the thing mentioned must switch with another person who has done this (with the gift staying behind).
Everyone gets a turn to say something they’ve Never Done, and everyone who has done the mentioned thing must move clockwise and take the next open space available.
Once everyone has had a turn saying “Never Have I Ever…” and switched places, they get to open the gift that they end up standing behind.
It’s a fun, and active way to play Never Have I Ever and exchange gifts without anyone being upset that their gift was ‘stolen’ by someone.
Another way to play is to have a list of statements that are read out instead of having guests come up with their own statements.
You can download my free printable list of ‘Never Have I Ever….” statements here.
An alternative way to play this game is where the person who read the “Never Have I Ever..” statement gets to open the gift that’s in front of them once everyone has moved, but they don’t necessarily get to keep that gift.
Players keep moving until everyone has had a turn to say “Never Have I Ever..”, but in this version of the game, you get to see the gifts that have been unwrapped, which adds a bit of excitement to the game.
19. Stand And Exchange Gifts If…
Print out a list of statements (download below). Everyone sits in a circle.
Each player must stand and exchange their gift if the statement applies to them.
You can either choose that they may trade their gift with anyone standing or that everyone must pass their gift to the person standing to their left.
Once everyone standing has swapped their gift, they all sit down again, and the following statement is read.
Once all the statements have been read, each player opens the gift they’re holding.
Here are some gift exchange statement ideas that you can use:
Stand And Exchange Gifts If…
1. You have more than one Christmas tree in your home.
2. You bought most of your Christmas gifts online.
3. You built a Gingerbread house this year.
4. You have an Elf on the Shelf.
5. You have a star on top of your Christmas tree.
6. You have re-gifted a Christmas gift.
7. You’ve never tried eggnog.
8. You have a Christmas CD in your home or car CD player right now.
9. You own an ugly Christmas sweater
20. Mystery Gift Exchange
In this gift exchange game, everyone brings a wrapped gift but does not give it to the host.
Everyone sits in a circle and is blindfolded, except for the host who will present their gift first.
The host gives their gift to the next person in the circle, who gets to unwrap the gift and try to guess what the gift is. They get one guess. If they’re right, they get to keep it. If they’re wrong, they must pass it onto the next person in the circle, until someone guesses the gift correctly.
Everyone remains blindfolded, except for the person who guessed correctly. who then presents their gift to the person next to them.
Guests who have correctly guessed and kept a gift are out of the game.
The host doesn’t play until the end when they must guess the last gift.
Don’t worry, it’s still really fun watching everyone try to guess what the gifts are.
Once all the gifts have been exchanged you might want to have some other Christmas party games and activities set up for your tweens and teens to keep the party going.
Gift Exchange Games FAQs
What Are Good Christmas Gift Exchange Themes?
Deciding what to buy for your next gift exchange is often tricky. Adding a theme really helps people to hone in on an appropriate gift.
Here are some of my favorite theme ideas :
- Buy a gift that starts with the first letter of your name
- Buy a gift that starts with a particular letter (N = nuts, notebook, necklace, neck massager, night light)
- Buy a food-related gift
- Buy a gift in a particular color only
- Buy gag gifts only
- Buy arts or crafty gifts only
- Buy gifts that make a noise
- Buy gifts used at bedtime (books, book light, PJ’s, night cream, blanket, etc)
How Many People Can Play A Gift Exchange Game?
Any number of people can play gift exchange games; just be sure to have enough gifts for every player.
With larger groups, it’s best to stick to simpler games like Heads or Tails or Rock, Paper, Scissors.
What Are The Best Christmas Gift Games For Families?
Most Christmas gift exchange games are fun for families to play.
The only possible negative is that some people, especially younger children, might not enjoy or understand having a gift ‘stolen’ from them, especially if it’s one they like.
For very young children, it’s best to play the games without unwrapping the gifts until the game has ended, and then everyone can open their gifts simultaneously.
Whatever gift exchange game you choose to play this Christmas, your guests are sure to have an amazing time regardless of what gift they get to take home.
Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope that you have the most wonderful festive season and a memorable gift exchange!