Best Holiday Gift Exchange Games

Gift exchange games are fun, economical, and entertaining ways to exchange gifts with family or friends this holiday season. From the amusing (and oftentimes hilarious) gift swap game ‘Dirty Santa’ (also known as the ‘White Elephant’ game or ‘Yankee Grab’) to the classic ‘Secret Santa’, holiday gift exchange games promise to bring holiday cheer to your group.

One of the most obvious pros of gift exchange games is that it’s much easier on the wallet to buy one gift as part of a giving and receiving ‘game’ rather than buying multiple gifts. It’s also better for the environment, and let’s face it – more fun!

In general, holiday games are always a great element to add to any family gathering, holiday party with friends, or office Christmas party. Holiday gift exchange games are just one of many festive games that add that ‘X-factor’ to any holiday party.

Below are 3 of the best holiday gift exchange games (with instructions) that bring joy (and laughs) to the season:

1. “Dirty Santa” AKA the White Elephant Gift Exchange Game

Probably one of the most fun (and funniest) holiday gift exchange games out there, this game has a few different versions and ways to play.

In general, everyone attends the party with a wrapped gift.  Random gifts (some funny, and some genuinely good gifts) are put on the floor in the center of the circle (if you’re sitting in a circle) or on the center of the table if you’re around a table.

Gifts are typically generic and gender-neutral, but it makes the game more fun if some gifts break these rules.

It’s crucial that nobody knows who brought what, or which gifts are the ‘good’ ones. Numbers are drawn to decide who gets to pick their gift first.

In some versions of this game, gifts are strategically wrapped to look like something else to fool the participants. This just adds an extra layer of entertainment. (Imagine a gag t-shirt placed inside a fancy wine bottle gift bag.)

In order of who drew which number, starting with number 1, each player can either choose a wrapped gift from the center of the pile, or steal someone else’s gift that has already been opened. No gift can be stolen more than twice during this game.

In most versions of this game, as soon as everyone has a present, the game is over. However, your version of the game and your version’s rules must be clearly laid out before playing.

To ensure everyone in the family has fun during this game, stick to a few ground rules. For example, stick to a $25 price limit per person, and ensure any ‘gag gifts’ or ‘joke gifts’ are still somewhat usable. A couple of ‘joke’ gifts make the game more entertaining, but the joke gifts can’t be absolute useless trash. That takes the fun away when someone is stuck with something truly awful. An example of a gag gift that’s still at least usable is a notebook with a funny cartoon on the front cover, but it’s still a usable notebook, and maybe it even comes with a cool pen.

If everyone mutually agrees to take the gamble, a ‘dirtier’ version of this game often referred to as ‘Dirty Santa’ can be played. In this version, it’s okay to bring truly hilarious, impractical and unusable gag gifts (like a talking toilet paper roll) and it’s also okay to bring a gift of much higher value than the price limit. (It’s luck of the draw.)

Some groups preemptively decide to play this gift exchange game the ‘clean’ way, where every gift is a ‘good’ gift, so every participant leaves happy. It just depends on the group dynamics and what everyone wants to do.

The reason why some people refer to this game as the ‘White Elephant’ gift exchange game is because the origins of White Elephant giving come from Thailand, where white elephants were sacred and considered highly valuable. So, perhaps it’s because at least one gift in the pile will be an exceptionally valuable gift that everyone wants. (Luckily, gifts can be stolen in this game.)

2. Secret Santa

Now, the classic Secret Santa game may not be quite as fun or hilarious as the White Elephant game, but sometimes this game is the preference.

For example, secret santa gifts tend to be a lot more thoughtful and geared towards the intended recipient’s specific interests.

You play this game by drawing names from a hat, shopping for a gift for that specific person, and of course keeping it a secret. Nobody should know who drew their name. (You can draw names from a hat together in person, or one person can draw the names and email everyone to notify them who they’re shopping for.)

Let’s say you and your siblings all agree you could benefit from saving some money this holiday season, so you all mutually decide to play ‘secret santa’ with each other to shop for just one sibling. This way, you don’t have to worry about buying sibling gifts for every sibling, but all of you still get to receive a thoughtful gift on Christmas day.

The key is to truly tailor your gift to whoever’s name you draw. Think about who they are and what gift suits them best. Perhaps it’s a gift that suits their entrepreneurial lifestyle, or something that is handy for travel because they love to travel.

When it comes to Christmas gift exchange games, some families or groups of friends play secret santa in addition to the fun version of ‘Dirty Santa’. This ensures everyone has fun, but also at least receives one great gift they’re sure to love.

3. “Roll The Dice” Gift Exchange Games

There are many holiday gift exchange games that are played with a set of dice. It’s fun and perhaps even less contentious when the dice control who gets what gift – the dice control the gift exchange.

This adds so much entertainment to gift exchanges because of the element of surprise and the fun of rolling the dice.

The most interesting aspect of dice gift exchange games is that the people organizing this holiday game can create their own rules.

For example, you can decide that rolling a ‘six’ means “swap gifts with the person on your left” and rolling an ‘eight’ means “unwrap a new gift from the center of the pile” etc.

There will be a few rounds for this game, so everyone will likely end up with different gifts throughout the game, and nobody will know which gift they’ll end up keeping, which is a lot of fun.

The fact that what happens to the gifts and where they end up is not the players’ choice but rather up to the dice is what makes this game so unpredictable and highly entertaining.

A Few More Tips For Holiday Gift Exchange Games

Below are some tips to make holiday game nights like these more fun:

  • Ask everyone to wear an ‘ugly Christmas sweater’
  • Create a music playlist with some of the best Christmas songs
  • Make a yummy and festive holiday snack board
  • Make holiday cocktails such as rum and eggnog
  • Turn on the fireplace or light some holiday candles for a festive ambience
  • Try to stay positive, smile, and remember to have fun!

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