If you’re asking questions like, “How can I make my Christmas gift exchange more fun and original?” then you’ve come to the right place.
Are you tired of just drawing names for the yearly holiday gift exchange? You want to breathe some new, creative life into the annual gift swap for your family gathering or office gift exchange.
How can you accomplish this and perhaps make it more meaningful, memorable, and just plain fun in the process?
It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out (and your family is finally too big to give everyone individual presents), or have been doing Secret Santa for, you know, forever.
Whatever your need or situation, we have plenty of creative and classic gift exchange games and meaningful alternatives to spice up your gathering and gift-giving.
We’ve also split this post into helpful categories so you can easily find exactly what you’re looking for for your type of gift exchange, and have included some extra info like what to buy for a gift exchange as well as things to consider when planning or attending a holiday gift exchange.
Let’s dive in!
Best Gift Exchange Games
These are some of the most loved, time-tested, and traditional Christmas gift games out there.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of several of them, but we’ve sprinkled in some exciting and fun gift exchange ideas you may have never heard of before.
1. Secret Santa
Another classic Christmas gift exchange method. Draw names from a hat at the beginning of December. (Or use an online tool like this one.)
Use the first few weeks of December to figure out the perfect gift or a few small, creative gifts.
Then, one by one at your family gathering, reveal your secret Christmas buddy and give your gifts.
This is a fun idea because you have to be creative in trying to figure out what “your” person wants, without giving away that you are their Secret Santa.
You can make it a little easier using one of these cute Secret Santa questionnaires.
Related: 35 All-Time Best Secret Santa Gifts
2. Yankee Swap
This is the classic gift-exchange party game. It allows you to avoid having to get a lot of little, inexpensive gifts for everyone and instead choose one nice quality gift. Better gifts are given, and usually at a lower cost.
Here’s how it works. Everyone buys a gift for a set dollar amount – $15 or $25 or $50. Whatever your group decides. Each participant brings it to your get-together wrapped.
Then everyone chooses a number from a hat. The first person (who gets #1) chooses a gift to open.
The second person can “steal” the gift from the first, or open a new one. The third person can choose any of the open gifts, or open a new one.
Each gift can only be stolen a set number of times; most often, each item is limited to 2 or 3 steals. If a person has a gift stolen from them, they get open a new present.
After all the gifts are open, the first person (who didn’t have the option to steal at the beginning) can choose any gift to steal that isn’t already at the maximum number of steals.
3. The Left Right Game
Everyone sits in a circle, holding the gift that they brought to the exchange. (Specify beforehand a dollar amount and if there should be a particular theme or type.)
The moderator will begin reading a story, and every time the word “left” occurs in the story, everyone passes their gift to the left. Every time the word “right” comes up… you get the picture.
If you’re looking for a story, we have FIVE free ones, including personalized ones (where you put in your family’s or coworker’s names), holiday themed ones for family, friends, or office parties, and even a non-holiday one for birthday parties or whatever. Check them out here.
Of course you can also come up with your own story, which is half the fun anyways.
Just make sure to count the number of lefts and rights so that people don’t end up with the same gift they brought!
4. Draw a Card
Print out the cards, which have instructions like “swap your gift with someone who owns a iPhone” or “switch your gift with someone wearing glasses.”
Pass them out to each participant, and then the game begins.
There are two ways to play the Draw a Card Gift Exchange Game.
- The Orderly Way. Have each person pick up the gift they brought. Go around the room and have each player, one at a time, follow the instructions on the card.
Gifts can, of course, be swapped multiple times. Once all the instructions have been carried out, everyone gets to open their gift!
- The Crazy Way. Have everyone choose a gift – not the one they brought. Set a timer for 3 minutes, and let everybody shout over each other trying to fulfill their card’s instructions.
Anyone who has not swapped their gift in accordance with their card is eligible to have their gift stolen by those who had their gift swapped the most.
5. White Elephant Gift Exchange
Same as the Yankee Swap, but with used items you find around the house that you no longer want (or fun stuff from a thrift store). The key is to get everyone on the same page.
In my experience it works best when everyone is clear on the idea that “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.”
Meaning, of course, that you should bring an item that is unique or odd or interesting, perhaps usable, that someone else might conceivably want.
If it’s total garbage, then no one will care. And if some people bring nice, new, store-bought gifts while others bring weird eclectic stuff, then those who brought the garage-sale-worthy items will inevitably feel bad that they didn’t bring something nicer.
So just make sure everyone understands the concept.
6. Gift Exchange Chaos
Have everyone grab a random gift from the gift pile, and then sit down. As they hold the gift, if the following statements apply to them they have to stand up and exchange their gift with someone else standing.
These statements might include things like, “Stand up if you…
- bought your gift on Black Friday
- listened to Christmas music before Thanksgiving
- own an ugly Christmas sweater
- have an inflatable Christmas decoration in your yard
- mailed Christmas gifts via snail mail
- have an angel/star on top of your tree
- have ever re-gifted something
We have a festive, holiday-themed list available here, or you can come up with your own variations.
Once all statements are read, make sure no one ended up with the item they brought, then have everyone open their gift.
It’s certainly one of the most quirky and random Christmas gift games, but the memories will be worth it!
7. Cobweb Party
This one is fun to set up and fun to play. Works well with name-drawing. Have each giver tie their gift to a ball of colorful yarn (make sure each one is at least 100 yards), then hide the gift and trail the yarn throughout the house.
When everyone is done, the house should look like a giant mess of cobwebs.
Then the giver hands off the end of the yarn to the recipient, and the race is on! Works best (i.e., craziest) when everyone is chasing their yarn trail at the same time.
8. Never Have I Ever
Place all the gifts in a pile in the middle of the room. Everyone stands in a circle around the pile and grabs a random gift and places it on the ground at their feet.
The first person grabs a “Never Have I Ever” paper slip from the bag/bowl/hat and reads it out loud. For example, “Never have I ever… cheated in a board game.”
This is one of the more entertaining family gift exchange ideas. You’ll be glad you did it!
Then, anyone who has done what the card says then has to switch places with someone else who isn’t the immediate person to the left or right of them, while leaving the gift on the ground.
If multiple people are moving, whoever gets to the empty spot behind the gift first gets it; if it’s just one person moving they have to pick someone to switch spots with them.
The person who read the statement then opens whatever gift is on the floor at their feet then places it back down on the ground.
The person to the left then grabs a new paper slip, reads it out loud, and the whole thing starts over again.
When all the gifts are opened, whatever is at your feet is your gift!
This one is especially fun because the slow reveal of all the gifts builds anticipation for the good ones (and disappointment for the boring ones).
One of our favorite new gift exchange games, this doorbell-ditching scavenger-hunt is perfect for families or friends that all live in the same area!
A popular holiday game in Sweden, the name “Julklapp” means “Christmas knock” (Jul = think Yultide; Klapp = clap/knock).
Here’s how it works. You package a fake “gift” (not the real one) in multiple layers of wrapping or several boxes, with a small token or note inside that features a clue or riddle.
While doing your best to hide your identity, set the package* on the porch, knock on their door, then scramble away.
*Make sure everyone participating knows the rules of the game ahead of time, so that there are no worries of what is in the box!
The receiver then has to figure out who left the gift by using the clues left in the package.
If they spot you, it will be easy to figure out. But if they don’t see you, then the clue can lead them on a scavenger hunt, or just be a riddle about you or your home.
Once they figure out who you are then they can come and get their gift!
10. Musical Gifts
In this version, the gifts get passed around while everyone remains in their seats.
Packages are passed around in a circle, from person to person, while a holiday song or Christmas carol is played. When the music stops, whatever gift each person is holding is the gift they get!
You can do it all in one go, with all the gifts moving around. If you prefer to make it last longer, do one, three, or any other number of gifts at a time, then those who got a gift sit out the next round.
Gift Exchange Games for Families
These Christmas gift games are especially great for the family, and will spice up the holiday season for everyone involved.
This is a family gift exchange game from Denmark, which apparently everyone there plays during the holiday season. Warning: It can bring out the worst!
All the gifts are placed in a pile. Go around the room, with each person taking turns rolling dice. When someone rolls a 6, they pick a gift. Repeat until all gifts are taken. (And yes, some people might get more than one, leaving others out.)
Next, the process is repeated, but this time people who roll a 6 can steal a gift. Agree on a set amount of time beforehand (longer time for more participants). Once the time is up, the game is over and everyone can open their presents.
This works best with silly and/or inexpensive gifts (think, dollar store).
12. Holiday Trivia Gift Exchange
If your family is big on trivia, turn your gift exchange into a trivia competition. Set up two or three teams, or compete individually. There are many ways to pass out the gifts:
As each person gets a correct answer, they get to choose a wrapped present, and if they get more than one question right they can pass off their gift pick to another person of their choice (or steal/swap a gift).
Competing individually for points, the leading point-getter chooses the gift first, 2nd place second, etc.
Teams compete together and write down their answers. Questions can have the same or different point values based on how difficult they are.
The leading team at the end of the first quarter can choose their wrapped gifts, and the leading team at halftime can choose and/or steal from the first.
Everyone opens at the end of the third quarter, and the victorious team at the very end can steal opened gifts from other teams.
Bonus: Have a special, additional prize for the winner! (Like, maybe doing the dishes so Mom doesn’t have to…)
13. Exchange the Exchange for a Gift for Everyone
Instead of the usual gift exchange, pitch in together on an experience: a special event or getaway you all can enjoy as a family.
Go big and rent a beach house or ski cabin for a weekend, or keep it budget-friendly by going to a movie at the theaters, ice skating, or to a local holiday event.
Other ideas include concerts, theme parks, laser tag, a sports event, a fun class like ballroom dancing, or rent out a family fun center for an afternoon.
14. Spin the Bottle Gift Exchange
A family-friendly take on the classic game. Everyone sits around in a circle and takes turns spinning the bottle.
When it lands on you, you get to go pick out your gift – or steal it!
15. Christmas Carol Singalong
This one is like a mashup of Christmas caroling and trivia.
As with musical chairs, arrange everyone in a circle, play a Christmas song, then have the gift passed around.
Whoever is holding the gift when you stop the song has to finish the lyric. If they can, they get to open the gift.
If not, the gift is passed clockwise until someone can correctly recite the song’s lyrics.
Depending on the songs you choose, this can be one of the most hilarious gift exchange ideas for families ever.
16. Send a Rotating Gift Box
This is an ingenious Christmas gift exchange idea for family members that live in different parts of the country.
Make up a special box — maybe a wooden crate, a cute holiday gift box, or something you decorate yourself — and send it to a family member or friend in a different state. They then put a gift in and send it back.
For multiple people, here’s how it would work. Say you have three friends or family members in different parts of the country.
You would put 3 gifts inside (one for each person), and send it to the first recipient.
They would take out the gift addressed to them, put one of their 3 gifts inside, and send it to the next person. Around and around it goes!
Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas for the Office
Take the office holiday party from drab to fab with these fun Christmas exchange gift ideas!
A great way to to get everyone involved in this years festivities.
17. Christmas Cookie Swap
Have everyone bake up their specialty, and bring a tray to the party plus a couple dozen extra to exchange.
You only have to bake one large double batch in order to get a wide variety of holiday treats to take home.
Plus it only costs a few dollars to make a couple batches of delicious Christmas cookies. So this is a very affordable option when budgets are tight.
Here’s how you do it:
- Find a great Christmas cookie recipe
- Bake enough for each person to have 3 or 4
- Put them in decorative holiday bags
- If, say, 10 people bring cookies, bring ten bags of your cookies and take ten home
- Enjoy your tasty treats at your leisure!
If you want to share your recipe, try these holiday themed recipe cards so others can try to make your delicious treat. It’s good to send out an office email beforehand to make note of any allergies.
18. Ornament Exchange
Christmas ornaments are fun. They help create a big part of that warm fuzzy feeling we all love about the holidays.
An ornament gift exchange is a wonderful way to add to everyone’s collection, it’s easy to do, and it doesn’t break the bank.
Have everyone from the office put their names in a bowl or a hat, then draw for who gets whom.
Keep a box or basket in the office for people to secretly drop their wrapped ornament in.
When it comes time for the exchange, see if you can guess who your benefactor is!
This is super fun because it shows how well you know the person. Are they a space nerd? Dog or cat lover? Anime nut? Get them an ornament that reflects their passions.
Check out these cute and popular Christmas ornaments.
19. Goodie Mug Exchange
Let’s face it. We all sit at our desks sipping coffee, tea, cocoa, or whatever other hot beverage keeps us awake at the office.
With this idea, everyone brings a fun, quirky, unique, or beautiful mug stuffed with goodies like snacks, drink mixes, candy, etc. to the party.
For divvying them up, you can use a traditional name-in-the-hat pull, or do a yankee swap!
We just know everyone’s going to be fighting over that Star Wars mug…
20. Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest
An office classic! Instead of everyone forking out for an expensive gift, pool a few dollars from everyone and get three or four prizes like gifts cards, gift baskets, fun subscriptions, etc.
On the day of the party, everyone gets to vote for their ugliest pick and the top winners take the prizes!
It’s a great chance for everyone to get into the friendly competitive spirit and show off their ugly handy work.
Not to mention it makes for some pretty great photos.
Gift Exchange Ideas for Friends
There are few things more lively and fun than a Christmas party with all your homies. Yah know? The chosen family?
Jump on one of these Christmas gift games for a party you won’t soon forget.
21. Favorite Things for Friends Gift Exchange
This is a super fun gift exchange for a large group of friends!
In this fun gift exchange, each person brings three identical “favorite things” under a set price point, which are then individually wrapped and placed into a Santa bag that everyone draws out of.
You get to come with three gifts and leave with three different gifts!
Of course, if you draw duplicates or your own items you get to put it back and draw again until you have three unique items.
22. Books and Beverages Gift Exchange
A super original idea that we love.
With this Christmas gift exchange idea, everyone brings a copy of their favorite book coupled with their favorite reading beverage.
That could be their top latte mix, a box of tea, hot chocolate, a bottle of wine (or whiskey if you don’t mind spending a little more), or a bottle of pop or brew.
You could place a theme to the books like “Top book I’ve read this year” or “Book that had the biggest impression on you,” or you could give everyone free rein to pick what they like!
Just make sure that if you wish to bring spirits that everyone is onboard with the idea and is of legal age. We don’t want anyone having to give up part of their gift.
23. Saran Wrap Ball Christmas Gift Exchange Game
Choose a nice gift for the main prize. Wrap it tightly in cling film, along with several additional small token gifts (candy, cash, lottery tickets, chapstick, etc). Depending on how hard you want to make it, use more or less.
(Get an industrial roll if you’re really serious.)
Everyone sits in a circle. Person A has the ball and Person B (to their right) has two dice.
While Person A tries to unravel and get what they can from the ball, Person B is trying to roll doubles. As soon as they roll doubles everything gets passed to the right.
So now Person B has to try and unroll the ball while Person C (who is right of person B) tries to roll doubles. Repeat until someone gets to the prize in the center.
Next Level: Wear baking mitts to make it even more challenging and fun. Hilarious.
24. Fun Facts Christmas Gift Exchange Game
Just how well do you know your friends?
Whether you’ve known everyone for like, ever, or are have a good mix of new and old, this will be a fun way to find out something new about your fellow party-goers.
Assign each gift a number as it comes through the door and tag it before placing it into the pile.
Give the person who brought the gift a piece of paper to write down that number along with a little-known fun fact about themselves.
Place all the papers into a hat and the host will read off the fact. Whoever can guess and match the fact to the person gets the gift associated with the number.
If there is no host, everyone can simply take turns drawing a piece of paper and reading off the fun fact.
25. Local Treasures Gift Exchange
Have fun with this twist on a classic and support small businesses at the same time!
Follow the basic rules for Secret Santa, but along with the gift price limit include that the gift has to come from a local small business, artisan, restaurant, or café.
Despite the time of year, many small businesses and artisans still struggle to compete with big name stores and distributors, so this is a neat way for you and your friends to give back to your community.
Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas for Kids
The kiddos love games more than just about anyone, but some exchange games might be a little over their heads or too difficult.
These Christmas gift games are designed with the littles in mind.
26. Treasure Hunt
You can have each child do this individually, or have all the gifts in one place for the whole family to find.
Create a series of instructions, clues, or riddles that lead to the next place, ending with the ultimate treasure trove.
27. Musical Chairs Gift Exchange Game
This idea works really well for kids.
With this version of musical gifts, you can either place the gifts under the chairs and pick a certain number of rounds, or you can give them their gift as soon as someone gets “out.”
This should eliminate any ruffled feathers or hurt feelings. After all, what kid was ever disappointed at getting a gift before someone else?
Whoever is the last one in wins the game and maybe a bonus prize.
For the adults, you could do the same thing. They’ll just enjoy the competition of jousting for a chair.
Or you could let the musical chairs decide the order of picking a gift. You’ll come up with tons of creative ideas for gift exchanging with this one.
28. Rock Paper Scissors Gift Exchange
Everyone grabs a number from a bowl and a random gift from the pile. Go in order; when it’s your turn you can choose to unwrap your gift or challenge someone for their gift — opened or unopened, with the standard rule that a gift can be stolen/challenged no more than three times.
If you choose to challenge someone, play rock paper scissors against them. If you, as the challenger, win, you get to steal the gift and open it; however, if you (the challenger) lose then you keep your original gift and the other person can start a challenge to steal someone else’s gift.
Once the challenger wins, they open the gift and then the group moves on to number two, then three, and so on. Good luck remembering who’s turn it is!
29. Kids DIY Gift Exchange
In this variation on any one of these Christmas gift exchange games, everyone brings DIY gifts that they made instead of buying one. It’s a chance to be creative!
The gifts can be homemade ornaments, baked goods, crafted items like suncatchers or painted items like mugs, homemade t-shirts or artwork, pottery, or anything else you can think of.
Choose a specific theme or let it be a creative free-for-all for the kiddos.
Distribute the gifts using one of the other ideas on this list, from classic Yankee Swap to something fresh and unique, like Pakkeleg or a Cobweb Party.
30. Christmas Carnival
You know those Halloween carnivals, the ones often put on by churches for kids and called a “Harvest Festival” to avoid the stigma of Halloween?
They’re actually pretty fun, full of little county-fair-type games like ring toss, ball toss, shooting hoops, “fishing” with a clothespin fishing pole, and more.
Try setting up your holiday gift exchange with a bunch of booths where the kids (and adults!) can win prizes by winning a bunch of carnival games.
Maybe give out candy or small token prizes for each game, then as each person completes all games (use a punch card, or just have them go around the room) they get to choose a gift.
Use your imagination for tons of kid-centered Yuletide fun!
Here are some easy and portable ideas:
- Ball toss game
- Skee ball
- Cornhole bean bag toss
- Fishing-for-prizes carnival game
- Dartboard and darts, and/or balloons
- Reindeer ring toss
- DIY pool noodle toss (cheap!)
31. Santa’s Grab Bag
This one is super simple.
Get a nice big bag — this classic Santa’s bag is perfect, or just use a big black plastic bag — put all the gifts inside, and have the kids draw them out, one by one.
Easy and exciting, especially when you have really little ones.
32. Hot Potato
Just like the popular party game, but use a gift instead. Everyone sits in a circle, and passes around a gift. Whenever the music stops, the person holding the gift gets it.
Or, to encourage passing it quickly, the person who last held the gift gets it. For more fun with larger groups, do two or three gifts at a time.
You can add more rules, too. For instance, if you drop it, you have to sit out that round.
Or those who already have a gift can throw balls of wrapping paper at the participants to distract them.
Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas for Adults
These ideas are tailored more for adults than the kiddos, as they either require a bit more brain power, are more dialed back, or are intended for those who live apart.
33. Riddle Me This
A brain stumper, but super fun. (Although it depends on the difficulty of riddles you select!)
Come up with a list of riddles, at least one for each person in the gift exchange.
Read off a riddle, then whoever first guesses it right gets to grab a gift from the center and open it. You can always add stealing rules, like in Yankee Swap.
34. Día de Reyes, aka Three King’s Day
Here is a more relaxing, fun gift exchange tradition from Mexico.
In this version, we still have the traditional Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings Cake) with the figurine of a baby representing baby Jesus baked inside.
Everyone cuts their own slice of cake and enjoys it with a cup of coffee and cocoa to end the night’s festivities in a relaxing way.
As a gift exchange, if you get the baby in your slice of cake then you get to go first! Then go around the room clockwise, or take turns from oldest to youngest (or vice versa) to complete your gift exchange party.
35. Make a List
This gift exchange idea gets the prize for simplest, lowest-stress version.
Have each person make a list of 10 things under X amount of dollars that they actually would like to receive as a gift.
Making a list and setting a dollar amount takes away the stress of guessing whether or not they already have or would like a particular item.
Plus it keeps a bit of mystery since they will only receive one or maybe two items off the list.
36. Virtual Gift Exchange
Here’s the online/virtual version of Secret Santa!
Using Elfster (or any other name-drawing generator website), set up a Secret Santa game. When you find who you’re sending a gift to, pick it out and mail it to them.
Make sure it arrives before your set date for the gift exchange, and instruct everyone to leave the gift wrapped until then.
On the date of your virtual party, host an online video chat and everyone can take turns opening up their gift from their Secret Santa!
Set budgets, gift themes, and of course make sure your gift is wrapped inside the shipping box so they have something to unwrap.
You’ll probably see the sender’s shipping label, so if you really want to keep it “secret,” mail the gift to someone else with instructions on who the final recipient is.
37. Heads or Tails
This is like the traditional Yankee Swap, but with an element of chance thrown in.
Everyone chooses a number from a hat. The person with #1 has to grab a gift from the pile to unwrap (as with Yankee Swap, they will get a bonus chance at the end).
The second person flips a coin. If it’s heads, they pick a gift from the table to unwrap. If it’s tails, they have to steal a gift.
Keep going until it goes around back to the first person, who ends the game with their chance to flip a coin.
38. Gift Auction
There are many ways to incorporate an auction into a gift exchange. For adults, you can have a Vegas-style game night and then individuals can use their “winnings” to bid on gifts — opened or unopened.
Or do a cash auction and have the proceeds go to a charity or to pay for a gift for the whole family.
Set up a basic guideline beforehand – are we bidding loose change for little $5-15 gifts, or is it going to be big money for premium gifts?
Do you earn and use fake money from carnival/party/card games, or is everyone supposed to buy in with $5 or whatever?
For an all-ages version, have some carnival games or competitions where 1st through 5th place gets tickets, poker chips, or change to use in the auction.
Trivia and simple party games also work well for this: hot potato, musical chairs, a dance-off, talent show, ring toss, etc.
39. 21 Questions
Exactly like the Gift Guessing Game, but using Yes and No questions. Whoever guesses the gift correctly gets it; if no one guesses it, the gift giver gets a prize.
With both of these, you’ll obviously want to come up with a a way to make sure everyone gets a gift.
Plus you want people to stay interested and involved, so don’t do it where anyone who has a gift sits out.
Rather, anyone who correctly guesses a second gift can choose to give away their gift in favor of the second one, or perhaps steal another gift.
40. Roll the Dice
Everyone sits in a circle holding a randomly selected gift from the pile. Moving around the circle in order, each person takes turns rolling a pair of dice.
Depending on the result, follow the instructions for each number.
These rules might include:
- Only people wearing red get to exchange gifts
- Unwrap your gift
- Unwrap someone else’s gift
- Make two people swap gifts
- Pass gifts to the left
Keep going until all the gifts are unwrapped!
41. Gift Train
This is a great way to do a long-distance gift exchange with a group of friends or family members.
Similar to #16, but instead of rotating gifts in and out of the package, everyone involved sends a package with the same number of gifts as there are people in the exchange.
When the package arrives, simply pull out a gift, then send the package on to the next address.
42. Regift the Good Stuff
Have everyone go in on a collection of great, top-notch gifts that are durable or reusable. (If you can’t afford it all at once, slowly build up to it.)
This allows each recipient or family to use the item for a full year.
Next Christmas, swap it up! You won’t have to buy new gifts every year, and everyone gets something really nice each and every holiday.
Here are a few options that will work for this sort of upscale or extra-meaningful regifting (the list goes big/pricey down to smaller/affordable):
|On the River
|Fun at Home
|Inflatable Hot Tub
|On the Road
|Off the Road
|Whiskey Aging Barrel
|Giant Pool Floats
|Heirloom China Set
|Favorite Board Game
|The Lamp from A Christmas Story
|Extra Card from Costco Membership
|Whatever You Fought Over When You Were Kids
43. Regift the Worst Stuff
Have everyone bring the very worst gift they ever received, and pass it on to a new owner. Then do it every year! Introduce new items as the old ones get lost or broken.
Take a vote on the “best” worst gift each year, and the “winner” gets to wear a terrible Christmas hat.
No doubt you will start all sorts of fun traditions.
There will be that one excruciating gift that that everyone loves to hate; there will be stories of old gifts from days of yore that have long since disappeared; and no one will be disappointed because nobody will expect anything even remotely decent.
A real winner!
44. Rotate Gift Exchange Ideas
Lastly, consider rotating through several of these Christmas gift exchange ideas each year.
Your whole family will love having something different to look forward to each year, and if you limit it to 2-4 different exchange types then you will still maintain something of a “tradition.”
Choose a Gift Category
Putting a limit on gifts actually forces you to be more thoughtful and creative, and leads to interesting results.
Imagine: Food gifts only. Craft brew, whiskey, and/or wine gifts only (uh, for adults, obviously).
Last year you were only allowed to give experiences, like gift certificate to a golf course or tickets to the theater; this year, you can only give a subscription box.
Everyone gives three used books, each from a different genre. Gifts that make people laugh; and the gift-giver that gets the biggest laugh gets a prize. You get the idea.
My family did “used” aka thrift store gifts only one year, and it was one of the most unique and memorable Christmases we ever had together.
It was exhausting, with lots of yard sale, thrift store, and antique mall visits, but we all had a blast.
You could have everyone write down their favorite movies, and all the gifts have to relate to that person’s favorite films.
For instance, a Han Shot First t-shirt for a Star Wars buff, a Sharknado triple feature for someone who loves Jaws, a sled for the Orson Welles/Citizen Kane fan, something that says “You Go Glen Coco” for the person who constantly quotes Mean Girls.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of category ideas to get you started:
- Board games
- Color – gifts must be red, or blue, etc.
- Craft beer (and related accessories)
- DIY gifts – handmade by YOU
- Event tickets
- Gift cards/certificates
- Handmade items – bought locally or online
- Local products only
- Movies and/or movie-themed gifts
- Personalized items
- Specialty food
- Ugly Christmas sweaters
- Wine and wine-themed gifts
What to do Instead of Christmas Gifts?
Maybe you’re tired of all the over-commercialization of Christmas (I picture Lucy telling Charlie Brown “We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket,”) and are wondering what to do instead of Christmas gifts?
There’s nothing wrong with that.
In fact, it could do us all a lot of good to step back every now and then and try to focus on what Christmas is really about.
Here’s some great alternative exchange gift ideas.
Give to Others, Together
Instead of giving gifts to each other, invest in a child or family in need by giving through a charitable organization such as Compassion International.
We recommend this organization because they are highly rated by independent charity evaluators, which provides confidence knowing that the majority of what you give is actually going to the child or family in need.
Also, they have an excellent online gift catalog where you can make one-time donations towards specific needs such as a baby’s medical care, dental kits for kids, chickens to help feed a family, emergency food and water, HIV/AIDS care, and more.
You probably have charities and causes that you and your family are passionate about.
Band together to make a donation to something important, then enjoy a bountiful meal and holiday celebration together.
The Anti-Gift Exchange: Let Everyone Off the Hook
Sometimes, all the materialistic gift insanity might get to be a bit much. Yep. We get it. (Your family will too.)
Remember that you’re free to bow out and do something a little more personal instead.
Here are some ideas to help you get out of the annual gift exchange rut. We’ve already hit on several along these lines above (doing a family event, cookie swap, volunteering, etc) but we’ll put them all together here, plus a few more.
For the Family Gathering
Be sure to send everyone an email or chat message to explain your thoughts. Then you can suggest in place of the gift swap:
- Have a family gathering with a potluck
- Do a cookie swap (#17, above)
- Go sledding; bring hot chocolate
- Volunteer as a family (some ideas here)
- Watch a Christmas movie together
- Read a classic Christmas story together
- Do the Christmas carnival (#30), but with all-DIY games
- Have everyone pitch in a few bucks to get a nice gift for each child in the family, or to get a little grab-bag of goodies. Let’s face it, the kids should get presents!
- Get one gift for the whole family – like a board game or a silly Christmas game — rather than gifts for each person
Contact your loved ones individually and let them know that you’re stepping away from the materialistic holiday insanity this year.
Let them know that, instead, you want to take them out to lunch, coffee, or ice cream and spend some quality time together.
Or cook a nice dinner for them. Something simple, yet personal.
The same thing goes for the kids. You can take them out one at a time, or take a group of siblings (their parents will probably appreciate the free babysitting!).
If you’re on a budget, take them to the park or another fun, free activity. Maybe get an ice cream cone or hot cocoa.
You can also do bigger, splashier activities with the kids, like taking them to a bounce house, laser tag, fun center, or arcade. It’s up to you!
Things to Consider
If this is your first time attending or hosting Christmas exchange games you might have questions like what to buy for gift exchange, how much should you spend, how many gifts to bring, etc., etc.
Let’s take a look.
Is There a Price Range?
Most gift exchanges do set a price limit or a price range, though there are always exceptions.
This helps level the playing field a little bit, and also keeps folks content and happy whether their gift cost $5 or $50.
Usually the host will convey this information ahead of time or it will be on the invitation.
Wrapped or Unwrapped?
For majority of Christmas gift games, the gifts will be wrapped unless specified otherwise.
A lot of the fun is picking a gift that you have zero idea what lies beneath that shiny paper.
Is There a Theme?
Again, this is specified by the host or the invite, so don’t toss that card just yet!
Consider Your Audience
If there will be children participating in the exchange games, bringing a bottle of Scotch might not be in everyone’s best interest.
On the other hand if you’re playing with adults, a My Little Pony set probably wouldn’t be ideal either. Unless you’ve got some bronies in your group, that is.
Rules are usually explained, once again, by the host.
If you happen to be the one hosting and are choosing or combining games, just be sure to make the game rules as clear as possible.
You don’t want to end up with a family feud over Family Feud.
Christmas Exchange Gift Ideas
If you are attending and need some inspiration on what to buy for the gift exchange, here are a couple of wonderful exchange gift ideas.
Local Artisan Gifts
As we mentioned earlier on, Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to give back to your local community by purchasing from small businesses, bakeries, craftsmen, etc.
Plus, whoever ends up with it will have a beautiful local gift to treasure!
Portable Phone Charger
In this day and age, everyone could use one of these handy portable chargers.
From kids to adults, having a full battery is as much a matter of safety as it is convenience.
Think this is a blah gift idea? Think again! In my experience, gift cards are one of the most fought over items at gift exchange parties.
You could pick a universal card like this one, or you could choose a great restaurant, coffee shop, bookstore, you name it!
Games are always a great idea for gift exchanges, because once everyone has finished opening, you can all play a round or two!
Let’s be honest, candles can get a pretty bad (w)rap at these types of functions. But the honest truth is that most everyone can enjoy a really nice candle.
Try picking more neutral or nature inspired scents that could appeal to a wide range of individuals regardless of gender.
This National Parks Collection from Paddywax would be a great place to start!
Gift Exchange Party Invitations
How do you get people to come to your gift exchange? With one of our favorite Christmas gift exchange party invitations, of course!