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When I think about Christmas gift exchange games, the traditional white elephant game and Secret Santa come to mind. Although these gift exchange games are really fun, they take a lot of coordination ahead of time.
My usual classic Christmas party game is hosting a Secret Santa. The problem is that this gift exchange can take a lot of time to organize. Assigning names, communicating information and finding a date for the final gift giving all takes weeks of prep work.
The white elephant gift exchange is similar to a Secret Santa, but has a sneaky factor. Basically, you can steal gifts away from people. Although it can be a lot of fun, it doesn’t work for every crowd.
Instead of one of these classic games, why not try a creative twist on your Christmas gift exchange this holiday season?
I have listed below five of my favorite Christmas gift exchange games. They are fun and creative variations on the classics. And are sure to keep guests entertained and having a good time at your Christmas party.
Christmas Gift Exchange Game with Dice
This is probably my favorite type of the Christmas Gift Exchange Games. Something about having the roll of the dice determine your fate of the gift that you receive.
Each dice number corresponds to a different action to take with the wrapped gift. (List what each dice number corresponds to)
To play, guests sit in a circle holding a random wrapped gift. Then, the first person rolls the dice. They read the instructions that match their dice roll. For example, if they roll a 1 then everyone passes their gift to the right.
Play until everyone has landed on “Unwrap your gift” or the gifts have been passed around multiple times. Then, invite guests to open their gifts.
To make play easier, you can use our Free Printable Christmas Gift Exchange Game so everyone knows what to do. I created an 8 inch x 10 inch version and 5 inch x 7 inch version.
I also added a few more festive versions of the Christmas Gift Exchange Game in our shop here in case you want one to match an event theme.
Left Right Poem Game
This Christmas gift exchange game is all about being a good listener. Gather guests in a circle. Give each guest a random gift. Read them the left right poem. When the poem says “right”, they pass their gifts to the right. When it says “left”, they pass their gifts to the left.
After the poem is over, the gifts belong to whomever is currently holding them. If guests end up with the same gift that they brought, invite individual swapping. Most people don’t want to go home with something that they came with.
Then, invite guests to open the gifts. So much fun!
There are a couple different versions of these left right poems that you can use. Check out this Nativity Right Left Poem or this Rudolph version. If you would like a printable poem to use for easy reading, check out this Christmas version or Elves story (affiliates).
I can just imagine the laughter and joy trying to figure out which way to pass the gift next.
Hot Potato Gift Pass
Do you remember playing hot potato at birthdays when you were a kid? The one holding the hot potato was out. Please note that this “potato” was only figurative. Normally, we passed around a bean bag or other small stuffed object.
The goal of this classic birthday game was not to be the one left holding the “potato”.
This Christmas version is similar, but includes Christmas music.
How to Play –
1. Gather guests around in a circle.
2. Hand out two gifts to guests. To keep the gift passing moving, it’s probably best to start them at different sides of the circle.
3. When the music starts, guests pass the gifts around the circle.
4. Then when the music stops, whoever is holding the gift keeps it and is out of the game. Continue playing until everyone receives a gift.
Gift Exchange Card Game
This card game idea is similar to the dice gift exchange game, but using cards. There are a variety of gift exchange card games to choose from. You can find one of our favorite versions here (affiliate).
To play, assemble guests in a circle. Each person has a random gift. The first player draws a card. He does what the card says and returns the card to the bottom of the pile. Then, the next person chooses a card. Keep picking cards until the deck has gone around the circle at least once. You can choose how many times to go around.
Once the play is complete, each person unwraps the new gift that they have.
Pass the Christmas Parcel
To play this Christmas gift exchange game, you’ll have to ask guests to wrap their gift in multiple layers of different wrapping papers.
Layers and layers of wrapping paper.
Not necessarily, but you need a lot of wrapping paper.
Each gift should have at least five layers depending on how many times you want to pass the gift and how many people there are. But I know games where the gifts have had 15, so it’s really up to you.
To make wrapping the gift easier (and another party activity), set up a gift wrapping station with a variety of wrapping paper. (Check your local thrift shop for half used wrapping paper rolls or the dollar store carries inexpensive Christmas wrap.)
Ask guests to arrive with a wrapped gift in one layer of wrapping paper. Once at the party, they can wrap the gift in the additional layers of wrapping paper. This way you can guarantee that each gift has the correct number of layers.
How to Play
1. Invite everyone to sit in a circle.
2. Hand out two to three wrapped gifts depending on how many people there are and how many rounds you’d like to play.
3. Tell guests that when you play the Christmas music, they need to pass the gifts to their right. They continue passing the gifts until the music stops. Then, each person holding a gift takes off one layer of wrapping paper.
4. Play continues until the last layer of wrapping paper is taken off. Whoever is holding the unwrapped gift gets to keep it and is out of the game.
5. You can play additional rounds until everyone has a gift.
A variation would be to switch passing directions each time the music starts again. This way the gifts would be going both ways around the circle.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
For each of these Christmas gift exchange games, guests need to bring a wrapped gift. A gift exchange game doesn’t work if guests forget their gift or bring something unwrapped. You may want to have gift wrap on hand in case guests forget to wrap their presents before arriving. It’s the holiday season. You never know.
When sending out your Christmas party invitations, be sure to mention that you will be hosting a Christmas gift exchange game. (Our editable holiday invitations let you add any text that you need to tell your guests – including information on a gift exchange.)
Let guests know that they need to bring a gift to the party. And make sure that you set a budget for the gifts. Gift exchange games are never fun if one guest brings a gift valued at $100 and another chooses a yard sale find.
Once guests arrive at the party, have a space to put the gifts. Either under the tree or on a table works well. This way you can disperse “random” gifts when it’s game time.
Photo courtesy of Juliana Malta
What Kinds of Gifts Work for Christmas Gift Exchange Games?
When organizing your Christmas gift exchange, set a reasonable budget. Depending on the party, anything from $5 to $20 would work well. Let guests know about the budget to help them with their shopping.
Since everyone has different tastes and interests, unlike a Secret Santa, gifts should be more on the neutral side. Think socks, things for the kitchen, candles, self care items or something fun. You can find some great Christmas gift exchange suggestions here to share with guests.
Depending on your guests, you might want to add a theme to make gift buying more fun. It can also help people focus on specific gift options.
Here are some favorite gift theme ideas to consider:
- coffee and tea
- self care
- specific color
- games (this could be really fun for adults)
- ornaments or something Christmas
- books (this is especially fun for kids)
- pet (works if everyone in the group has a pet)
- go green (all of the gifts are environmentally friendly)
- in the news (choose gifts that relate to things that happened in the news this past year)
- something practical (think cleaning supplies and toilet paper)
- staying warm (fleece blankets, socks, tea, candles, bath salts)
- the great outdoors
- recipes (mason jar filled with your ingredients – check out this cookie mix for inspiration– with a recipe attached)
- wine and beer
- memories (something that reminds people of their childhood)
If you choose a gift giving theme, be sure that information is on the invitation as well. You’d hate to pick a theme and no one knows about it.
How Do I Choose the Best Christmas Gift Exchange Game?
When choosing a Christmas gift exchange game for your party, consider your guests. The number and their ages can be important.
A good rule of thumb is that the more complicated the gift exchange game, the fewer people should play. A gift exchange game with a lot of rules can be hard to coordinate with a larger group. If you have lots of guests attending your holiday event, choose a simpler game that’s easy to follow.
Also, consider the ages of your guests. Many young children don’t understand “stealing”. Once they have a gift, they want to keep it. If you’re playing the gift exchange game with younger children, consider eliminating this rule. Or call it “swapping” instead of stealing. And maybe make it optional.
Kids also sometimes have trouble following oral directions. So the Left Right Poem and Gift Exchange Card Game might be harder to do. I think my favorite Christmas gift exchange games for kids are the Hot Potato Gift Pass and Pass the Parcel. Most kids can easily follow the starting and stopping of the music. And it’s fun tossing gifts to each other around a circle as quickly as you can.
Love these Christmas gift exchange games and want to save them for later? Be sure to pin it below.
Want to play the Christmas Gift Exchange Dice Game at your holiday party? Be sure to grab your Free Printable Christmas Gift Exchange Dice Game.
- 8 inch by 10 inch Christmas Gift Exchange version
- 5 inch by 7 inch Christmas Gift Exchange version
You can also find an assortment of other holiday game printables in our shop here. And for more Christmas party game ideas, check out some of our favorite Kids Christmas Party Games. They are sure to make your holiday celebrating easy and fun.
Play a word game.
Try Finish the Carol or Word Guess; either works for a kid-friendly gift exchange. Finish the Carol: Sit in a circle and pass each gift around to the tune of a holiday song. Designate someone to stop the song mid-verse. The person who is holding the gift has to finish the line.
In the 5 Gift Rule, the first four gifts are the same - something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. But the 5th? The 5th is the real winner. It's something they need or want but don't really know it.
The first person opens a wrapped gift, and the turn ends. On subsequent turns, each person has the choice to either unwrap a new present or to steal another's. When a person's gift is stolen, that person can either choose another wrapped gift to open or can steal from another player.
No one shares what name they have drawn, instead keeping it hidden. Each person then purchases a fun and amusing gift for the person to whom they've been assigned. There is generally a dollar amount assigned before the event so everybody is on the same page as to how much they will be spending on their gift.
The White Elephant Game Rules
Bring a wrapped, anonymous gift to the shindig. Draw numbers to determine who gets to unwrap a present when. Sit in a circle and place the gifts in the center, preferably under a festive tree. The person who drew #1 selects a gift from the pile, opens it, and holds it up for all to see.
Pick an Ornament From the Tree
In this simple ornament exchange game, participants bring unwrapped ornaments and hang them on a Christmas tree as they arrive (a miniature tree that can fit on a tabletop is often best). People then take turns picking the ornament they would like from the tree.