You may call it a yankee swap, a white elephant, the Grinch game, a Pollyanna swap or a plain old gift exchange. Which ever name you know it by the premise is usually the same, you bring and swap a gift with a group. Ready to mix it up this year, try a twist and create a new family tradition?
Great! Here are a few of my favourite and fun ways to play and host a gift exchange game with families and children in mind. Of course these can also be enjoyed by adult groups too - I'm looking at you cobweb exchange!
1. White Elephant Trading Places
This version is great for older children and can easily be personalized to make the game unique to your family using in jokes, traditions and more. Players can either bring their own wrapped gifts or the host can provide one for each player in the game.
What is unique about this gift exchange is the gifts stay in place and the players do the moving. Intrigued? Let me teach you how to play.
Choose a player to be the host, they can participate in the exchange but will also be reading instructions aloud to the group. Each player takes it in turns to pick a gift and sit back down. Strictly no opening, peaking or shaking of presents.
The host reads a statements aloud, if the statement applies to you you must stand up. All players standing up should race to switch places with each other and sit down in a new spot and in front of a new gift.
Once all the statements have been read unwrap the gift you are holding. Fingers crossed it’s a good one.
Here are some suggested statements, feel free to customise these for your group.
Stand up and start trading places if …
- You have watched the Christmas movie ‘Home Alone’ this year.
- You are wearing a novelty Christmas jumper.
- The gift is front of you is larger than a pack of cards.
- You have purchased at least one Christmas gift online.
- You put up your Christmas tree before December 1st.
- You would like to spend Christmas abroad one year.
- You have more than one Christmas tree.
- You are wearing something red.
- Your name begins with a letter in the word CHRISTMAS.
- You have a wreath on your door.
- You bought a Christmas gift before Halloween.
- You were born in December.
- You have seen a reindeer in real life.
- You like the cold weather.
- The gift in front of you is soft.
- You have already finished your Christmas shopping.
- You have received more than 10 Christmas cards.
- You don’t like eggnog.
- You have an Elf on the Shelf.
- You wish you could listen to Christmas music all year.
Try this : For a little extra added fun unwrap a gift after each question, or two. This helps add a little competition when racing and swapping gifts, especially if a gift is in demand or is one to be avoided! More novelty socks anyone ....
2. Cobweb Gift Exchange
The cobweb gift exchange that was popular in the Victorian Era is due a comeback, trust me. This physical gift exchange idea is a heap of fun and is especially loved by kids and adults who are young at heart.
Unlike the other Christmas gift exchange variants this version requires a little bit of setup by the host and a ball of coloured yarn, string or ribbon for each player. Don’t worry it is totally worth the effort, trust us.
Tie a small gift to the end of each ball of yarn and hide each gift somewhere in the room (or around the house) - make sure you can’t see the gifts poking out. Start to unravel each ball of yarn under chairs, behind sofas, in bookcases, around light fittings, ornaments, up the stairs and more until each ball is zig zagged all over the house. At this point you’ll see why it is called the cobweb gift exchange! The bigger maze and tangle of yarn the better!
I’m sure you can imagine what is coming next! Gather your group and give each player one end of a ball of yarn, you could add name tags if you wanted to offer unique presents for guests. When the host shouts ‘Ho Ho Ho’ all players should start to untangle their strings. The gift you find at the end is yours to keep.
How creative and how far your cobweb spreads here is up to you - how far does your ball of yarn reach? This version is a great way to keep kids occupied while you enjoy a Christmas cocktail - win win.
If your house is anything like mine this game will be requested year after year.
3. Christmas Left Right Game
This fast paced version is wonderful for children. Everyone sits in a circle holding a present; provided by the host or themselves.
The storyteller reads a story aloud to the group - you can pick any Christmas story or poem. We have a unique story available to purchase in store.
Anytime you hear the word "LEFT" pass your present to the left. Anytime you heard the word "RIGHT" pass your present right. When you hear the phrase “WE HAVE” swap gifts with anyone else in the group. You’ll have to be quick to keep up, the gift you have at the end of the story is yours to open and keep.
4. Switch, Steal or Unwrap Dice Game
For this fun version all you need is a standard 6 sided dice and one more present than participants. An extra large foam dice, available on Amazon and elsewhere, provides extra fun if you have access to one but don't worry if not.
To play ; each player takes it in turns to select a gift in the centre - this will leave one gift unaccounted for. On your turn roll the dice and determine which action you'll take.
- Roll a 1 - Everyone passes their gift right
- Roll a 2 - Everyone passes their gift left
- Roll a 3 - Steal and swap any gift
- Roll a 4 - Trade two gifts from any players
- Roll a 5 - Swap gifts with the gift in centre
- Roll a 6 - Choose a gift to be unwrapped
The game ends when all the gifts are unwrapped. The player who unwraps the last gift also claims the additional one in the centre - lucky them :)
Want to use more dice for a longer game?
Great idea! You can either assign new actions for the extra numbers (numbers 7-12) or, for our preferred version, ask each participant to bring two gifts to the party. Usually we'd suggest these gifts are of lower value.
The rules remain the same with a few small changes. To start take turns drawing a gift until each person has two in front of them. Roll both dice on your turn and perform two actions starting with the lowest value die. Here's an example :
Roll a 1 and a 6 : Firstly, everyone passes one of their gifts (their choice) to the right, secondly the active player chooses a gift to be unwrapped.
You must always perform the action if you can, even if you don't want to! Play continues until all the gifts are unwrapped.
5. Musical Gifts
I'm sure we've all played musical chairs at some point in our lives - when the music stops you grab for a chair, last one standing is out. Remove a chair and repeat.
Musical gifts is the gift exchange version and it is unbelievably fun, children especially tend to love this version.
To start the game one player picks a gift from the centre, the music starts and all players should pass the gift in a circle amongst themselves - dancing mandatory! When the music stops whoever is holding the gift unwraps it and shows the group. They now have a decision to make ; they can leave the game with their gift OR they can skip the gift and stay in the game. Unwrapping a gift and keeping it is the only time you can leave the game.
A new gift is drawn, the music starts, and players continue to pass all gifts (wrapped and previously unwrapped and passed) around the circle. Once again, when the music stops the unwrapped gift is opened and the player who unwrapped it must decide to keep it or skip it and stay in the game.
Play continues until the last gift is unwrapped - all players still remaining in the game (it's possible there could be a few players and gifts in circulation) will keep the gifts in front of them. Fingers crossed it's a good one.
6. Christmas Gift Exchange Cards
This version is a great ice breaker for an extended family or Church group. Like the rules above each player should arrive with a wrapped gift and place them together in a pile, players take it in turns to pick one and sit back down. Strictly no opening, peaking or shaking of presents.
Some preparation is required by the host who should prepare some exchange cards in advance of the game. Here are some examples :
- Exchange gifts with the player you have known the longest.
- Exchange gifts with a player wearing a novelty Christmas jumper.
- Exchange gifts with the most intriguing gift in play.
- Exchange gifts with a player whose name begins with a vowel.
- All players must exchange gifts to the left.
- All players born in December should exchange gifts.
- Exchange gifts with the biggest animal lover.
- Exchange gifts with the player most likely to survive a desert island.
On your turn draw and pick a card, read it aloud to the group and complete the action. It's best if some cards require action from the whole group so there is no snoozing until it is your turn, or hiding a gift you hope to keep under your chair hoping that no one will notice.
Continue drawing cards clockwise until, either, everyone has had a turn, or when you have circled twice or three times. The gift you have in front of you at the end if yours to keep!
Short on time, or inspiration, purchase our ready made cards and play immediately!
I hope you'll really enjoy these Christmas gift exchange games this holiday season. If you have any game ideas you enjoy as a family we'd love to hear them so we can give them a go with our own family! Please drop us a comment below, we'd love to hear from you!