3 Gift Exchange Games For Large Groups

Illustration of a large pile of Christmas gifts arranged to look like a Christmas tree, with a star on topI hate to say it, but there are situations where a White Elephant gift exchange might not be the best choice for a holiday gathering. One of those situations is when you’re dealing with a big group of people and a limited amount of time. With all the turn-taking and gift-stealing, a game of White Elephant can get unwieldy when a lot of people are playing.

So, what are some good Christmas gift exchange games for large groups? To my mind, the qualities we’re looking for are:

  • Fast-moving, with little or no decision-making involved
  • Suitable for people of all stripes
  • Conducive to mingling and getting to know people (admittedly a tall order, but especially desirable for office parties)

White Elephant can meet those criteria if you tweak the rules to limit trading. But if you want a gift-swapping game that’s tailor-made for a crowd, consider one of these options:

1. Prearranged Gift-Swapping

The rules and can be customized to your liking, but the idea here is simple: Gift-swapping is dictated by you, the host, rather than through the slow process of players taking turns. Perhaps the most popular way to do this is to have people sit in a circle and pass gifts according to cues in a story or poem (see this article on the left-right passing game for details). While there’s not a lot of interaction under these rules, the game goes fast and will keep any Christmas party on schedule.

Another option is to assign each player a number and have them swap according to predetermined instructions (again, using cute rhymes works best). If you have a little more time, you can allow players to make some of their own decisions. For example, you could give a player the option to trade with anyone wearing a Santa hat, or anyone not wearing red.

2. Musical Gifts

The best part of this type of game is that it allows you to incorporate everyone’s favorite holiday songs. Just have people sit or stand in a circle and pass a gift around as a Christmas classic plays. When the music stops, whoever is holding the gift gets to keep it (and goes out of the game).

To make it more fun, you can unwrap the gift before passing it around. When a gag gift is revealed, watch as it races around the circle like a hot potato.

3. Secret Santa

Secret Santa works well with larger groups for a couple of reasons. One, most people are at least somewhat familiar with it, so there’s less confusion about the rules. And two, each instance of gift-giving is between only two people, so you don’t need to have everyone’s attention for a long period of time.

There are lots of flavors of Secret Santa, but one that’s worth considering for office gift exchanges is the “conspiracy” version. In this game, people are divided into small groups, each of which is assigned a single person to buy for. It’s up to each group to decide on an appropriate gift – great for team-building and just getting to know each other.

As you may have noticed, gift exchange games for large groups generally require more preparation in advance. If you’re the one in charge of organizing things, remind yourself that it’s well worth the effort. Party goers are always a little more jolly when things run smoothly.

7 Ideas For a Fantastically Tacky Christmas Party

Goofy guy wearing party hat with Christmas wreath around his neck as he holds up two golden balloons at a Christmas partyChristmas is the one time of the year where everyone has permission to be tacky. In fact, it’s hard to avoid, seeing as how so many holiday rituals involve glitter, loud colors, and mushy sentiments. So rather than resist the cornball charm of the Christmas season, why not embrace it in all its gaudy glory?

That, in a nutshell, is the rationale behind tacky Christmas parties. This aggressively festive party theme is associated with things like white elephant gift exchanges and ugly sweater contests – but there’s so much more to it. To illustrate, here are seven tacky Christmas party ideas that poke fun at some of the holiday’s most splendiferous traditions.

1. Send out tacky invitations

The first step to hosing a truly tacky Christmas party is to send out invitations that let your guests know what they’re in for. Whether you’re sending paper or electronic invites, try using clashing colors, funny characters, and sparkles – lots and lots of sparkles – to grab their attention. Throw in some groan-inducing puns to top it off.

2. Turn the party venue into a festive eyesore

Whether you decide to deck the halls with shiny tinsel and flashing lights, or just put up a few funny holiday props, your choice of decorations is important for setting an appropriately tacky tone. Fortunately, when it comes to tacky Christmas decorations, there’s a lot to choose from. In fact, you probably already have a few “treasures” from yesteryear stored somewhere in your house.

3. Run an ugly sweater contest (duh)

This one’s a no-brainer – in fact, it’s the whole point of many tacky Christmas parties. Be sure to have some suitably tacky prizes lined up for the contestants (don’t worry – they needn’t be expensive). Consider giving out a prize not only for the ugliest sweater overall, but for different categories such as “Most Colorful” and “Best Homemade Ugly Sweater.”

4. Serve “tasteless” food and drink

I don’t literally mean “tasteless,” of course. What you’re looking for is yummy food and drink that fit your tacky theme. This could include kitschy holiday favorites such as cheese balls, fruit cake, and the like. Or it could be a funny presentation, like mustachioed gingerbread men or wine bottles adorned with miniature ugly sweaters.

5. Put together a funny holiday playlist

There are oh-so-many Christmas tunes to choose from when putting together a playlist for any holiday party. You can always include the sentimental favorites, but for a tacky Christmas gathering, be sure to also make room for the goofy, the corny, and the downright hilarious. Some good choices include “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” “Hanukkah Song,” and “Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo.”

6. Have guests play goofy Christmas-themed games

Along with the usual gift exchange and ugly sweater contest, consider running other Christmas games that encourage people to drop their inhibitions and get silly. To name just one example, you could have a contest to see who can unwrap a present the fastest while wearing mittens. Obviously, the best games to play depend on the makeup of the crowd, so do your research and collect some ideas before deciding.

7. Make sure your gift exchange is tacky, too!

Even if you’re just using the basic rules for your gift exchange, you can be sure that many people will show up with a variety of presents, including the always popular (and often tasteless) gag gifts. However, if you want to push the tacky theme to the max, add a little twist to the rules. For example, you could ask participants to bring re-gifts, homemade creations, or even ugly Christmas ornaments.

These tacky Christmas party ideas are all worth considering, but they’re only the start. For more tacky holiday inspiration, just look around – there are schlocky signs of the season wherever you go!

Gift Exchanges: How Early is Too Early?

Two hands holding up a sign reading Save The Date with Christmas lights in the backgroundIt’s called “Christmas Creep.” Every year, the holiday season seems to start a little bit earlier. If you’ve noticed rows of artificial Christmas trees butting up against racks of Halloween costumes, you know exactly what I mean.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re really into Christmas (guilty). But it can lead to some premature anxiety about the upcoming holidays. This is especially true if you’re involved in organizing a gift exchange or other event.

The truth is that getting started early – at least in terms of planning your gift exchange – offers plenty of advantages. That said, if you’re worrying about a Christmas party that’s still months away, stop. The whole point of getting a head start is to avoid the stress that comes from putting things together at the last minute.

Here are my thoughts on the timing of a holiday gift exchange, in terms of both planning and scheduling.

Planning Early

At the risk of stating the obvious, organizing a gift exchange is a lot of work. You could probably jot down a lengthy to-do list off the top of your head – but guess what? No matter how thorough you are, there are always hidden details and complications that pop up as you go.

Beginning the planning process early – even if it’s just to spitball ideas – can give you a better perspective on the whole project. That can pay off big time when laying out a schedule. You’ll want to have ample time to come up with theme ideas, order party supplies, and send invites, while also allowing for a decent-sized window for participants to shop for presents.

Of course, getting your planning done early also gives you flexibility in scheduling the gift exchange itself. Whether you should take advantage of that flexibility is another question.

Scheduling Early

The holidays are a busy time for everyone, not just those of us who have gift exchanges to organize. Having your gift exchange sooner rather than later can be helpful for people who have trouble fitting everything in. That could mean a better turnout, and better turnout usually means a better time had by all.

An earlier gift exchange may also catch people before “Christmas fatigue” sets in. In other words, your invitees may be in a more festive mood at the start of the Christmas season, before they get overwhelmed with parties, decorating, shopping, dealing with kids on break, and everything else that the holidays entail. If nothing else, guests might put more thought into the gifts they bring if they’re not hurrying to buy them at the peak of the shopping season.

On the flip side, some might roll their eyes at the notion of having a gift exchange closer to Thanksgiving than Christmas. I’m not talking about all-around Scrooges (we all know one), who won’t be happy no matter when you have your Christmas-related event. No, I’m talking about people who just take a little more time to get into the Christmas Spirit – in other words, folks who aren’t very fond of Christmas Creep.

When it doubt, it’s always a good idea to take a quick poll of your invitees. Every group is different, and what meets with approval in one case could produce a very Grinch-y reaction in another. Good luck!

5 Ways Kids Can Participate in a Gift Exchange

Young girl wearing Santa cap while holding a stack of colorfully wrapped Christmas giftsHoliday gift exchanges are supposed to be fun for all, but there’s one group that tends to get overlooked. In case you missed the headline of this article, I’m talking about kids.

The problem is, it’s not exactly ideal for children to participate in a gift exchange as players. This is especially true for White Elephant, where most of the gifts are likely to be grownup-oriented (plus, who wants to steal from an 8-year-old?). But really, any type of mixed-age gift exchange is tough to pull off, especially if the kids are really young.

You can always put out some coloring pages and treats, or leave it to the fates and hope the kids entertain themselves during the gift swap. But a much better idea is to come up with a way for the kids to actively participate in the fun (without actually swapping). Here are a few ideas for “jobs” you could give the little guys and gals in attendance:

1. Assistant

The most straightforward option is for each kid to help a grownup. At its most basic, this could mean unwrapping presents – something every kid loves. For White Elephant and similar games, it could mean advising the grownup on which presents to keep and which ones to swap. Obviously, for this option, you need an adult who’s willing to be a good sport and give up some of their autonomy.

2. Referee

If the child is old enough, you could print out a list of the gift swap rules for them to read at the outset (if more than one kid is present, have them take turns reading lines). For a left-right gift exchange, the child could read the story. Kids can also be helpful announcing whose turn it is, showing people where to sit, and other small-but-important tasks.

3. Gift Passer Outer

Many kids have lots of experience at this from previous Christmases. Even young children can pass out gifts, and it’s a great way to make them feel included and part of the “action.”

4. Wrapping Paper Collector

At first glance, cleaning up might not seem like a fun activity for a kid. However, when colorful wrapping paper is involved, it might be a different story. Just don’t be surprised if the wrapping paper winds up in a heaping pile instead of in the trash.

5. Gift Exchanger (Kids Division)

If you have enough kids, consider conducting a separate gift exchange just for them. You can simplify things by making it a Secret Santa, musical chairs game, or left-right story that doesn’t involve swapping. Hold the kiddie gift exchange before the grownup one so the children can get their toys ASAP.

If you don’t have enough kids or a kiddie gift exchange just doesn’t seem feasible, consider buying small, inexpensive gifts for the kids to open right before the grownup gift exchange.

One final word of caution: Gag gifts are common at most holiday gift exchanges, and many of the most popular novelties are on the naughty side. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether such items are likely to show up, and whether it’s a big deal for the kids and their parents. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and come up with a separate activity to keep the children distracted.

Obviously, not all of the above suggestions are going to work for every kid, or group of kids. Whether you’re the party organizer or just a parent, it’s worth thinking of ways you can include the kids in your gift exchange fun – or at the very least keep them entertained. Not only will it make things more fun for them, but it will likely make the gift exchange go more smoothly.

8 Fun Family Gift Exchange Ideas

Closeup of three people exchanging Christmas giftsGetting together with family is what the holidays are all about. But buying for them? For many of us, that’s tough.

Maybe there are so many people in your family that it’s too expensive – not to mention time-consuming – to buy for everyone. Perhaps there’s a wide gap in what different family members are willing or able to spend, leading to awkwardness when gifts are opened. Or maybe repeating the same ritual every year has simply gotten boring.

These are some of the reasons why family gift exchanges are so common. A well-planned gift exchange takes a little of the stress out of Christmas shopping, while adding entertainment value to family gatherings. If that sounds good to you, here are eight fun family gift exchange ideas to consider this holiday season:

1. Drawing Names

Let’s start with the standard choice. Many families draw names out of a hat every year (often at Thanksgiving), with each person buying for only the person whose name they get. The price of the gift is set at a level that everyone can afford, but is often high enough to buy something nicer than the typical token present. Each participant may make a wish list of things they want/need to pass along to the person who’s buying for them.

A simple name-drawing isn’t the most exciting option, but it neatly solves the problem of having to buy for too many people. Plus, it can easily be combined with some of the other ideas below.

2. White Elephant

You knew this one was coming, right? A White Elephant game is another mechanism for giving and receiving gifts among family members – one that adds an element of competition. The “official” version of White Elephant offers plenty of entertainment, but you can spice things up by combining it with other ideas here and elsewhere on this site.

3. Secret Santa

A simple twist on name-drawing makes Secret Santa one of the most popular types of gift exchange. Instead of revealing which name they drew, participants keep it a secret until the gift is opened at the family Christmas gathering. In the meantime, the “Santas” may leave clues (often in the form of poems) for the people they’re buying for. After each person opens their gift, it’s traditional for them to attempt to guess who their Secret Santa was.

4. Grab Bag

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than this. People simply bring a wrapped gift, which is placed in a bag or otherwise kept hidden from view. Then each person chooses a gift based solely on what it feels like on the outside. Finally, people take turns opening their gifts while everyone else watches. Participants are encouraged to contribute unusual or intriguingly shaped gifts, or to package them deceptively for maximum surprise value.

5. One Big Gift

What if everyone skipped buying gifts altogether and pooled their money for something everyone could enjoy? That could mean renting a hot tub, getting tickets to a sporting event, or some other special treat. This one isn’t always possible because of the difficulty of getting everyone on the same page, but when it works out, it can be great.

6. Charitable Giving

While it could take many different forms, the idea is simple: rather than buying presents for each other, funnel the money you would have spent to charitable causes. One way to do this is to adopt a family for Christmas (there are many programs to facilitate this). Another option – one that incorporates name-drawing – is to make a donation on someone else’s behalf to a charity you think they would appreciate.

7. Musical Gifts

This idea is borrowed from baby showers and children’s birthday parties, but there’s no reason why it can’t work equally well for a Christmas party. Each person brings a wrapped gift to add to the pile, as with the White Elephant game. However, instead of picking their presents, people pass a gift along while a (Christmas) song plays. When the song stops, the person holding the gift gets to keep it.

8. Gift Theme

Whether it’s White Elephant, Secret Santa, or just name-drawing, you can make things more interesting by requiring gifts to fit a particular theme. There are too many possibilities to list, but here are a few to get your imagination going:

Made in America. The goal is to support American businesses – or businesses from England, Australia, or wherever you live – rather than buying imported products. You could take it one step further by having everyone buy from local businesses.

Board Games. The beauty of this theme is that you can select a board game (or five) to play after the gift exchange. If you haven’t noticed, there are many great board games on the market for both kids and adults, with more coming out all the time.

Gift Card Exchange. Granted, this isn’t the most inspired idea. However, if you want to make gift-giving as easy as possible, have people buy gift cards. This works best with White Elephant, grab bag, or some other type of game.

Crafts. This is a pretty common gift theme – so common, in fact, that I wrote a whole article on homemade gifts.

As you can see, these family gift exchange ideas range from the obvious to the off-the-wall. But each of them, in their own way, makes family gift-giving a bit more fun and manageable. Good luck, and Happy Holidays!

The White Elephant in the Room: Price Range

White Elephant Price RangeWhen you’re hosting a gift exchange, there are a few key pieces of information you need to communicate to your invitees. But the one everyone wants to know right off the bat – in other words, the White Elephant in the room – is how much? For that reason, it’s worth spending 15 minutes or so (about the time it takes to read this article) thinking about price range.

It’s fair to say that $20 is standard, which is why I chose that figure for my list of gift ideas. But of course, every group is different, and what might seem like an acceptable price for one group could be unaffordable to another. Here are some rough guidelines on appropriate prices for different types of gatherings.

Office Party: $10 (-ish)

The tricky thing about an office gift exchange is that there are usually people who resent having to participate. It’s also common for people – often the same people I just mentioned – to have hard feelings about walking away with an undesirable gift. While it’s true that you can’t make everyone happy, you can head off some of the negativity by keeping the monetary commitment at a negligible level.

Family Gathering: $20 (or Higher)

Most gift swaps involve an additional expense for the participants, but family gift exchanges are different. As with holiday name-drawing, a family White Elephant gift exchange replaces gift-giving that would already be happening. Therefore, it’s safe to set a higher price range (just as long as everyone can afford it). In fact, the whole point is often to buy one nice gift, rather than a token gift for each member of the family.

Friends: $20

As a rule, the more tight-knit the group, the higher you can go with the price target. Another way to look at it is to again ask whether the exchange is meant to replace individual gift-giving. If so, you can set a higher price.

Other Groups: Up to $10

If you’re hosting a diverse group of people, or one you simply don’t know very well, it’s best to keep the monetary commitment as low as possible. So set a price limit (rather than a range or target), and keep it low. That will encourage everyone to participate, even if they can’t afford much. This advice is particularly apropos for churches and other groups where the focus should really be on community-building.

What About $0?

Finally, regardless of what type of group it is, you can also pick a gift exchange theme that costs your guests nothing at all. For example, one traditional version of White Elephant calls for people to re-gift an item they already have lying around the house. Another option is to have people bring homemade gifts (of course, this involves some expense because they need supplies).

If you’re still unsure, I have one final tip.

Gift exchanges were invented, and remain popular, largely because most people simply can’t afford to buy for everyone in their life. It’s good to keep those frugal origins in mind when deciding on a price range, and err on the side of a lower dollar figure. Remember that the point isn’t to walk away with a nice gift, but to walk away with a nice feeling after having a merry time with others.

5 Ways to Add Sparkle to Your White Elephant Party

Stack of Christmas gifts with sparkles in the backgroundTraditions are, by their very definition, repetitive. But that doesn’t mean we’re cursed to repeat those Christmas rituals in exactly the same way, year after year. Ideally, each holiday event should be both familiar and unique.

Maybe you have a group that does a White Elephant party every year, and you want to guard against things getting stale. Or maybe you just want to make sure your holiday gathering is unlike any other. In either case, the solution is simple: Add something extra.

Here are five ideas for making your White Elephant party stand out from all the other holiday gatherings. Not all of these options are appropriate for every group, but one of them might be perfect for your group. In fact, it might even become a new holiday tradition.

1. Pick a gift theme

One excellent way to spice things up is to have people bring gifts that fit a particular theme. There are many themes you can run with, depending on the group’s interests and preferences. Here are a few popular ones:

As you might imagine, some themes make it harder for the attendees to come up with an appropriate gift, while others could actually make it easier. More challenging themes (“find something that goes on a wall”) are generally better for close-knit groups. Less challenging themes (“bring a candy gift”) are ideal for more formal gatherings, such as office parties.

2. Employ different game rules

There are roughly a zillion different ways to play White Elephant. If the people in your group are used to playing it a certain way, you might want to throw them a curve by using rules variations. For example, you could try the “swap before opening” version of the game. Or, if you’re hosing a smaller group, you could try playing the game with dice.

3. Hold an ugly sweater contest

This idea could literally add sparkle to the party, as people come dressed in the gaudiest Christmas sweaters they can get their hands on. The nice thing about an ugly Christmas sweater contest is that it doesn’t have to take up a lot of time at your party. Nor does it put too much of a burden on the attendees, as they can either make or buy their ugly sweaters (yes, there are many places to buy ugly sweaters online). All you have to do is figure out how the winner will be picked, and come up with some sort of nominal prize.

4. Rent a karaoke machine

This one could be a big hit if you have natural-born entertainers in your group. Or if you’re serving alcohol. Obviously, you’ll want to load your karaoke playlist with Christmas classics like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Most importantly, make sure you’ve got time for this activity, as it can stretch on for hours.

5. Break out the Christmas games

Just because it’s a White Elephant party doesn’t mean you can’t play other Christmas-themed games. Here are a few options:

  • Christmas Movie Trivia
  • Christmas Charades
  • Name That Christmas Carol

Games can work well with both small and large groups, though the latter requires a little extra planning. As with karaoke, the main issue is whether you have enough time for a gift exchange and other Christmas games – plus eating, socializing, and whatever other activities you have planned.

Does that cover everything? Not even close! Based on what you know about your invitees, you can doubtless come up with many more ideas for making this year’s White Elephant party even more fun and memorable.