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 following two tabs change content below.
Roberta Jeeves is author of the book White Elephant Gift Exchange: Rules, Themes, and Ideas for Hosting a Perfect Holiday Gift Swap. You can buy or borrow it at Amazon.com.

Latest posts by Roberta Jeeves (see all)