If you’re used to planning White Elephant a certain way, you may be surprised to learn that there are oodles of variations. This page is an attempt to keep track of some of these different versions, as well as point to some links and examples you may find useful when planning a gift exchange:

Left-Right Story

One way of swapping gifts is through a “left-right” story. Players sit in a circle with their gifts in their laps and when prompted by the story, pass their gifts to the LEFT or RIGHT. When the story ends, players get to keep the presents they’re currently holding. Here are some examples:

Suing Santa, A (Left-Right) Christmas Story
Left-Right ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Game
Mr. and Mrs. Right
Another Right Family Story
Lefty the Elf
A Christmas Gift Exchange Game (uses LEFT, RIGHT, and ACROSS)
Large Collection of Left-Right Stories (PDF)

An alternate version works more like the usual gift exchange with stealing, etc. The keyword GIFT is added to signal when it’s time to start a new turn. Here’s an example:

Lefty the White Elephant

Gift Exchange Poem

Another way to play White Elephant is to use a poem to tell players when and how they can swap. Here’s a poem you can use:

A Fun White Elephant Gift Exchange Poem

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

As an alternative to drawing names, you could have people draw words from the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Here’s the text of the poem with some possible keywords in UPPERCASE.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a MOUSE.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their HEADS.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s NAP.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the SASH.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny REINDEER,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be ST. NICK.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by NAME;

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and BLITZEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the SKY,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little HOOF.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a BOUND.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and SOOT;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his PACK.

His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a CHERRY!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a WREATH;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of JELLY.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to DREAD;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a JERK,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a GOOD NIGHT.”

White Elephant With Dice

Some people like to incorporate dice into their White Elephant game. This works well for a family swapping gifts in their living room, but probably isn’t practical for large groups. The rules are simple enough, but the process is more time-consuming.

The game rules are that each person rolls a pair of dice, and whenever someone rolls doubles, they get to pick a gift from the pile. They may also be able to steal a gift from someone else. However, with the dice variation, people often simply keep the gift they choose from the pile.

If no stealing is allowed, then each person continues to roll the dice until there’s only one person and one present remaining. That person obviously gets the last present. To make things flow more naturally, you can opt to have people open their gifts after everyone has chosen one (though I still recommend taking turns so everyone can see what everyone else got).

Stealing Unopened Presents

Rather than having people open presents right after picking them, you can have everyone wait until the end. Then take turns opening gifts or, for larger groups, open them all at once to save time. Note that participants can still steal previously chosen (unopened) presents on their turns, but they’ll be in the dark about what they’re getting.

If you choose this variation, you might want to emphasize to the participants that how they wrap their gifts is important. You may also want to let people put their names on the gifts they bring. Participants will be forced to choose based on the outward appearance of the present, which could be deceptive.

Once a present has been stolen a certain number of times, you can have the “winner” open it on the spot to cap the suspense. All other presents get opened after everyone has taken a turn.

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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

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