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.

The Ornament Exchange Game: How to Play

Cute little kitten batting a red Christmas ornamentOrnaments will always be popular gifts around Christmastime, for reasons that are easy to understand. They symbolize the holiday season more than almost anything else. They fit into the perfect price range for token gifts. And, unlike many gift options, just about everyone can use one more.

For all those same reasons, a Christmas ornament exchange game is a fitting – not to mention fun – activity for a holiday party. So, how do you play? Well, for better or for worse, there’s no one “official” set of ornament exchange rules. If you’re hosting an ornament exchange party, here are some options to choose from:

White Elephant Ornament Exchange

Perhaps the most common type of ornament swapping involves the familiar “stealing” mechanic of a white elephant gift exchange. Players bring one wrapped holiday ornament, then take turns either opening a new gift or stealing a previously opened one (for detailed rules, see our main article). As with all gift exchanges of this type, it helps if the ornament pile includes a mix of the desirable, the undesirable, and the downright funny.

Ornament Exchange Poem

Ornaments work especially well for a left-right passing game, which revolves around the reading aloud of a special Christmas-themed poem. In this game, people sit in a circle and pass gifts left or right according to cues in the aforementioned poem (you can find the rules and a sample poem in this article). The main advantage of this game is that it goes quick, even with larger groups. Because it’s straightforward and not at all competitive, it also allows for both kids and adults to participate.

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. One fun alternative is to blindfold players and have them feel for an ornament – just like Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

Random/Grab Bag

Okay, this one stretches the definition of “game.” However, if you’re looking for a truly simple way to dole out the ornaments, just randomize it. One way to do this is to assign a number to each wrapped ornament, then have players draw to see which one they get. Another option is to put the ornaments in a large sack and let players reach in and blindly take one.

Of all the great things about ornament exchange games, perhaps the greatest is that they make it easy for everyone to participate. By specifying the type of gift to bring, there’s less shopping and decision-making involved. You can even ask people to re-gift an ornament in their collection – because hey, who doesn’t have a few to spare?

Of course, it’s even easier on guests if the host provides all the ornaments. That’s probably not an option in most cases, but it could be the right choice if it’s a smaller group and/or you have the budget. Even if ponying up for everyone’s ornaments isn’t feasible, you might want have a few extra on hand in case people forget.

For more ideas on hosting an ornament exchange party – or any kind of gift exchange, for that matter – check out this article. Good luck, and Merry Christmas!

The Left-Right Christmas Game: Pass It On!

Christmas ribbons pointing left and rightSome people jump at the chance to participate in a White Elephant, Secret Santa, or similar Christmas gift exchange. But others? They’d rather pass.

Pass the gift, that is.

Gift passing games can take a lot of different forms, but the most familiar one involves a colorful Christmas-themed story or poem. These types of games are quick, low-pressure, and ideal for large groups. And if you’re the one running the show, the best news of all is that they’re dead-simple to set up.

How a Left-Right Christmas Game Works

As with other gift exchanges, each participant brings a wrapped gift of a value determined by the organizer ($10 or $20 is typical). The game begins with people sitting in a circle holding their own gifts. Then someone reads a poem or story with many occurrences of the words “left” and “right.” Participants follow these verbal cues, passing gifts to their left or right until the story ends and each person keeps the gift they’re holding.

The only “trick” here is to make sure gifts don’t wind up back in the hands of the people who brought them. To prevent this, you might want to count the number of lefts and rights in your story to figure where the gifts are going to wind up, based on how many people are in the circle. If you’re not sure how many players you will have, you can always reserve an optional line of the story in case the gifts find their way back home. For example: “And with that, there’s nothing LEFT but to open the gift you’re holding.”

A (Left-Right) Christmas Story

The only criteria for a left-right (or, if you prefer, right-left) Christmas story is that it contain lots of gift-passing cues. Of course, there are bonus points for stories that keep people amused while they pass their gifts. Here’s one example of a left-right story you can use for your party (click here for a print-friendly PDF version):

Suing Santa

Once upon a time, there was a lawyer named Bob RIGHT. His son’s name was Bill RIGHT, and together, father and son started their own law firm named RIGHT, RIGHT, & Associates.

RIGHT, RIGHT & Associates was famous for lawsuits that LEFT people penniless. They LEFT the Easter Bunny penniless when they sued him for the rancid eggs he LEFT in a child’s basket. They LEFT the Tooth Fairy penniless when they sued her for the insufficient compensation she LEFT under a child’s pillow.

But the biggest target of all was still LEFT – Santa Claus. He, too, would be LEFT penniless… if everything went RIGHT.

The father and son team found just the RIGHT client in an 8-year-old girl named (appropriately enough) Sue. Little Sue was upset that Santa had LEFT coal in her stocking last Christmas. RIGHT, RIGHT, & Associates argued that their client had been put on the naughty list without cause. They presented lots of evidence that the girl did everything RIGHT the previous year.

The only thing LEFT was for Santa to testify. Jingling all the way, he marched RIGHT up to the witness stand, raised his RIGHT hand, and swore to tell the truth. Santa said that while it might appear that little Sue had done everything RIGHT, there was one thing she did that LEFT him no choice but to put the girl on the naughty list.

“This can’t be RIGHT!” protested Bob RIGHT.

“We LEFT no stone unturned in our investigation!” said Bill RIGHT.

All this courtroom drama LEFT Sue shaking with excitement. “All RIGHT, I confess! On Christmas Eve, I got up in the middle of the night and ate the cookies that were LEFT for Santa! I didn’t think there was enough time LEFT to be put on the naughty list!”

Santa responded RIGHT away: “Ho ho ho! Little Sue, I keep the naughty list in my LEFT pocket at all times so I can make revisions on the fly!”

And with that, the law firm of RIGHT, RIGHT, & Associates was LEFT with no choice but to drop its frivolous lawsuit against Santa. And that year, neither Bob RIGHT nor Bill RIGHT was surprised to find that Santa had LEFT them coal in their stockings. But little Sue was shocked to wake up on Christmas morning to find that Santa had forgiven her for the frivolous lawsuit and LEFT her a nice, shiny present RIGHT under the Christmas tree.

“I’m glad Santa LEFT the naughty list in his LEFT pocket this time!” said Sue. “Now let’s see what he LEFT me!”

Of course, this is far from the only left-right Christmas story out there – I’ve linked to some other examples from the Resources page. If you have the time, you might even try making up your own story. That way, you can make it an inside joke about people and subjects that are well-known to the participants.

I hope this article has given you some ideas that are RIGHT for your next holiday gathering. Now there’s nothing LEFT for me to do but wish you luck, and a very Merry Christmas.