How-to Guidelines for Christmas Party Gift Exchanges

Christmas gift exchange

When you're holding a large Christmas party, it is unrealistic -- and expensive -- for everyone to bring a gift for each person in attendance. To get around this requirement, and to spice up the evening a bit, many hosts choose to hold gift exchanges. There are several different ways to do so.

Secret Santa

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This common type of exchange begins long before the party starts. It helps you get to know the other party goers a bit better and break the ice. It works great for office parties and smaller social gatherings.

  1. Ask everyone who RSVPs for the party if they would like to participate in the gift exchange. The easiest way to do this is by e-mail, or if this is an office party, by putting a sign-up sheet in the break room.
  2. Tell each person who would like to participate to provide a list of three things he or she would like, and give a price limit, such as $30. This helps people who have no idea what to buy and prevents people from giving or receiving bad Christmas presents.
  3. Compile a spreadsheet of participants and their gift preferences. Cut the spreadsheet into strips and place the strips in a hat or bowl.
  4. Using a second copy of the spreadsheet, number participants, starting with one. Number one gets matched with the first person you draw out of the hat, and so on, until all the names have been drawn. Redraw if a person gets matched with himself or herself.
  5. E-mail all participants separately to let them know who they are matched with and what that person requested. Tell them not to reveal their matches!
  6. At the party, have everyone place their wrapped gift for their matches under the tree, with the "to" part of the gift tag filled out but the "from" part left blank.
  7. Have participants open their gifts one at a time. After each gift is opened, have the person guess who his or her "Secret Santa" is. Those who guess correctly win a small prize, such as a bottle of lotion or a candle.​

Greed

You can play greed with any number of people, and this game is usually talked about long after the party is over. If you have a large crowd, this game could potentially take hours.

  1. Note in your party invitation that everyone should bring a wrapped gift, and give a dollar amount limit for the gift. Tell guests not to put any names on the gifts. If you'd like, you can ask that they fit a particular theme.
  2. At game time, count the number of guests present, and ask each one if he or she brought a gift. Tally the number of gift-bringers and put that many numbers into a hat or bowl.
  3. Have each person participating draw a number and hold on to it.
  4. Place all the gifts in the middle of a table or on the floor, with the guests surrounding so that everyone can see.
  5. Have the person with number one pick a gift and open it, showing the gift to everyone else.
  6. After person one leaves the circle, find out who has number two. This person has the option to either steal person one's gift or take a new gift out of the center.
  7. If the person takes one from the center, play continues to the person with number three. If the person steals player one's gift, player one takes a new one out of the center.
  8. Player three can either take one from the center or take player one or player two's gifts. If players one or two have their gifts stolen at this point, they can take gifts from the middle or from the other players who have already opened gifts.
  9. Play continues in numeric sequence until the last gift is opened. Each player can steal from any of the previous players or take from the middle, but taking from the middle is the only way to truly progress the game. This is why it can take hours.

​It's a good idea to set some ground rules before you play, or this game can get ugly. For example, most hosts will put limits on the number of times a popular gift can be "stolen" or it will simply progress around the circle in perpetuity. Also, it's a good idea to state that you can't steal back something that's stolen from you or you could end up with a tug of war.

Grab Bag

This game can be expensive for the host but is easy to play. The host purchases inexpensive gifts equal to the number of party goers. It's smart to buy a few extra for people who neglect to RSVP.

  1. Wrap all of the gifts before the party and place them in a large box or bag.
  2. Hand each guest a playing card as he or she arrives at the party.
  3. At exchange time, pull out a second deck of playing cards.
  4. Pull a card out of the deck and hold it up. The person with the matching card pulls a gift from the bag, leaving it wrapped.
  5. Continue pulling cards until everyone has a gift. If there are leftover gifts, reshuffle and continue. Some people may end up with two gifts.
  6. After all the gifts are chosen, give guests five minutes to trade their still-wrapped gifts with other attendees.
  7. After five minutes are up, everyone opens their presents.

​It can be fun to throw in some "gag" type gifts to get some laughs. Judge how risqué you can be based on the guests at your party. Some hosts choose to have only gag gifts in the grab bag just to get some laughs out of the attendees.

Present Exchange Guideline Tips

Whatever type of gift exchange you choose, always let guests know ahead of time. No one wants to be left out because he or she didn't bring a present. Spending guidelines are also important. Otherwise, one person could get a fancy watch while another ends up with a box of cereal. By putting guidelines in place before the party and during the exchange, everyone is sure to leave the party with a festive memory and fun gift.

How-to Guidelines for Christmas Party Gift Exchanges