You know how it is—every year is the same old, same old when it comes to giving gifts—you do it with close friends, family members, and even your co-workers. But you don't have to just simply wrap up something special and hand it over—there are many creative Christmas gift exchange ideas that add cheer to any wintertime get-together. So it’s time to inject some fun into gift-giving and receiving, like when you were a kid and anxiously awaited your turn at grab bag.
Since the holidays call for all different types of parties and gatherings, we decided to cover our bases with suggestions for everyone, from family and friends, to co-workers, to the little ones. A good rule of thumb: You can obviously get a little more inventive (or competitive) with those closest to you, but you probably want to keep it a little more toned down with your colleagues (even if your work BFF is in the mix.) And when it comes to the kids, you need to focus on a longer game, and nothing that will induce tears, obviously.
The Themed Exchange
If you want to make everyone’s shopping a little more challenging, designate a theme that you all have to stick to. For example, it could be "Made in America," a theme that features items from the States, or it could be "Anything Blue," where you have to buy something only in that color. The good news is that you can be as tame or as wacky as you’d like.
The Traveling Gift Swap
Sometimes all your loved ones aren’t in the same place. Have each person pack up a box with giftable items and cute notes (enough for every other participant) and mail it to whoever comes after their first name alphabetically. When someone receives a box, they should remove one gift and mail the rest (again, to the next person alphabetically), continuing the process until everyone has received a gift from each participant and all the boxes are empty.
The Joint Gift
Instead of getting each other individual gifts, why not pool your money to get something awesome for everyone to enjoy? It can be something as soothing as a spa weekend, or something practical, like a fire pit for the family.
The Philanthropic Endeavor
Not everyone is as fortunate as we are, so it’s a wonderful idea to forgo your own gifts and give back. One suggestion is to all pick a name of someone in the group out of a hat. Once you’ve chosen, it’s up to you to choose a charity that is special to that person—say, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) for animal lovers—and make a donation in their name. At the “exchange,” you can all go around and share how and why you chose that cause.
The White Elephant
If you haven’t played this game, then it’s time that you did (PS: It also goes by the name Yankee Swap.) Ask each person to bring a wrapped gift and pick a number. The person who draws a “1” will choose a gift and unwrap it. The person who draws a “2” will then choose to pick an unwrapped item or “steal” that gift. This competitive game goes back and forth until no one wants to take anyone else’s present. There are a ton of variations—so have someone brush up on the rules beforehand and share with the crew.
There’s something still so special about a Secret Snowflake, especially when your group is large enough and can keep a secret (yes, that’s key.) To make it a little more informative, have each person fill out a tiny questionnaire about their likes and interests so their “Secret Snowflake” has some ideas of what to gift. At the party, have each person guess who their Snowflake is.
The Gift Auction
Designate a price cap, and ask everyone to bring in a present of their choice, unwrapped. Have a leader give everyone the same amount of Monopoly money. Each person goes up to the front to display the gift they brought, which is then “bid on” by the rest of the party guests. Can you guess how this works? Whoever has the highest bid gets to take home that gift.
Left or Right
You may have played this game at a bridal or baby shower, but it really is so much fun. One guest comes up with questions in advance that need to be answered with “left” or “right.” Each person starts with their wrapped gift in their hands, and as the questions are answered, the items are passed back and forth. When there aren’t any questions left, the present still in your hands is yours to open—and keep.
The Musical Chairs of Gifts
Oh, how we miss musical chairs. Set up a row of chairs or pillows for the little ones and put a wrapped gift near each seat. Choose music kids love, and stop the music sporadically, forcing them to take the seat nearest them. At the end, each child will be given the gift under or nearest to their chair or pillow. Side note: Make sure parents stick to the price cap so there aren’t any tears.
The Cobweb Party
Apparently, these parties were big in the Victorian era (who knew?) To follow this theme, get different brightly colored strings and weave them around each other all over one room. Then tie each string to one gift. Every person will be assigned a color, and then it’s their duty to find the present attached to their string. If kids are involved, parents should feel free to accompany them on their “hunt" to avoid any major tangles.
The Oven Mitts Game
The oven mitts game is basically the equivalent of bobbing for apples during holiday time. Have people sit in a circle; give one person a wrapped gift and have them attempt to open it with oven mitts on both of their hands. Meanwhile, have the other participants pass a die around the circle—when someone rolls a six, it’s their turn to try to open the gift. How do you win? If you can open the gift with the mitts on, then it’s yours.
The Recurring Gift
Like your favorite denim jacket or go-to work flow playlist, choose a signature gift to give those on your list. The item of choice is up to you; whether it's a little memento from your yearly international vacation or a beautifully packaged jar of jam and almond butter, a signature gift takes the guesswork out of giving.
The Gag Gift
Get silly and ask participating gift-givers to wrap their best gag gift idea for the group exchange. A whoopie cushion? A can of Spam? An ugly holiday sweater?
Holiday Treasure Hunt
"X" marks the spot to discover holiday gifts! Create a fun scavenger hunt with holiday-themed clues to lead participants on an interactive search for their gifts.
Spin the Bottle Gift Exchange
Gather in a circle and spin a bottle to determine who gets to choose a gift from the pile first, second, third, and so on.
Pet Gift Exchange
Forego human gifts this year and opt to lavish each others's pets instead.
Finish the Carol Gift Exchange
Choose a holiday song to play or sing, gather everyone in a circle and have people pass a gift around and, when the designated person stops the song, whomever is holding the gift has to finish the line. If they complete it accurately, they get to keep the gift.
Whip up you best cookie, cake, or zucchini bread recipe (or, beeline it to your favorite bakery) for an edible gift exchange.
What's the one book on your shelf you'd recommend anyone read? Whether it's an autobiography, a dreamy work of historical fiction, or that horror novel that still gives you chills, have everyone bring in their favorite read for the gift exchange.
Ask gifters to wrap their gift of choice in a way that doesn't reveal what it is, hold it up and have people guess what it is. Dangle a few clues, and the first person to guess correctly gets the gift.
Grab Bag Gift Exchange
Set a theme and price range, put them all in a pile or sack, select the order of when people will choose their gift, and have participants select a gift from the pile by feel alone.
Coffee Mug Exchange
We are arguably a nation of coffee drinkers, so this themed gift exchange should be a hit in any context. And bonus: It works for tea-drinkers too.
Holiday Cheer Exchange
Have everyone bring in a wrapped gift and gather everyone in a circle. Then instruct them to stand up when they meet certain holiday-related criteria, like asking people to stand if they've decorated their Christmas tree, or if they're wearing red. Those who are standing then swap gifts. Go as many rounds until everyone ends up with a gift that isn't theirs.
Gift Basket Exchange
Channel everyone's inner foodie and ask participants to create a gift basket filled with ingredients to make their favorite recipe, include a recipe card, maybe a cooking playlist too.
Monthly Membership Exchange
These days, subscriptions aren't just for magazines anymore. From cosmetics to coffee from around the world, consider this one-time purchase—no gift-wrapping needed.
Personalized Coupon Exchange
Have everyone in the gift exchange group create a fill-in-the blank coupon recipients can redeem at their leisure, such as a coupon for two airport pick-ups for the year, or a coupon for a quick shoulder massage.
Set a timer and pass each gift around till the buzzer goes off. The person left with a gift in their lap when the timer goes off gets to keep the gift.
Left, Right, Across Gift Exchange
A riff on the Left, Right idea: Fill a classic holiday story, like The Night Before Christmas with direction words like left, right, and across, and pass a gift around as a narrator tells the modified story. The person with the gift at the end of the story gets to keep the gift!
You know the game, only this time, as bingo winners get called, they get to choose a gift.
Swap It Out Gift Exchange
Wait till after the holidays before organizing a re-gifting exchange; the only rule is that the item you are re-gifting should be something you've already received.
Not So Secret Secret Santa
Instead of seeking to give everyone a gift, draw names and focus on gifting something specific and special for that one individual.
Ugly Scarf Holiday Gift Exchange
Instead of an ugly sweater, make or seek out the scarf that will garner the most laughs.
Set up booths with classic games like a ball toss and "fishing" with a clothespin fishing pole where you can win token prizes.
For the imbibers, ask everyone to create a "cocktail-in-a-box" of their favorite tipple using mini bottles and other ingredients needed.
Homemade or Personalized Gift Swap
Have everyone get crafty and create something for the gift exchange; it doesn't have to be huge or complicated—it might be a homemade card, or a personalized pen holder.
Another version of a holiday swap; ask everyone to bring in an ornament to exchange.
Split up into teams for a game of holiday trivia, and the winning team gets to share a grand prize; just make sure the prize is shareable, and it doesn't hurt to think of a consolation prize too.
Just the Kids Gift Exchange
Narrow the gift-giving list and agree to focus gift-giving on the kids in the group.
Holiday Playlist Exchange
Draw names and challenge each other to create a playlist for your chosen individual, then combine all songs for one memorable master playlist.
In lieu of a gift exchange, commune over everyone's favorite holiday recipes; pick a day to gather and enjoy each other's company.