40 Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas That Are Anything but Boring

Wrapped gift surrounded by gold and white ornaments

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

There are many creative holiday gift exchange ideas that add cheer to any get-together. Inject some fun into gift-giving and receiving with these inspiring gift exchange ideas for all types of parties and gatherings. From heartwarming to funny Christmas gift exchange ideas, pick one of these 40 ideas to try among family and friends, to co-workers, to the little ones.

The Themed Exchange

If you want to make everyone’s shopping a little more challenging, designate a theme everyone should stick to. For example, it could be "Made in the U.S.A.," a theme that features items from the across the country, or it could be "Anything Blue," where you have to buy something only in that color. You can be as tame or as wacky as you’d like.

Cluster of decorative vases
West Elm Reactive Glaze Vases, Light Blue $19-$89
Shop

The Traveling Gift Swap

Sometimes all your loved ones aren’t in the same place. So, have each person pack a box with giftable items and thoughtful notes (enough for every other participant) and mail it to whomever 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.

Floral patterned baking dish
Anthropologie Home Daily Bakeware Pie Dish $42
Shop

The Joint Gift

Instead of getting 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.

Steel bowl fire pit.
Terrain Simple Steel Bowl Fire Pit $298
Shop

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

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” then has the option 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 with a quick internet search beforehand and share with the crew.

Gold, corrugated barware filled with bottles of wine
West Elm Corrugated Barware $29-$69
Shop

Secret Snowflake

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 questionnaire about their preferences so their “Secret Snowflake” has some ideas of what to gift. At the party, take turns guessing who their Snowflake is.

Fir & Firewood scented tin candle
Capri Blue Fir & Firewood Tin Candle, 8.5 oz. $16
Shop

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. Whomever has the highest bid wins that gift.

Jo Malone Wood Sage & Sea Salt Cologne
Jo Malone Wood Sage & Sea Salt Cologne $70-$140
Shop

Left or Right

In advance, one guest comes up with questions that need to be answered with “left” or “right.” Each person starts with their wrapped gift in their hands, and items are passed back and forth as questions are answered. When there aren’t any questions left, the present still in your hands is yours to open—and keep.

music speaker
Marshall Acton Cream Bluetooth Speaker $249
Shop

The Musical Chairs of Gifts

For the little ones (or young at heart), set up a row of chairs or pillows and place a wrapped gift near each seat. Choose music kids love, and stop the music sporadically, which is the signal for participants 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 all gifts represent equal or similar value.

gifts for kids
Lego Disney 'Frozen' Elsa's Magical Ice Palace $80
Shop

The Cobweb Party

Apparently, these parties were big in the Victorian era. 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. Assign each person a colored string, which they must follow around the room 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.

gummy bears
Sugarfina Baby Champagne Bears, Small $9
Shop

The Oven Mitts Game

The oven mitts game is like bobbing for apples. 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 other participants pass a die around the circle—when someone rolls a six, it’s their turn to try to open the gift. If you can open the gift with the mitts on, then it’s yours.

Nespresso coffee and espresso machine
Breville Nespresso VertuoPlus Matte Black Coffee Maker & Espresso Machine $140
Shop

The Recurring Gift

Like your favorite denim jacket or go-to workflow playlist, choose a signature gift to give those on your list. The item of choice is up to you; whether it's a 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.

jam
Fortnum & Mason Preserve Trio $30
Shop

The Gag Gift

For a funny Christmas exchange idea, get silly and ask participating gift-givers to wrap their best gag gift idea for the group exchange. A Whoopee cushion? A can of Spam? An ugly holiday sweater?

Holiday-themed ugly sweater
American Stitch This is My Ugly Sweater $25
Shop

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.

Acrylic chess set
West Elm Acrylic Chess Set $199
Shop

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.

Ray Ban round sunglasses
Ray-Ban Round Metal Sunglasses $154
Shop

Pet Gift Exchange

Forego human gifts this year and opt to lavish each others's pets instead.

Woven dog toy basekt
Pottery Barn Doggie Toy Basket $69-$99
Shop

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. 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.

Pink kids headphones
Altec Lansing Bluetooth Kids Headphones $20
Shop

Baking Swap

Whip up your best cookie, cake, or zucchini bread recipe (or, make a beeline to your favorite bakery) for an edible gift exchange.

Consider your group's dietary preferences when whipping up (or ordering) a batch of cookies, like vegan-friendly or gluten-free.

Book Swap

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.

The Nightingale novel by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah The Nightingale $8
Shop

Gift Guess

Ask gift-givers 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 (or opt to cap questions at a specific number), and the first person to guess correctly gets the gift.

Stack of cotton knit throws
West Elm Cotton Knit Throws $79-$129
Shop

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—no peeking.

Coffee Mug Exchange

Americans are arguably a nation of coffee drinkers, so this themed gift exchange should be a hit in any context. Bonus: It works for tea-drinkers too.

Two mugs
Anthropologie Cabarita Mugs, Set of 4 $32
Shop

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 whether 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.

Crosley Radio turntable
Crosley Radio Cruiser Deluxe Turntable $70
Shop

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, and maybe a cooking playlist too.

Organic Very Merry Gingerbread Cookie Mix by Foodsitrs
Foodstirs Organic Very Merry Gingerbread Cookie Mix, Case of 6 $40
Shop

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.

Two bags of coffee
Atlas Coffee Club Starter Pack, 3 months $60
Shop

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.

Hot Potato

Set a timer and pass each gift around till the buzzer goes off. When the timer goes off, the person left with a gift in their lap keep the gift.

Birch mini-tray in peach-colored design
West Elm Birch Mini-Tray, Peach $38
Shop

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!

Polaroid holiday photography set with camera and film packs
Polaroid Everything Box Festive Edition Starter Set $130 $110
Shop

Holiday Bingo

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 re-gift should be something you've already received.

Coupe cocktail glass
CB2 Coupe Cocktail Glass $8
Shop

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.

Three monogramed candles
Anthropologie Lumi Monogram Candle $28 $23
Shop

Ugly Scarf Holiday Gift Exchange

Instead of an ugly sweater, make or seek out the scarf that will garner the most laughs.

LED light-up winter beanie and scarf
Myjoyday LED Light up Christmas Scarf and Beanie $20
Shop

Christmas Carnival

Set up booths with classic games like a ball toss and "fishing" with a clothespin fishing pole to win token prizes.

Cocktail Swap

For the imbibers, ask everyone to create a "cocktail-in-a-box" of their favorite tipple using mini bottles, bitters, syrups and other ingredients.

glassware
Schott Zwiesel Distil Whiskey Glasses, Set of 2 $44
Shop

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.

Ornament Exchange

Another version of a holiday swap; ask everyone to bring in an ornament to exchange.

Holiday Trivia

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

If you're on a budget, narrow the gift-giving list and agree to focus gift-giving on the kids in the group.

Pink kick scooter
Micro Kickboard Maxi Deluxe Kick Scooter $140
Shop

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.

Holiday Potluck

In lieu of a gift exchange, commune over everyone's favorite holiday recipes; pick a day to gather and enjoy each other's company.

Related Stories