How To Host a White Elephant Gift Exchange - Home & Texture
Hosting White Elephant

What Exactly Is a White Elephant Gift Exchange? Here's Our Guide To Hosting Your Own

December 15, 2023 at 7:41 AM PST

Few gift-giving experiences are more unique than the White Elephant gift exchange. It’s a fun combination of laughter, humor, friendly competition, surprises and sentiment that all come together to create a memorable time within your home among loved ones or even in the office. If you’re new to the party, explore what it entails and how to host one that will leave everyone smiling from ear to ear.

What is a White Elephant gift exchange?

Let’s start with the basics. A White Elephant gift exchange, otherwise known as a Yankee Swap or Dirty Santa, is a social event where participants exchange gifts in a fun and unpredictable manner. The twist? The gifts are usually humorous, quirky, or downright unusual, making the exchange a delightful blend of surprise and amusement. Everyone has different rules, but here are the basics.

1. Gift Selection

Everyone who comes brings a gift, and at the beginning of the exchange, participants draw numbers to determine the order in which they’ll select and unwrap gifts. The person with number one goes first, followed by number two, and so on.

2. The Gift Wrapping Twist

All gifts must be wrapped to conceal their contents. The more intriguing the wrapping, the better. Participants should avoid revealing what’s inside until it’s their turn to select or steal a gift.

3. Stealing with Glee

This is where the excitement and unpredictability come into play. When it’s your turn, you have two choices: you can either select an unopened gift from the central table or “steal” an already opened gift from another participant.

  • A gift can be stolen a limited number of times, usually two or three times, depending on the rules set at the beginning.
  • If your gift is stolen, you can either choose a new gift from the central table or steal someone else’s gift in return.
Photo credit: The Good Brigade

Setting the Stage: Preparing for Your White Elephant Exchange

To host a successful White Elephant exchange, you’ll need to gather a group of friends or colleagues who are ready for some good-natured fun. Here’s what you’ll need to prepare.

  • Invitations with a Twist: Make it official with a fun invite with all the details. Encourage your potential attendees to bring gifts that can either be entertaining, useful, or both. If it’s outside of family, aim to have the celebration at least a week before Christmas to accommodate guests that might be traveling for the holidays. With this, the more is truly the merrier.
  • Set a Budget: Establishing a budget for the gifts is important to make sure that participants don’t go overboard. A reasonable limit, such as $20, usually strikes a good balance between amusing gifts and affordability. This way, everyone can join in on the fun without breaking the bank.
  • Choosing the Rules: Decide on the rules of the exchange. While there are traditional approaches like drawing numbers to determine the order of gift selection, don’t be afraid to introduce your own unique rules.

Hosting a Memorable White Elephant Gift Exchange

Before you know it, the big day will arrive. Here’s what you should think about beforehand.

1. The Venue: Choosing the Perfect Space

Whether it’s your cozy living room, a spacious backyard, or a big rented event space for an office setting, make sure there’s enough room—and seating—for everyone to sit comfortably in a circle. The goal is to create an intimate and engaging atmosphere where participants can interact easily.

2. The Gift Table: Where Surprises Await

Designate a central table for the gifts. Make sure that each gift is wrapped creatively and conspicuously. You can even turn wrapping into a mini-competition by awarding extra points for the most creatively wrapped gift. These visually enticing presents will pique curiosity and set the stage for excitement.

Photo credit: Isaac Martin

3. The Gift Ideas: Unleash Your Creativity

If you’re getting a flood of worried texts from your guests at a loss for ideas for gifts, tell them to think outside the box, like quirky gadgets, funny books, novelty items, or even a unique piece of art. The goal is to entertain and surprise, so having fun with it is key.

4. The Prizes: Adding an Extra Layer of Excitement

You could offer small prizes to recognize participants who contribute to the fun factor. Categories like the “Most Creative Gift,” “Most Stolen Gift,” or “Most Unexpected Surprise” can add an extra layer of excitement to the exchange. These prizes can be simple but serve as tokens of appreciation for making the event memorable.

5. The Refreshments: A Tasty Reward

There are a few ways to go about this. If the White Elephant is part of your Christmas party, you may already have a lunch or dinner planned. But, if it’s just a fun, informal gathering, you don’t need to go overboard. Finger foods like deviled eggs, sandwiches, dips and sweet treats are fine, plus drinks or even a potluck would work. Just make sure to specify what they can expect on their invitations.



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