Gift Exchange Games

By Anica Wong

September 20, 2012 4 min read

It happens to the best of us. Whether it's the company holiday party or a gift exchange between a few friends, everyone has ended up with a gag gift when the other participants take home Starbucks gift cards or fancy kettle corn. Gift exchange parties happen between extended family members, colleagues and friends. While there are many types of parties, make sure all of the participants keep in mind that the real gift in the whole thing is the time you get to spend with those people, regardless of what item they end up taking home at the end of the night.

"The idea of taking the stress out of holiday shopping while still enjoying your friends' and family's company during the busy holiday season is captivating," says Matt Taylor, founder of Yankee Swap, a website that provides information and rules for the game Yankee swap, also known as the "white elephant" gift exchange. Taylor started the website a few years ago because he wanted to print out official rules of the game for a work party but found that there wasn't one place that provided clear directions for the game.

Most people know the game as white elephant, with Taylor noting that the use of the term is probably regional, with people in the New England region calling it Yankee swap. For the history buff in your party, the myth that the game started with a holiday prisoner of war swap during the Civil War is very compelling and storytelling-worthy. But it's more likely that it started as a simple parlor game during the 1800s. "Before the advent of radio, gentlemen and ladies found themselves with more leisure time than any previous generation and would amuse themselves with games such as charades, truth or dare, 20 questions and the Yankee swap," says Taylor.

As with all other gift exchange-type games, make sure you let the participants know what the rules are: what is the minimum and maximum price allowed? Are you doing gag gifts or not? In what order are you going to be running the game?

Another fun party game that incorporates gifts is the cobweb game. Setting up for this game is the most important part. Take one color of string or yarn and attach it to one person's present. Hide the present somewhere in the room and wrap the string around lampposts, under chairs and over tables before handing the string to the person whom the present is intended for. "Hide" each present like this, and then when all of the strings turn your living room into a cobweb, let your guests loose to go find what's on the other end of their string.

If you and your friends are all into one thing (whether it be alcoholic beverages, vampires or books), try a themed party on for size this year. A cocktail swap would be perfect if your group likes to try its hand at playing bartender. Each person or couple invited to the party is tasked with bringing a gift bag full of the ingredients for a specific cocktail. Coupled with instructions on how to make the drink, this gift provides others with something new to learn and a sure-fire good time (vampires optional, designated drivers required).

While spending time with your friends or colleagues and laughing while you try to steal gifts away from each other during the Yankee swap, one of the perks of doing gift exchange games is that you don't have to buy a gift for everyone at the party. Keep in mind that the typical American said he/she was going to spend an average of $646 on gifts for the 2011 holiday season, according to the American Research Group. Instead of purchasing 15 individual presents, you can buy one gift for a lucky member of the group, lowering your annual holiday spending considerably.

Inevitably, the holidays are about giving. But why not make the giving more fun by adding a game twist here and there? Laughter can be the best gift of all.

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