White Elephant Gift Exchange

What Is a White Elephant Gift Exchange?

Most people are familiar with the basic rules of secret Santa. It provides a simple way to exchange gifts with a large group without buying gifts for everyone. A white elephant gift exchange is an alternative option.

With a white elephant gift exchange, people do not know who they are buying gifts for. It is an interesting and entertaining way to trade gifts and the perfect option for office holiday parties.

If you are looking for a different way to exchange presents, explore the following white elephant gift exchange ideas.

The General Rules to the White Elephant Exchange

You should understand how this exchange works. The white elephant gift exchange rules are relatively easy to follow:

  • Each person brings one gift.
  • People draw numbers to determine the order.
  • Everyone sits in a circle around the pile of gifts.
  • People take turns unwrapping gifts or stealing gifts.

That is the basic overview of the exchange. However, there are certain details that should be followed to ensure that the game goes smoothly.

Choosing Gifts for the Exchange

With the white elephant exchange, people are instructed to purchase one gift. The gift should be brought wrapped and without a label. These gifts are then placed in a pile, either in the center of the room or on a table.

As with secret Santa, people often set a spending limit for these gift exchanges. However, allowing people to spend however much they want can add an interesting dynamic to the exchange.

Keep in mind that some people may not be happy about ending up with a $5 keychain when there are more expensive items getting swapped. If you want to keep everyone happy, you should provide a minimum and maximum spending limit.

Most white elephant exchanges have a price suggestion of $20. You may also decide to set a theme for the gifts. Instead of letting people purchase anything in the $20 range, they need to buy items that fit a specific theme, such as:

  • Candy
  • Christmas ornaments
  • Homemade gifts
  • Re-gifted gifts
  • Ugly Christmas sweaters
  • Books

The idea is to ensure that the gifts are suitable for everyone. For example, during an office gift exchange or an exchange involving adults and children, you may not want to have a crude or naughty gift-giving theme. You should also avoid any themes that may offend anyone.

Getting Ready to Play the Game

To determine the playing order, you may draw numbers, draw names, or allow the person in charge to set the playing order. Some people also like to roll dice to determine the order with the highest roll going first.

After determining the order, everyone sits in a circle around the gifts. The participants should sit in the order that was determined.

First Round of Opening and Stealing Gifts

The most complex part of the white elephant gift exchange rules is the process of opening and stealing gifts.

The game is played in rounds. During each round, everyone takes turns opening or stealing a present. This is where people sometimes get confused.

With everyone in place, the first player chooses and opens a gift from the pile. The second person may then steal that gift or open a new gift.

When your gift gets stolen, you can immediately open a new gift or steal another gift. However, a stolen gift cannot get stolen again until the next round, which means that you cannot steal your gift back until the next round.

Only three steals can occur per turn. For example, someone steals your gift so you steal someone else’s gift. That is two steals. If the person who you stole from decides to steal a gift, that is the last steal. His or her victim must open a new gift from the pile.

After each person has had one turn getting to steal or open a present, the round ends. At this point, all the gifts should be open as a gift cannot be stolen more than once per round.

The Second Round of the Exchange

The second round is played differently. The first player may choose to swap or keep the gift that he or she is holding. If the first player swaps with someone, that person may swap with someone else.

Unlike the first round, there is no limit to the number of swaps. The exchange ends when someone decides not to swap gifts.

Variations to the Basic White Elephant Rules

You do not need to follow the rules described. Feel free to experiment with different variations. Some popular white elephant gift exchange ideas include modifying the stealing and swapping rules.

For example, you can implement a rule that eliminates participants who get stolen from three times. After the third steal, he or she may steal or open a new gift and then walk away from the game.

You can use a similar rule with the gifts. After a gift is stolen for the third time, the person holding the gift walks away with the gift.

Some people also eliminate the second round. They simply let the gifts stay after the first round of opening and stealing presents.

Last Thoughts on the White Elephant Gift Swap

White elephant provides a fun way to trade gifts with people. As with secret Santa, you get to avoid buying many gifts for people that you are not close to, such as your co-workers. Instead, you buy one gift and get to go home with one gift.

The white elephant gift exchange rules can get confusing, especially for younger and older participants. It is important to thoroughly explain these rules to everyone before getting started.

During the first round, simply remember that after three steals occur, it is the next person’s turn. You also cannot steal a gift that was already stolen. For the second round, you are basically giving everyone one last chance to swap a gift with someone else.

Of course, you also have the option to modify the rules. Whatever changes you make to the rules, just ensure that everyone is on the same page before you get started.