I opened my front door and warmly greeted John Travolta—straight out of Hairspray John Travolta. He entered the room, saying hello to Grease-era John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever John Travolta, and, of course, the angelic Michael John Travolta before heading for the chips and dip.
I love throwing silly parties, and the John Travolta Halloween party I hosted a few years back is now infamous amongst my friends (seeing that many people in one room dressed as the same person was more than a little eerie). We even played a game of Travolta charades that was one of the most confusing, but hysterically funny moments of my life, the winner receiving a thrifted black leather jacket Danny Zuko himself would be proud to wear.
Make your next party one that will outlive even the Facebook photos by combining a gift swap with a silly party game that will get grown-ups and kids alike to break out of their shells and let loose, whether you’re looking for gift exchange ideas for your big family reunion or planning a company picnic for your office. Because really, when you’re surrounded by a room full of Travoltas trying to act out scenes from Welcome Back Kotter, it’s pretty much impossible to feel shy. Here are my three favorite gift exchange game ideas for large groups (Travolta costumes optional).
Pizza Swap Dinner Party: A Large Group White Elephant Gift Exchange Game
Heaps of mozzarella cheese, a sea of marinara, and dozens of rounds of fresh, sticky dough: the DIY pizza bar at my friend Roberta’s 13th birthday party was such a hit, it made it impossible for me to extricate “pizza” from “party” in my mind well into adulthood. These days, even when I host a fancy dinner party, I’ll usually still make some sort of flatbread pizza as an appetizer.
Get into the silly spirit of those old middle school celebrations by hosting a White Elephant Pizza Swap Dinner Party, an easy idea for a large group gift exchange game. Not only will your guests get to eat pizza, but you, the usually harried host, can spend more time with your friends and less time serving up dinner.
Here’s the game plan:
- Invite friends to your party, instructing each person to bring a personal-sized pizza with any combination of toppings they like.
- Set the closed pizza boxes on a table in the center of the room.
- Have your guests draw numbers from a hat (there should be as many numbers as there are guests), then stand in a big circle around the table of pizza.
- The person who draws “one” gets to choose a box of pizza from the table, look inside to see what type it is, and tell the group. The person who draws the “two” then chooses a box of pizza from the table, peeks inside, and can decide if they want to keep the pizza they chose, or take the pizza from the first player. The game continues on, with each person selecting a pizza, announcing what toppings it has, then deciding to keep that pizza or to swap with someone who has already taken their turn.
- At the end of the game, the first player gets to make the final decision to keep or swap their pizza—then it’s time to eat! Bon appetit!
You’d be surprised at how hilariously competitive adults can get about something as simple as pizza toppings, but when the stakes are as high as anchovy and pineapple vs chicken and basil, things can get heated. It’s a goofy way to get a big group of people to interact with one another—and making sure all of your guests are fed will never be more fun.
Party pro tip: Stock up on a couple of plain cheese or pepperoni pies before the party so if anyone doesn’t find their ultimate prize appetizing, they don’t have to go home hungry.
Throw a Funny Holiday Gift Exchange for a Large Group of Your Silliest Friends
“It’s the mooooost wonderful tiiiime of the yearrrrr,” I sang out, basking in the spring sunlight as I set my art supplies up on the table. Some people go nuts for Christmas, others wait all year for their 4th of July BBQ. Me? I live for the excitement of April’s Draw a Bird Day, the novelty holiday where you, well, draw birds.
It all started in college when my best friend and I started holding impromptu surprise parties for our friends when they got home from class. We discovered Draw a Bird Day, spent a few hours sketching and painting various feathered creatures, and a tradition was born. It’s something we celebrate to this day, turning me into a big advocate of celebrating silly holidays.
Even better? Organize a playful gift swap in honor of the next silly holiday on the calendar. Start a gift exchange online, then you and your friends can register to create wish lists of items that fit the holiday’s theme. It’s a great opportunity to swap gag gifts and conversation-starting knick knacks.
You could also mix up your gift swap by playing a game. Write out a list of rules like “swap gifts with the tallest person in the group,” “exchange presents with the person to your right,” or “keep your gift this round.” It’s extra fun if you throw in a few that somehow relate to the theme of the party as well, like:
Draw a Bird Day Rules (April 8th):
- Swap with the person in the group who has the loudest chicken squawk (a good way to get a big group of adults to loudly act like chickens).
- Swap with the person who most reminds you of a majestic bald eagle.
- Trade gifts with someone whose shirt is the same color as your favorite bird.
Elephant Appreciation Day Rules (September 22nd):
- Keep your gift and pretend to be an elephant.
- Swap with someone who hates the movie Dumbo.
- Swap with someone who’s seen an elephant in person.
Houseplant Appreciation Day Rules (January 10th):
- Swap gifts with the person whose plant looks the most like it’s carnivorous.
- Trade presents with someone holding a flowering plant.
- Exchange gifts with someone who has a flower or plant motif on their clothing.
Once you have all your rules written (you’ll need at least one per person), cut them up and put them in a hat. While everyone holds the wrapped present they brought, one guest at a time draws and follows a rule from the hat. The game ends when everyone has taken a turn, and then everyone can unwrap their gifts to see what they’ve received. It’s a more energetic, interactive activity than your usual gift exchange, and the customized questions will help even a large group of guests get to know each other better.
Hold an Outdoor Adult Hide and Seek Gift Exchange for a Large Gathering
Hiding in the dark, I started to feel panicked at the sound of approaching footsteps. The leaves were rustling, my heart was pounding, and suddenly…“Aha!” The sunlight burst through the branches of the bush I was hiding under and my best friend proudly proclaimed that I was out.
I can’t think of a single friend or relative who didn’t love Hide and Seek growing up. But even as adults, Hide and Seek is a total riot, especially if you take it to the great outdoors so there’s more complexity to the game.
Combining a game of Hide and Seek with a large group gift exchange is a great way to celebrate with large groups, whether you’re just trying to stay in touch with friends over summer vacation, hosting a school reunion, or celebrating a big family reunion. Best of all, it’s fairly simple; after all, everyone knows how to play Hide and Seek!
- Send out invitations using an online gift exchange site, and set a price limit for the gifts.
- Choose a large outdoor location with lots of good hiding spaces. Get there early to set up boundaries using colorful streamers so people don’t try to hide too far away.
- Once your group arrives, split them into two teams. For the first round of the game, give one of the teams a minute or two to hide, bringing their gifts with them, while the other team covers their eyes.
- Then, have the other team go search for the people hiding. When someone finds a member of the other team, they get to open that person’s present, and both people can sit out the rest of the round.
- Once everyone has been found, the teams swap places. The previous hiders are now the seekers, and the previous seekers have to go hide with the gift they brought.
- After the round ends, everyone will have received a present. And, after working up a sweat running around outdoors and laughing together, it’ll be time to relax with an ice cold glass of lemonade.
A Hide and Seek gift swap is great because people of all ages will have a blast participating—and there’s no chance that anyone in a large group will get bored while waiting for their turn like in a traditional White Elephant or Yankee Swap. And, if you don’t have a lot of space at your home, taking things outdoors will let you invite more people to your celebration.
Draw a Bird Day comes but once a year, and there are only so many times you can throw a John Travolta-themed soiree, but gift swap game parties never lose their appeal—no matter what the occasion. Creating situations that’ll make your guests step out of their comfort zone a little bit will help them bond with one another because, really, nothing builds camaraderie like some unabashed mutual silliness.
While I love my family’s more traditional, relaxed gatherings, I’ll never stop peppering my calendar with slightly wacky parties. Hey, give me a chance to ditch my heels in favor of sneakers so I can play Hide and Seek and feel like a kid again and you’ve got a party I’ll never forget!
Get even more into the game by hosting a gift exchange with items from our Game On Gift Guide. Share your favorite party moments with us on Elfster’s Facebook page, on Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @elfster.
Featured image courtesy Etsy seller ParagonPapersCo
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