This summer, we hosted a BBQ, and the invitation said we were going to do a gift exchange. A friend texted to ask what the occasion was, and I had to explain that there wasn’t an occasion. It was just that 1) people like getting gifts, and 2) gift exchanges are fun.
Those, to me, are universal truths. You don’t need it to be a holiday to have a gift exchange, and no matter what kind of event you’re having, a gift exchange helps people have fun while getting to know each other better.
But what kind of gift exchange should you have? There are a lot of different kinds, depending on what you’re going for. Find what type of gift exchange works best for you and your group, and get ready to turn any event into something truly memorable.
Types of Gift Exchange for Your Next Event
All the games listed here can work with groups of any size (at least three people, and it doesn’t matter if you have an odd number of people), though some of them get more complicated and last a lot longer with more people. So when deciding what to play, make sure you take into account time, complexity, and level of participant interest.
This is a classic game for any party. You know the rules of White Elephant: everyone brings a gift and gets a number indicating when they get to pick. After the first person selects their gift, everyone gets a chance to open something and either keep or swap their gift. A gift can be “stolen” up to three times.
What you’ll have is a lot of rounds of swapped gifts and sneaky steals. It’s always a blast because there are a handful of presents that everyone wants, and those go around the room really quickly. And you very, very rarely have any hurt feelings. The game does tend to get a little long if you have a lot of people since there can be, like, 40 or 50 rounds for larger groups. Just make sure you set aside a few hours for it.
This is a Filipino tradition with similarities to Kris Krings, Père Noël, and other traditional games around the world. It starts earlier than most games, and lasts for a few days, making it ideal for an office or some other kind of organization that meets every day.
Here are the steps:
- Draw names. The name you draw is your giftee; you are their Monito or Monita. Remember, this is a secret draw.
- Sneakily give them little gifts throughout the week. These are small, inexpensive, and possibly based around a theme (if you want). They aren’t supposed to see you leave the gifts, which means you have to be smart.
- At a party, everyone has to guess who their Monito or Monita is, like with a traditional Secret Santa.
This is a really fun game, but it does require a lot of participation. You have to make sure everyone is on board with getting (say) five different small gifts and is ready to be a little mischievous. But it’s a great way to see who would make the best elf!
Musical Chairs Gift Exchange
We all know how to play musical chairs. People circle some chairs until the music stops, then everyone scrambles to sit down. In this case, the last person standing loses, in a sense, but also kind of wins—because they get to choose a gift.
This is an energetic game you can play in smaller groups, assuming everyone is on board with a certain amount of physicality. If you have people excited to play, this game will generate a lot of laughs and a lot of gifts.
You know those weird Halloween games where you blindly reach your hand into a bag filled with, like, cold spaghetti or peeled grapes or marmalade or something. This is similar to that, except way less gross. And you get gifts. In fact, it’s better in every way.
Encourage people to bring wrapped gifts, ideally not in boxes. You don’t need a huge bag, but people pick gifts based on shape and touch. Strange shapes and unusual proportions also up the fun. Everyone tries to guess what the gift is, and you’ll all have some laughs about how close—or, more often, how far off—they are. You can also make it more personal by guessing who brought the gift.
Here, we come to the ultimate gift-giving game. This one is as popular as White Elephant and for good reason. It combines exciting gift-giving with the suspense and fun of trying to guess who got you a present. Secret Santa rules are well-known, but not everyone knows why playing it is so fun. Here’s why: Secret Santa means understanding the people in your group and being thoughtful about what to get them.
See, you aren’t just buying a gift for anyone. You’re selecting a gift for one specific person. You have to actually think about them and what will make their faces light up. You can look at their wish list (which they can build online using gift guides ) to get a better sense of what they want. And you can buy right from the list.
This game is great for any gathering because it’s so easy to play Secret Santa. In fact, the right Secret Santa generator, will pair people up automatically, help you share wish lists, and even allow people to anonymously ask questions so they can find out more (and maybe be a little misleading to throw off the scent!). The giftee and the Secret Santa may communicate secretly, then at the event, you have the big reveal. It’s a way to bring out the real meaning of giving.
The Right Type of Gift Exchange for Your Group
So, what gift exchange will work best for you? Well, that depends on a lot of things: the size of your group, the time you have, how much effort people want to put in. Some games make things simple; some are more complex.
But here’s the thing: you can try more than one. See what you like best. That’s why we have gift exchanges at nearly all our parties. It allows us to enjoy that spirit of fun, generosity, and friendship any time we get together. There’s no bad game: there’s only the game that makes you and your group the happiest.
Want to play Secret Santa? The Elfster Secret Santa generator is the easiest platform to make the game easy and enjoyable for everyone. Start a Wish List today to kick off the fun! Don’t forget that you can now pick names and more on an iPhone app or Android app.
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