There’s a famous old holiday saying which goes, “Gift exchange games are like sandwiches: everyone has their own name for them and by golly, I love them all no matter what.” Okay, that might not be an old saying as much as something I believe, but it’s still true.
See, there are a lot of gift exchanges out there. Some are pretty much the same game but with different names. It’s like sandwiches: a hero, submarine, grinder, and hoagie are all essentially the same, but each name carries a slight regional variation.
It’s the same with gift exchanges: similar games, different names, slight variations. But all these games are about swapping gifts and surprising each other. And, most of all, to have fun doing it. So, if you ask what Christmas games are similar to White Elephant, don’t be surprised to find there are a lot that are similar and a lot that will make for a memorable gift exchange.
Christmas Games Similar to White Elephant
If you’re looking for a fun Christmas gift exchange game, try some of these:
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat. Of course White Elephant is similar to White Elephant. And you probably know the White Elephant rules. Everyone brings a gift, then you draw numbers to see who picks first. They select a gift and the second person can choose to either steal that gift or pick something else. If they steal, the first person picks again. The third person can steal either of the two gifts or pick a new one, and so on.
Usually, gifts can only be stolen up to three times, so that adds some challenge and strategy. As long as the gifts are all pretty equal—and usually equally silly—no one will actually be upset to have their selection stolen. After all, that gives them a chance to steal something else!
The reason we included this game is because you’ve probably had the experience of someone asking you to play a different game, only to find it has mostly the same rules as White Elephant. That’s because there are a lot of names for this type of game, including:
- Yankee Swap
- Dirty Santa
- Cutthroat Christmas
- Santa Machiavelli
- Greedy Punter
Honestly, you can come up with your own name and pretend it’s a hometown phrase or something you learned in college or the Peace Corps or whatever. “Grinch’s Revenge” or “Cruel Cruel Elves” or anything you want. The rules are pretty much the same.
This gift exchange doesn’t have as much strategy as it does flailing improv comedy. It’s played along the lines of hot potato. Gifts move around the table like in hot potato, with people passing it back and forth until a song ends or a timer goes off. It’s best to pass, not throw—though that’s up to you. People have to make a quick decision to pass, and to whom and how, while trying to judge what the gift is. You play until everyone has a present, then it’s time to open them.
The Dice Game
This one is less strategy than it is fate. Everyone gets a gift that they are not supposed to unwrap. Then everyone gets a turn to roll the dice. The roll corresponds to written down rules.
For example, rolling a two (with two die) might mean you can choose to hang onto your gift or swap it with anyone. A nine might mean you have to unwrap your gift and make no further moves. A seven could mean you can steal from someone—and it’s easier to steal if someone has unwrapped their gift. You’ll be surprised how much the tension rises with each roll!
This is probably the most popular game that isn’t White Elephant, but in many ways, Secret Santa is very different than these games. How? Well, it’s clear in the rules of Secret Santa:
- Everyone is assigned a person that they are the Secret Santa for. Drawing names from an electronic hat using a free Secret Santa generator is the easiest and most fun way to pair people up.
- Create a wish list using online gift guides that incorporate items from multiple stores. The list will go to your Secret Santa and, if you use an online wish list maker, they can buy right from the list. They can even ask you anonymous questions if they need clarification
- On the night of the exchange, everyone gets their gift and opens them one at a time. Once you’ve opened your gift, try to guess who got you the present.
It’s easy to see why this is different. The gifts are all intentional, bought with a specific person in mind. They have meaning and thought behind them and aren’t usually a gag gift. It’s about giving a person something they really want.
What All Gift Exchange Games have in Common
Maybe you like the clever scheming of a White Elephant. Maybe you like the whirlwind of hot potato or the fateful toss of a dice. Maybe you insist that Yankee Swap is the best. Maybe you like the guessing games and thoughtfulness that come with Secret Santa.
But no matter what, you like receiving gifts. You like giving. You like being in a room with people you care about, laughing and joking, exclaiming over presents both ludicrous and sincere. And that’s what these games are all about. Not the things but the people behind them. They all have that in common, every year.
If you want to play Secret Santa, you’ll want a way to make it work for everyone. The Elfster Secret Santa generator makes it easy to pair people up and start a Wish List. Don’t forget that you can now pick names and more on an iPhone app or Android app.