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How to Plan an Epic White Elephant Gift Exchange

Looking for ideas to make your white elephant gift exchange over-the-top-fun? Get tips, tricks and inspiration on how to plan your best (and easiest!) white elephant gift exchange

Holiday parties are my jam! I LOVE getting together with friends and family and celebrating! What I don’t love is the stress that comes along with party planning. What do I serve? What activities should we have? How many people should I invite?

I’m here with a simple solution to your holiday party woes…a white elephant gift exchange! What I love about white elephant exchanges is that they provide: 

  1. A built in activity/game that anyone at the party can participate in
  2. A relief from the pressures of gift buying

What I mean by number 2, is that often we aren’t sure for whom to buy Christmas presents. If you have neighbors, do you buy them all gifts? Or only the ones you chat with? If you are at work, do you buy everyone on your team gifts? Or just the boss? Creating a white elephant gift exchange in your neighborhood, friend group, family or workplace will help people feel good about buying just one gift. 

a photo of assorted adults some wearing Santa hats and holding photo props for a Christmas Photo

White Elephant Redefined

Okay, I’m going to go out on a limb here with an opinion that may not be popular. I HATE crude/un-useful white elephant gifts. They just aren’t funny to me and are a waste of money. For example, during one white elephant gift exchange I got flip flops made out of maxi pads. Obviously, someone had spent a lot of time making them, but I didn’t even know how to react (hopefully I forced a decent laugh!). 

On The Gifty Girl website, I strive to provide gift ideas that you’ll love giving and that people will love to receive. That being said, there are some times that silly white elephant gifts are fun to give (I have a few in this White Elephant Gift Ideas post). And if YOUR group has a good chuckle over less politically correct gifts, then go for it!

But I’d like to be a proponent of white elephant gifts that people like and will actually use! There are so many ways to apply a fun, unifying theme that will challenge people to come up with something unique but also something that people will like to receive. 

*steps off soapbox*

This post contains affiliate links. This means, if I will get paid a small commission (at no cost to you!) if you purchase products through my links. I always try to recommend products I have personal experience with and LOVE. I also read reviews and ratings to make sure that I am offering up the best possible gift option for you. You can read more in my full disclosure.

A granite counter with a colorful blue, red and green page that says Gift Exchange Planner

Planning your White Elephant Gift Exchange

The first thing you should do is download your FREE Gift Exchange Planner page by clicking here. This handy dandy sheet will be a place to keep all of your gift exchange ideas and your to-do list. 

Another thing to consider is purchasing all of the ideas and inspiration you need INCLUDING printables for four different games. I created The Ultimate Gift Exchange Guide to be a one-stop resource for everything Gift Exchange. You can use the Coupon Code “WHITE” to get $8 off of your guide. I’ll take you step-by-step through planning and executing an amazing gift exchange with your family, friends, neighbors or co-workers. 

Next, you’ll need to decide on the following: 

  1. What Type of Gift Exchange: This could be a White Elephant Gift Exchange or a Virtual Gift Exchange if you live far away or have health concerns
  2. The Theme for your Gift Exchange: I share 34 different theme ideas in The Ultimate Gift Exchange Guide. There are so many creative options. I love choosing a theme that will inspire and challenge party guests. It is nice for them to have some sort of direction when buying a gift and a great theme will get people excited about the Gift Exchange.
  3. What Game you’ll use for the exchange (if you do a classic white elephant, the game is built right in!) 
  4. Party Logistics: How many people to invite? What is the best price limit? When should you have your party? How soon should you send out invitations?

I go way into depth (60 pages worth!) in my eBook with ideas and inspiration, so if you are looking to make this easier on yourself, grab The Ultimate Gift Exchange Guide Here! You can also read about Gift Exchange ideas specific to your extended family by clicking here.

White Elephant Rules: How to Play White Elephant Gift Exchange

Let’s get into the nitty gritty of what a Classic White Elephant Game entails. 

Every one who wants to participate brings a gift under a certain dollar amount. The gift is wrapped up and doesn’t have identifying information on it (like the giver’s name). All gifts go into a pile. Numbers are written on small pieces of paper to correspond with the number of gifts (i.e. 10 gifts in the pile, Numbers 1-10 written on paper).  Each party goer picks one number.  

The exchange happens with the #1 person choosing and unwrapping the first gift.  #2 can then choose to “steal” the gift already opened by #1 or open a new one. If they steal a gift, #1 gets to open a new gift. #3 can choose from gift #1 or #2 or open a new, third gift. And so on and so forth until all the gifts are opened. The last play of the exchange is that the person who drew #1 gets one last snatch of a gift. Then everyone goes home with the gift in their hands.  

**You can make a rule that each gift can only be stolen 3 times before it is no longer in play (and the third person who stole it gets to keep it no matter what).

White Elephant Games

You can go with the classic White Elephant Game, where you draw numbers and exchange gifts. But there are also some REALLY fun, sometimes active games that are a blast to incorporate.  Here are some of our family’s favorites

White wood background with three green pages with read headings. Each page says Dasher's Dice Game Gift Exchange Game

White Elephant Dice Game

This game has everyone rolling to find out what to do with their game. You can either make up your own rules, or print off and use the Dasher’s Dice game or Dasher’s Double Dice game that I created. Dasher’s Double Dice game is a better choice for older kids, teens, and adults. Younger kids will enjoy the Dasher’s Dice version. 


You can grab larger foam dice for this game so everyone can see the roll results OR even these jumbo inflatable dice

A wooden table with three pages on top. The paper is blue and has Story Circle Instructions and two stories for Story Circle Gift Exchange Game

White Elephant Story Circle Gift Passing Game

This game is another fun one that works great for kids! Have everyone grab a gift and sit in a circle. One person reads a story replete with directional words LEFT and RIGHT. When the story ends, you open and keep whichever gift you are holding! I made up two fun Gift Exchange stories that you can purchase and print off here, The Great Reindeer Hockey Mishap and Love, Tree Love. 

marble table top with a colorful red and white striped page on half and some Santa Swap playing cards on the right. The large page has the rules for A Santa Swap Gift Exchange Card Game

White Elephant Gift Switching Card Game

I have to admit, Santa Swap Card Game is my favorite creation for White Elephant Gift Exchanges! There are 48 cards that you can print double sided and laminate. Everyone sits in a circle holding a gift and then draws a card one at a time. The card has different swapping instructions like “Exchange your gift with the person in the circle you’ve known the longest” as well as instructions that will have everyone moving gifts around.  You can either have everyone draw one card OR play until all the cards have been drawn. Santa Swap Gift Exchange Game is a fun and engaging for ALL ages. 

Marble top with three papers with green headings. The titles say Sleigh Switch for Gift Exchange Game.

Sleigh Switch ACTIVE Gift Exhange Game

If you want to give your party guests an active way to exchange gifts, the Sleigh Switch Gift Exchange Game is just the ticket! Everyone picks a gift and sits in a circle (preferably on chairs). The chairs go underneath your chair or “sleigh.” One person reads descriptions, for instance, “Everybody who listened to Christmas music in the car ride here.” If you match the description, you jump up (leaving your gift) and switch seats or sleighs with another person who also jumped up when the description was read. You can read all 56 of the descriptions, or stop when you feel like everyone has sufficiently changed seats. Then everyone gets the gift from under their seat and opens it. Your party guests of all ages will have so much fun racing around with the Sleigh Switch Gift Exchange Game! 

Virtual White Elephant

Last year, our family did a Virtual White Elephant Gift Exchange and it was seriously a blast. What made it especially great, was using a Virtual White Elephant Presentation like this one designed by The Printable Pair. You’ll need pictures of each gift from your party guests and it takes a little bit of upfront work, but it makes the virtual gift exchange run SO smoothly and a better experience overall for everyone! 

When planning a Virtual White Elephant Gift Exchange you’ll need to: 

  • Choose a video conferencing tool (Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype etc)
  • Plan a date/time that will work with your guests (consider time zones, etc) 
  • Create a way to track the gift exchange, using either a spreadsheet or the Virtual White Elephant Presentation
  • Decide on a way for people to exchange the physical gifts

I dedicated an entire chapter in my eBook to Virtual Gift Exchanges and provided a checklist. You can grab your copy of The Ultimate Gift Exchange Guide here! 

How to Throw the BEST White Elephant Party

One of my favorite things about White Elephant Gift Exchanges is the built-in fun that they create! Whether you have a bunch of little kids, your neighbors or your workplace, gift exchanges are a simple way to at festivity and excitement to your party. 

Preparation is the KEY to throwing the Best White Elephant Party. Not only is it important to come up with a fun theme and a reasonable price point so that people will want to participate…it’s also a great idea to send out periodic reminders. Adding in the element of fun by having a unique and creative gift exchange game can really take your white elephant party to the next level. Whether you have your party guests running around with the Sleigh Switch Gift Exchange Game, having a blast in with the Story Circle Gift Exchange Stories, laughing about the crazy card they drew in the Santa Swap Card Game or testing the luck of the dice in Dasher’s Dice game, adding in a simple-to-prepare (printable!) game element will only add to the joy of your holiday party. 

I know that the holiday season is full of SO many stressors, and planning a Gift Exchange may be low on your list of priorities! That’s why I worked really hard to create The Ultimate Gift Exchange Guide, so that instead of spending tons of time looking all over the interwebs, you can get all of the great info you need and plan the party (and theme! And Games!) with the least amount of stressing possible. 

You can grab your copy of The Ultimate Gift Exchange Guide eBook by clicking here. (Don’t forget to use code “WHITE” to save $8!

I hope this brief overview of planning your BEST and least stressful White Elephant Gift Exchange has been helpful!


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