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How to Do a Yankee Swap Gift Exchange

Published on November 11, 2012, by in Sitters.

Whether it’s called a Yankee Swap, Chinese Gift Exchange, White Elephant, Dirty Santa or any one of the plethora of other names, these holiday gift swap games each offer a different take on the classic gift giving at Christmas.  If you’re interested in doing a gift exchange at your next holiday function, do one with a twist. You and your guests will be rolling on the floor laughing when the chaos ensues.

Set up

Set a dollar limit for the price of the gifts.  Ask everyone who wants to participate to bring one gift per person to exchange.

Create slips of paper numbered 1 to however many people you have invited.  Make sure that you know how many people are there before you have your guests draw a number.  This can be as simple as hand writing numbers on a scrap of paper to printing out the numbers and putting them in sealed holiday envelopes or wrapped boxes.  If you keep the envelopes or boxes in order you will be able to remove the last few boxes or envelopes before everyone draws or takes one if some guests fail to show up.

Purchase a few extra gifts just in case some of your guests forget their gift at home or didn’t realize they were supposed to bring something.  That way you won’t have guests feeling left out during a fun event that typically takes a while to do at the party.

The game

Right before the game starts have everyone pick their number in whichever way you have decided to distribute the numbers.

Once everyone has their number, the fun can begin.  Whoever got number 1 goes first.  He can pick from all of the wrapped presents and open one.  Since there is no one ahead of him to steal a gift from, he gets to steal one at the very end of the game, making it really lucky to draw the number 1.  Once he opens his gift, he sits down and it’s the next person’s turn.  He must keep his gift visible because the people that come after him may want to steal his gift.

Whoever has number 2 goes next and has a choice of choosing a wrapped present or stealing what number 1 got.  They cannot, however, open a gift and then decide to steal.  If they steal number 1’s gift then he gets to go pick another wrapped present.  He cannot steal the gift back at that time.

The game continues on like this until everyone has a gift.

Most people play with the rule that you can only steal a gift twice before it’s frozen; otherwise the game takes way too long to play.

Once everyone has a gift, number 1 gets the option of stealing any gift that is not frozen or keeping what he currently has.  After number 1 decides to keep or steal, the game is over.  If he decides to steal at the end of the game, the person he steals from does not get to do anything else.  She just keeps the gift that number 1 had when he stole hers.

That’s how you play the game.  It’s simple and fun.

Variations of the game

There are some variations of the game that are also fun if you want to try something new or different for your group:

The White Elephant- The white elephant gift exchange is played in the same way as the Yankee Swap except that everyone brings funny things from home that they want to get rid of or gag gifts if they don’t have anything.  On the positive side, this game has a lot more laughter because people will bring the strangest things.  The only negative is that you don’t go home with a nice gift at the end of the night.  You might go home with a 16 lb. purple bowling ball or deer bait.

Ornament Exchange- Instead of bringing any random gift for $10, this gift exchange dictates that you bring an ornament that is worth $10 instead.  This exchange is still quite enjoyable, but a little more subdued than the other gift exchanges.

Left-right Exchange- In this game everyone brings a wrapped present and you sit or stand in a circle or around a table.  Someone reads a story out loud and every time they say, “right” you pass the present to the right and every time they say, “left” you pass the gift to the left.  You keep passing the gifts around until the story is over and then you open the present that you are holding.

No matter what you call it, gift exchanges are a lot of fun during holiday parties.  Try one of these or create your own and give it a funny name this holiday season.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for sharing some great details on the gift exchange parties that are so popular during the holidays.
    We raised 5 children and used the white elephant gift exchange as a way to save on gift giving. We became so passionate about the game that we started a website called AlbinoPhant to share unique ways to have these parties.
    You might find a couple of other unique ideas in our how-to pages: http://albinophantblog.com

    Have a great holiday season!
    Sarah

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