Forks in the Road: Food and Travel in Central PA - A Community Blog

Adrienne Wolter shares local restaurant reviews, day trips and cooking adventures

It's a Wrap: Entertaining Holiday Gift Exchanges Made Easy

Written by Adrienne Wolter, Community Blogger | Dec 9, 2013 10:55 AM

Photo by JD Hancock

Gift exchanges are a great way to cut down on Christmas shopping without leaving anyone out.

Planning the perfect gift exchange is not always easy. It involves the commitment and support of many willing participants, and unfortunately, some think that gift exchanges are "old hat," or they become non-participants because they are "short on cash this year." However, with a little bit of organization and a lot of heart, you can make these exchanges fresh and exciting this year.

Without a doubt, the Secret Santa and White Elephant gift exchanges tend to be the most popular types for larger groups or even a close-knit cluster of friends. Their versatility and simplistic rules make for easy planning. Given their foundation, you can even add your own holiday spin to these fun activities, shedding light on some of the "Scrooges" who don't want to participate.

Relax, and put the gift-giving spirit back into the holiday season by following some simple steps to successfully host the perfect gift exchange.

Secret Santa

Surprises are always a lot of fun, and the Secret Santa is the perfect opportunity to surprise a co-worker, friend or family member, without spending a ton of money. With this gift exchange, you can enjoy the gift of giving while trying to solve a mystery. All it takes is a little bit of organization to get the ball rolling.

1. Set Parameters

When organizing a Secret Santa, make sure that you give everyone a chance to participate. Schedule a date for the revealing to occur, like at the holiday party or family gathering. Always make sure that you set a price for the participants to spend and keep it reasonable. Typically, the limit ranges from $5-$20 as only one gift is needed per person.


Photo by Travis Estell

A fun twist on the typical Secret Santa is a gift exchange for your pets.

2. Complete Surveys

As a way to gather the number of participants and help the Secret Santa to get an idea of what to give, distribute a simple survey with some generic questions. Start with the person's name and maybe their position at work or age to give an indication, since some people may not know their chosen person very well. Include survey questions such as likes, interests, hobbies, home decor style, whether they have pets, and their favorite food and favorite color.

3. Santa Claus Collects

Become Santa Claus and throw all of the folded-up surveys into a Santa hat. Have each participant choose a survey from the hat, making sure they didn't draw their own name. Tell them to keep their person secret and have fun. If you're corresponding online, number your surveys and have participants pick a number.

4. Call on the Elves

Get into the gift-giving spirit and be creative. Maybe you have your participants give three small gifts and save the best for the reveal party. This way, you can encourage your Secret Santas to include hints, rhymes or riddles to heighten the game play. Hopefully, this will keep them guessing. If you're participating at work, find a clever way to deliver each gift. You could find a friend or co-worker to become an "elf" and deliver the gift for you. Just don't let them spoil your secret!

5. Reveal the Secret Santas

Have a fun party where the Secret Santas give their gifts. You could carry the game on longer and have people share their guesses or hunt for their packages. To continue the fun, host a cookie eating social to mix and mingle. Just remember, the game is all in good fun.

White Elephant

For a more unique approach to gift-giving, go for a tacky and ridiculous approach to presents. If money is an issue, have everyone re-gift something that they don't want or want to get rid of for good. The only catch is that each person will still go home with a silly gift. Who knows, maybe one man's trash is another man's treasure!

1. Lay Down Ground Rules

Decide whether your participants have to re-gift an item or must purchase something inexpensive. Establish the type of gift or theme before you allow your guests to begin scrounging for gifts. This way, the game remains entertaining and light-hearted, while making sure that the gifts are of a similar caliber.


Photo by waferboard on Flickr

Tacky gifts are an easy way to keep things silly.

2. Choose Your Tacky Gift

Encourage your participants to look around their house for unwanted items that they could re-gift. Remind them that it's all in good fun and to enjoy putting some thought into the re-gifting process. Just remember that it's crucial to determine whether "naughty" gifts are allowed. Always consider what may offend someone and keep it appropriate if you know some people are sensitive to certain things. Some great White Elephant gift ideas include:

  • gaudy jewelry
  • knick-knacks
  • obnoxious apparel
  • abstract or funky art

Advise your guests not to confuse a White Elephant with a regular gift exchange. For example, you probably don't want to contribute a beautiful flat weave rug or a rare bottle of wine. These items will surely set off the wrong tone for the exchange, as they are great quality items. Have people save that for individual gift giving.

3. Number the Gifts

To get the game started, number slips of paper so they correspond to the number of gifts and stick it in a jar or Santa hat. Distribute the numbers to each participant. This will signify the order in which they choose a present. Start with #1. That person will choose the first gift.

4. To Steal or Not to Steal

Adding some competition to the White Elephant game can be very entertaining. You can include stealing as a process to have people choose what gift they really want. Or, you can distribute all the gifts without opening and then decide if your participants want to steal based on the wrapped present alone. Whatever the rules, make it fun and entertaining.

The Gift of Giving

While planning some of these exchanges can be tough, just remember that these activities are meant to be fun and not stress-inducing. Ask a friend or a co-worker to help you with planning and take suggestions from participants for future exchanges. You can always compile some great ideas for future exchanges and keep these games alive. If you've exhausted these two exchange themes, change the rules or check out some other great exchange ideas. Just remember to enjoy the holiday season.

Tagged under ,

back to top

Give Now

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »