Different Types Of Christmas Gift Exchanges

types of christmas gift exchanges

If you’re looking for fun ways to do a gift exchange but you’re bamboozled by all the different types out there, we’re here to help you sort them out and decide which type of gift exchange is right for your Christmas party or event.

If you don’t know your White Elephant from your Dirty Santa, you’re not alone! There are many different names for gift exchanges which are virtually the same thing, but they all have minor differences.

To make things even more complicated, different people call the same games different names and different games the same names…so you can understand why people might get confused!

We’re here to help with a brief comparison of the most popular gift exchange games around. Remember, your understanding of the rules and names of the games might be slightly different to ours, it probably depends on where you were brought up.

The important thing to remember though is, whatever type of gift exchange you plan on doing, make sure all of the guests are on the same page and know what type of gift to bring on the day.

Whether it be a gift for a particular person (like in a Secret Santa), a useful gift anyone might like (like in a Pollyanna or Yankee Swap) or a fun, less desirable but humorous gift like one for a White Elephant gift exchange, the guests need to know what is expected of them.

different types of gift exchanges

Once the event of the gift exchange is underway it’s also important that people know how you’re going to play your gift exchange game. If it’s a true game of Secret Santa, hopefully they’ve all successfully snuck their wrapped and labelled gifts under the tree or onto the gift table without anyone seeing who brought which gift.

If it’s one of the other types of exchanges, make sure everyone knows how you’re going to play – will you be using dice, pulling names out of a hat or using some other sort of print out or card game to determine the order in which gifts are picked, exchanged and opened?

As long as everybody attending has a clear understanding of the way you are going to play, you’re all in for a great time!

fun ways to do christmas gift exchange

Here’s a table we made up to help to visually explain some of the differences between these fun christmas gift exchange games:

Game

Useful Gift

Stealing/ Swapping Gifts

Gift Bought For Specific Person

Dice Used

More Info

Secret Santa

Y

N

Y

N

Dirty Santa

Y/N

Y

N

Can be

Yankee Swap

Y

Y

N

Can be

White Elephant

N

Y

N

Can be

Pollyanna

Y

Y

N

N

So, as you can see, one of the major differences is that, for Secret Santa, more organizing is done before the gift exchange as names are drawn from a hat or people are somehow allocated a particular person to purchase a gift for.

So, if you know the kind of thing your workmate, friend or family member likes it’s a great opportunity to get them a gift you know they’ll enjoy.

fun ways to do a gift exchange

All of the other types of gift exchange involve buying a gift for a random person. Usually there’ll be a budget and sometimes a theme to stick to but ultimately you need to buy a gift that could appeal to anybody attending the party. That is, of course, unless, you’re doing a true White Elephant gift exchange.

A white elephant gift exchange was traditionally a way to get rid of gifts or things you already had lying around that you no longer wanted. It has now morphed more into a game where people try to buy the most tacky and useless (but often extremely funny) gifts.

Go to town and don’t care about what the potential recipient might think of the gift if you’re playing your gift exchange white elephant style.

This can also be true for Dirty Santa – it’s actually good in Dirty Santa to have a mixture of gifts – some good, some not so good as it can be more fun when people try to steal all the good gifts and leave others with the “bad” gifts.

present swapping games for christmas

As you can see from the chart, dice can be used in Dirty Santa, Yankee Swap and White Elephant. They don’t have to be used – there are other ways gift order can be determined such as drawing names, free printables or card games, but, generally speaking with these games there is some method used to help the game along.

This could be true of Pollyanna too although, again, it depends on how you play. Pollyanna is the bright and happy, soft and gentle version of a gift exchange where people don’t “steal” gifts but rather may choose to swap them.

You’re also more likely to just pick a person (or allocate numbers) to choose a gift in Pollyanna, then move around the circle of guests, each person deciding whether to choose a new gift from the pile or to swap (take) an already opened gift.

games to play at christmas parties for gift exchange

If you want more information on each type of gift exchange, you can find our full report on each of them here:

Secret Santa

Dirty Santa

Yankee Swap

White Elephant

Pollyanna

Ultimately though, whatever you decide to call your gift exchange, as long as everybody understands what’s expected of them and what they can expect at the event, you’re all going to have a great time at your Christmas gift exchange.

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