Game Face

Three gift exchange ideas to liven up your holiday party.

Holiday parties can be both exciting and overwhelming, especially when gifts are involved. When the crowd is too big to buy everyone a present, but too small to play Secret Santa, gift exchange games are a fun way to swap presents with family, friends or coworkers without unnecessary pressures.

Here’s a list of some of our favorite holiday games and the rules for playing. And if you need inspiration for which gift to bring, consider gourmet food items like fine chocolates from Gearharts or a basket of jellies from Virginia Chutney Company, or craft items from local makers, such as a scarf from Andrea Donnelly or Commonwealth-inspired pocket squares from Marcel Ames.


White Elephant

Also known as Dirty Santa or Yankee Swap, White Elephant is the most popular gift exchange game. Although there are many variations on rules, basic play is the same: Participants bring a wrapped gift and draw a number to determine their order. Player one is in fact disadvantaged in this game, because their gift may be stolen by subsequent players. Everyone in the game takes their turn to unwrap a gift, or to steal a gift that has already been unwrapped by those ahead of them, until everything has been opened.

Musical Gifts

Unlike musical chairs, the gifts are passed around and the players remain seated. Guests bring a wrapped gift and all items are placed on a table. Players sit around the table and when the music starts, a gift is selected from the center of the table and passed. When the music stops, the player holding the gift (player A) will unwrap it and leave the circle. Play continues until everyone has a gift.

The Numbers Game

As guests arrive, the host will take their gifts and mark each with a number. Players will receive a corresponding ticket with that number and should write an unusual fact about themselves on the piece of paper. When gifting begins, the host will pull the tickets one by one from a hat and read what is written. Players must guess who the fact is about. The first player to guess correctly receives the present with the gifter’s matching number and will leave the game. Play continues until everyone has a gift.

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