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How to Host a White Elephant Gift Exchange

Ready for a night of giggles and a bit of chaotic fun? Here are some basic guidelines and suggestions for how to host a white elephant gift exchange.

By: Nicole Doster, Associate Digital Editor


Turn the holiday on its head with a white elephant gift exchange. Wacky presents, unexpected swaps and tons of laughter are the name of this unconventional party game. Let's walk through the rules for white elephant parties so you'll know what to do—and what to expect—when you host your own.

General Rules & Gameplay

The basic rules for white elephant gift exchanges are simple.

Each guest brings a wrapped gift. You may want to lay out a few guidelines for gifts in the invite. It's a good idea, for example, to set a price limit; this will help partygoers avoid any major gift disparities.

Have guests place their gifts in a central location, and arrange the seating around the presents so that each player has a good view.

To start, determine the playing order. Ask each guest to pick a number out of a hat. Player #1 begins by grabbing a gift out of the pile and opening it in front of the room.

Player #2 has two options. The first is to open a new gift from the pile; the second is to steal the gift from player #1. If player #1 has their gift stolen, they'll need to grab a new gift from the pile and open it.

Player #3 can either open a new gift or steal from players #1 or #2. When any player's gift is stolen, that player can choose to trade gifts or open a new one from the pile. Note that a player can't steal back the same gift that was stolen from them within a single round.

To keep the ball rolling, limit trades to three per round. The game continues like this until each guest has a gift, at which time player #1 will have a chance to swap with anyone in the room.

But the white elephant doesn't end there. There are no limits on stealing during the final round, so players can continue to swap gifts one by one until everyone is satisfied with their prize. Depending on the gifts—and the crowd—this may result in a rowdy bout of present-stealing fun!

Make it Your Own

Now that you know the basics of the white elephant gift exchange, it's time to mix things up. Create your own twists on the rules to make the party as zany as you'd like.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Pick a Theme

    • Instruct guests to bring homemade ornaments, quirky mugs or thrifted knickknacks. Be as broad or specific as you wish—whatever your approach, it's a fun way set the mood for the party. For some edible inspiration, check out our top 25 food gift recipes.

  • Keep Things Under Wraps

    • Make a rule that gifts cannot be opened until the end of the game. (Be sure to include this information in the invite!) Guests will have to choose gifts based solely on the packaging. This encourages creative wrapping jobs and assures big surprises at the end of the game. Need wrapping inspiration? Explore our ideas for homemade food gift packaging.