The White Elephant Gift Exchange Party

Invitation to a White Elephant Party

What is a White Elephant Party you may ask? Well do you have a group of friends all wishing to exchange gifts but aren’t interested in the usual secret santa? If you do then this gift exchange is for you!  If this game seems familiar to you it may be because it also goes by a few other names such as; Yankee Swap, Black Santa, Chinese Gift Exchange, Dirty Santa, Naughty Santa, Thieving Secret Santa, Parcel Pass, Christmas Swap Thing, Greedfest, or Pollyanna.

There are two different ways to play, the naughty way or the nice way…

In both versions gifts are typically inexpensive, humorous items or used items from home. The term white elephant refers to a gift whose maintenance costs exceed its usefulness.

Naughty White Elephant Exchange:

To keep with the spirit of the White Elephant the gifts are often gifts the participants have received previously as presents but do not want.  If you are going to play the naughty way you will find used items you don’t want from around your home or something that may embarrass someone to receive.

Nice White Elephant Exchange: 

In the nice version of the White Elephant Exchange you actually may go out and purchase an item or give something that you don’t have a use for from around the house, but the gift is actually something someone would appreciate and you usually set a cap of $10-$15 dollars.


  • Each participant supplies one wrapped gift. Participants determine in what order they will take turns choosing gifts drawing from a hat of numbers, alphabetically, by age, etc.
  • The first person opens a wrapped gift and the turn ends. The second person gets the choice of “stealing” any unwrapped item or choosing a wrapped one from the gift pile.
  • If the second person steals the gift from the first person, then the first person can choose a replacement gift from the pile of wrapped presents.
  • No immediate steal-backs are allowed.
  • Stealing back a gift that was once in your possession must wait at least one-turn removed before stealing it back.
  • On the third person’s turn they can then steal an unwrapped item or choose a wrapped one.
  • If an item is stolen from you, you can steal a gift from someone else, or open an unwrapped one.
  • A gift cannot be stolen more than once in a turn.
  • Turns continue until everyone has a gift.
  • At the end of the last turn, the first person, who had no choice of stealing at the beginning, can choose to “exchange” any gift with any player.

Here are some extra variations of the game: 

Since the process of stealing can prolong the game and can give distinct disadvantages to certain places in the order of play, different variations have arisen.

  • To speed up gameplay, there is often a certain number of steals allowed per turn. For example, after the third gift on a turn is stolen, the fourth player may be required to open a wrapped gift. An exception may be made for the last round (after all gifts have been opened), allowing an infinite amount of swapping (see below).
  • A certain gift may be particularly sought after, prolonging the game (almost indefinitely). To address this, a common variation states that after a gift has been stolen a certain number of times (usually 3) it is “frozen” (or “dead” or “safe”) and cannot be stolen again.
  • Another popular variant no longer places a limit on the number of times a gift can be stolen, but instead limits the number of times a person can be stolen from. Once the person reaches that number, the last gift they choose is automatically frozen to them. The frozen person can no longer be stolen from or steal from anyone else. The gifts themselves can circulate as often as possible unless frozen to someone, however a person can not steal back the gift that was just taken from them.
  • Since the first player is the only one without the option of seeing any unwrapped gifts, some variations allow this player to take one final turn after all gifts have been opened and swap with any “unfrozen” gift.
  • One variation (usually only for games with serious gifts) is to mark gifts as suitable for males, females, or to both, to guide people into selecting a more appropriate gift.
  • Another variation is to leave all the gifts wrapped until the end. Stealing is still allowed (up to a pre-defined number of times) but must be done while the gifts are still wrapped. In this case, there is no stealing after the wrapping comes off.
  • One variation states that the gifts must not be purchased but, rather, the items must be things found lying around the house or the garage – things that are valuable (not garbage) but for which the owner has found no use.
  • Another option is to keep the gifts anonymous. In this case, standard-sized boxes may be used, or gifts may at least be wrapped inside-out (the white portion of wrapping paper showing) in order to help maintain the anonymity.


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