Dirty Santa Gift Exchange

There are many times during the Christmas season where we participate in celebrations that include parties and gatherings. Some revolve around food and cocktails, others revolve around children and still others are organized amongst people we don't know very well. Some gatherings include extended family members whom we might see only once per year, usually falling during the Christmas season.

Christmas is all about letting people know how much we care about them by giving them some type of gift, large or small. In some cases, however, we don't know these people very well and gift-giving can become awkward, sometimes filling us with trepidation about providing just the right gift. This is where the tradition of gift-giving exchanges really helps solve this problem. Imagine arriving at a Christmas gift event, having had to buy only one gift, you will participate in a game, and you will also leave with a gift. Sounds like fun and so much less pressure than buying something for everyone!

The Dirty Santa Gift Exchange is a game about trickery, about thievery, about being tricky, sometimes even being a Bad Santa! The fun is in trying to get the present you want, from a pile of presents that have been assembled by the group, actually stealing a gift out of someone's lap!

Dirty Santa is a rambunctious and boisterous game, it will get loud, it will get your guests moving and interacting with one another while participating in some intense gift swapping and gift stealing. There is some competition involved, so if you are amongst a group of introverts, this game might not be for you. But if you want to provide your guests with the opportunity to challenge other guests, to participate in trickery, to not be afraid to steal someone else's gift, then read on. Dirty Santa might just be for you!

Dirty Santa is also known as Thieving Santa, Trickster Santa, Tricky Santa or Bad Santa. All of these names invoke the folkloric symbol of The Trickster, a cunning and intelligent being known throughout cultures to bend the rules, to disobey convention, being someone or something who disrupts the acceptable order of things. The Trickster is never malicious, s/he is never wanting to cause harm, but uses cunning, charm, and deceit to cause mischief. The Trickster tries to change all the rules by using his or her smarts and wits, often by pretending to be something other than what s/he appears to be. This element of trickery is involved in every part of the Dirty Santa Gift Exchange.

The trickery is not just about getting the gift that you want. The trickery is also involved in the gift you wrap and the tag that you write. In this sense, Dirty Santa requires some thought and some time on the part of each participant. Each gift is meant to look like something it is not, each gift tag written as a riddle or poem alluding to what it is, but also to what it might not be. Not an easy thing to do for some people, so take this into account as you choose which Gift Exchange game will best suit your group.

Gifts that are purchased by your participants should hold some value because with this game, you want your guests to really want that gift, and sometimes by whatever means possible within the structure and rules of the game. This is not a game for Gag gifts, because really, who wants to steal an 'Ugly Sweater" from someone to get rid of their musical toilet paper roll? No, those items are for another game, not for Dirty Santa. The idea is for guests to purchase something of quality, make their present look really valuable, to wrap their present in a disguise, to address it with clues that add to its value, to make people want to choose that gift, and perhaps to even challenge each other for it.

When we are given a gift that is wrapped, we tend to shake it, squeeze it, turn it over, run our hands over the paper and ribbons, and yes, maybe even sniff it. We all secretly try to guess what is inside before we open it. That is half the fun in receiving a gift. In Dirty Santa, the intention is to throw people off of correctly guessing what is inside the gift, whether that is by adding some noise makers for when a gift is shaken, like a small package of thumb tacks or paper clips, or adding some kind of scent strip to the wrapping - but make sure this is not an offensive smell! This is known as "decoy wrapping", and in a sense you are creating a decoy, leading them to think a gift is something that it is not. You can read more about how to disguise your gift in our Themes and Gift Ideas section of our site!

The element of surprise is a big part of this game, whether it's when a player opens their gift, or when someone suddenly steals that gift. The idea of intrigue, of a gift seeming to be something that is not, is also integral to this game. Purchasing the gift that everyone will want is the number one guideline in choosing to host this gift exchange game amongst your family, friends or co-workers. Read on to find out the rules of The Dirty Santa Gift Exchange.