White Elephant Rules And Gameplay

When we talked about white elephant gift exchange, we described the history and origin of the term White Elephant and how this tradition has morphed into a favourite Christmas party game. There are endless variations on the rules of this game, but the basic principle is the same. Here we'll provide you with the basics, followed by some ideas you can consider to customize the Gift Exchange to your own event.

Getting Started

When starting to think about how you will organize this game, bear in mind: there is no right or wrong way to play this game! It is so popular, you will probably have one or two guests who have participated in this game somewhere else. If you are reluctant to organize this by yourself, teaming up with someone else is always more fun when leading a game. A partner will have some great ideas, especially when it comes to deciding what theme and type of presents will be included in the White Elephant Gift Exchange. We have some great tips and rules for you!

So now, you've decided on a party date and time. And you've been tasked by your boss, coach, neighbourhood committee, book club or family member to come up with a great Christmas-themed game for the party. This gift-exchange game will take about an hour, depending on the size of the group.

Number of Players: The minimum size for this game to be fun is four people. The maximum is about 20 people - any more than that and the game can go on too long. Of course you can adapt the rules to shorten the game if you have more than 20 people in attendance but ideally 10 - 20 party guests is the ideal number for the hilarity of this game to really take root.

The Goal is Fun: The number one idea to remember about the White Elephant Gift Exchange is that the goal of this game is to entertain your group, not for guests to pride themselves on walking away with the "best" gift. It is just as important for your guests to understand what type of gifts will be exchanged and that the game is about entertaining one another. A sense of humour is definitely a prerequisite when organizing or participating in a White Elephant Gift Exchange!

Gifts:The Exchange requires guests to bring white elephant gifts, usually one per person. These gifts must be wrapped with no present tags and no discernible characteristics visible. Sometimes the organizer will tell guests to wrap gifts in newspaper, Christmas paper or plain brown wrapping paper. The decision is up to you, as long as no one can guess what's inside the package.

It is best to provide guests with a theme for their gift and a price limit. Now we'll all agree that a lot of money gets spent at Christmas and sometimes these extra social gatherings can be a real strain on the wallet at this time of year. Your White Elephant Gift Exchange does not have to be expensive! See our White Elephant Gift Exchange Ideas page for some great tips on choosing a theme with a list of gift ideas that follow.

How to Begin:

As your guests arrive, have them place their gift in a central location. Guests often comment on or try to guess what's in a package, because everyone's purchased a gift according to the same guidelines. This can be a fun part of bringing your guests together who may not know one another well.

As a guest places their gift in the central pile, write their name, or assign them a number, and write this on the piece of paper. Place the paper with their name or number on it in a hat. If you are using a numbered system, give your guest this number too on a piece of paper, so they remember! This will be used to determine the order of gift-choosing once the game begins.

Seat your guests in a circle around the gift pile. People will need to be getting up from their chairs and walking towards other people so make sure you give them plenty of room. You don't want people having to leap over furniture to get their gift, but this has been known to happen!

The Gift Exchange:

Begin by you, as the host, pulling the first name or number out of the hat, who is considered person #1. Person #1 then chooses a gift and unwraps it for all to see. Person #1 then chooses the next name or number in the hat (person #2), and Person #2 can either select a wrapped from the pile or take Person #1's unwrapped gift. If Person #2 takes Person #1's gift, Person #1 then selects an wrapped gift from the pile, opens it for all to see, and chooses the next name or number out of the hat, who is now Person #3. Person #3 then has a bigger choice: they can choose the gift already opened by Person #1 or #2 or choose a wrapped gift from the pile. And so on, until everyone has a gift.

Continue until all the gifts are unwrapped. You will not believe the laughter, competition or deal-making that will happen as gifts are taken from each other, gifts placed discreetly on an owner's lap (because the owner wants to keep it and not have it traded away!), or guests try to list the selling points of a gift they want taken from them because they do not want it.

You are sure to have your guests talking long after the White Elephant Gift Exchange is over. And once your guests leave, they'll have a gift to provide them with fond memories of the time they spent as part of your gift exchange group.