Yankee Swap Gift Exchange

Christmas time is getting near and you're trying to plan a gathering or party that will have something fun for your guests to participate in. You might want to consider one of our Christmas Gift Exchange games, including this one known as the Yankee Swap. Whether you're organizing (or participating in) this game, rest assured that the Yankee Swap will have lots of action, that no gift is safe with the person who currently owns it, and lots of laughter, swapping, movement and loudness will be a part of this game. If your crowd is on the quiet side, this gift exchange might not be for you, but if you have an outgoing group, or a group that is fairly comfortable with one another, then the Yankee Swap Christmas Gift Exchange is a great choice!

The Yankee Swap rules are very simple and it requires the organizer to set a theme and price limit. For now all you need to know is that every guest arrives with a gift and every guest leaves with a gift. The Yankee Swap Gift Exchange is good for a group of about 20 people and can be successful with as few as 6. The gifts are anonymous and cleverly wrapped, with no gift tags identifying what the gift might be. The Yankee Swap Gift Exchange takes about an hour and is perfect for a large group of co-workers, to be played with your community group or team, your book club or gardening group, your extended family - any group gathering where it can be financially straining to have to buy a gift for everyone.

History of the Yankee Swap

Thought to have begun in the mid-to-late 1800s, the term Yankee Swap is believed to have originated around the time of the US Civil War, where the Christmas tradition began of swapping prisoners of war on Christmas Day between the Northern Yankees and the Southern Confederate armies. It seems too, that the name Yankee Swap, as opposed to Confederate Swap, seems to allude to the fact that Yankees, or northern Americans around this time, were descendants of British settlers who had a reputation for being resourceful in using whatever they had on hand. Yankees were also known as being parsimonious - meaning they preferred to not spend money - when they had to acquire some goods or a service, they preferred to barter and trade. Even Walt Whitman (1819-1892), America's famous poet and essayist, references a Yankee Swap in his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, describing this tradition as being as American as George Washington.

Early newspapers and archived broadsheets from the mid-to-late-1800s also mention a social craze going on of "swapping parties", particularly in the northeastern United States. These popular social events for both men, women and young adults happened at all times of the year, not just at Christmas. In these origins, guests brought 4 or 5 small, beautifully wrapped bundles, but wrapped to disguise the contents of each gift. At this time, gifts would include soaps, hand-mirrors, jams, tea, a book and sometimes funny yankee swap gifts, depending on the crowd and how well everyone knew each other.

At the start of the game, each guest would describe the contents of their small bundles, without saying exactly what it was, but in a way that enticed the other guests to choose these gifts. The more entertaining and mysterious a description was, the more likely your bundles would get chosen by a number of players. In this early version, the bundles were not opened until the end of the game and all of the swapping that occurred happened with unopened gifts.

The best gifts, once opened, were rewarded with a prize from the host. And if you contributed the worst gift? Early accounts describe the game ending with the provider of the worst gift having to stand up and sing a song, recite a poem or tell a story, and the fear of this happening to you encouraged guests to bring great gifts!

The Game

The goal of the Yankee Swap Christmas Gift Exchange is to have all of your guests leave the party with a Christmas gift they love and to have fun doing so. This swapping game requires that guests not be afraid to challenge each other for the gift they want, and to commit to bringing a gift that is going to be valuable to the largest number of people within the group. This can take some planning and time on the part of each participant. Guests must also be committed to wrapping the gift in such a way that its contents cannot be determined ahead of time. Other than that, as long as your guests are willing to be active participants in this game, a lot of laughter and noise can be guaranteed!

As the organizer or host, there is only a small number of tasks to do ahead of time so you can organize this gift exchange yourself or do it with a partner. Once the game has begun, the organizer has the option to interject at different points in the game by loudly speaking "Yankee Swap!", and / or making a series of pre-set statements to encourage a variety of swapping to take place. Rest assured, the more times you can encourage swapping, the more fun your guests will have.