Bring on the Fun with These Gift Exchange Ideas for Family and Friends

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The big day is right around the corner, and you know what that means. It's time to start decking the halls (and the tree!), mailing out the holiday cards and, yep, digging into that most challenging Christmas task of all: finding the ideal gift. Or gifts, to be precise. Doesn't it seem every year like your Christmas list just keeps getting longer? Friends, extended family, neighbors, co-workers—you've got to find perfect presents for them all, which can be a real budget-buster. This season, why not try a gift exchange idea instead? In addition to often saving money, energy, and time, this holly jolly tradition makes the actual act of giving and receiving a lot more festive.

Take the gift exchange ideas we've gathered up here. They're all about as easy to accomplish as simply stashing goodies under the evergreen, but because most involve some kind of game element, these exchanges up the enjoyment for all involved. From the White Elephant exchange, a holiday favorite that adds a bit of a competitive flavor to the proceedings, to the Cobweb exchange, an oldie-but-goodie children's game dating back to Victorian days, these are all sure to add some zest and zing to the Christmas gift-giving ritual.

redheaded woman smiling when sitting on a couch opening a christmas present in a silver box there is a woman in a sweater beside her smiling she is wearing pink and red antlers on top of her head
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Secret Santa

Stressed about what to buy every member of your huge family, or each co-worker in your office? Take the pressure off with Secret Santa, a game that cuts the frenzied, over-the-top gift-giving down to a thoughtful offering for one person. The idea is for the group to set a price limit and then toss names into a bowl, with everyone drawing one name—the name of the person they'll be buying for this year. To keep the fun going, no one should reveal the name they've picked until the holiday gathering, when they give the person their present. It's all easy-peasy and much more reasonable than trying to figure out what to get the whole crew for Christmas. Plus, if you're stuck for a Secret Santa gift idea, Target has a great selection of perfect presents!

tin of iced sugar christmas tree cookies in green white and gold
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Cookie Swap

Santa Claus isn't the only one who loves cookies at Christmas, and this idea lets everyone enjoy a smorgasbord of scrumptious styles without spending a fortune at the bakery. Before your annual seasonal soiree, ask your party attendees to bake up a big batch of their favorite cookies and bring the delicacies with them. Tell them everything from sugar to gingerbread, plus shortbread, lemon creme, snickerdoodles—any kind they want to make—is fair game. The more types the merrier! Then, everyone can nibble and nosh on all the different cookies at the get-together, and even take a sampling of the leftovers home.

Best of the Year

An ideal gift exchange for your gal pals, Best of the Year starts off with a party, just like the Cookie Swap. But instead of baked delights, you and your guests bring one gift that is the "Best of the Year," a product that really wowed you in the previous 12 months. It can be anything, as long as it's relatively inexpensive, like beautiful nail polish, a particularly good book, or a yummy box of gourmet tea. Stick the presents under the tree and dole them out in no particular order, with everyone receiving one. The really nice thing about this exchange is that it goes a long way toward ensuring the recipient will enjoy what they unwrap, instead of getting stuck with a less useful item they'll toss in a closet and forget.

Regift Exchange

Speaking of Christmas presents you'll never use, this exchange is geared toward getting rid of them. Do you only take showers and were given bubble bath? Or maybe you've received kitchen gadgets and don't cook, or gardening gifts and have an admittedly brown thumb. Just because you can't use it doesn't mean someone else doesn't want that present from last year (or the year before that). Better for both the planet and your wallet than buying new things, this exchange can even have a hilarious theme, like regifting only the weirdest items. Or, the gang can take that one really strange thing (llama-shaped doorstop, we're looking at you) and regift it from person to person year after year.

older woman sitting next to man on couch receiving a christmas gift from a young boy
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White Elephant

This one is a classic for a reason: White Elephant is a sassy, silly way to keep the exchange lively. Once again, gift-givers should agree on a pre-determined limit for spending. Choose a theme if you'd like, such as boozy goodies or DIY presents. At the party, everyone should draw numbers and open one package, in numerical order. Unless, of course, a participant would prefer to steal a gift from someone who already has one. The person who lost their gift unwraps another and the game continues until everyone has a present. Also called Dirty Santa and Yankee Swap, White Elephant is perhaps best played when Christmas cocktails are served.

Cobweb Party

First popularized more than a century ago, this game for children involves tying the end of a skein of yarn to a gift. Unwind the yarn through the house: under rugs, behind bookshelves, around stair railings—just about anywhere you can think of, as long as it doesn't present a tripping hazard. Use a different color of yarn and repeat for each guest. Make it as difficult as you can for the kiddo, so the suspense builds as they follow the trail to their gift. Just make sure to get age-appropriate presents for this clever take on a treasure hunt, whether they're four, six, eight, any age in between, or even older, too.

Musical Gifts

Another game that's great for children, Musical Gifts is similar to musical chairs. This version has the kids sitting in a circle and passing a present around as a Christmas carol plays. When the music stops, the person holding the gift gets to keep it and leave the circle. The revelry continues on until everyone has a gift, which they can then open. If you want to go big this year, you can splurge on pricier presents for the kids, or just stick with nifty stocking stuffers. Whatever they get, they're sure to enjoy it even more thanks to Musical Gifts.

santa bag stuffed full of colorfully wrapped presents in front of a christmas tree
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Grab Bag

Want to keep the gift exchange super simple? Go for the Grab Bag option, which is great for neighbors, or any group that doesn't have the time or inclination to go through an elaborate gift-giving ritual. Set your theme and your price range, and have everyone place a present in a Santa sack (so much more attractive than using something like a garbage bag, eh?). Then it's all about choosing numbers and pulling out gifts in order. Be sure to put on a Christmas movie in the background, or maybe some good ol' country Christmas songs, and light up the tree to ensure everyone is in the appropriate holiday spirit.


Whether you break out the Christmas questions—or do a whole trivia-and-gift theme around something like...wait for it...Star Wars!—this is a game that truly will be fun for the whole family. Begin by electing a moderator (who gets to pick the first present) to ask the questions. Whoever answers correctly gets to select the next present, and so on, until everyone has one and the competition ends. You can keep things extra-entertaining by giving gag gifts, too.

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