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Dirty Santa: How to Play the Tricky Christmas Gift Exchange Game

Check out our How to Play Dirty Santa and discover more inspiration on Celebrations.com

Ask five people how to play Dirty Santa, and you will probably hear five different answers. Here is a rundown of the basic directions for this adult Christmas game. Feel free to change them as the game goes on! No matter how you play this fantastic Christmas party game, this activity will definitely be a hit among friends and family alike!

How to Play Dirty Santa

Everyone playing the game brings a wrapped gift so there is no indication about what is inside. Place the gifts together under the tree or on a table.

The host writes a number on scrap pieces of paper for every gift and places them in a basket, bowl or hat.

Each person draws a number. Getting a higher number is actually better because you will have more opened gifts to choose from.

The person with #1 picks a gift to open from the pile. The person with #2 can choose to open another package or steal the gift from #1. If a gift is stolen, the person who had it then steals from someone else or picks another gift to open.

The game continues like this until everyone takes a turn opening or stealing a gift. The last person to go can steal from anyone in the game or open the remaining gift.

Once a gift is stolen three times, it is retired from the game.

Variations on Dirty Santa Game Play

Instead of playing your favorite Christmas games for adults the same way year after year, why not change up the game a little. These variations can make playing more of a challenge and even let you give back to your community.

Set a price

It is practically a given that some people will spend more money than others when buying a gift. Since the fun is in playing the game, ask everyone to spend about $10 on a decent gift to balance out the quality in the selection.

Choose a theme

Have guests bring a specific type of gift. It could be a tree ornament, a book or a bottle of wine.

Play for charity

Instead of gifts for participants to take home, bring toys, games and books for children. Everyone can still have fun stealing, but at the end of the party donate the gifts to a favorite charity. This is a great alternative for a White Elephant gift exchange. Just bring gently used items from home that your kids no longer play with.

Dirty Santa vs. White Elephant

Dirty Santa

The game is called "dirty" because participants steal gifts from one another trying to end up with the best, or at least not the worst, gift.

White Elephant

This Christmas party game for adults is essentially the same concept as Dirty Santa except the present is often regifted or an inexpensive gag gift.

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Meet our Writer
Jennifer Geddes
Celebrations Writer

Jennifer Kelly Geddes has hosted Christmas cookie swaps, New Year's open houses, Thanksgiving for 22, and all manner of dinner parties in her Manhattan and Ghent, NY homes.

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