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White Elephant Gift Exchange Rules

Get the 411 on the popular white elepant holiday gift exchange game with our helpful guide.

Typically, since a white elephant exchange is played with at least 6 people, it's natural to organize a party around the exchange. We've got a few helpful hints to prepare ahead of time, but in case you're not familiar with a white elephant gift exchange, here's the basic summary of how-to play as well as the game rules.

Make your exchange a holiday party! Check out our simple, festive and totally fun White Elephant Gift Exchange theme party for inspiration!

What is a White Elephant Gift Exchange?

Funny enough, the idea behind a white elephant exchange is more entertainment rather than gifting. A lot of times, gag gifts or gift themes are used to dictate what "gifts" players should contribute. More often than not, gifts are humorous and sometimes, even used items from home.

To do in advance:

1. Prepare slips of paper with a number on them that corresponds to the number of players who have contributed a gift. For added festive flair, match the tags to the decor of your party.

2. Place all gifts on a table or the floor where everyone can see them.  Forming a circle around the gifts is a good way for everyone to view the gifts as they are being opened.

To play the game:

1. Each guest draws a slip of paper with a number on it.

2. The guest with #1 chooses a gift from the pile and opens it up. Other guests will want to pay close attention to the gifts that are being opened in case they get the opportunity to steal that gift later in the game.

3. The guest with #2 is next, and may steal the opened gift from player #1, or select a wrapped gift from the pile. If the #2 player steals the gift from #1, then player #1 must open a new gift.

4. Guest #3 now gets the choice of stealing any unwrapped gift or a wrapped gift from the pile.

The play continues in this manner:

If a gift is stolen from a player,  they can steal an opened gift from another player , or open a wrapped one.

The turn continues until someone chooses to open a wrapped gift. The third time a gift is stolen, it is "frozen." The player who gets it on the third steal gets to keep it.

The gift exchange ends when the last wrapped gift is opened.

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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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