White Elephant rules and gameplay

White Elephant Gift Exchange is a Christmas party event where gifts are randomly exchanged, swapped and stolen from eachother. It's an exciting game that's gained popularity throughout recent years and has become everyone's favorite Christmas game at the office and at home.

In order to host or participate in the white elephant gift exchange, you will need to know the rules and understand how to play this game. There are many variations but the basic rules are simple:

1. Everyone Brings A Gift

Each person that signs up to participate in the gift exchange will need to bring a gift of their choosing to the party. The item they bring needs to be well wrapped so that noone could tell what it is. Gifts are places all together in the center of the table/room or the area where the swapping will take place.

2. Playing Order Is Drawn

Before the game can start, we must determine who will go first, and who is to follow. In order to determine the order fairly, numbers must be drawn or randomly assigned to everyone. There will be as many numbers to be drawn as there are participants, so if say there are 10 players, there will be numbers from 1 to 10 to be randomly picked out or given. Once the roder is set, the exchange can commense.

3. First player Kicks Off The Exchange

The person who is assigned #1, gets to pick any gift they want from the pile and open it.

4. Other Players Open/Swap In Order

Next, all the players start opening or swapping gifts in the order that they are assigned. If a gift is stolen, the person that just lost a gift gets to open or steal before the next person in line can continue. For example, if player three decides to steal from player one, now it's time for player one to open or steal again, and not player four.

5. No Immediate Swap Backs

If a white elephant gift that you are holding is stolen from you, you can not immediately steal it back, you must wait for another opportunity to steal it back for yourself. Immediate steaking back is discouraged because there is no way to prevent two players stealing back and forth and stalling the game otherwise.

6. How The Gift Exchange Ends

As a general rules, when all the gifts have been opened the game ends. This is one of the variations, but there are many other variations for wnding the white elephant gift exchange, for example timed swap, first in last out and others. Have a look at variations below:

Rule Variations

Even though the basic rules would cover your party pretty well, it's also worth mentioning other fun variations for the white elephant gift party that your guests may appreciate.

White Elephant Themes

You can have gift theme to which everyone would have to adhere. For example, at our office it's usually not GAG gifts that are brought but wather alcohol. So everyone bring a bottle of something to get you tipsy! Themes can be anything though, from funny gifts, to self made items to retro unwanted appliances, just make sure not to drag grandmas old stove to your place of employment!

White Elephant Story

In this variation, instead of drawing player order, a story is followed that tells players to steal LEFT and RIGHT and ACROSS. Which can get confusing in some settings, but can be useful for some groups. If your group of players are known to hold grudges, it may be a good idea to use a story for stealing, because in this case only the rhyme is to blame when someone takes away the gift you loved opening.

Alternative Endings

The game does not have to end when all the gifts are opened. In alternate versions the swapping and stealing can go on long after all the presents are unwrapped. One of the examples is to allow the first player to do the last swap, since dependingon the gift they opened first, they may not have had a chance to steal from someone if noone stole from them during the game

Another fun and exciting ending is to employ some sort of limiting factor when it comes to wrapping thigns up. A good way to start a little Christmas riot is to set a timer after all the gifts are opened and let it count down to an end. During the countdown everyone will have to swap and steal in order just like during the game, except now the order becomes dynamic. You steal from someone, then they steal from someone else, then that someoen else has to steal again and so on until the time runs out.

Gift Price Limits

Even though it's common sense to spend about 20 - 25 dollars for a Crismtas gift, it is a good idea to include some sensible range in the rules. Having eveyone agree on a number, be it $5 or $25 makes sure there are no misunderstandings. This of course does not apply for DIY or "bring Your Own Garbage" variations.

DIY & "BYOG" (Bring Your Own Garbage)

DIY is pretty self explanatory. For gifted craftsmen and atrists or people with lots of time on their hands, DIY white elephant gift exchange can be a lot of fun. BYOG however can be very interesting. When you host a BYOG whiet elephant party, guests are encouraged to bring unwanted items from home. Now these could be some obscure tools and gadgets, but make sure to make it clear that "Garbage" in this sense does not actually mean garbage, rather it refers to something you do not want to have any more at home.

White Elephant Rules Updates

We intend to update these rules, include more interesting rules and variations for whiet elephant, so be sure to check back again in near future and next year! And don't forget to reach out to us on our contact page if you have a story you'd like to share on how you do your white elephant exchange, or any interesting rules you've been using in your party!

Submit Your Gift Idea

Have a great white elephant gift idea? Submit it via our contact form and we'll add it to our list for everyone to see!


How to host a white elephant party

Including children in the fun Christmas game

Why you should throw a white elephant gift exchange at work