top of page

Your 3 Favorite Holiday Events: White Elephant, Secret Santa and Yankee Swap

Updated: Feb 6

As the holidays draw near and our calendars fill with parties and family gatherings, we would be remiss if we didn’t take time to think about what brings us all together this time of year. The reason we all come together is so we can walk away with the most sought-after prize of the evening. That’s right – taking home the number one prize in the gift swap game of choice can be a highlight of any holiday season.

There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to festive holiday games. However, a well-known secret to the success of Christmas gift swaps is gathering a fun group of people. The rules of each gift exchange may vary, but the constant of all memorable Santa-related shenanigans is a group of friends with a good sense of humor.

What is a Christmas Gift Exchange?

A Christmas gift exchange comes in several forms. It can simply mean exchanging gifts with another person, or it can refer to a few games that are popular during the holidays. A gift exchange can range from a simple game to a highly organized, rule-laden exchange event. But often, you will engage in the age-old tradition of a Christmas exchange with rules that promote chaos and keep the hilarity high until, after numerous exchanges and steals, someone goes home with the most sought-after gift.

3 Popular Christmastime Gift Exchanges

  1. White Elephant

  2. Secret Santa

  3. Yankee Swap

Each popular exchange has its own history and rules. Depending on the size of your group, one exchange may be easier to organize than another. Just be aware – though the game may be played relatively the same anywhere you go, there are some rules that may change from household to household and place to place. The festive holiday guest always willingly follows “house rules.”

What is a White Elephant Gift Exchange?

Puppy Laying on White Background

Any item that is useless or troublesome to its owner, often expensive to maintain, or difficult to dispose of, is called a white elephant. For a white elephant gift exchange, the organizer can select a price limit that helps each player narrow down what type of gift to bring. The organizer can also require the gift to be an item

from the player’s home, resulting in gifts of all kinds and varying degrees of “trouble” for each new owner!

Rules for White Elephant

  • All gifts are placed in one common area.

  • A number is assigned to each player.

  • Players choose gifts in order, starting with Player 1.

  • Player 1 chooses a gift, making sure everyone can see what was chosen.

  • Player 2 can “steal” Player 1’s gift or pick a new gift from the pile.

  • If Player 2 “steals” Player 1’s gift, Player 1 picks a new gift from the pile.

  • This continues until all players have had the opportunity to choose a gift, have it stolen, pick another gift, etc.

  • After all players have chosen a gift and all “stealing” is finalized, Player 1 gets their pick of all available gifts.

What is a Secret Santa?

Bath Bombs and Jars of Bath Scrub on Display

Secret Santa is an organized gift exchange where each person that is participating buys a gift for a specific person. This works well with large work groups or families looking to make the holidays more affordable by having everyone give only one gift. Some people refer to the exchange as “Kris Kringle,” and because it is simple to play, this can be an easy alternative to a White Elephant exchange.

Rules for Secret Santa

  • The organizer privately informs each participant whom they are buying for.

  • Each participant brings their gift to the holiday party or meetup.

  • One at a time, each participant opens their gift and attempts to guess who their Secret Santa is.

Because it is such a straightforward game, the organizer may want to add their own touches to make the game more interesting or competitive. For example, in a workgroup, each Secret Santa can send clues about their identity to their assigned person to see if they can guess who they are before the party. Or, for a family party, the organizer can ask each participant to bring their Secret Santa gift and a duplicate to donate to a local charity organization.

What is a Yankee Swap?

Yankee Swap is more popular in New England and has its origins in a heartwarming tale that involves Americans, called “Yankees” by immigrants in New York City, swapping trivial gifts in the marketplace. The point of a Yankee Swap is to buy something fun but not completely useless, which is what makes it different from a White Elephant exchange. For example, a vintage salt and pepper shaker set is fun but can be used daily. The organizer of a Yankee Swap might also declare a theme for all participants to follow.

Yankee Swap Themes

  • Sewing Group: antique supplies, thimbles, or patterns

  • Bowling Group: antique pins, bowling balls, or figurines

  • Card-playing Group: vintage card games, collectors’ decks, or card-related decor

Rules for Yankee Swap

  • Each person brings a gift for the exchange and draws a number.

  • Person 1 picks a gift and shows everyone their selection.

  • Person 2 can “steal” the first person’s gift or choose a new gift from the pile.

  • This continues with each person in numerical order until all gifts are chosen and “stealing” is completed.

  • At the very end, Person 1 gets to choose from all available gifts.

Much like a White Elephant gift exchange, there are a variety of rules that can be added to make the game more interesting and even a bit rowdier. Many of us were raised on different “house rules” versions of these games. So, follow the lead of the organizer to keep the game on track and have a great time opening fun and useful gifts.

How Do You Find the Perfect Gift for a Christmas Gift Exchange?

No matter the theme of your upcoming holiday gift exchange, the perfect gift for any occasion can be found at your local antique mall. With miles of aisles and vendor booths of all shapes and sizes, the antique mall has treasures to be discovered for every possible theme – or no theme at all!

Ever since the Magi brought presents to baby Jesus, people have been obsessed with gift-giving. Buying the right gift, in the right size, for the right occasion is a challenge throughout the year. And during the holidays, finding the perfect items to create a frenzy at the annual Christmas gift exchange is the top priority for those who have been invited to gift swap festivities. Whether you are invited to a White Elephant, Secret Santa, or Yankee Swap, you will find the most sought-after gifts you can give waiting for you at your local antique mall.

Portland Rose Festival Jim Beam Bottle
Holiday Oil Warmer

Our blogs occasionally have a link to Amazon, if you purchase that item, we receive a small commission which helps us keep up our blogs. Thanks!

22 views0 comments


bottom of page