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Official White Elephant Gift Exchange Rules (How To Play + PDF)

Get ready for the holiday hullabaloo known as the White Elephant Gift Exchange, or “Yankee Swap,” “Dirty Santa,” and a gazillion other names. Think of it as Christmas’s version of musical chairs but with presents and a pinch of chaos!

To help you survive this wild ride, we have cooked up a handy, PDF printable White Elephant rule guide. Carry it to your festive gatherings, or just screenshot it on your phone. Because let’s face it, you’ll need all the help you can get! Here’s how to play!


Official Rules for White Elephant

1. Gift Contribution: Each player contributes a wrapped gift to a shared pool. Note: Ensure that the gift is suitable for any participant to receive.

2. Drawing Numbers: Players draw numbers to determine what order they will go in. Note: This adds a sense of fair play and randomness to the order of play.

3. First Player’s Turn: Player one picks a present from the pile and unwraps it. Make it a show – everyone wants to see! Note: The value of the gift can set the tone for the game, making it exciting right from the start.

4. Stealing or Picking New Gifts: Following players can either pick an unwrapped gift from the pile or steal a gift that’s already been unwrapped. If a player is stolen from, that player can pick a new gift or choose to steal from someone else.

5. Gift Stealing Limit: Gifts can be stolen a limited amount of times (typically three) before they become “frozen” and theft-proof. Note: This rule helps to keep the game from becoming too chaotic and prevents any one gift from being passed around indefinitely.

6. End of the Game: The game ends when all gifts have been unwrapped! Note: This helps to ensure that everyone gets a gift and the game doesn’t drag on for too long.

Optional Rules

  • A gift can only be taken once each turn, so players must wait to take back a stolen gift. This prevents immediate retaliation and makes the game more strategic.
  • The turn ends after three swaps to prevent excessively long rounds. This keeps the game moving and ensures that everyone gets a chance to play within a reasonable amount of time.

Popular White Elephant Variations

While the above rules are the go-to for this game, there are many variations that people play that spice this game up even further! Here are just some of the many variations!

Conspiracy Santa: In this version, players can collectively decide to steal a gift from another player if they are able to come to a consensus. It adds a new layer of intrigue and camaraderie to the game.

White Elephant Gift Battle: In this version, once a person’s gift is stolen, they can challenge the thief to a silly duel (like a thumb war, trivia question, etc.) to win the gift back.

The Grinch: In this version, one gift is secretly marked as the “Grinch. The person who opens this gift is out of the game, but they get to steal a gift from someone else before they leave the circle.

Musical Gifts: Similar to musical chairs, gifts are passed around the circle while music plays. When the music stops, the gift you’re holding is the gift you keep.

Left-Right Game: In this variation, everyone sits in a circle and holds their gift. Someone reads a Christmas-themed story or poem which frequently includes the words “left” and “right”. Every time these words are read, participants pass their gift in the corresponding direction. At the end of the story, the gift each participant is holding is the one they keep.

Share Your Variation Below To Get Featured!

The above list is by no means the be-all and end-all of White Elephant variations, as many have their own family or in-house rules that they play.

If you have your own fun version of White Elephant that you and your friends, family, or co-workers play, please share it down below, and we will add it to the list!

Looking for some extra fun activities todo during the festive season? Then be sure to check out our list of Christmas coloring pages, where you will find over 500 free sheets to download and print!

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