How To Have a White Elephant Gift Exchange (And Ways To Spice It Up)

playing at white elephant party

White elephant gift exchanges are a staple of the holiday season. No matter what type of party you’re hosting, from a family get-together to an office party, a white elephant gift exchange can be exactly what you need to get the laughs flowing and make everyone feel a little more of that holiday cheer. Here’s what you need to know about white elephant gift exchanges, as well as a few unique ways to switch up the process.

Traditional White Elephant

  1. Buy and Wrap Gifts

First, all players need to buy gifts before the party starts. Players should also wrap gifts at home before they bring them to the party. It’s a good idea to set a maximum value on gifts, ideally around $10-$25, so no one feels shortchanged. When everyone arrives at the party, they place the gifts in a pile.

  1. Draw Numbers To Determine the Gift Lineup

Next, draw numbers to see the order of gift choosing. This helps the process go much smoother.

  1. First Player Takes a Gift and Opens It

Whoever’s been chosen to be the first player takes a gift, then opens it. Players may choose gifts on any criteria, but when it comes to the first player, they have to keep the gift. 

  1. Second Player Decides Whether To Open or Steal

The second player is where the game really starts. They can decide whether they want to open one of the unwrapped gifts or whether they want to steal the gift that the first player already opened. If they choose to open the gift, they have to keep it. If they choose to steal the gift, the first player gets to open a new gift. 

  1. Play Continues Until the End

This process continues until all gifts have been opened. The third player decides whether to open a new present or steal one of the previous players’ presents, as does the fourth player, and so on until the end. You can choose to end the game with the final player choosing to either steal or open the last gift, or you can keep going, allowing players to continue to swap nearly endlessly.

Variations on the White Elephant Gift Exchange

While the traditional white elephant game is fun, there are a few variations that may make it even more chaotic and crazy. Here are a few unique variations to consider.

  • Set a Specific Theme

A theme can make the gifts even more wacky and fun. For example, you may decide that the theme is “items that are purple,” “things you can eat,” “vintage gifts,” or anything else.

  • Only Unwrap Presents at the End

Another unique option is to make it so that everyone unwraps the presents at the end. The game is played identically other than this; just skip the step of opening the present. Players have to make their decisions based on assumptions about what the gift may be based on the wrapping.

  • Get Gifts at the Same Place

You can assign everyone to get their gifts at the same place. Maybe it’s a specific thrift store, a specific retail store, or even a swap meet nearby. Everyone may end up with something completely different, even though it’s from exactly the same store. 

  • Label Gifts With the Name of the Giver

Traditionally, white elephant gift exchanges are anonymous; you don’t know who gave you the gift unless they specifically tell you. However, if you label the gifts with the name of the person who gave them, you can make assumptions about what the gift may be depending on the person who gifted it. This can lead to some exciting ice-breaking ways of learning about new people.


A white elephant gift exchange can be a great way to have fun with friends and exchange some small gifts. If you want to learn more about how to connect with the people in your life, feel free to take a look at PeopleFinders. The PeopleFinders blog gives you more information about staying safe and connecting with the people in your life. From gift exchanges to genealogy projects, PeopleFinders is all about making connections.

Image Attribution: chika_milan –

Stay Connected


Latest Articles