White Elephant Party Themes & Ideas

One of the most popular Christmas gift exchange games across the country is the White Elephant Party. There are many variations of White Elephant Party themes and rules across the country.  Other names include Dirty Santa, Yankee Swap, and Recycled Christmas.

How to Host a White Elephant Party

Party Setup:

  • Gift Table. Gifts should all be placed together on a table within easy access of the gathering area, because people will be getting up from their seats to select a gift when it is their turn.
  • Seating. This game works best when seats are arranged in a circle, so everyone can see each other. The gift table should be outside of this circle, but accessible.
  • Order. You will need a way to determine the order of taking turns. Some ideas: have guests write their names on a slip of paper and draw names one at a time as you go, write numbers on index cards, mix them up and have everyone draw a card, or secretly designate one chair to be the start, and just go around the circle from that spot.

Basic Rules:

  1. Each guest brings one wrapped, unlabeled, anonymous gift and places it on the table. 
  2. The first player starts by selecting a gift off the table, opens it, and places it on the floor in front of their feet.
  3. Player two has the option of either choosing a wrapped gift off the table OR  stealing the gift that was just opened.  If they steal the open gift, the player that was robbed gets to go back and pick a new gift to unwrap.
  4. From this point on, each player has the option of either choosing a wrapped gift off the table OR  stealing any opened gift from another player. If someone gets their opened gift stolen, they have the same choice: to either unwrap a new gift, OR  steal any open gift on the floor.
  5. After all the gifts have been distributed, the first player gets an opportunity to trade their gift for anyone else's, and the game ends.

Here is the key info to include in your gift exchange invitation -

  • Time, date, location
  • the theme
  • the required price range for the gift

Game Variations:

  • Some games will set a limit on the number of times a gift can be stolen. Others allow unlimited stealing.
  • Some games allow gifts to come unwrapped, so everyone can see what they're choosing from the beginning.
  • Some games require all the gifts to remain wrapped until everyone has gotten one, so when you steal, you have no idea what you're giving away, or what you're getting!
  • Some games end after everyone has had a turn, some rules say you can keep going around the circle until you get to a player that wants to keep the gift they have and not steal.

Setting a Theme

  • Be VERY clear in your invitation whether participants are to purchase a new gift or bring something "recycled" from home.
  • For new gifts, set a price limit of $5, $10, or $15 depending on your group and theme. Higher price limits should also have a minimum amount mentioned, to prevent too great a disparity in gift values. 
  • Be as broad as "no theme", or as specific as "Music from the 1940's". 

 White Elephant Party Themes


A pound of something--anything--as long as it weighs 16oz

Book/Movie/T-Shirt Exchange

  •  short stories 
  • coffeetable books
  • cookbooks
  • classics
  • "beach reads" 
  • mysteries

The Penny Pincher Party (or Recycled Christmas) 

No shopping allowed!  Bring something from home that you no longer want/need.  Knicknacks, books, baby hamsters...

Holiday Themes

  • Christmas ornaments
  • 12 days of Christmas (see this page for some great ideas!)
  • homemade crafts
  • Potted plants or clippings/starters from your garden

Food themes

  • cookies or other homemade treats
  • frozen dinners (homemade)
  • any kind of food gift including jams, salsas, cheeses, wine, gourmet vinegars, oils, seasonings

More Gift Exchange Themes

  • Decade Party-Bring a gift that was all the rage during the chosen decade
  • Rest and Relaxation-bring gifts that evoke a feeling of R & R
  • As Seen on TV-bring a cheesy gift that has been hawked on tv infomercials. 

But wait...there's more!

  • Our Town –gifts that help you get to know your area, made by local artisans, or are produced locally
  • Movie theme such as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings
  • Hobby supplies (especially good for hobby clubs)
  • Sports theme (can be broad like football or specific like The Lions)
  • Gag gifts

white elephant gift ideas

See the funny gifts others have taken to a Christmas gift exchange

Check out the huge list of Christmas gift ideas

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