How To

Official Rules for your Holiday/Christmas/White Elephant Gift Exchange

Blue raffle tickets
Roll of Blue Raffle Tickets: Keep This Ticket

Every year, the question comes up regarding how to properly do a gift exchange at holiday time.

Whether you call it a DIRTY SANTA, WHITE ELEPHANT, YANKEE SWAP, CHINESE AUCTION or something else, the basic concept is the same: everyone brings a gift, throws it into the pile, and then they get distributed out in some random manner, with stealing gifts from other people allowed to some degree.

Web Watch is here to present the OFFICIAL RULES FOR GIFT EXCHANGING that we’ve perfected over the years at our own shindigs. These rules work for us — they should work for you, too.

  • Get a ROLL OF RAFFLE TICKETS from your local party store.  You should have these in your closet anyway, as you’ll find that these can come in handy under many different circumstances.  Heck, Web Watch has a pile of DRINK COUPONS in assorted colors lying around for when we attend an event that requires you to buy them.  Yeah, it’s cheating – but who wants to pay $10 for a drink all night long?
  • Everyone who brings a present gets a raffle ticket.  Give them their half, and put the other half into a handy basket. 
  • Select the first number from the basket.  Feel free to have an impartial party draw the first number so there can be no claim of favoritism.
  • The person whose number is called first selects a present from the pile and opens it. Feel free to go Vanna White and properly advertise/describe what was opened.  They can now sit down.
  • Hand that person the basket of numbers, and have them draw the next prize picker.  This is where the party really starts…
  • Each person who is called has a choice:  they can steal an already-unwrapped present, or they can go to the pile of yet-to-be-opened gifts. 
    • If they go to the pile, then the round is over and they pick a new number out of the basket for the next person’s turn.
    • If they steal an unwrapped present from someone else, then that person can either go to the pile themselves and end the round OR they can steal a different unwrapped present from another party.  IF they decide to steal an unwrapped present, they cannot steal a present that has already been stolen this round.  (A round ending, of course, when a new gift is grabbed from the pile.)
    • Depending on the size of your shindig, you may want to put a limit on the number of rounds that an individual opened present could be stolen in.  If you have a small number of participants, then let every present be stealable in every round.  If you have, let’s say, 50 participants, you may want to limit the stealability to 3 times — which means that the person who steals a particular item the third time gets to keep it and can be considered out of the game for good.
  • Repeat the above until the final present is unwrapped.  Once this occurs, the game is over and no more stealing is done – what you have in your hands is your to keep.  No — the first person to pick does NOT get last draw; read on for our explanation of why that is.  We do, however, encourage post-game swapping if two people decide to exchange presents on their own. Nothing wrong with that.

Web Watch knows you’re going to ask — why use raffle tickets instead of handing out slips of paper numbered from “1” to whatever number you need?  To put it simply – it’s all about ensuring an element of randomness.  If you hand out pre-ordered numbers, then everyone already knows who is going to go first, second… to last.  In your scenario, the excitement of being able to go last is negated the moment those numbers are passed out and the gift-stealing heirarchy has been established before the event even begins.

Using raffle tickets, every participant gets an equal shot at being called next.  Since nobody knows who is next… or last… the level of excitement at the party stays high throughout the gift exchange process.  Win-Win for everyone involved.

Using raffle tickets also negates the age-old rule question of “whoever gets #1 gets the last pick because they didn’t have a chance to steal from anyone”.  We call BS on this rule when using raffle tickets because everyone has an equal chance of being called first… just like everyone has an equal chance of being called last.  Since nobody gets screwed by being stuck with #1 as soon as that slip of paper is handed out, then nobody has the right to complain.  Raffle tickets keep it fair and equal for all involved.

(note: even though the proper way to run the game is to NOT let the #1 picker choose last — you’ll want to establish this rule before you begin drawing tickets out of the basket. Web Watch has seen many a party break down in arguments over this small rule change introduced at the very end of the event when the #1 person starts complaining that “it’s not the way WE play the game…”.  Screw ’em.  Somebody had to be first and it was a fair random draw – so suck it up.)