Dirty Santa Gift Exchange Game

If you belong to a social club at work or have a large family, finding the perfect gift for someone can be exhausting. That is where the Dirty Santa Gift Exchange Game comes into play.

Much like the White Elephant or Yankee Swap gift exchanges, Dirty Santa puts a fun spin on your holiday tradition. It is popular with workgroups, close friends, or large families to cut back on the number of gifts each person has to purchase.

Everyone in the group will purchase one gift to bring to the game, and Dirty Santa is the bad version because you can steal gifts from one another. If you want to add some excitement to your gift exchange this Christmas season, try the Dirty Santa gift exchange game.


One of the more important steps in the Dirty Santa Gift Exchange game is preparation. Having all of the groundwork set beforehand lets everyone know what to expect, making a smooth process.

Number of Players

Unlike other festive games, Dirty Santa does not limit the number of players who can participate. You can make the gift exchange as small or big as you want. Although, the more players there are, the better the fun is.

Each player must bring one gift for someone. The entire premise of Dirty Santa is to purchase one item rather than numerous ones for multiple people.

Setting a Gift Budget

Let everyone in the group know that they must stick to the budget. It can be as low or high as you want, but each player must agree on the amount to avoid misunderstandings.

Wrapping the Gifts

The gift wrap should be extravagant, outrageous, or enticing but unlabeled. Players should go all out on choosing the way they wrap their gift. From decorative bows to putting the item into multiple-sized boxes, there is no limit on the wrapping.

Order of Play 

Determine the order of play before the gift exchange starts so that everyone is ready to begin. Most Dirty Santa versions will require everyone to pull a number out of a hat and start in order. Other variations will start with one person and move around the room clockwise.

Rules and Gameplay 

The rules of Dirty Santa are simple. If all players follow these guidelines, everyone is sure to have a great time. Players will go one at a time to choose their gift, either unopened or opened, and everyone will get a chance to steal a gift or keep theirs until the game ends.

Gameplay for Dirty Santa

Step 1: Ensure there is a clear space for all the gifts to sit in plain view.

Step 2: Player 1 chooses a gift from the pile. They will open it and show everyone exactly what it is.

Step 3: Player 2 will go next. They must either choose another gift from the pile to open in front of everyone or steal Player 1’s item.

Step 4: If a player’s gift gets stolen, they must choose an unopened gift from the selection, or they can steal someone else’s opened gift. The one set rule is that there are no Immediate Stealbacks. A player cannot steal their original gift back right after it was taken from them.

Step 5: The end of the game can come about a few different ways. Some versions will stop the game after the last unopened gift is selected. Other games may set a timer to help cut down on continuous swapping between players.

You can also decide to end the game after the final gift is gone and that last player has a chance to steal or allow a designated number of steals after the last gift is gone. Another variation allows the first player who started the game to make the final call if they want to keep the item they ended up with or make one last steal.

The critical aspect of the game is letting all the players know exactly when the game will end.

Gameplay FAQs

What is the difference between the Dirty Santa gift exchange and a White Elephant?

With a White Elephant, the focus is on the gift, while a Dirty Santa gift exchange focuses on being ‘dirty’ by stealing them from each other. This atmosphere creates a fun, competitive environment for all involved.

How many times can you steal a gift in the Dirty Santa gift exchange? 

This number will depend on how long you want your game to last. Some hosts will set a limit of two or three steals, while others may keep it higher. Make sure you let everyone know before so they are aware of the restrictions. 

Do you buy gag gifts for the Dirty Santa gift exchange? 

You can make your Dirty Santa gift exchange a gag gift event, but it does not have to follow that theme. Some hosts will insist on casual gifts, while others prefer tasteful items. Hosts should notify players of the recommended gift theme, so there are no embarrassments later on during gameplay.

Hosting the Best Dirty Santa Event

If you have agreed to host a Dirty Santa gift exchange, you should prepare beforehand to ensure the best event possible for your guests. It is not difficult to throw these gift exchange parties, but planning is required for everything to go smoothly.

Tip #1: Set a Firm Budget

This element is vital in ensuring that everyone is aware of the expectations. Reiterate to the participants that they must stick to the preset budget so that gameplay is fair to everyone involved.

Tip #2: Give All Players Enough Time to Prepare

If you are hosting a Dirty Santa gift exchange, give your participants plenty of time to make or shop for the gift they will be bringing for the event. Set a reminder to call or text everyone a few days before to remind them about the event.

Tip #3: Use a Timer During Gameplay

Using a timer to help limit the time spent stealing gifts during gameplay is especially helpful when you have a large group. When the timer ends, the game is over, and there will be no further stealing.

Tip #4: Put Limits on Stealing

Putting a limit on the number of times a player can steal a gift will help to avoid hard feelings or lengthy games that continue for too long. A maximum of two or three times is perfectly acceptable and easy to enforce.

Dirty Santa Variations 

Variation #1: Choose a Theme

Participants love theme parties. You can use a book or movie theme, so each player will have to bring a book or movie as a gift.

Some hosts will choose a food theme, and when the game is complete, everyone shares the treats they received. Other Dirty Santa exchanges may require DIY items only, and players are not allowed to purchase gifts.

Variation #2: No Stealing until All the Gifts Are Opened

To cut down on stealing during the gameplay, some hosts will limit the stealing to one designated time rather than during the entire game.

Choosing the Best Dirty Santa Gift 

When participating in a Dirty Santa Gift Exchange, choosing the best gift is part of the excitement. Follow the guidelines set out by the host for budget or theme and stick to them. If you stray away from the requirements, your gift will not be as popular as one that follows the rules.

Game Summary 

The Dirty Santa Gift Exchange game can put some excitement back into your Christmas holiday event. Try hosting a theme party and see just how much fun everyone will have by following along and exchanging gifts with everyone.