White Elephant Gift Exchange Game

If you have ever been to a Christmas gathering, your family and friends may already play one of several variations of this traditional Christmas game.

In short, the White Elephant game often appears at Christmas gatherings. The players are usually close friends and family, and each player will bring a gift to the party, hoping to get the best gift in the end.

For those who don’t know about the White Elephant game (or those who want to learn the game’s proper rules), this article is for you. We’ll also cover the other variations later on.

Rules & Gameplay

To play White Elephant, all players will bring a gift, determine who will go first, and sit in a circle. After the first player opens a gift, the other players take turns deciding between stealing a gift from another player or selecting a present that still has its wrapping. Once all players are content with their gifts, the game ends.


  1. Each player will bring a present that is hidden or in a gift bag. Keeping the gifts a secret is a big part of the game. Make sure that the gift has no name or other sign of who the gift is from.
  2. Players will decide what order the game will proceed in. Players can determine the first player by drawing numbers or names. The host of the party can also choose who is going first to bring unity to the party. 
  3. All the players will then position themselves in a circle around all the gifts available to grab throughout the game. Once all of your players know the order in which they are playing, you can arrange for everyone to sit in the order they will take their turns.
  4. The player who is going first will pick one gift out of the gift pile and open it. All players will want to pay close attention to what the gift is.
  5. After the first player opens their present, the next contestant will select a present from the pile, or they can choose to steal the present the first player opens. Once the second player has selected a gift from the previous player or the gift pile, the next player will repeat that same process. This will go on until everyone gets a chance to receive a gift.
  6. After all of your players have taken their turn, the game will go back to the first player. The first player will get to decide if they want to keep their gift or if they want to swap their gift with someone else. If a player has lost their gift during the first part of the game, they will get the chance to steal another player’s gift. Once all players agree not to steal or swap any more presents, the game will end.

Other Important Rules

Once a player steals a gift during a turn, there can be no more gift-stealing until the next turn.

Players can choose to swap gifts during a turn instead of stealing one. However, players will want to limit how many times people can exchange gifts during a turn. If there is no limit, the game might end up going on for way too long.

Gameplay FAQ’s

As with many party games, people may have a few questions about the game’s specific details.

Is White Elephant Good for Kids?

You can make a White Elephant exchange game with any theme that you would like. Often, the host of the party will pick out a specific theme that they would like their guests to stick to when picking out gifts.

The theme for gifts is entirely up to the hosts’ imagination, and if the theme has adult undertones, then that specific party may not be suitable for kids. However, you can select a family-friendly theme to allow kids of all ages to join in on the Christmas fun.

When Does the Game End?

The game ends when every player no longer wants to swap or steal a gift. If there are no limits to how many gifts you can trade in a turn, the game may go on for some time, so be sure to set boundaries where you or the host deem appropriate.

Hosting the Best White Elephant Party

To host the best White Elephant party, we are going to provide some tips and tricks to help you ensure that everyone who plays has a good time.

Find a Cool Theme

Have a cool theme for your party-goers to stick to when they are shopping for a gift to contribute to the game.

Each game can have a different theme, and switching up the themes is an excellent way to allow friends and family of all ages and interests to play at least once.

Set a Minimum Amount of Players

While you can play the White Elephant exchange game with a large group of people, the contest can be awkward when you only have two or three people who will play.

Set a minimum that works for you and your friends and relatives. If a few people work for you, then that is fine as well!

Set a Budget

To avoid having anyone feel left out of a White Elephant game, set a budget that will apply to everyone.

Not everyone can afford to buy each other extravagant gifts. Read your friends and family well and make a budget that you know everyone can afford. As the host, you can also buy a few extra gifts to cover someone if they don’t have the time or money to contribute.

White Elephant, Dirty Santa, or Yankee Swap?

While White Elephant is the main version of the typical Christmas gift exchange game, there are multiple variations of the game that groups will take and adjust to fit their needs.

We know some variations of the game such as Dirty Santa and Yankee Swap.

They are pretty similar, but here are a few key differences between the three:

  • White Elephant focuses on the concept of having fun while giving gifts.
  • Dirty Santa focuses on the gameplay part of White Elephant and has a more competitive atmosphere.
  • Yankee Swap is very similar to White Elephant, except the gifts usually focus on being functional for everyone.

How to Choose the Best White Elephant Gift?

If you are attending a White Elephant gift exchange party, you may wonder how to choose the best gift to contribute to the game. This list will help you find the gift that everyone will go after.

Be Creative With the Theme

If there is a theme that your host has set for the game, you will want to stick to that theme. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative. For example, if the game’s theme is fruit, you can try to find the most creative way to find a gift that fits the theme.

Get a Funny Gift

No one can resist going after the funniest gift in the circle during White Elephant. Try to find a funny or odd (but appropriate) gift that will make everyone laugh. By sticking out, your gift will become more desirable.

Final Words

By knowing the rules of White Elephant, you can elevate the game and adjust it to fit in with your family and friends. Pick a theme, set a budget, and allow your players to be creative and have fun.