Your Ultimate Guide to Hosting an Unforgettable White Elephant Exchange

Turn your holiday get-together into a party with these easy Christmas game ideas.

A white elephant gift exchange deserves its reputation as a perennial Christmas game favorite. Whether you're gathering with friends, family, or coworkers, a game of white elephant allows partygoers to relax and enjoy some good-natured laughter. Plus, you can see whether or not your bestie's new boyfriend has a good sense of humor. If you haven't played it before, read our simple white elephant rules. If you have played before, try one of our variations for a twist on the traditional white elephant game at your next holiday party.

White Elephant Rules

White elephant is a gift exchange, so each person must bring one wrapped present to the Christmas party. Once everyone is assembled, have each person draw a number. The person with number "one" chooses a present to unwrap. The person with number "two" has a choice: They may choose a new, wrapped present, or they may take the unwrapped present from the first person. If they take the present from the first person, that person chooses another present to unwrap. The person with the number "three" may choose any previously unwrapped present or a new, wrapped one. The game continues until all presents have been unwrapped and everyone has a gift.

Christmas wrapping
wrapped presents artful touches
Kim Cornelison

How many people do you need?

At least four people should play, but a game of white elephant works best with six or more. Realistically, you can play with any amount of people; however, the gift exchange gets more fun and more intense the more people that participate. Beware: The more people that play, the longer the game will last.

Does the game have any limits?

White elephant can go on and on, so it's best to have some sort of limit—a present can only be "stolen" three times, for example, or a person can only have something stolen from them a maximum of three times. Some variations also allow the person who drew the number "one" to be the final person to choose a present after everyone else is finished. The white elephant gift exchange rules and limits are up to you and your party attendees—just make sure to define them all before the game begins.

two women holding drinks

Better Homes & Gardens / Carson Downing

How does someone win a game of white elephant?

White elephant is a game where everyone wins; each person ends up with a present. Plus, the game itself is fun. Whether you end up with a hilarious gag gift or something you might actually use, each person is guaranteed to have a great time. What's a better gift than laughter?

White Elephant Game Variations

  • Put a specific dollar limit on gifts—and make it tricky. For example, each guest has to spend $10.51 exactly.
  • Encourage each guest to bring a handmade gift. Check out our Christmas crafts ideas for inspiration!
  • Have each person find something from their house or closet to give—no spending any money at all.
  • Give every party attendee the same off-beat place that they need to buy gifts, such as a convenience or thrift store.
  • Set a theme for gifts, such as a book or beauty product.
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