Shopping for the perfect gift for your friends, family (and coworkers, if you do an office gift exchange!) can be a challenge, and honestly, sometimes you need some inspiration to get you through your shopping list or make giving gifts easier and more fun. Whether you're celebrating together in person or in different cities and need some mail-friendly options, these festive gift exchange ideas can work for just about any group of people—plus, they ensure that everyone gets a thoughtful (or, at the very least, memorable) gift. But most important, they make sure everyone has a little extra fun in the process.
You really can't go wrong with the classic—and it works in just about any setting, too (the office, friends, family, classrooms, etc.) If you've never done a Secret Santa or Secret Snowflake gift exchange before, it's pretty simple concept: You set a price limit that works for your group, and then each participant draws a recipient's name from a hat without sharing who they got. The name they chose is who they have to buy a gift for. Then, gifters can either reveal their identities as they pass out gifts, or you can have everyone guess who their Secret Santa was. Plus, you can easily do a Secret Santa exchange via the mail if you're celebrating long-distance—you can even reveal your identities over Zoom!
Rather than draw names and shop for specific people, in a Yankee Swap, each person buys one nice, quality gift (that stays at or below the chosen price point) and wraps it, keeping their gift a secret. Come exchange day, everyone draws a number, and each number represents the order in which people get to choose their gifts. The first person will open their chosen gift before the second person chooses, and so on. Recipients can choose to steal one of the open gifts from someone who went before them (those who already opened one would get to open a new one, in this case), or open a new one.
Another classic, in a White Elephant gift exchange, participants follow the same rules as a Yankee Swap, but with one major twist: The gifts are weird. More for a crowd with a sense of humor, the gifts you choose for a White Elephant swap can be just about anything (again, under a set price limit) from things you already own and no longer want to the strangest things you can find at the store—something another person might actually want or be able to use, but weird and unique nonetheless.
Pick a Theme
You can buy gifts for everyone or follow the general rules of a Secret Santa or Yankee Swap if you'd like—it really just depends on who you're exchanging gifts with. The structure is up to you, but the concept is what matters—everyone buys gifts that fit a certain theme. Try to pick a theme that everyone can get behind, or you can even have everyone submit a theme on a piece of paper and have someone draw one out of a hat. This is another great option if you're celebrating in different cities, and might even make mailing your gifts more fun.
For a little friendly competition, set a price point and have everyone buy a gift that they leave unwrapped, so everyone can see what they are. Put the gifts on display with empty cups or jars next to them. Give everyone the same amount of fake money (Monopoly money works great for this!). Have each person go up and show off the gift they bought, asking for bids. The person with the highest bid wins the gift. Do this until all of the gifts have been distributed.
Another competitive option? Host a trivia night with gifts as prizes. Set a price cap, have everyone buy a gift and wrap it, and then get ready for a rousing game of trivia. The person with the most correct answers gets to choose first, the second place winner second, and so on and so forth until everyone has received a gift. If you want, you can also add the option to steal gifts like in a Yankee Swap, but it might get a little too competitive.
Think of this one as musical chairs but for gifts. Have everyone buy a gift under the price limit and wrap it, but from there, you can do this a few different ways. Place wrapped gifts under chairs and have everyone swap chairs until the music stops—then, the present under the chair you're sitting in is the one you get to keep. Or, you could avoid swapping chairs and just pass gifts in a circle until the music stops, and whatever gift ends up in your hands at that point is yours.
A great option for coworkers, have everyone buy a new mug and fill it with small treats and goodies (again, up to a certain price limit.) You can follow the Secret Santa model with each person making up a mug for a specific person in secret, go for a Yankee swap, or even use these in an auction, trivia, or musical gifts swap—how you want to exchange them is up to you, but this way all of the gifts are pretty equal.
Give to Give Back
Another thoughtful option that works just as well for coworkers as it does for friends and family: a charity swap. Rather than buying and wrapping gifts, everyone can draw names and then donate a set amount of money to a charity of their recipient's choice, helping everyone to give back to an organization that means something to them. This is another great option for long-distance festivities, since you don't need to be in the same place to make it happen.
Another option that's not quite as gift-centric, a cookie swap is a great idea, especially in an office setting. Rather than buying gifts, have everyone bake (or buy) and bring in their favorite cookie recipe (keeping any allergies in consideration, of course), then put them all out in a spread. Have everyone bring their own container to take some of each batch home for the holidays. If you're celebrating long distance, you can even consider setting up a mailing system so that everyone sends out a small package of cookies to everyone else on the list.
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