Great Ideas for a Holiday Gift Exchange

No matter which you celebrate, the holidays are always a wonderful time. The delicious food, reunions with family and friends, and giving and receiving presents make December one of our favorite months. If you are hosting a holiday party at your workplace or home, try including gift exchanges in your party activities instead of having people just handing out gifts.

Gift exchanges are a great way to have a little holiday fun. If you decide to do it, be sure that everyone is involved so that no one is left out. Also, enact a firm and fair price limit that everyone must stick to so you can keep it fair.

Ideas for a Holiday Gift Exchange

If you’re looking for fun ideas for a holiday gift exchange, you have come to the right place. Pick one of these options to try among family, friends, co-workers, and even the little ones:

1. Secret Santa

You can’t go wrong with the classic – it works in any setting (family, friends, office, classrooms, etc.), and you’ve probably participated in one at some point. In case you’ve forgotten how this works or if you’ve never done it, here’s how it works: you set a price limit that works for your group, then each participant draws a recipient’s name without sharing with anyone who they got. The name they picked out is who they have to buy a gift for. If you need help deciding what to give that person, here are some gift-giving tips to help you find the perfect gift .

Then, the giver can either reveal their identities as they bring Secret Santa gifts, or you can have everyone guess who their Secret Santa was. If you want to make it fun, encourage employees to leave hints about their identities for their recipients up to the big reveal.

2. White elephant

The element of “stealing” gives this gift exchange game an element of competitiveness and unpredictability. Invite everyone to bring a wrapped gift and put it in a central location. Draw numbers to see who gets to pick on the pile of gifts first. The first person to go chooses a gift, opens it, and shows it to everyone. The person who picked #2 has the option to steal the previous person’s gift or select a new one from the pile. Then, player #3 can steal either gift or choose to unwrap another, and so on. Any player whose gift is stolen gets to pick again. The person who picks the last number gets to be the luckiest – he/she can steal anybody’s gifts! The game continues until everyone has a gift on hand.  

White elephant swap can be just about anything (still under a set price limit) from things you already own and no longer want or some weird or funny items. But you can ask everyone to buy a nice, quality gift instead if you wish.

3. Themed gifts

Choose a theme for your present swap, like gift cards, food, crafts – anything! This will help make everyone’s shopping a little more fun and easier. For instance, you can stick to a color, like something blue, to make everyone buy something only in that color. It could be “anything for the kitchen” if you’re hosting a party for moms or “anything useful” if the group is more of a practical bunch.

You can follow the rules of a Secret Santa or White Elephant – it just depends on who you’re exchanging gifts with. The concept is to have everyone buy gifts that fit a certain theme.  

4. Holiday trivia

If you want another competitive option, you can host a trivia night with gifts as prizes. Set a price cap and have everyone buy a gift and wrap it. Then, let everyone get ready for a rousing game of trivia. The trivia questions can be holiday-themed, about pop culture, about any common interest of the group, or anything under the sun. The person with the most correct answers gets to choose the first gift, the second-place winner second, and so forth until everybody has received a gift. You may also want to add the option to steal gifts like in a white elephant, but it can get a little too competitive. In the end, the moderator or host gets to choose the last gift remaining or steal a gift from somebody else, making it a privilege for all their hard work.

5. Musical gifts

This one is like musical chairs but for gifts. Have everyone buy a gift that can be appreciated by anyone in the group on a set price limit. Ask them to bring it wrapped, and from there, you can do this a few different ways. You can ask them to place wrapped gifts under chairs and have everyone swap chairs until the music stops, then the present under the chair they are sitting in is theirs to keep. Or, you can do it the easier way by simply passing gifts in a circle until the music stops. Whatever gift ends up in their hands at that point is theirs.

6. Gift auction

For this option, you have to designate a price cap and ask everyone to bring in an unwrapped present of their choice. Put the gifts on display with empty jars or cups next to them. Give each participant the same amount of Monopoly money. Then, host an auction where they would bid for the best price for a product, not exceeding the limit. The highest bidder gets the gift. Do this until all gifts have been distributed.

7. Treasure hunt

“X” marks the spot to discover where the gifts are! Use Secret Santa or any gift exchange idea to decide who’s giving a gift to whom, but add a fun twist by adding a treasure hunt! To make this possible, you must collect everybody’s gifts in advance so you can hide in an area inside the house. This can make a memorable holiday for the kids!

8. Scavenger hunt

Alternatively, you can go for a scavenger hunt by having everyone buy small to medium-sized wrapped gifts. Hide the presents at someone’s home. You can limit it to a basement, the backyard, the kitchen, or even the whole house. Once everybody finds the presents, gather everyone in one room and have each open the gift they found for a fun surprise.

9. Cookie swap

This is a fun way to satisfy everybody’s sweet tooth. Have each participant bring a batch of their favorite cookies and arrange them on a table. Provide takeout containers or goodie bags and let each one fill their bag with a few of each type of cookie. The idea is to have each one bake one kind of cookie but leave with a wide variety.

10. Coffee mug swap

This one’s an excellent idea for an inexpensive but useful gift exchange in an office. Nearly everyone uses a coffee mug – whether for coffee, cocoa or tea – so why not make gift-giving simpler by setting mugs as an exchange gift item? Assign each one a random recipient by drawing names from a hat and set a price limit. Let each one think of their recipient and let them fill the mug with edible treats, candies, coffee samplers, hot cocoa packets, tea bags, or many small items their recipient may like. You can also ask them to personalize the mugs  to make everyone feel special.

11. Book swap

This idea works well in a group full of bookworms. Do you have a book on your shelf you’d recommend anyone to read? Bring it in a book exchange. To decide who gets which, you can draw names out of a hat. To make things more special, you can ask everyone to write a note for the recipient explaining why the book is important to the giver. Not only is it a fun and inexpensive way to exchange gifts, but everyone can learn a lot about the other person and discover a new book to read that they may love.

12. Cocktail swap

Give the gift of holiday “spirits” with this gift exchange idea. Have your guests bring gift bags full of ingredients and items they need to make a certain cocktail, then exchange bags. Or, you can choose to exchange different kinds of wines – red, white, or sparkling wines.

Gift Ideas for a Holiday Gift Exchange

A gift exchange is perfect for having some fun during the holidays. When there is a certain level of anonymity in who you are getting a gift from, it takes the pressure off the giver to pick out the perfect gift. Additionally, you can also put a price limit to keep it fair. Here are some gift ideas that you can include in your gift exchange. 

Movie Tickets

If you do not know the person you are gifting too well, a ticket to the latest movie is a safe bet. Movie tickets are usually inexpensive, and you can purchase them online from your local theater in advance. When choosing a date, it is best to get one for the weekend as they will most likely be free. You can also include an extra ticket so that they can invite someone to watch the movie with them. 

Gloves, Mittens, and Cold-Weather Gear

Gifting cold-weather gear is always a good idea for gift exchanges, as the receiver can use them right after they receive it. You can consider getting ear warmers, scarves, or a nice pair of gloves. Hand mittens, hand warmers, and leg warmers also make for excellent gift items. 

Mugs and Cups

Coffee mugs and cups are an extremely easy and affordable present you can give in a gift exchange. Many online stores have the option of personalization, so you can add their image on it or their initials. Additionally, many stores have unique cups and tumblers, which you can buy for a person who likes having attractive mugs for their tea or coffee. 

Planners and Calendars

Planners and calendars make excellent gifts for people who like staying organized. You can consider purchasing undated journals, which gives them the freedom to use them whenever they want without being constrained to wait till the new year. 

If you plan on purchasing a calendar, you can choose a whiteboard calendar that they can hang in their home or office. 


Holiday gift swaps are an excellent way to spice up giving gifts, allowing everyone to be creative while maintaining anonymity. Additionally, it is a perfect option for when you are on a budget, as you are not tempted to overspend on a gift.