One of the best parts of Christmas is opening up an unexpectedly awesome gift from a thoughtful giver.
Even better is watching someone else open up the perfect gift you found for them.
Unfortunately, the gift-giving part of the holidays often contributes a big part of the stress most people feel during the season. It’s not easy trying to find something nice for everyone on the list while fighting the bustling, crazy crowds and keeping the budget from ballooning like Santa on a post-Christmas cookie eating binge.
A lot of families and work colleague save money by doing gift exchanges in which every person buys a gift for just one person, rather than everyone in the whole family. Names are drawn, a budget is set, and gifts are purchased.
It’s budget-friendly, but can become a bit stale. Not anymore!
Without further ado, here are some creative ideas for adding a fun twist to the standard gift exchange…
Alphabet Gift Exchange.
Draw names as usual, then have everyone select a letter of the alphabet and get a gift for their person that starts with that letter. Another twist is to buy the gift from a store that starts with that letter.
Around the World.
Get everyone to pick a different country (preferably not the one in which you live) and buy a gift that fits the country. Participants can choose their own country or draw one at random.
The Gift That Keeps Giving.
What about having everyone purchase a magazine subscription based on the interests of the recipient? Grandpa gets Field & Stream, Grandma gets Quilt Magazine, Aunt Jenny gets Epicurious, and your nephew Nicholas gets Sports Illustrated for Kids.
Choose Your Own Theme.
In a similar vein, your family or officemates can decide on your own theme for the year. Then everyone’s gift needs to fit the theme. For instance, if you choose “red,” all the gifts need to be predominantly red (or feature the comedian Red Skelton, perhaps.) How about these ideas to get you started: Something made in the USA. As Seen on TV. Books. Soft. Shiny. Food. Wood. Old. Childlike. (see what I did there? ;)
This Could Get Ugly.
You may have heard me talk about ugly cookies, but how about drawing names and have everyone buy something “ugly” based on a theme. Ugly sweaters. Ugly salt and upper shakers. Ugly ornaments…
Left or Right.
Designate someone to write a fun story that contains many instances of the words “left” and “right” (but not an equal number of times). Then have everyone buy a gift and have someone wrap each one in the same paper with no names on them. Every one grabs a gift, and as the story is read aloud, the packages are exchanged accordingly each time “left” or “right” is said. At the end of the story, the gift you end up with is yours.
Make a rule that everything has to be handmade. Of course, you could make it (or bake it) yourself, or you can choose to purchase something from a local artisan. Etsy.com is also a great place to find neat handmade treasures from talented folks.
One family told us that they exchanged names and bought an outift (with accessories!) from Goodwill or a thrift store that the recipient would have to wear to their New Year’s Eve party. This prompted a fashion show, and a group picture.
The Weight Is Killing Me.
What about having everyone buy a pound of…something?
This Makes Sense.
Have everyone draw a paper that has one of the five senses written on it: hearing, smell, sight, touch, or taste. Then you have to buy a gift related to that sense.
Another family often does a scavenger hunt gift exchange. Everyone gets someone else’s stocking, and they all go to the shopping mall, tasked with filling the stocking in one hour. No gift cards or jewelry allowed. Of course, no one wants to be seen, so people end up ducking behind other shoppers, running from store to store, sneaking down aisles, etc. The assigned stockings are hidden until Christmas, when they are opened one by one. The laughs shared over the antics and hijinks are usually just as much fun as the gifts themselves.
The Spirit of Christmas.
Everyone brings in a “spirit” that is $20 or less.
Lights, Camera, Action.
Everybody buys a movie for under $20. You can make a rule as to what rating limit is. (I’m guessing you don’t want Grandma Betty unwrapping an NC-17 flick, but you do you.) You can add other rules, such as no Black & White, no Cartoons, no TV shows, etc. The movies get wrapped or gift bagged and one by one, each person draws one movie from the pile.
Good or Gag.
For exchanges in which the gifts aren’t tied to a specific recipient, mix in some gag gifts with real good ones. Each person then picks their present based on packaging alone. Of course, you can modify and adapt any of the standard rules in the popular White Elephant/Yankee Swap tradition.
So there you go; a few ideas for sprucing up your office or family’s next Christmas gift exchange. Do you have any to add? Share yours in the comments!
Mary Jo Stachulski says
Our family has been doing this kind of Christmas exchange for many, many years since spouses, nieces and nephews and grandchildren came on -scene…that’s 50 years ago. Some of my favorites were:
1 All guests at the gathering brought a package of their favorite childhood cookies – wrapped- (or they could bake cookies). When your name was drawn, you could choose one of the cookie packages, then the next person’s name drawn could either choose a new cookie gift or steal one from someone else. Even the really little children got into this exchange!!! :) and it was interesting to recall some of the cookie favorites of the past…and inexpensive!
2 Bring a favorite Music CD…My dad brought Lawrence Welk!
3 One year we did a yard sale item from your home…some family members brought items from their childhood or an item that had been passed down to them over the years…certainly brought back lots of shared memories.
It always seemed the younger youth really got into the game of this…bargaining and making deals with each other! The fun far outweighed the gifts!
Melissa Webster says
At work this year, we are playing Secret Santa with a twist. When each person signed up they completed a survey answering questions that help describe what they were like as a child. Then the secret santa gets the answers along with their target and purchases a present for the “child” version of their colleague. Everyone gets to know eachother a little better and on a different level, we have time to reminisce about toys, and then the toys are donated to Toys for Tots!
For our office gift exchange, we drew names, then purchased and wrapped a toy that we thought that person would have enjoyed when they were a kid. At the party, everyone opened their gift and the giver explained why they chose it. It was surprising to hear how others perceive us, and funny and touching, too as we shared things about our childhoods. At the end of the party, we walked all the new, unwrapped toys to the nearest collection site for Toys for Tots. :-)