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The Much-Maligned Gift Exchange


Welcome back to our three-part series of blog posts for the holidays. If you haven’t read Part One, click here to learn how to plan your Christmas party with ease. 

Part Two: The much-maligned gift exchange

It’s likely your workplace has a gift exchange game at your holiday party. You know it’s coming, so allow me to share my tips and tricks to set it up for success, you can watch it fall apart. 

I have a secret: For many years I was the cruel soul who would run the gift exchange game for my office Christmas Party. It was a painful role that I came back for year after year – it would descend into chaos and I loved it! The game showed peoples character and ambition: who would fight for the bottle of wine, and who would roll over and graciously accept the loofah and body wash.

Change the rules every year to keep things interesting and unpredictable. Don’t police the event – remind people of the rules and let them work it out.

How to play, step-by-step:

  1. Choose a method of grouping people initially. I’ve always used guests’ birthday month but you could use table numbers just as easily.
  2. When the first group is announced they go to the gift table, make their selection and sit down with their gift in front of them for all to see (for advanced games hosts ensure guests keep the gift in its wrapping – it creates mystery and excitement later on).
  3. For the second group and each one thereafter guests can choose a gift from the table or “steal” a gift from a guest seated at their table (for time saving’s sake I recommend you implement the rule that a gift can be stolen only once per round).
  4. If your gift is stolen, you can choose a new gift or steal a gift from another table.
  5. The game is complete when you have gotten through every group and each guest has a gift sitting in front of them, and is ready to unwrap their present and enjoy the rest of the party.
  6. The length of the game changes, depending on how many guests participate. Be prepared for an hour of excitement.

How to run a successful gift-exchange game:

  • Set a price limit and remind everyone attending to bring a gift. Remember that an additional gift will be needed if they bring a partner. It’s best to mention this in the event invitation and send a reminder out the week before the event.
  • Have one or two people who are in charge of the game. They can do announcements and troubleshoot as the event goes on.
  • Make sure you purchase and wrap extra gifts to ensure no one leaves the game empty handed. There are plenty of reasons people might not bring a gift, so it’s best to be prepared for this. Pitch all of the extra gifts on the table and when you see someone sheepishly sitting at their table, personally invite them to play and assure them there are enough gifts for everyone. Any extra gifts on the table can be given away as raffle or door prizes or as prizes for trivia questions.
  • Warn your venue beforehand when you will have your gift exchange and ask if servers can be prepared with empty bus trays to remove wrapping paper from the tables.

Good gifting tips:

For gift exchanges you need to be general but don’t be afraid to infuse humour. Popular items I’ve seen year after year include: bath & body care kits, chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. Coffee mugs,  bottles of wine, gift cards, register items from your closet like teapots, artwork, and picture frames. If you go the re-gifting route… well, we’ll try not to judge, but at least make sure the original giver isn’t at your party.

Stay tuned for the finale to our three-part series: Gifts we can help you out with. Follow our email newsletter and social media accounts to keep up-to-date with us!

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