Secret Santa is a popular Christmas event where people compete to walk away with the best present. It also goes by Yankee Swap, Dirty Santa and a plethora of other names. The game of White Elephant is played with many different rule sets - some dead simple and others confusingly complex. These are the basic rules:

1. Each player brings one wrapped gift to contribute to a community pool

The gift exchange organizer should provide information about the type of gift people should bring.

2. Players draw numbers to determine the order they go in

Alternatively, someone may pull names from a hat, or the order may be determined by the organizer prior to the event.

3. Players sit in a circle or row where they can see the pile of gifts

To make things easier for you, everyone should sit in the order in which it is their turn.

4. The first player chooses a gift from the stock and opens it

Make sure everyone can see the gift!

5. Subsequent players can choose to take an unwrapped gift from the stock or steal a gift from a previous player. Anyone who has their gift stolen in this way can do the same thing: choose a new gift or steal from someone else.

To keep things moving, there are a few gift exchange limits:

  • A gift can only be stolen once per turn, meaning that players who stole a gift must wait to get it back.
  • After three substitutions, the turn automatically ends (otherwise it can take a long time).
  • See "Popular Variations" below for other possible twists.

6. After all players have had their turn, the first player gets a chance to exchange the gift he or she is holding for another open gift. Anyone whose gift is stolen is allowed to steal from someone else (as long as that person hasn't already been stolen). When someone refuses to steal a gift, the game comes to an end.

Note that for this final "extra" turn, the rule of three trades does not apply. Players can keep trading until someone decides to pat, or until there are no other suitable people to steal from.

Popular variations

While the above rules are as close as possible to the "vanilla" version of the game, there really is no right or wrong way to play. Over the years, many new ideas have been incorporated into the gift exchange game, with the aim of keeping the game moving and/or making it more strategic. Here are some rule changes that many people use:

  • Three swaps and you're out. If you are stolen three times during the game, you are out of the game and cannot be stolen from again.
  • Three swaps and the gift is gone. If a gift is stolen three times, it is out of the game and the person holding it gets to run away with it.
  • No extra turn/no extra trade. Some people don't allow the first player to switch at the end. Or, if they do, the first person may just trade once with no additional trades allowed.

Poem/Story. Instead of following the same rules every turn, players follow the instructions given to them through a Christmas-themed poem or story. One type of White Elephant story tells players to pass their gift left or right until the end, when they get to keep the item they're holding.

Gift Themes. The organizer may require people to bring a gift that matches a particular theme. The most common is a re-gift (ie an unwanted item that people have lying around the house). However, the theme can be anything - ornaments, coffee table books, candy, DIY crafts, etc.

What makes the best gift for a white elephant?

There are many different approaches to buying a White Elephant Gift. As long as you follow the price suggestion ( usually around €20 ) and any "special" instructions from the organiser, you can't really go wrong. That said, here are some features to look for when looking for a gift to bring to your White Elephant Gift Exchange party:

Funny . Funny gifts make the biggest splash at the party, but aren't always the most desirable items to trade.

Strange . Weird artwork and gadgets are also popular in Christmas gift trading and are often highly sought after.

Nice. There's nothing wrong with buying a really nice gift , especially since it has the potential to stir up a lot of competition during the game.

In short, there is room for all kinds of different items in a gift exchange. But if there's one quality that all gifts should have, it's that they should be interesting. Check out for more ideas