How to Play the White Elephant Gift Exchange

Posted by Princess Phant on Monday, July 6, 2009

Office white elephant party
Because the white elephant style of gift exchange game is played in so many places, there are lots of different versions of it, with variations on the rules. So what is the standard method for playing the game? Well, I’ve done some research for you (in my role as Party Planner at the palace!) and have come up with the most popular rules of play for white elephant gift exchange parties, for anyone who’s not quite sure how it all works.

So, firstly – and fairly obviously – there are gifts. Usually there will be a theme and/or a price limit, and each player brings one gift accordingly. The gift is wrapped, and all gifts are usually placed anonymously on a table.  A system is set in place to determine the order of play. This can be anything from the alphabetical order of names to each player choosing a folded piece of paper which, when opened, will tell them their number – number one plays first, and so on. And now the fun begins! The first player chooses a gift and opens it. Everyone gets to see it and admire it, and then the second player gets to choose a gift. This time, however, the player can choose to either unwrap another gift from the table, or to “steal” the previous player’s gift from right under their nose!

To make things more interesting and tactical, most versions of the game include a rule where gifts are “frozen” or “dead” after they have been “stolen” twice – which means that if you are the third owner of a gift, no one can take it from you. The game ends when the last wrapped gift is opened. Each player leaves with the gift that they now hold! There are lots of other twists and variations and extra rules, of course, but these are the most common rules of play.

What rules do you use for your White Elephant or Yankee Swap party?

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