How to throw a White Elephant Party

White Elephant Party Invitation graphic, opt 1Update: We had a homemade eggnog tasting at the party, and it was fun and yummy! I documented How to Make Eggnog here. Also, a few pics from the party are here!

After my big Halloween Parties, my next favorite party to throw is a White Elephant gift exchange party. I do one every year in mid december for our close friends, and if you’ve never done one, they are a lot of fun. A great icebreaker type party if people don’t know each other well, and even more fun with a group of friends who have inside jokes! We do ours prior to the holidays, but this is even better to do in January so everyone can regift the crap they got from Aunt Hortense! … So here’s the deal:

A White Elephant gift exchange, sometimes called Dirty Santa, is where everyone brings a gift of a set dollar amount (extra credit for re-gifts!) and you pick and steal the gifts from one another. Detailed rules & hosting hints are below, as well as an invitation you can feel free to use, numbers ready for printout, and a “Steal Tally” sheet..

The Rules:
-Basically, everyone brings a WRAPPED GIFT, of whatever dollar value you set. $15-20 is a good amount, but you can go higher or lower.
-Gifts can be anything, newly bought or regifts that the person received previously (going over the $ limit is allowed with re-gifts). Fun and silly gifts encouraged, but remind your people that crappy ones aren’t. If in doubt, alcoholic gifts tend to be popular!
-All the wrapped gifts are put out on display so everyone can see them.
-At the beginning of the gift exchange, everyone draws numbers from a bag. This is the order they will choose their gifts in. #1 goes first.
-Whoever gets #1 will also get a chance to steal at the end.
-#1 picks a gift from the table. They are stuck with that gift, unless someone steals it from them, (or they have their chance at the end)
-#2 can either pick a gift from the table, or can steal #1’s gift. If they pick from the table, it moves to #3. If #2 steals from someone, that person then gets the option to either pick from the table or steal.
-Play continues in this manner. Each guest can either pick from the table or steal. And if someone is stolen from, they get the same option.
-Each steal should be recorded in the Steal Tally. Once an item has been stolen 3 times it is LOCKED (ie the 4th person to touch it gets to keep it). Once it is locked it should be noted on the STEAL TALLY.
-You cannot steal from the person who just stole from you! So if Person A steals item from B, then B cannot immediately steal it back. But if C steals it from A, then B can grab it back.
-When the last # comes up, that person can steal or choose the last gift. If they choose the last gift, move to next step. If they steal, then continue the steal process till someone has chosen the last gift.
-The person who had #1 then gets to steal a gift if they wish. If they don’t game is over. If they do, then stealing continues until either all gifts locked or the person who is currently up is happy with their gift.

Host Hints:
-Have an extra gift or two on hand for that couple who only thought they needed one gift, or the slacker who forgot. It makes it more fun if everyone plays. Have extra gift bags for anyone who shows up without their gift wrapped (unlikely, but possible).
-Either print out numbers before hand and cut onto slips of paper, or handwrite on slips of paper – 1 number for each gift.
-You’ll need seating in the gift exchange area for all guests.
-Make sure you set a ‘gift exchange start time’ after the party start time. We know how people are fashionably late– let them know that if their too late, they’ll miss the fun.
– When everyone arrives there should be a place for them to put their gifts. No one should know who brought what.
– Appoint one guest to keep the Steal Tally (provide tally sheet and pen)
– Remind people that stealing is fun and encouraged!

Invitations, Tally Sheets, and Numbers – these are all CC licensed, so feel free to use. Though credit is appreciated!

Invitations (3 options)
White Elephant Party Invitation full White Elephant Party IInvitation graphic, opt 2 White Elephant Party Invitation graphic, opt 1

Steal Tally Sheet and Numbers (up to 36)
Steal Tally: White Elephant Party Steal Sheet Numbers: White Elephant Party - Number printout up to 36

Alternate rules for big groups: I’ve organized these several times for office holiday parties, and with big groups I recommend (for time reasons) reducing the steals to 2 (ie the third person gets the item) and labeling each gift with a number (1-n number of people). Each person must receive the gift with their number (if they chose to not steal), rather than picking a gift. This saves time on the initial gift choosing. Everything else continues as normal.

Hope you have fun with this!

PS: Welcome those from various places, including Tip Junkie :) And if you’re doing a White Elephant, I’d love to see your own tips, comments, and pics – post ’em in the comment section!

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Originally published Nov 2008