The Christmas 2018 Gift Swap Guide

It’s finally December, which means there’s probably one or two fated gift swaps looming on the horizon for you. Whether it’s between family, friends, suitemates/roommates, or classmates, gift swaps can be incredibly stressful.

The anxiety can be even worse when you’re the one organizing a swap. Geez, I can just feel the sweat dripping down my back from thinking about it. Between all the bureaucracy and scheming that goes on during a gift swap, there’s definitely lots to be worried about.

With that in mind, I’ve devised to create a 2018 gift swap guide to help alleviate the unwanted, unnecessary stress associated with this Christmas gift-giving staple. Gift swaps might look complicated from the outside, but don’t let them fool you—they’re actually not as daunting as they appear to be. Read ahead, and learn to conquer your fear of gifts swaps—you’ve got this, sweetie!

1. Determine the type of Gift Swap

Believe it or not, there are several different breeds of gift swaps. Some are mostly cordial but have the occasional good-natured steal by your Aunt Susan, while others will have you and your suitemates brawling over who gets the Starbucks gift card, and who gets the fondue pot from the clearance section at Walmart. Choose the type of gift swap wisely, and by that, I mean choose whichever one will have you and whoever you live with still talking to one another at the end of the night. The most common types of gift swaps are:

The Yankee Swap: My personal favorite. Everyone participating brings a wrapped gift anonymously, and they’re all put in a group. Participants draw a number and choose gifts in order. Whenever someone opens the gift they’ve chosen, they have the choice to either keep it or swap it for someone else’s gift. The person who draws number one gets the option to either keep their gift or swap with whoever they want, as they didn’t get the option to swap with anyone after their original turn.

The White Elephant: Aka a Yankee Swap on steroids. Like the Yankee Swap, each participant brings an anonymous wrapped gift to contribute to a common pool. Players draw numbers and choose gifts in that order. The difference is, however, that when a gift is stolen from someone, the person that was stolen from getting the opportunity to steal from someone else! This continues for three turns, or until the stealing stops. The person who gets the opportunity to steal cannot try and take back the gift stolen from them until a whole turn has passed. When all the swapping and stealing is done, the person who drew number one gets the opportunity to either steal or keep the gift they have.

The Secret Santa: The more civil and less unpredictable gift swap option. All participants’ names are placed in a hat. Everyone draws a name from the hat and has to buy a gift for the person they pulled. Usually, there’s a price range set, and you try and get your person something they’ll genuinely enjoy, rather than getting them a gag gift. On a set date, all of the gifts are placed in a common area, having been wrapped and labeled with who the gift is for. After opening all of the gifts, everyone tries to guess who their Secret Santa was.


2. Set a price range

This is a really important step in setting up a gift swap. You don’t want someone going out and buying a pack of paper clips from Target while someone else brings a pair of Beats headphones (look, some people really try and flex during the Christmas swap). To keep everyone on a level playing field, establish a price limit for gifts. Consider everyone’s overall budget and finances when establishing the price range. If you’ve got college students/kids participating, it might be better to go with a $20-$25 price range. On the whole, I recommend a minimum of $20 and a maximum of $50 no matter what, unless you’re looking to do a budget swap, or an incredibly bougie swap.


3. To theme, or not to theme?

Once you’ve determined what sort of swap you want to do with your group and how much you want to spend, it’s time to figure out whether or not you want to establish a theme. Most gift swaps are usually no holds barred, meaning people can bring everything from a pair of Shakespeare themed socks to a nice fuzzy blanket; the choices are endless. However, if you’d prefer to do a themed gift swap, that can always put a fun twist on things. Here are some ideas to get you going:

The ornament swap: My family does this for our Christmas party. Everyone brings an ornament as their gift, so all participants go home with something new to put on their tree! This can really help everyone get in the holiday spirit, while also even the playing field so no one feels like they got a crappy gift. Everyone gets the same thing, though some ornaments are uglier than others.

The for the meme™ swap: All participants bring a “gag” gift, like a glow in the dark snowman figurine, or a Snuggie. At the end of the day, it’s got to be ridiculous, and it’s got to make people laugh. Again, this way, everyone’s going home with something as dumb as a life-size naked troll doll from the 90s—you’re not the only one.

The DIY swap: This is a low-cost option that would be great for college students, or if you have little kids participating. Everyone brings a handmade item, aka anything that wasn’t bought from a store pre-made. There are actually some great Christmas DIY projects out there, so let out your inner Pinterest mom and get a bit crazy with this one.


4. Create a Gift Guide

This tip really applies to just the Secret Santa swap, but you could use it for a Yankee or White Elephant swap if you really wanted to ensure everyone gets a gift they’ll like. For my Secret Santa between me and my suitemates, someone created a spreadsheet for all of us to fill out. The spreadsheet contained questions asking our preferences in various categories, which we all answered when we drew names for the swap. This way, the Secret Santa knows what the person they chose might want for a gift. Questions on the spreadsheet included:

What’s your favorite animal?

What hobbies do you have?

What are your favorite TV shows? Movies?

What are your favorite scents?

What would you absolutely not like to receive as a gift?

This is incredibly helpful in situations where participants might not know the person they chose so well.


Feeling any less stressed out yet? I know I am. Follow these steps, and I assure you that you will be able to crush the 2018 gift swap game. For some gift swap gift ideas, check out Amazon Wish List Deep Dive, where I’ve compiled a collection of both useful and zany gift ideas for this Christmas season.

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