What's better than Dirty Santa?
December 7, 2006 12:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a fun way to exchange gifts other than Dirty Santa.

We get together, about 20 of us: my sister, brother, our parents and all our children who are grown) We each buy one gift for $25.00 or less, for the symbolism as much as anything cuz we've all got everything we need and more crap than we have room for. We'd like to find a fun game or activity as a way to pass the gifts out. We could draw numbers out of a hat, but how much fun is that? Every time I've ever taken part in Dirty Santa it seems as if somebody always winds up pissed off or bummed out that they didn't get the gift they wanted, so Dirty Santa is out. (They don't call it "dirty" Santa for nothing.) It's not a day on which we need any more drama than is already inherent, if you get my drift.

What's a fun, innocuous game/activity we could use as a way to distribute the gifts?
posted by wsg to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Secret Santa (every person is assigned to buy one gift for one other person 'in secret'), have somebody dress up as Santa and hand out the gifts.

Everybody gets something they want, there's a ceremony, and people get to laugh at all the embarassing gag gifts.
posted by onalark at 12:45 PM on December 7, 2006

They love this one at work. YMMV. The gifts are in the pile, an one person chooses one. Unwrap it. But every person after that has a choice of either one of the unwrapped gifts or stealing (forced trade) of a gift with someone who has already opened their gifts. Free trade in gifts at the end.

I guess you have to be there, but they find it hilarious. They seem to enjoy oohing and aahing in a corny way over the most desirable gifts.
posted by Listener at 12:59 PM on December 7, 2006

Yankee Gift Swap: You draw the order out of a hat. Person 1 gets to pick any gift out of the pile, and unwraps it. Person 2 gets to pick a gift from the pile, or can choose the unwrapped gift from Person 1, such that Person 1 has to choose a new gift. Repeat for N people.
posted by whatzit at 12:59 PM on December 7, 2006

What is dirty santa? Is this the same thing as a white elephant exchange? (Which, I think, is also the same as yankee swap...)
posted by jdroth at 1:00 PM on December 7, 2006

My brothers and I do a Yankee Swap (.pdf) every year. It's a lot of fun as long as nobody takes it too seriously. One of the best things about it is that you can give a really tacky gift that nobody will want. It adds to the fun when people get stuck with the Sea Monkeys or MR. Potato Head vibrator.

Just don't do what a sales rep did at an office Christmas party: he gave ten scratch tickets as his gift but he signed the backs before he wrapped them so if any of them were winners he was entitled to the prize.

I don't know what a "Dirty Santa" is (hopefully it's not the same as a Dirty Sanchez so apologies if it's another name for a Yankee Swap.
posted by bondcliff at 1:00 PM on December 7, 2006

Just a suggestion for the already mentioned "secret Santa" one....
It's really helpful to have each person write 3 things they would like on their slip with their name on it, that way whoever pulls their name has a head start on the gift buying and if they buy what's on the list, the person getting the gift is usually pretty happy with it - smiles all around, low drama.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:03 PM on December 7, 2006

listener and whatzit, those are the same at Dirty Santa. AKA White Elephant.

I'd go with Secret Santa. The secret aspect makes it more fun to shop for someone, if you can't ask them straight out for a list.
posted by donajo at 1:04 PM on December 7, 2006

Sorry, that link should be to: White Elephant gift exchange
posted by donajo at 1:06 PM on December 7, 2006

Really? That's disappointing. I always understood Dirty Santa to be a Secret Santa where you went out of your way to get a humiliating gift for your chosen recipient. Hence the drama.
posted by whatzit at 1:07 PM on December 7, 2006

My family does both a Secret Santa AND a white elephant exchange. That way, everyone gets something they want AND a gag gift (although we try to get nice gag gifts, like coffee table books, handmade photo frames, small pieces of art, magazine subscriptions to quirky magazines, etc).
posted by muddgirl at 1:08 PM on December 7, 2006

For others who were as confused as I was: white elephant == yankee swap (in New England) == dirty santa == grinch exchange == rob your neighbor == nasty christmas == chinese gift exchange. I'd love to see a dialect survey map for all these names. I've only heard it called white elephant here in Oregon.

Which brings me to another question: why do people get pissed or bummed out? I play this multiple times each year, and the only time I've ever seen a problem is when somebody left the party early and took a highly desirable item. So what causes the problems? That might help us answer your question.
posted by jdroth at 1:10 PM on December 7, 2006

In my gigantic extended family (50 people!) all of the kids get presents and we do "Kris Kringles" i.e. names in a hat. We do silly things like theme presents (I gave my brother a bunch of hats one year because he's quite busy). It's nice.
posted by frecklefaerie at 1:11 PM on December 7, 2006

Response by poster: Dirty Santa = Yankee Swap and Listener's post.

Secret Santa's out cuz we're not going to have an opportunity to draw names beforehand. Keep the ideas coming.
posted by wsg at 1:14 PM on December 7, 2006

We'd like to find a fun game or activity as a way to pass the gifts out. We could draw numbers out of a hat, but how much fun is that?
It seems to me you aren't asking about which version of Yankee Swap to do, you're asking about alternatives for the order people get to unwrap gifts. Instead of a number draw, you could
a. Use each person's day of birth. For instance, if yours is April 15, you're #15. If 2+ people share a day, then oldest goes first.
b. Stand in a circle, gifts in hand, and hot-potato them around the circle until a neutral party turns off the music.

If you ARE looking for swap rules alternatives, I think there' pretty much:
1. Secret Santa: everyone pulls a name from a hat or is assigned one by the coordinator, and gets that person a gift;
2. Yankee Swap version 1: see bondcliff's pdf above, where each person gets only one swap on their turn;
3. Yankee Swap version 2: see whatzit's comment, above, which has a damn lot of swapping.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 1:20 PM on December 7, 2006

In my family we drew keywords and now we have to buy gifts related to that word. Sample words included: shiny, fuzzy, wood, criminal, elephant.
posted by xo at 1:23 PM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

jdroth thanks for that frightening link. Now I understand why when my relative's in-laws do this wretched trash gift exchange thing, I once got a bag containing single serving packs of mustard and ketchup, many of which were dripping. I thought it was just because that woman, the giver, had a prescription drug habit.

At the work gift exchange people get what they seem to think are good gifts, not a nasty exchange, so I guess it's not quite the same thing.
posted by Listener at 1:38 PM on December 7, 2006


For me, Dirty Santa is what is being described above (what with the gift stealing).

However, I understand "White Elephant" to be the type of gift exchange where everyone re-gifts a present they don't want/need to someone else. You basically scour your house for something to give away that you don't care about.

To the OP: I recommend doing a Secret Santa. Keep in mind that you'll still have the drama, so enforce the cost range (include a lower range, too -- on year, I received a package of 3 car air fresheners, when the limit was $30!).

Alternatively, just buy stocking stuffers. They're fun to open and can be silly things like keychain toys (Cranium) or bubbles or something equally juvenile and fun.
posted by parilous at 2:50 PM on December 7, 2006

Could you hide the presents and have treasure maps either with riddles or picture clues? If someone finds somebody elses present the person with the found present has to help the person who found their present till both presents have been found before they can open them.
Or hide them and diret people to them with "warmer, warmer, cooler" etc.
Instead of name tags you could use old photos, if you don't have a photo draw a picture of them (stick fugure on a bicycle for a cyclist etc.).
Use word jumbles instead of just writing the name & make people figure them out. Edward Gorey = Ogdred Weary, that sort of thing.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:51 PM on December 7, 2006

I just read this in a magazine (forget which one) but it seems ideal for a group that you describe as "we've all got everything we need and more crap than we have room for."

Draw names from a hat ala secret santa.

Buy a toy for the person that you think they would have liked as a child (based on their current job or personality) for kids buy them a toy that you think represents a potential career.

Swap, unwrap, laugh and then donate the (unopened) toys to toys for tots.
posted by rosebengal at 3:25 PM on December 7, 2006

Another variation of the Yankee Swap:

1. Have a non-participating person write the names of characters on sticky notes (such as: superheros, cartoon characters, famous people).

2. All wrapped presents go into a pile in the middle.

3. Each person draws a sticky note out of a hat and has someone stick it to their back. Keep it a secret from the person who drew the sticky note.

4. Starting with any person (you can draw names or numbers or just start anywhere and go in a circle), they stand up in the middle and turn around so that everyone else can see the character they are. The person in the middle then has three to five "yes" or "no" questions available to them to try and figure out who they are. "Am I a man?" "Am I living?" blah blah.

5. If the person gets the character name correct, they choose their gift and open it. If not, they sit back down.

6. Next person goes, repeats 4. If they get it right, they can choose any gift that has been opened and replace it with a wrapped gift or choose a wrapped gift themselves and open that.

7. Usually there is a limit to "stealing" an item three times.

8. Last person gets the pick of the litter if they get their question right or they get the last unwrapped gift and the play stops.

It's kinda fun and extends the stealing/giving part because not everyone will guess their character. Although, part of the fun is having fairly easy characters that are in a theme so they have a place to start. Having one person be Scooby-Doo and the next President Nixon may be too frustrating.
posted by cyniczny at 4:26 PM on December 7, 2006

Holding the gifts you brought, sit down in a circle. Have someone not participating (a kid?) read a brief, repetitive book or passage.* Every time you hear word A, pass your gift to the left. Every time you hear word B, pass your gift to the right.

Hilarity is supposed to ensue as you forget which word is which direction, or as you become distracted by the content of the passage. Variation: hold the gifts behind your backs and pass them that way, without looking at them (so you can never tell what/whose you're holding).

*A Christmas/holiday passage would be great. You're better off choosing a kids' book, which will naturally be more repetitive -- but even then, you want to look for a minimum of one key word every other sentence. Oh, and have an adult check beforehand to ensure A != B (choosing "merry" and "Christmas" is not a good idea).
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:41 PM on December 7, 2006

With all my friends and family we do secret santas. To organize or supplement, we use elfster.com. The cool thing about the site is not only do they set everything up for you, but it allows you to ask anonymous questions to people within the group. It gets pretty fun and the questions are pretty ridiculous sometimes. Also, there's a wishlist feature as well.
posted by carpyful at 6:55 AM on December 8, 2006

We do a stocking exchange. everyone buys enough small, inexpensive items for N people. On the party day, the empty stockings are set in a private room. Each giver goes in and puts something(s) in every stocking. The only rules are

a)something from everyone in each stocking
b)no stealing or moving things around while you're stuffing the stockings
c)nothing breakable/smashable/spillable

Over the 15 years we've done this, the prizes have ranged from cheap toys to expensive jewelry with a fair sprinkling of gag gifts every year. For example, for a fish-and-vegetarian with an obsession for redheaded women, one year everyone got him Little Mermaid themed stuff.
posted by buildmyworld at 12:46 PM on December 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

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