It is not uncommon this time of year for families, friend groups, teams, and even offices to partake in Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchanges. However, it’s also not uncommon for people to use these terms interchangeably, but the guidelines for each of these exchanges are very different.
Generally, during a Secret Santa gift exchange, to help the Secret Santa with gift ideas, when the interested parties sign up to participate, they fill out a questionnaire that asks about their likes, dislikes, if they have any allergies, etc. Then this questionnaire is folded up and placed inside of a hat or a bowl and this is what they use to match Santas with their gift recipients. Once Santas are matched with their gift recipient, the Santas are given a budget to stay within.
Now, depending on the environment that this type of exchange is taking place in, there can be a couple different variations to the Secret Santa exchange. Some offices and teams instruct their Santas to purchase multiple small gifts and leave it for their gift recipient to find so that their gift recipient can try to guess who their Santa is. But in situations where the Santas and gift recipients will only have 1 opportunity to engage with each other such as the family Christmas party, that may not be an option.
During a White Elephant gift exchange, instead of purchasing a gift, you basically gift silly things from your home. Make something humorous out of “trash” or give something sweet and thoughtful out of things you have sitting unused in drawers. The real catch is how these gifts are distributed.
During a White Elephant gift exchange, as the guests come in with their gifts, allow them to choose a number from a hat in random fashion and have the guests put their gifts in a designated area. Then have the guests sit in a circle and the guest with #1 is allowed to choose a gift and open it. Then guest #2 can choose to either steal guest #1’s gift or choose a gift from the pile to open. If guest #2 chooses to steal guest #1’s gift, guest #1 can choose a new gift. Then guest #3 decides if they want to choose to steal from guest #1 or #2 or choose a gift from the pile to open.
There are a handful of additional rules:
- Each gift can only be stolen 1 time during each round.
- A gift cannot be immediately stolen back from someone who just stole it.
- Each gift can only be stolen 3 times. The 3rd owner of the gift becomes the permanent keeper of the gift.
- A round is ended when an unopened gift has been opened.
- Continue until each unopened gift has been opened or each participant has a gift.
While both of these gift exchanges are sure to be a TON of fun and can potentially be a great way to save money, they are VERY different.