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»What is a White Elephant Gift Exchange?

»Creating a Gift Exchange Event

»Managing a Gift Exchange Event

»Creating the GuessList for your Gift Exchange Event

»Participating in a Gift Exchange Event

What is a White Elephant Gift Exchange?
White Elephant is a gift exchange game that is very similar in style to Yankee Swap, although the emphasis is to ‘steal’ gifts rather than swap them.

The game derives its name from the term white elephant as defined by something of dubious or limited value or an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others. Thus, in its basic form the game calls for people to bring “gag” gifts or gifts they received that they have no use for.

In a White Elephant gift exchange each participant brings a wrapped, unmarked gift and places it in a designated area. Guests are given numbers as they arrive, or their names are randomly drawn, and they select gifts in that order — with a twist.

On the first turn, the person assigned with #1 picks out a gift and opens it so all can see what it is. On the second turn, the person assigned with #2 gets the choice of “stealing” #1’s unwrapped gift or choosing a wrapped one from the pile. If #2 steals #1’s gift, then #1 must choose and open a wrapped gift.

As subsequent players take their turns, they either select a new gift or take any already opened gift from any of the other players. Have any player who has a gift taken away either choose a new gift or take an already-opened gift from another player.

The game continues with the following rules:

  • If someone steals your gift, you can steal someone else’s gift or choose and open a wrapped one.

  • Continue until everyone has had a turn for a gift. A turn is ended when an unopened gift has been opened.

  • A gift can only be “stolen” once during a turn. If a gift is taken from someone during one round, she cannot take it back during that same round. She can, however, take it back in a later round if she is in a position to select a gift.

  • A gift cannot be immediately stolen back from the player who just stole it.

  • Once a gift has 3 “owners”, the 3rd owner of a gift gets to keep it – it is retired and can’t be stolen again.

  • The gift exchange ends when the last wrapped gift is chosen and opened.

After the last turn, the person who started (since she didn’t get a chance at the beginning) can put back the gift and “steal” a gift according to the rules. This starts the gift exchange again (following the above rules) and ends when someone chooses or is forced to take the gift given up by the person with #1.

With the SecretSanta.com service, organizing and managing a White Elephant gift exchange is now easier and much more fun. Using SecretSanta.com, a gift exchange manager is able to:

  • Send fun email invitations to agroup of friends, family or coworkers, inviting them to participate in your White Elephant gift exchange.

  • Enter all the participants’ names in a virtual “hat”. The system, using the patent-pending RIDDLE algorithm, randomizes all the names and selects each participant’s number for you.

  • Create a customized White Elephant Gift Exchange page, which enables all participants to post RSVP responses and comments, as well as wish lists.

  • Manage a White Elephant gift exchange year after year, guaranteeing that participants do not get the same number two (or more) years in a row.

Best of all – Its absolutely FREE!


Creating a Gift Exchange Event
Before you can create a gift exchange on SecretSanta.com, you’ll need to register. Registration is fast, easy, and free.

Just click on the Register Now button on the homepage’s navigation menu and enter some basic information about yourself. Be sure to enter a valid email address since you’ll need it to access your gift exchange page(s).

To create a gift exchange, just click on the Create a Gift Exchange Event tab on the top of the homepage. This will take you to the Gift Exchange Event Setup page.

The Gift Exchange Event Setup Page:

  1. Select the type of gift exchange event you would like to plan using the Gift Exchange Type drop-down menu.

  2. Provide a name for your gift exchange event in the Gift Exchange Name box. (i.e. John Doe’s 3rd Annual White Elephant or XYZ Corp.’s 2004 White Elephant).

  3. Set the date and time your gift exchange event will take place.

  4. Provide a description of your gift exchange event in the Gift Exchange Description box. This area should be used to provide participants with any details about the event – e.g. party theme, game rules, etc. This description will be provided on the “Gift Exchange” page.

    TIP: For a little variation in your White Elephant game, why not have all of the gifts tied to a particular theme (i.e. Hawaiian, Musical, Gourmet Foods, Fashion). Adding a theme allows the participants to be more creative with their gift choices.

  5. Provide a location for your gift exchange event. (Will it be around the family Christmas tree or in the lunchroom in the workplace?)

  6. If your gift exchange is an annual event, select the Is Annual option. This option lets SecretSanta.com know that your event is annual and prevents participants from being assigned the same gift recipients they were assigned the year before, and the year before that, and so on.

  7. Create your list of invitees for the event in the Invitee List box. Insert all of the e-mail addresses of the people you would like to invite to your gift exchange event, separated using commas.

    TIP: You can play this gift-swapping game with as few as five or six people and as many as fifty. But keep in mind, the more players, the more time consuming the game becomes. Usually your gift-giving list is already pre-categorized into “family”, “friends”, and “co-workers” so that’s often a good place to start finding participants.

  8. Provide a message for all of the invitees in the Message to Invitees. This message should be fun and inviting as it will be included in the invitation e-mail, requesting people’s participation in your gift exchange event.

  9. You can customize a look for your Gift Exchange Event page by selecting a Theme.

    • To select a theme for your Gift Exchange Event page, click on the More Themes hyperlink. This will take you to a gallery of available themes where you can make a selection. Once you have decided on a theme, click on the Select Theme button.

    • You can preview your customized theme by clicking on the Preview Theme button located at the bottom of the Gift Exchange Setup page.

    • If you decide not to customize a theme, a default theme will be selected for you depending on the gift exchange event type that you select.

When you have completed all of these steps click the Continue button on the bottom right side of the page. This will take you to the Gift Exchange Configuration page.

The Gift Exchange Event Configuration Page:

  1. Rules

    • First set the Gift Price Minimum and the Gift Price Maximum. (i.e. $20.00 - $40.00). This lets all gift exchange participants know how much they can spend on their White Elephant gifts.

      TIP: If participants are purchasing gifts for the game then a spending range should be set. For example, a White Elephant game among family members might involve a higher price range than one that takes place in an office environment. Make sure the gift exchange event’s price range is appropriate to the participants and the game environment.

  2. Create Gift Exchange

    • To create the gift exchange event, just click on the Create Gift Exchange button. Clicking this button will create a Gift Exchange Event page and send out an invitation to all of your invitees. (SEE “PARTICIPATING IN A GIFT EXCHANGE EVENT”)

    • After clicking the Create Gift Exchange button, you will be directed to your My Gift Exchanges page, which will now have a link to the Gift Exchange Event page that was just created.

    • Once the gift exchange event is created successfully, the Gift Exchange Event page will be accessible from your My Gift Exchanges page. (See “MANAGING and MONITORING A GIFT EXCHANGE EVENT”)

Congratulations, you have just created a SecretSanta.com Gift Exchange Event!

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Managing a Gift Exchange Event
Gift Exchange Event management can only be done by the person who created the gift exchange (gift exchange administrator).

As a registered member of SecretSanta.com, all of your gift exchange events are listed in your My Gift Exchanges page. This page is accessible by clicking on the My Gift Exchanges tab on the top of the homepage.

My Gift Exchanges Page:

  1. When you log in, you will automatically be brought to your My Gift Exchanges page. The My Gift Exchanges page will include all of the following information:

    • User profile information – all of your registration information, which can be edited by clicking on the Update My Profile button.

    • Current gift exchange event information – listing all of your gift exchange events for the current year (whether you are an administrator or participant).

    • Previous gift exchange event information – listing all of your gift exchange events for previous years (whether you were an administrator or a participant).

To manage or view any one of the current gift exchange events, click on the Gift Exchange name in the Current Gift Exchanges section. This will take you to the Gift Exchange Event page.

Gift Exchange Event Page:

  1. As an administrator, you will be allowed to modify general gift exchange information (e.g. name, description, time, location, price range, etc.) and control the assignment of numbers to event participants. (SEE “CREATE A GUESSSLIST FOR YOUR GIFT EXCHANGE EVENT”)

  2. RSVP Status: Administrators can view the status of invitee responses in the RSVP Status section of the Gift Exchange Event page. It is important that you periodically view the status of invitee responses so you can keep track of who is participating and who may need an event reminder.

  3. Adding/Removing Users: Administrators can add other invitees using the Add Invitees area. Just provide the e-mail address of the person you would like to add as an invitee to your gift exchange event. Once done, just click on the Add Invitee button. Administrators can also remove invitees using the Remove Invitees area. Just use the drop-down list to select one of the existing invitees. Once done, just click on the Remove Invitee button. Once a GuessList is created, administrators will no longer be able to add/remove invitees.

Creating the GuessList for your Gift Exchange Event
Once everyone’s response (RSVP Status) is finalized, you can create a GuessList for your gift exchange event.

The creation of a GuessList is the secret assignment of a number to each participant, which can only be done by gift exchange event administrators.

You are now ready to create your GuessList.

  1. Click the Create GuessList button to create the GuessList. Creating the GuessList will randomly assign each participant a number.

  2. An email notification will be automatically sent to all participants telling them what their assigned number is. (SEE “PARTICIPATING IN A GIFT EXCHANGE EVENT”)

  3. Once the GuessList is created, you will receive a GuessList Creation Confirmation page.

Let the fun Begin!


Participating in a Gift Exchange Event
As a participant in a SecretSanta.com gift exchange event you will receive two email notifications: one inviting you to participate in the gift exchange event and one to let you know what your number is.

Invitation Email:

The invitation notification email lets you know you have been invited to join in a gift exchange event and who invited you. Also included is a brief message from the organizer/administrator of the event.

To view more detail about the gift exchange event and to reply to the invitation you just click on the Go to the Exchange button at the bottom of the email. This will take you to the Gift Exchange Event page.

Gift Exchange Event Page:

As a participant (non-administrator) the Gift Exchange Event page includes the following:

  1. Event information: All the event information (type of gift exchange, time, date, location, price range, etc.) is listed on this page.

  2. Participants list: The RSVP Status area lets you view who is participating, who is not and who is undecided. You can also read any comments left by participants along with their replies.

  3. RSVP: Reply to the invite by clicking the yes or no radio-button in the RSVP section.

  4. Comments: The Add a Comment box in the RSVP section allows you to send along any fun, interesting or informative comments with your RSVP response.

  5. Wish List: The Gift Exchange Event page allows you to enter your gift wish list, which can be viewed by other participants.

    TIP: If participants are purchasing gifts for the game then submitting wish lists, while eliminating some of the surprise elements of the game, is a great way to make sure all the participants receive a gift they will enjoy as well as assisting the White Elephant participants in the gift buying process.

Number AssignmentEmail:

The number assignment email notification assigns you a number for the White Elephant gift exchange. This number designates when your turn will come. For example, if you are assigned number 3, you will be the third person to take a turn in the game.

Included in this email is a link to the Gift Exchange Event page (Just click the Go to the Gift Exchange button at the bottom of the email).

Before you start planning a White Elephant Gift Exchange Event of your own, you may want to consider these factors:

Guidelines:Make sure the rules are clear to everyone before starting the exchange.

You can create variations of the game by adjusting the number of times a gift can be stolen within one turn or a whole game, or how many “owners” a gift can have before it is retired. Some limits must be set though, to avoid a chaotic and overly lengthy game.

The Gifts:It is important to set up ahead of time the type of gifts that will be involved in the game.

If your game will consist of “white elephant” gifts (as per the definition) they should still be in good condition, appropriate to your group and above all, fun. In the event this game becomes a tradition, you will see some gifts return to the swap year after year in hilarious, desperate efforts to get rid of them.

Remember that what makes an appropriate gift is different from group to group and from setting to setting so make sure all participants are aware of your definition of good taste (or bad taste if you so desire).

Above all you want to have a good mix of gifts – some desirable, some in the “undesirable” or gag gift category. Part of the fun is watching players try to conceal their “good” gifts or encourage players to take their “bad” gifts.

Each gift should be attractively wrapped with no nametag. There’s no fun in getting a gift you can’t unwrap (cheap gift bags are frowned upon).

Secrecy:It is important that the gifts be placed in an area where few people can see guests dropping off gifts. All efforts should be made to hide who brought which gift.