White Elephant Gift Exchange Rules

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. Most often, this type of gift exchange takes place at a party with other participants in attendance.

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 Secret Santa Generator powered by Elfster, organizing and managing a White Elephant gift exchange is now easier and much more fun.

Best of all – It’s absolutely FREE!

SecretSanta.com gift exchanges are now powered by the Elfster Secret Santa Generator To start your Gift Exchange, just share a few details with our Secret Santa Generator and our elves will do the rest! Registration is fast, easy, and free. 

To create a White Elephant gift exchange, just click on the Create a Gift Exchange Event tab on the top of the SecretSanta.com homepage. This will take you to the Secret Santa Generator powered by Elfster.

Starting a White Elephant Gift Exchange is Easy:

  • Log into your account, or if you are already in your account, click on Start A Gift Exchange and follow the step-by-step instructions in the Secret Santa Generator wizard.
  • 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).
  • Set the date for your gift exchange event and the date you would like your friends to RSVP.
  • You will be asked a few more questions about your gift exchange, like whether or not you will be participating and how gifts will be exchanged. If gifts will be exchanged at a party, provide a location (Will it be around the family Christmas tree or in the lunchroom in the workplace?)
  • Select a budget for your gifts. Make sure the gift’s suggested price is appropriate to the participants and the game environment. For example, a Secret Santa game among family members might involve a higher price range than one that takes place in an office environment.
  • Provide a description of your gift exchange event in the “Anything else you want to tell everyone?” section. 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.
  • Next, you are ready to invite friends and family. Create your list of invitees for the event using email or by posting a link to share on Facebook or Twitter.
    • 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.
  • You will now be able to access your new gift exchange by clicking the option to view your exchange or by clicking on the Gift Exchanges tab at the top of the screen.
  • In a White Elephant Gift Exchange, names will not be drawn to assign specific matches, so please visit the Privacy & Options tab to check the option: Do not draw names automatically after the sign up date. This will tell our Secret Santa Generator that you do not need names to be drawn to allow the organizer to control the gift assignment numbers.

Woot Woot! You have just created an awesome White Elephant Gift Exchange!

SecretSanta.com gift exchanges are now powered by the Elfster Secret Santa Generator!
As a registered member of Elfster, all of your gift exchange events are listed in your Gift Exchanges page, which is accessible by clicking on the Gift Exchanges tab on the top of your homepage.  Managing a White Elephant gift exchange may only be done by the person who created the gift exchange (gift exchange organizer) or one of their assigned Assistants.

When you log into your account, you will automatically be brought to your homepage. Your Elfster homepage is where you will find the following information:

  • User profile information – all of your registration information, which can be edited by clicking on your Profile image.
  • Current gift exchange event information – listing all of your gift exchange events that are still taking place or have recently ended (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 box shown on your homepage and this will take you to the Gift Exchange Event page.

Managing A White Elephant Gift Exchange Event:

As the organizer of your exchange, you will see options only available to you and any assistants you assign to help you manage your exchange. If you would like to pick an assistant to help you manage your exchange, from your exchange page, click on the word Assistants where you see your own name listed as Organizer. There you can pick from your list of participants in a drop down menu.

These options are shown to Organizers and Assistants as tabs at the top of your gift exchange page as follows:

Activity — view activity related to the exchange, including messages to the group, wishing activity, etc.

Edit — change gift exchange title, description, dates, and gift exchange details.

Invite — add more participants to your gift exchange by email, or post a sign up link to social media pages. You may continue to add invitees until the date of the gift exchange.

Participants — view list of participants and their status in the exchange, with option to Accept for those people who have not done that, as well as the option to set Draw Restrictions in exchanges when names will be drawn. Organizer will also see the option to expand the user information box for any participant to Send Message, Decline, Remove, Send Gift Exchange Link and Assign.

Privacy + Options — set options to protect the privacy of participants by limiting messaging, contact information, birthday alerts to the members of the group, as well as email notifications for exchange related information.

Since names will not be drawn to assign specific matches, please visit the Privacy & Options tab to check the option: Do not draw names automatically after the sign up date. This will allow the organizer to control the gift assignment numbers.

Draw Restrictions — set Draw Restrictions to prevent participants from drawing certain others (i.e., spouses, siblings, etc.) This primarily applies to a Secret Santa style gift exchange in which names will be drawn.

Have Some Secret Santa Fun:

Encourage your group to get into the gifting spirit!

On your gift exchange page, you can get the conversation started when you Share Something With The Group to post a message to the Activity Feed for the gift exchange. All participants can comment on your post and participants will be notified by email to make sure everyone gets the news!

Organizers also have the option to Post A Poll to allow the group to vote on options related to the exchange (cake or cookies for dessert at the party?)

And don’t forget to remind your participants to get wishing and Discover Great Gifts to share ideas for the perfect gift!

Happy Elfing!

SecretSanta.com gift exchanges are now powered by the Elfster Secret Santa Generator! Join a gift exchange — by email invitation or using a link shared by the organizer — to get started with the fun!

Invitation Email: The invitation 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 of the event and details for the gift exchange.

To view more details about the gift exchange event and to reply to the invitation, just click to RSVP. You may then register your Elfster account or log in to an existing account.

Invitation Link:  If an organizer has posted an invitation link on a social media page or by shared in an email they generate, click on the link to see more details about the exchange, RSVP and register or log in to an existing account.

As a registered member of Elfster, you can manage all of your gift exchange events by clicking on the Gift Exchanges tab on the top of your homepage, or create a Wish List to share your wishes with your exchange group.

Gift Exchange Page: As a participant the gift exchange page includes the following:

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

  2. Participants: View who is participating, who is not and who is undecided.

  3. Activity: On this page, you may chat with your group to send along any fun, interesting or informative comments, which may be made anonymously for an added twist, view wishes made by members of the group and see Secret Q&A activity for other participants.

  4. Gallery: Once names have been drawn you can come back here to see thank you messages and gift pictures that have been shared with the group.

Be Sure to Create a Wish List:  Wish Lists can be viewed by other participants in your exchange and is a great way to share gift ideas. Gifts may be added by Wishing for any item found on our Shop pages, copying the URL for an item from any website, or by using the Text option to write in your own wish.

TIP: Submitting wish lists is a great way to make sure all the participants receive a gift they will enjoy as well as assisting the Secret Santas in the gift buying process.

Number Assignment: The organizer of your gift exchange 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.

Before you start planning a White Elephant Gift Exchange 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.

Happy Gifting!