The holidays are all about celebrating—and gifts are the medium du jour to show those we love just how much we care about them. But if you’re anything like me, the stress of finding just the right gift for everyone, not to mention trying to keep my budget intact, can get to be too much. Solution? The oh-so-wonderful gift exchange!
our editors swear by this online grocery service—plus, they’re offering 30% off your first order!
Picking an idea for a gift exchange ahead of time reduces these stressors because you can decide on a price point and a theme that everyone agrees on. Plus, using a theme can make the gift exchange more meaningful and representative of the people that make up the group.
The gift exchange ideas below are tested and approved by my family and friends that have tried out these exchanges in their holiday gatherings. Pick one to try with your friends and family this year for a new twist on gifting!
10 Creative Gift Exchange Ideas
1. Wine Exchange
The promise of wine is a great way to get any group of women together, your friends included. Everyone comes to the group gathering with two wrapped bottles of wine—one to gift and one to taste. The two bottles can either be the same or different.
For the tasting, the bags are numbered, and everyone tries to guess each type of wine and also ranks their favorite based on a 1-5 scale. The tasting ends with two winners: one for who brought the best wine, and the other for the person who guesses the most types of wine correctly. The host can then supply a small gift for the winners, such as a candle, mug, frame, or throw blanket. After the tasting, the gift exchange starts with the second bottle. The two winners get to pick a wrapped bottle from the pile first and may be introduced to their new favorite wine!
2. Ornament Exchange
It’s always a treat to get a new, special touch for the tree. Everyone comes to the party with an ornament that represents themselves in some way. The host can pick rules for how to exchange, whether it’s drawing numbers, exchanging based on birthdate closest to and furthest from the event, or playing the left-right Christmas game. After the swap, everyone leaves with a meaningful ornament that represents a friend or family member!
3. Favorite Things Party
I’ve participated in this exchange the past couple of years with a group of friends and it’s GREAT. Everyone brings three of the same $5 item (or whatever price point you choose). If my favorite item is a $5 lip gloss, I would buy three of the same lip glosses and bring them to the party. Everyone at the gathering writes their name down three times on slips of paper and all of the names go into a bowl. Rotating around the room, everyone has a chance to stand up, explain their favorite item, and then draw three names for the recipients of your items. Everyone leaves the party with three new items representing their friends’ favorite things!
4. Experience Exchange
This is a great option for the group that wants to get together but doesn’t want any more stuff (with all the toys on the ground already, the last thing you need is another thing). Everyone picks out an experience gift to fund, whether it’s a dinner date to a favorite restaurant or tickets to a show. The group draws to exchange, and you end up with a fun one-on-one friend date.
5. White Elephant Exchange
Prepare for big-time laughs with this gift exchange that’s all about the gaudiest gifts out there. Everyone brings a wrapped cheap gag gift (my personal favorites are giant elf slippers or the entire box DVD set of Twilight) that you’ll all fight over after drawing numbers. It’s great for those mom friends who need to let off a little steam and you know will bring the most hilarious trinkets.
6. Themed Exchange
Sometimes a White Elephant or Yankee Swap can be too broad while bringing just wine or candles is too specific. A themed exchange is a perfect balance—get your girlfriends together and bring gifts that tap right into your favorite things like self-care or Christmas cheer. When you focus on just the things you love, everyone leaves with something they truly love and will make the season extra special.
7. Cookie Exchange
Whether your friend group is full of culinary geniuses or amateurs, a cookie exchange is a fun way to do a gift exchange differently. Everyone can prepare a different kind of cookie and make enough for everyone in the group. By the end of the night, everyone will be going home with a full plate of Christmas cookies but only having to bake one type! Exchanging edible gifts is a great option for when we’re not looking to go home with any more stuff.
8. Cocktail Swap
Speaking of edible exchanges, another fun option is a themed cocktail night. Have everyone come prepared with a cocktail recipe and all the fixings. Spend the night sampling everyone’s creations and find your new favorite holiday drink!
9. “Secret Santa”
An oldie but a goodie, as they say! Prior to the party, everyone involved will be assigned one person to purchase a gift for. This can be done by physically drawing names, or by using an online platform like Elfster, which will randomly select names for everyone. Guests will show up with their gifts and as they’re being opened, recipients will guess who their gift is from. This makes for a fun mystery game and ensures that everyone buys something for just one friend.
10. Give Back Exchange
Let’s face it: we’re pretty fortunate to have what we have: food, safety, shelter, love. Around the holidays, it’s easy to get caught up in the gift-giving for those we love. But when we know what’s under our own trees at home, all the stuff and great privilege can get overwhelming. There’s no time like the holidays to give back to those who are less fortunate than we are, and there are so many options for how to do that!
You and your friends can collectively pool together funds to support a cause you care about. Another option is adopting a family in need in your area and helping make their Christmas special. Truly, gratitude and generosity are two of the best feelings and giving back will feel like a gift in itself.