White Elephant Rules

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Maybe you were invited to a White Elephant Gift Exchange party, or maybe you are the one hosting it. Whichever the case, you will have some questions in mind:

  • What are the white elephant rules?
  • How is white elephant game played?
  • What should be the gift price limit?
  • Who gets to start and in what order?

Fear not. Sassy Santa has everything you need to know on this page!

You can also link to or download these rules (shorter & printer friendly).

Basic White Elephant Rules

1. Each player must contribute to the game with a wrapped gift.

You can set the rules for the type of gift everyone brings. It can be decided to use re-gifting items, or gifts that are in a particular price range. The idea is to have everyone contribute with items of similar value.

Sometimes organizers may require participants to bring a gift that fits a certain theme. Often it will be a re-gift or an unwanted item from home. Other times gifts could be books, crafts or DIY items. It has become popular to shop online for White Elephant Gift Ideas. We have gathered some of the best White Elephant Gifts for your enjoyment here.

2. Names will be drawn to determine the order of players.

Numbers can be written on pieces of papers and drawn from a hat/box. Alternatively you could use a mobile app or an online app that randomly assigns numbers to all the participants. You will need to know the order of players to proceed with the game.

3. Everyone must sit in a circle or around the pile of the gift pool.

In order to make the game play out easily, make sure everyone is gathered up around the big pile of gifts. There will be a lot of swapping, choosing, opening and stealing going on, so it’s best that arrangement allows for easy access to each other as well as gifts and following the rules for white elephant.

4. First player must select a gift and open it.

While the gifts are in the middle they are all wrapped, but once a player picks up a gift it must be unwrapped for everyone to see.

5. The following player can pick a new gift or steal an open one.

The next player decides to either pick one gift from unopened pool or steal one opened gift from anyone that has it opened. This is where the fun begins as the player steal most desired gifts from each other while trying to avoid what they guess might be a bad gift in the pile.

6. All players must be aware of the limits:

A gift can be stolen once per turn. If you have your gift stolen from you, you have to wait for your next turn to get it back. You can not steal it right away and must select either unopened present or steal from someone else.

7. Game ends when someone refuses to steal.

In the end, after all players have had their turn, the first player gets a chance to swap the gift he or she is holding for any other opened gift. Anyone who’s gift is stolen may steal from someone else as long as that person hasn’t been stolen from yet. When all gifts have been opened and someone declines to steal a gift, the game will come to an end.


Now you know the basic rules and can play the game, but did you know that there are other fun variations? Here’s how some groups like to play the game:

* Three swaps and you’re out.
If you get a gift stolen from you three times, you will be out of the game and no one can steal from you. The last gift you selected/stole stays with you. Make sure it’s a good one!

* The gift is out after three swaps.
If any present gets stolen three times, it won’t be allowed to be stolen again and who ever was holding it last will get to keep it. So you might want to wait till someone has stolen a gift you want at least twice before you strike! Although timing it might be nearly impossible.

* No last swap. In this variation the first player is not allowed to swap in the end. Thus the game ends when the swapping is complete after the last player has chosen the last gift or declined to steal.

* Following a poem or a story.
In this adaptation players follow a Christmas themed White Elephant Poem or a White Elephant Story which instructs players to pass the gift to the left, to the right or across until the end and everyone get’s to keep the item they ended up with when the poem is over.

Download White Elephant Rules

You can download printer friendly version of these rules below. PDF is handy for quickly or printing the rules out while the Word document will allow you to change the specifics of the rules before you print.

PDF: WhiteElephantRules.pdf
Word: WhiteElephantRules.doc

Link to White Elephant Rules

If you are organizing an event, it might be handy to link to these rules to keep eveyone up to speed on how exactly white elephant gift exchange takes place. You can copy and paste code below to link to this page from your website, blog or event page:

Get Featured!

Are you running a gift exchange this Christmas season? Want your company or group to be featured by Sasssy Santa? Just contact us and we will feature your story on our blog, along with a funny or happy picture of your party for the whole world to see!