Christmas White Elephant Gift Exchange: Paper Bag Version

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An upgrade on the traditional White Elephant gift exchange that will have your guests remembering your Christmas party for years to come.

What is a White Elephant Exchange?

This is a simple party game, where every guest brings a present. Traditionally it is supposed to be something useless around your house. But it has transformed into people going out and buying either gag gifts (like these) or really nice gifts (like these).

My favorite White Elephant Parties are where we get a good mix of all 3 kinds of gifts (from home/gag/nice).

What makes my version better than others?

So I read this fascinating article about the basic makeup of games and what constitutes the best/funnest games.

It is where there is a good mix of strategy/knowledge, and chance.

A game where you could still end up the winner all the way to the end, even if it’s a long shot.

Old Way of Playing White Elephant

The old way of participating in a gift exchange, starts with all the presents being wrapped. Everyone gets a number. Number one picks a present, unwraps it, and is now stuck with it unless someone steals it later.

Number 2 goes next, they can steal or pick another present. If someone steals from you, you get to go again and either steal (but not from the person who just stole from you) or pick a new present. Once all of the presents are picked. The game ends.

The bummer is if you get the gag gift. You are stuck. No one is going to steal it from you. You are basically out of the game as you watch more desireable presents get picked.

It sucks.

Paper bag white elephant game. keep your guests playing the whole time

Paper Bag Version (A.K.A the Best Version)

I played a version of this in my teenage years called ‘the candy bar game’. But I tweaked the rules to make it White Elephant friendly.

So here is how you play MY White Elephant Present Exchange.

  1. Every Player brings an unwrapped White Elephant Present. It must be able to fit inside a LARGE BROWN PAPER BAG (get it here).
  2. Tip: If it is a Couple Party, I request that they bring 1 desirable gift, and one less-desirable one in order to make it interesting – and this REALLY WORKS. (families I ask for a variety)
  3. When they arrive, have the bags ready and they put a gift in each bag. 1 gift = 1 bag.
  4. Another option: A reader suggested handing out the invitation along with the empty bags for your guests to use, so when they arrive the gift will already be in the bag. Brilliant!
  5. Everyone gathers in a circle.
  6. Explain the rules! I actually put it on a white board (you can buy the prints here) so that people weren’t always asking “now what can I do with doubles?”
  7. Everyone takes a brown bag, and then shows the group ONCE what is in their bag. The point of this game is that you don’t know who has what until you get it. unless you keep track of your favorite gift.
  8. Have a container with dice and start clock-wise and have each person roll.
  9. If they Roll Doubles they can choose to A, Switch Bags with someone, or B (if they like their bag) switch two other people’s bags.
  10. If they roll a 5 all bags go 1 to the right.
  11. If they roll a 9, all bags go 3 to the left.
  12. If they roll any other number, nothing happens, they just pass the dice to the next person. But don’t worry, the dice move around the circle fairly quickly, and they will have another chance in no time!
  13. There is an Ultimate Gift, (you, the host, need to provide this) which is gift-wrapped, in the center of the circle. The first person to get Snake Eyes (double ones) wins the prize (along with their paper bag) and the game is over. Whatever bag you have, you keep.
  14. Everyone then reveals what gift they ended up with. We laugh at who got stuck with the ‘white elephant’ (the worst gift) and we give jealous groans towards the person who got the best gift.

This game makes all participants active and hopeful the whole time. If you can pay attention, you can use a little strategy, and a little luck to acquire the bag you want.

Bonus Plays:

The first time we played this, the third person who rolled got snake eyes!

To ensure that the game went around at least once. We bought about 6 candy bars and put them on top of the ultimate prize gift. The rule was if you got doubles, you could either choose to switch with someone, or to slide a candy bar into your bag.

Snake Eyes could only count as doubles until all the candy bars were taken.

That way the game was guaranteed to last at least 7 rolls.

Bonus: Another fun rule you can add.

Is when 2 people exchange bags, they have to lift their gift out for everyone to see. It is fun to see if the person made the right choice by switching, or if they had miscounted, and accidentally got the White Elephant!

It is also especially satisfying when you switch two different people’s bag to see someone get a bad gift.

Things you absolutely need to play this paper bag white elephant game:

  1. Paper Bags. You can’t hide it if you don’t have something to hide it in.
  2. Ultimate Gift
  3. Possibly candy bars
  4. Each person bringing their gift
  5. A poster that has the dice rules.

Ok, so I can still help you with number 4 and 5. These two issues seriously added some extra stress to my Christmas Party. First problem was that I did not explain well enough what our guests were expected to bring. I had lots of last minute calls, and when they showed up, many had wrapped theirs, some brought their own paper bags. . . It was a mess. I’ve ironed out the phrasing, so that there is no longer any confusion, by adding an extra set of directions to their invitation.

The other problem that created soooo muuuch chaos. . . and not the fun kind either. . . Is that people forgot which numbers meant what. And it didn’t help that we had over 30 people there, all talking and laughing while I was trying to yell/speak and explain the rules. The game took longer because people kept asking if their number that they rolled meant anything.

So the next year, I fixed it – easy – I had a white board, and I just wrote in really big letters the rules. I then put it where everyone could see it during the game. It quadrupled the fun, for me at least, because I wasn’t yelling out instructions the whole time.

Poster with printables attached to it that explains the rules of the white elephant game.

Now, you can do all these things yourself. And it won’t take you too long. But, if you would like to have the big instructions already written out, two options for the white elephant guest instruction cards, and a banner that says “White Elephant” where your guests can take a photo op after they have won (or lost) the game, then I’ve got you covered!

If you’d like to save maybe 45 minutes of your time, during the Christmas season, by buying my Printable NOW, I’d personally be thrilled. . . I also did spend 11 hours putting those banners together, so you’d definitely be getting a deal if you were planning on a photo spot at your party.

Can you tell how excited I am that I made something?! If you do buy it (totally optional link right here) I’d love for you to go back and give me a review. . . Because apparently reviews are what make people want to buy stuff.

UPDATE: I have had a couple of people ask if I could print it out and send it to them. I’m not able to do that, but I found a work-around. I put it into a booklet, where you can just buy the physical book, and then cut it out and hang it up. . . It’s way more expensive than downloading it, and it’s not the preferred cardstock paper. . . But if that’s what you want, you can go here.

Thank you for reading this far. It’s truly an honor to think anyone is reading what I wrote AND that they find value in it.

Now that you have committed to having a White Elephant Party. Check out my family-friendly Best White Elephant Gift Guide to find the perfect present to give away! You can also check out this List Of Funny Gifts that are slightly more adultish. . . slightly.

P.S Remember to grab the bags early enough for them to get there before your party!

There you have it! Let me know how this game went for your party. And if you added any other rules or versions!

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