Hosting a gift exchange

Nov 3, 2009 at 1:43 a.m. ET

Christmas gifting is a huge part of the holiday season, but with office colleagues, friends, family, and everyone else who has been naughty or nice on your list, the giving can get expensive. Arranging a gift exchange is a great way to maintain the holiday giving while cutting down on gift costs.

Girlfriends exchanging gifts

A gift exchange involves getting a group together and each person giving and receiving one gift instead of giving and receiving multiple gifts. With the right planning, a gift exchange can be a fun and frugal part of your holiday experience.

Type of gift exchange

Decide on the kind of gift exchange you'd like to host. You could host a Secret Santa exchange, where each person is secretly given the name of another person to buy a gift for. You also might decide to put on a Yankee Swap, in which each person brings a wrapped gift and puts it in a pile. Each guest can pick a wrapped gift from the pile or steal a gift from someone who has already unwrapped a present from the pile. Go ahead and create your own kind of exchange or special twist on the rules for your party. As long as your guests are in the know and everyone leaves with a present of some sort, you're in gift exchange business.


Announce the gift exchange with plenty of time for the attendees to make their purchases. This is key in any kind of gift exchange, but especially important if you've decided to arrange a Secret Santa exchange. It may take at least a week for the Secret Santa to collect enough information on her receiver to get an appropriate gift.

Set a price limit

I know, I know, it's the thought that counts with gift giving, but cash counts too. Be clear with the price range of gifts, and make it a limit that everyone involved will be comfortable with. It's best to err on the low side if you're not sure what's appropriate. Budget gift shopping can be a fun challenge while big-time spending that you can't afford isn't fun for anybody.

Be sure the group knows each other

Gifts can be very gender and age specific, so give folks a general lay out of who's coming. A mustache trimmer might be a wonderful gift for some but could be taken the wrong way by your Aunt Bertha. Alert your guests to the age and gender spread of the party. You could e-mail out the invite and give a brief outline of the attendees in your invite. Or you could insert a quick line like this: Bring a wrapped gift suitable for my 39-year-old fiancé or 80-year-old grandfather.

Be the emcee

Chances are that the gift exchange is the only real activity aside from eating at your holiday party, so make it as entertaining as possible. This can be cute if you're doing an exchange where gifters can swap and steal presents. Narrate each exchange as if you're a sportscaster, highlighting the swaps and steals like they're tackles or touchdowns, and the gang will be totally engaged in the process.

Stash an extra

Just to be safe, have a back-up gift or two. There's always a chance that someone could forget a gift or bring an unexpected plus one, not realizing that changes the gift ratio. Just save receipts or buy something you wouldn't mind gifting yourself.

Feed the crowd

Since the focus will be on getting, grabbing and getting back the perfect gift, you can get by with lighter fare for your gift exchange party. Think holiday comfort food -- lots of treats and goodies like Christmas cookies, fudge and chocolate liqueur on the rocks or splashed in your favorite hot chocolate.


Here's to you hosting a fabulous gift exchange this holiday season and hopefully ending up with some fabulous gifts as well!

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