45 Creative And Fun Family Gift Exchange Ideas

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Holidays are a time for joy, and gift exchange is a big part of that celebration. Everyone is excited to buy the right gift for their loved ones. Gifts can represent a memory, a story, or a sense of connection—it is all about the special people in your life. Giving a thoughtful gift is also a way to express your gratitude and strengthen the familial bond.

Family gift exchange can be an interesting way to make your holiday season more fun and exciting. In this post, we tell you a few creative family gift exchange ideas that can help you buy a well-planned, thoughtful gift.

45 Family Gift Exchange Ideas

  1. Drawing names: This family gift exchange idea is pretty common. People draw a name from a hat or a bowl and buy gifts for that particular person. Participants can list their choice or wish. Although it may not sound much interesting, it does tackle the trouble of buying gifts for everyone.
Participants can list their choice or wish

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Secret Santa: This classic idea can work for everyone and in almost every setting. It is quite simple and has a twist too—people draw names from a hat or a bowl without revealing or sharing the name. They then buy gifts for their Christmas buddy. The name of the “Santa” may be revealed as the family exchanges gifts, or the family can guess the name of the “Santa.” Moreover, your group or family may decide to set a price limit on the gift for everyone.
  1. Yankee swap: This gift exchange game allows you to buy one quality-gift instead of multiple gifts for everyone. In Yankee swap, a price limit is set for all participants. Everyone then chooses a number from a hat. Each number represents the order in which people get to pick their gifts. The person with no. 1 gets to open the gift first, followed by the second person, third person, and so on. Participants can swap their gifts with one of the already opened gifts. Each gift can be swapped a fixed number of times (usually two to three times).
  1. White elephant: The white elephant gift exchange idea is almost similar to the Yankee swap, but with an interesting spin—the gifts are chosen to add humor. You may choose to pick gifts that you already have and no longer need but may be useful for others, realizing “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.” This way, you can pick unique or odd gifts for your loved ones.
  1. A single big gift: What if, instead of standard gift exchange, you put some money into a common pool with family members and plan an experience that you all can enjoy together. For instance, going to a beach, renting a ski cabin, buying tickets for a sporting event, or other special retreats.
  1. Make a wishlist: Participants can list five to ten items or gifts they would like to have under a preset budget. This can help remove the stress of finding the “perfect” gift that the other person may want. Moreover, it adds to the excitement as participants will get one or two gift items from their wishlist.
  1. Grab bag: This idea is quite straightforward. Participants wrap their gifts and place them all together. People then take turns to pick the gift they like based on the outer appearance or size. Everyone can try to spice this up by adding a surprise element—unusually shaped gifts, or deceptive packaging.
  1. Musical gifts: In this family gift-exchange, the music adds to the mystery. People bring wrapped gifts, but instead of picking up their gifts, they pass on the gifts to others as the song plays. When the song stops, the person holding that particular gift keeps it.
  1. Ornament exchange: Christmas is incomplete without an ornament-laden Christmas tree. You may, therefore, try exploring the ornament exchange idea within your family. You can gift each other interesting, unique, personalized, fun, or quirky ornaments.
  1. Charitable gifting: Instead of buying gifts for one another, the family may donate to their favorite charity or adopt a family for Christmas. You may also include the name-drawing idea and donate on behalf of someone else to their preferred charity.
  1. Cookie swap: If you are not too inclined towards materialistic gifts, you may choose to swap cookies. Instead of buying gifts, everyone can bake one large or double batch of festive cookies and exchange them. Have everyone get their own jars to pick their favorite cookies.
Have everyone pick their favorite cookies

Image: iStock

  1. Gift auction: This idea can be both competitive and fun. Set a price cap for buying gifts and leave them unwrapped for others to see. Put empty jars alongside each gift and give everyone the same amount of fake money (maybe from Monopoly). Let participants bid for the gift they want. The person with the highest bid gets that gift.
  1. Trivia swap: This idea can bring about a certain element of competitiveness and excitement. Participants can decide on a price cap and buy gifts. The group or family can then play an interesting round of trivia or a holiday quiz. The person with the most points gets to choose the first gift, followed by the second, third, and so on.
  1. Goodies mug swap: You may choose to gift each other personalized, quirky, or fun mugs filled with goodies and treats. You can incorporate the Secret Santa, Yankee swap, or musical gift idea to make it more fun. You may set a price for the goodies mug.
  1. Theme-based gift exchange: You can pick a theme, such as craft, board game, or gift card, for the holidays. You may also put themes in a bowl or hat and randomly pick one. Everyone then buys a gift based on the decided theme. You can incorporate name-drawing, Yankee swap, white elephant, or Secret Santa.
  1.  Rotating gift box: This family gift exchange idea can work very well if your family members live in different parts of the country. You can choose a self-decorated crate or a store-bought gift box, and put gifts and thoughtful notes for your family addressed to their names. Once the first person receives the gift, they add their gifts and send them to the next address, and so forth. In the end, the gift box comes back to you.
  1. Regifting: This is a great idea to exchange reusable, high-quality, and unique gifts. This is how it works—you do not buy gifts in one go but can save up to a year to buy something that has been on your wishlist, such as a jet ski, an inflatable hot tub, a golf cart, or a camper trailer. Everyone collects gifts and then swap those items among each other during the next Christmas. This way, you don’t end up buying new gifts but rather enjoy unique gifts in turns.
  1. Regifting with a twist: What if, instead of your favorite items, you pass the worst of gifts ever received to a new owner? You may choose items that you will never use in the future. This can lead to some funny stories and traditions. No one will be disheartened as they will not expect the best of gifts.
  1. Musical chair gifts: You can play this gift exchange activity similar to musical chairs. It works well for both grown-ups and kids. You can decide the order of gifting based on who gets to lose a chair while playing the game. You can add more fun by incorporating other gift exchange ideas, too.
  1. Christmas carnival: Carnivals are always fun because of the fun games such as ring toss, ball toss, or shooting hoops. You can also replicate this for your family during the holidays. Set up booths with different simple games. As each person completes the games, they get to pick their gifts. You can also make it competitive by keeping scores—the person who wins may choose the gift first.
  1. Left or right: This is a fun gift exchange idea for a big family. Participants may decide on the price cap and the theme of the gift if they prefer. Everyone then sits in a circle, and one person reads a story. Every time the word “right” appears in the story, the person passes the gift to the person sitting on their right and similarly, when “left” appears. You can choose a story or create one. Ensure that you count the number of times the words “left” and “right” appear in the story so that someone does not receive their own gift.
  1. Hot potato: It is just like the party game, but you use gifts to pass on. This is perfect for a large group of both kids and adults. Participants sit in a circle and pass on the gift as the music plays. When the music stops, the person holding the gift gets it, or the last person who held it gets the gift. You can also use a timer instead of music.
  1. Spin the bottle: You may pile up gifts from everyone in one place. Let all family members sit in a circle and spin the bottle. The person on whom the bottle points gets to pick their gifts. You may again set a theme and a price limit to make it enjoyable for all.
  1. Cobweb: You may think that it will make your house messy, but it’s really fun. You just need colorful yarns (up to 100-yard) to wrap around the gifts. Then, hide these gifts and make a trail of the yarn in the house—the longer, the better. Place all the gifts at different locations, and your house will look like a cobweb. Hand over the other end of the yarn to the person and let them find their gift. This is more exciting when everyone tries to track their gifts together.
  1. Treasure hunt: You can involve your family in a treasure hunt. Prepare a set of clues, riddles, puzzles, or instructions to let your family members find their gifts. You can pile all gifts together for everyone or customize it for each participant.
You can pile all gifts together for everyone

Image: iStock

  1. Gift category: You may choose a gift category for exchanging gifts among family members. The gift categories may include books, craft brews, antiques, T-shirts, event tickets, gourmet food, movies, or music. You can include the Secret Santa or name-drawing ideas to add mystery and excitement. For instance, for a Star Wars fan, a Han Solo T-shirt can be a perfect gift. You can buy band merchandise, song quotes engraved on a plaque or pilsner glass, or vinyl copies of favorite albums for music lovers.
  1. DIY or personalized gift exchange: You can bring out your family members’ craftsmanship to let them create something personalized for each other. It doesn’t necessarily need to be fancy but a homemade gift that they can cherish for a long time.
  1. Ugly sweater/scarf exchange: Doesn’t it sound amusing? You can pick out the ugliest, quirkiest, oddest, or weirdest scarf or sweater to exchange with your loved ones. It will be interesting to see which gift gets the most laughs.
  1. Holiday potluck: Another idea to avoid the hassle of materialistic gifts! Plan a day to prepare holiday recipes and enjoy each other’s company instead of exchanging gifts. You can bake, cook, or barbecue your favorite meals.
  1. Cocktail-in-a-box swap: Let the adults in your family have some fun with this mini cocktail-in-a-box gift exchange. You can include items of their favorite tipple, such as syrups, liqueurs, bitters, and other ingredients.
  1. Kids gift exchange: If you are on a tight budget, you may decide to gift the children in your family and not the adults. This way, you can narrow down your gift-exchanging list and instead opt for a potluck or a meal with all the adults in the family.
  1. Bingo gift exchange: Bingo has been a much-loved game for families. You can include it in the gift exchange idea. You can arrange for a holiday bingo night, and the winner of the game gets to choose the gift first, followed by the rest of the participants.
  1. Free coupon swap: You can have some real fun using free, personalized coupons. Ask your family members to create fill-in-the-blank coupons that can be redeemed at any time of the year. The recipients of the coupon can write their wishes, such as two airport pick-ups/drops, massage, camping trips, and more.
  1. Subscriptions exchange: Nowadays, there is a subscription for everything and not just your favorite magazines. To make gift-exchange more exciting, you can exchange subscriptions of your favorite services or products. You can include Secret Santa in this idea and set a price cap for yearly subscriptions.
  1. Gourmet basket exchange: If you are a family of food lovers, this idea may be perfect for you and your family. You can exchange gift baskets with ingredients of each other’s favorite recipes. You can make yours unique by including a recipe card or a cooking playlist.
Gourmet basket for gifting

Image: iStock

  1. Pet’s gift swap: Pets are like family members. Instead of gifting humans, you can exchange gifts for each other’s pets. Pamper them with toys and treats, or spend a day at their favorite park or a spa.
  1. Signature gift exchange: You can decide your signature gifts to avoid the hassle of gifting different things to people every holiday season. You can choose an item based on your preferences, such as a souvenir from your yearly international or local vacations or an assorted jar of jam and almond butter. This will very much take away the guessing work from your plate.
  1. Oven mitts gift exchange: You can pick a theme and set a price limit for the gifts. Have all family members sit in a circle and let them roll dice. Whoever gets six opens the gift with the oven mittens on. If they are able to open it, the gift is theirs. If not, pass on the gift to the next person who gets six on the dice.
  1. Family memorabilia swap: Family heirlooms or personal possessions that you would like to pass onto the next generation can also be an interesting gift exchange idea for holidays. These can include photographs, a piece of jewelry, accessory, books, and much more. Such gifts have sentimental value.
  1. Memory-based gifts exchange: There is no happy moment like going down the memory lane. If you cherish some memories of a trip or a holiday, you can come with gift exchange ideas that can materialize those memories in a personalized gift.
  1. Invoke the writer: This gifting idea can be creative as well as emotional. You can invoke the writers and poets in your family and have them write personal notes, letters, stories, or poems for each family member. This can be a great way to strengthen family bonds during the holidays.
  1. Holiday greenery swap: Wreaths, plant saplings, ornamental plants, Bonsai plants, centerpieces, etc. are also great options to add uniqueness to your family gift exchange tradition. These are not only aesthetically pleasing but also add holiday greenery at home.
Green plants for gifting

Image: iStock

  1. Go green gifts: If you want children and adults in your family to do their bit in protecting the environment, you can opt for organic, recycled, or environment-friendly gift items for the holidays. You can also determine a theme and price cap as some organic items may be costlier than the regular products.
  1. Reliving the decade: Specific decades, including the 1940s, 1960s, or 1980s, have their own charm and exclusive memories. You can pick a decade for your family and exchange gifts based on the selected decade as the theme. This way, adults will be able to relive their memories, and kids will also know about those times.
  1. Pajamas exchange: If you have already covered scarfs and sweaters, why not go for pajamas during the holidays? You can go for funky and unique prints for everyone in the family. Just take their sizes and order quirky pajamas within a stipulated budget.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the five-gift rule for Christmas?

The five-gift rule is an extension of the four-gift rule, a popular trend for families not to overindulge and restrict to only gifting something a child would want, need, wear, and read. The fifth gift is something special that would surprise the child and brings them joy. This gift gives you a chance to understand your kid, watch them, listen to them and recognize their passions. That feeling of anticipation and watching them open the gift would give everyone the true happiness of Christmas.

2. What are the rules for a gift exchange?

Gift exchange rules might vary with occasions and with whom you celebrate. However, gift-giving is an excellent opportunity to form and maintain relationships and requires careful consideration. Some golden rules for a gift exchange could be setting a price range, setting a time limit, deciding the gift based on the receiver’s traits, and putting yourself in their shoes when packing the gift.

Over the years, exchanging gifts between family members in the holiday season has become a custom. Creative family gift exchange ideas may help make this celebration more exciting and enjoyable. You may try a secret Santa game, a wishlist bucket with a predetermined budget, a theme-based gift exchange, a treasure hunt, a DIY or personalized gift exchange, or many other gifting ideas. But, make sure that all of the ideas are reasonably priced so that no one faces inconvenience and that they can liven up the holiday atmosphere with new and distinctive additions. These unique gift ideas will also help you make your family’s together time more joyful.

Infographic: Family Gift Exchange Ideas

Exchanging gifts on holidays is a lovely tradition that helps families get together and share happy memories. If you need more ideas on presents, look no further but right below. We have an infographic that includes ideas for gift exchanges that you can choose from. Be sure to save it for later as well.

innovative ideas for family gift exchange [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • A gift is a beautiful way to establish or re-confirm your connection with others and make them feel special and loved.
  • Buying thoughtful gifts for your family members can make every event and festival special and memorable.
  • White elephant, cookie swap, and charitable gifting are some of the unconventional and interesting gifting ideas.

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