It’s the most wonderful time of the year: the handful of weeks before the holidays hit where you realize that you put up your hand and volunteered to organize a gift swap amongst your treasured friends, coworkers or, who knows, a group of total strangers you met on the internet. It’s fine, we’re not here to judge, we’re here to help you find the very best gift exchange themes, the ones that’ll make you stand apart from the crowd as a designated Very Cool Person. It’s all gonna work out. Read on for the very best Christmas gift exchange themes, then keep calm and gift wrap on.
Popular Types of Gift Exchanges
The first step to setting up your gift exchange is picking your format. Is your gift going to end up with a specific person, or will it be at the mercy of your fellow ruthless partygoers? This is critical info. There are two main categories of holiday gift exchanges:
- White Elephant Gift Exchange – Participants bring a gift that fits within the theme, and all gifts go in a pile. After drawing numbers, each person picks a wrapped gift to open. The next person can either unwrap another gift or steal a previously opened gift. Prepare for potential resentments and blood feuds.
- Secret Santa Gift Exchange – Before the planned gift exchange, participants each draw names of other gift givers. They get a gift within the theme specifically for that person, then bask in the golden glow of the praise when they totally love it.
In addition to format and theme, it’s key to set a budget that works for all participants in your gift exchange. This keeps all the presents at about equal value, and stops things from getting awkward.
Gift Exchange Themes
1. Fun In a Box – Board and card games aren’t just for kids. Everyone loves some sweet competition. The nectar of victory is intoxicating for pretty much anyone. In this theme, a group can exchange their favorite board games. Then they get the group back together for a super fun game night. It’s the gift exchange that keeps giving.
2. Something Blue – Something old or something new, who cares, as long as it’s blue? From blue cotton candy to a denim cowboy hat to a lovely set of mixing bowls, if it’s blue, it’s the perfect gift for this exchange.
3. Inside Jokes – “And then she said, ‘Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been to Kansas!'” Pay tribute to your most beloved/nonsensical inside jokes with a symbolic gift, whether it’s a rubber chicken or a “Maine is for Lovers” shirt, because, well, you know.
4. Sweet Dreams – Sleep is the ultimate gift, but it’s impossible to gift someone actual zzzs. Your gift exchange can be the next best thing: pajamas, eye masks, sleepytime tea, white noise machines and aromatherapy-infused teddy bears are all fair game, as long as it helps you get your 40 winks.
5. Home Sweet Home – Exchange a relic that’s representative of the town you grew up in. For an added twist, make everyone guess who their undercover gifter is based on obscure biographical trivia alone.
6. Pizza! – This doesn’t need an explanation. Any pizzaphernalia your heart desires, go for it.
7. Gift Cards: Ahh, bless gift cards, the present that always fits and without fail knows just what you wanted.
8. Superheroes: Cue up the theme music, because everyone’s a hero now. Make up a moniker for your giftee and assemble their starter pack. Captain Dishsoap, don your rubber gloves and fight scum, both of the soap and criminal varieties!
9. Ugly Sweaters: A classic theme for a reason, give the gift of thrift in this year’s exchange. Find the gnarliest, tackiest sweater in the secondhand shop to wrap up for your lucky gift recipient.
10. The Best Book I’ve Ever Read: Give the gift of sitting down and reading an actual book, you internet addict. Swap a copy of your favorite book, whether it’s “Pride and Prejudice” or “1984.”
11. Booze Patrol: Throw back some ho-ho-holiday cheer that’s sure to give you the warm and fuzzies, courtesy of an over-21 indulgence. Bonus points if you can pair your liquid gift with a kitschy cup and the perfect mixer.
12. Cheap Thrills: Impose a price limit, for example $17, and make the most of every penny to assemble a bundle for your giftee. How far can you stretch a budget? It’s time to find out.
13. One-Season Wonders: Pour one out for the shows that were canceled too soon by giving one another box sets of TV series that only had one season. It’s a perfectly bingeable, nostalgic present — assuming you can still find a DVD player somewhere, that is.
14. I Love the ’80s: Break out the Slinkies and don’t hold back on the neon for this rad gift exchange. Embrace your most colorful instincts and shower your recipient with relics from a bygone decade.
15. Feets of Strength: The game is afoot, and so is your gift exchange. Socks, toenail polish, those crazy exfoliating booties, or anything else that has to do with those lil piggies is fair game.
16. A Few of My Favorite Things: A talk show host may have made them famous for gift guide, but we all have our favorite things. This year, make it the theme of your gift exchange, and explain to your giftee why this is the greatest three-wick candle or that’s the most essential bath caddy known to man.
17. Snack Attack: Give everyone a box of the same size and have them fill it with their favorite snacks for their giftee, the more idiosyncratic the better. Personally, we wouldn’t mind if it was all Reese’s mini cups. Just saying.
18. My Mom Loves This Stuff: You heard her in that Sunday afternoon phone call, your mama just can’t get over whatever her obsession of the week is. Make your mother proud and gift your recipient something your mom endorses.
19. Spot the Great Gift: The name of the game is polka dots. Don’t be afraid to get a little dotty in the name of a great gift for this exchange.
20. Bring Back the Mixtape: Create your recipient a soundtrack for the movie about their lives. Bonus points if you compose and record an original tune.
21. Sheet (Mask) Happens: In the name of pores, give and receive gifts that defend your moisture barrier this holiday season. Sheet masks, lotions and serums are all fantastic choices for a skincare-themed gift exchange.
22. Denim: Cotton may be the fabric of our lives, but denim is the fabric of our best lives. Whether it’s a hardcover notebook bound in denim or a pair of perfect jeans, this gift exchange is bound to leave you feeling blue — in a good way.
23. Deskorations: You spend eight hours a day there, so why shouldn’t your desk get to get in on the holiday fun? Give your recipient the greatest tchotchkes in the game so they have something to stare at all day while they procrastinate.
24. A Salute to 1997: Show some respect for the greatest year cinema has ever seen (“Titanic”! “Good Will Hunting”! “Men in Black”!) by gifting your recipient a movie from the year.
25. Premium Brew: The most important meal of the day is represented in this theme. We’re talking about coffee, obviously. Grab mugs, beans, sassy coffee-related shirts, measure out your life in coffee spoons, we don’t care as long as it has to do with that sweet, sweet java.
26. Three Wicks or Bust: When there’s nothing left to burn, you must set your gift exchange candle on fire. (That’s how the quote goes, right?)
27. Get Out of Town: Whether it’s a mini Eiffel Tower or a cool gadget that will (somehow?) make plane travel more comfortable, a travel-themed gift exchange is sure to go far.
28. Something Fishy: Get creative with a fish-themed gift exchange. You could give spices with which to cook fish, ocean-themed apparel or, if you’re not a fan of your selected giftee, one of those fish plaques that never stops talking.
29. Make Your Mother Blush: Perfect for groups with an NSFW sense of humor. Do not give these gifts to your mother, and definitely do not open them in front of her either.
30. Sweet for Swedes: This holiday season, it’s all Sweden, all the time. Get your giftee a Flardfull candle for their Malm, some lingonberry jam, or a copy of “Mamma Mia!” If it’s related to Sweden, it’s fair game.