What Are the Rules of a Yankee Swap and How to Win

yankee-swap2.jpgAre you going to a holiday party this year where you will be participating in a Yankee Swap? If so, do you know the official Yankee Swap rules? How about the unofficial Yankee Swap rules?

Whether you call this holiday party gift exchange the Yankee Swap, a Pollyanna Swap, The Thieving Secret Santa Swap, The Scottish Gift Exchange, or The White Elephant Exchange the basic rules are the same.

The Yankee Swap rules are very simple but they must be followed to the letter to ensure that this unfair game is played as fairly as possible.

Simple Yankee Swap Rules

  • Prior to the holiday party a price range should be decided upon giving the participants and idea of what they should be spending on their gift
  • Anyone who is participating should bring a wrapped gift that is not marked with a to and from
  • Each participant must pick a number out of a hat/bowl – anything that keeps people from seeing which number they are choosing
  • Players take turns based on the number they chose. Turns go in ascending order.
  • Player #1 gets to swap their gift at the very end of the game when all of the other players have opened and swapped their gifts.
  • Each person must completely unwrap the gift they chose
  • All swaps must be completed during your designated turn
  • No one may leave with their gift before the game ends – if you have to leave…your gift stays

The official Yankee Swap rules are pretty straightforward and can be easily followed. However, there are a few variations of how the Yankee Swap can be played:

Variations to the Yankee Swap Rules

  • First Come First Serve Numbers – This works well when when the host knows exactly how many Yankee Swap participants there will be prior to the party. The first guest to arrive would be awarded the #1 spot and then the next to arrive would be given the highest number. You work your way back until the last guest to arrive is given the #2 spot (the crappiest number).
  • End of The Game Unveiling – In this variation of the Yankee Swap, all gifts must be securely wrapped and are not to be opened throughout the entire game. This forces people to blindly swap gifts based on the wrapping and package size. Once everyone has picked their gifts and finished their swapping everyone unwraps their gifts at the same time.
  • The Dead Gift – In this version of the Yankee Swap you have an agreed upon number of times that one gift can be stolen. Once that number has been reached that gift becomes a dead gift meaning that it can no longer be stolen in the game.
  • The White Elephant – In the White Elephant version of the Yankee Swap all gifts are wrapped in wrapping paper that is inside out. This means that the colored side of the paper is not visible and all gifts look to be wrapped in white, hence the white elephant
  • Yankee Swap With A Theme – the host or hostess can declare that everyone participating in the Yankee Swap must bring a gift that has a certain theme to it

So as you see, it doesn’t matter if you call your gift exchange a Yankee Swap, Pollyanna Swap, Dirty Santa, Thieving Secret Santa or even the White Elephant the rules are pretty much the same.

Yankee Swap Tips to Win

  1. Always buy something that you want – there is a good chance that you could end up with your own gift…shop accordingly. Make sure what you purchase for the Yankee Swap is something that you wouldn’t mind walking out of there with.
  2. Be shrewd – If you see a gift that you want…take it. I don’t care if you are taking a gift away from your grandmother that she absolutely loves…take it. She would do it to you BELIEVE ME.
  3. Be a loud mouth and point out to everything else how awesome that other gift someone else has so no one will pay attention to the one you already have and want to keep. Otherwise sit low and out of the way so no one will see what you have unless someone asks to hold up all the gifts. Then just don’t hold it up too high. Got it?
  4. If you have never participated in a Yankee Swap type of gift exchange you should suggest it for your family’s holiday party this year. When played by the rules this is fun way of giving and receiving gifts.

20 thoughts on “What Are the Rules of a Yankee Swap and How to Win

  1. ChristmasGifts.com is the oldest and most respected place to get great unique gifts, personalized gifts and Christmas gift ideas, and we would like to exchange links with you on this Yankee Swap Gift Ideas website. Please let me know what you need from me to do this!

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  2. This is a despicable game. I’m from out West and we’re too civilized for this sort of “game”. Never spring this on children or teens. It is theft, pure and simple, and everyone is a loser. I had to check this out on the internet after finding out my child was stolen from at a Christmas party. I couldn’t believe my ears until I found this site!

    • I played this in Girl Scouts as a young girl and I was not traumatized by the “stealing” of gifts. It is a fun idea and I hope your reaction didn’t make it worse for your child. Being ‘civilized’ has nothing to do with it (and that is an offensive comment) it is about having FUN. Hopefully your child is not as stuffy as you and has a better sense of fun and games.

    • Despicable? That’s kind of harsh, isn’t it? Perhaps you on the West coast should refrain from participating in this “Yankee” game.

    • BB, I’m sure your tender little snowflake got over it. Maybe you should keep them inside until they turn 18. And consider a lawsuit.


  3. Tip: This is great fun at large family events. However, we usually “excuse” the small children. Their parents instead buy a gift specifically for them and it cannot be stolen. They enjoy opening the gifts with everyone else, but don’t suffer any sadness having their gift “stolen”.

  4. What a coincidence, I just got back tonight from a group of middle schoolers who had to play this game. The only person in the room who had any fun was the adult running it. PLEASE, don’t play this with anyone but adults, and make sure the adults know what’s up before they RSVP your party. I still can’t believe this game exists…adults teaching kids to steal from one another for the fun of it and hurting someone’s feelings…how sad.

  5. I hate this mean spirited game. It causes hard feelings in our neighborhood because certain “entitled queens” build alliances with their “suck-up princesses” and they work as a team separate from the rest of the guests to get the most desired gifts of the evening………it is the most disgusting display of human greed over a $10 item and completely flies in the face of the spirit of the season.

  6. I too hate this game. The point of Christmas gift-giving is to show someone you care about them by picking out a thoughtful gift that you feel they would like. This game takes all the joy of giving away. Why would you think it’s fun to steal someone’s gift that they really like? I have to do this for my office party and am dreading it. I do not think I will steal anybody’s gift. It’s mean.

  7. You people are crazy! We have been playing this game at our family get-together for several years now as opposed to everyone trying to buy a gift for everyone else or drawing names and trying to buy for somebody that you may or may not really know well enough to buy a good gift for. Our family members range in age (this year) from 3 all the way up to 80-something (not really sure exactly how old grandma is this year) and everyone has a GREAT time! We limit the gift price to $10 and up until this year it’s just been adult participation, but the past few years the older kids (9 to 12) have bugged us to join in. So, this year we let the parents handle whether or not their kids play. The kids do still get their own gifts from all the grandparents and we start the gifting event with them opening their gifts in the hopes that they will entertain themselves with their new gifts while we play the adult game. However, that plan hasn’t worked out so well, they see us having a fun time and they wanna join in. So we are working on adjusting some rules and maybe letting them have their own kind of gift exchange game next year.
    As for the spirit of Christmas, and teaching our children to actually “steal”??? Geez! Give me a break! It’s a G-A-M-E and I can think of MANYYYYY other “games” where children are taught to “steal” or “take” something from somebody else in order to “win”. So, please don’t try lecturing me on the idea of teaching our children something terribly, horribly wrong by playing this game. You want to talk about teaching your children something wrong? How many of you who are saying you “hate” this game and how evil it is have been raising your children to believe in the LIE of Santa Claus? Our family focus’ our Christmas beliefs on the Biblical story of Christmas, not the fictional one. The dirty santa game is just a very small part of our big family get-together where we all try to enjoy each others company. Many of us usually also end up “swapping” things out afterwards anyway if anyone else is interested, so it’s not like we are teaching our children anything beyond how to participate in a group game situation, which is a pretty important life lesson. When they have to go out into the “real” world I’d hate to think I’d taught them that life is all perfect and pretty cause it’s NOT!
    I do agree, however, that children should be made well aware of how the game works before they are allowed to participate and we definitely refrain from letting the very young children play because they are not old enough yet to understand how to play the game. Just like I would not expect the 3 year olds to sit down and play a game of monopoly with the adults either.
    My final comment is this: you want to talk about “human greed”? How about children expecting to receive a gift at every party they attend this time of year or displaying a “tantrum” over receiving a gift they don’t like? I’ve seen that attitude too many times from other children and before we started playing this game, even some of our older children had started acting like that because the gifts they were getting were not “good enough”. So now we have used the dirty santa game to “teach” them that this holiday season is NOT about giving/receiving gifts, it’s about family fellowship and fun and thanking our Lord & Savior for another year together and for coming to this world so long ago to save us ALL!

  8. you people need to lighten up.
    it’s a fun adult party gift exchange game.
    we’ve done this game at our Christmas party every year for the past 5 years and we’ve always had a blast.

  9. The point of this game is to allow people to exchange gifts who could not otherwise. Large families, workplaces, book clubs, any group of people. The idea is that everyone only needs to purchase one gift instead of 20 (or however many are in the group). The swap part is a twist to allow for some FUN and allow the possibility of getting your gift back. Kids can play as long as the rules are explained completely and they understand they may (probably will) ‘lose’ their gift. What a great learning experience it could be. Anyone who complains about getting a gift…is just sad. And each group can adjust the rules to fit their needs. Our office does not ‘force’ everyone to participate and when the swap has been completed, we can then exchange with anyone. So BB, Ella and Lori – I hope you do refrain from joining these ‘games’ you do NOT have the right attitude for it. Merry Christmas!

  10. I’m loving these comments. Your children are a bunch of ignorant cry babies who need to learn that life isn’t fair; it’s just a game of chance, and in the end none of it matters cuz we’re all doomed anyway. Merry effin Xmas!

  11. I remember playing this with a bunch of college buddies back in ’95 or ’96. Our version of it went like this:
    The host doesn’t buy a gift, thus creating a hole (meaning one person is going home with jack). The person who loses out is burdened with hosting the party the next year, but doesn’t have to buy a gift. We all sat in chairs round-robin style and I can’t remember the order of selection process. Many of the gifts were actually pretty cool. I was sat somewhere in the middle and here’s what happened:
    A player before me opened up this great art book I really wanted. I opened up something lame like measuring spoons. I swapped the book with the spoons. Down the line, another player wanted my book, but he swapped me with this pretty decent boxed set of CD’s (back when we listened to CD’s). Okay, not too lousy of a deal. Anyway, the host (who has nothing to swap, remember) gets last dibs. That jerk traded me nothing for the CD’s and I get stuck with hosting the party the next year and went home empty handed. Only problem with this arrangement was we were in college and half that party graduated and wasn’t there the next year. This only works with communities that aren’t as transient like a tight-knit neighborhood or large family.
    I didn’t like it.

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