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White Elephant Rules

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How to Play White Elephant

A white elephant gift exchange isn’t your run-of-the-mill gift exchange. It’s a popular Christmas gathering for those looking for ways to make their next family or office gift exchange more interactive and fun. The gifts are usually not practical and humorous in nature. You’re also allowed to steal presents if you happen to fancy them more than opening a new one. It’s naughty and nice. The spirit of giving meets the spirit of taking. It is so much fun!


All you need is a group of people willing to bring some gifts and have some fun. White elephant rules can vary, but here are the basics.

How to Play White Elephant

White Elephant Gift Rules

  1. Each person should bring one wrapped gift to contribute to a pool of gifts. The person in charge of setting up the exchange will provide information on what type of gifts people should bring and how much they should spend.
  2. Everyone who brought a gift will then draw numbers to determine the order they will go in. The order can also be set by the organizer prior to the event.
  3. Once numbers are drawn, sit in a circle or line where everyone can see the gifts. To make things easier, players should sit in the order in which they will take their turns.
  4. To get started, the first player (who drew the number one) selects a gift from the pool and opens it, making sure everyone can see the gift.
  5. Players continue to go in order of the numbers drawn. Every player after number one can either pick an unwrapped gift from the pool or steal a previous player’s gift. Anyone who gets their gift stolen can choose a new gift or steal from someone else. To keep things moving along, there are limits on stealing gifts:
    • A gift can only be stolen once per turn.
    • After three steals, the turn comes to an end.
  6. After all players have had a turn, the first player (who drew the number one) gets a chance to steal and the person who is stolen from may steal from someone else (as long as that person hasn’t been stolen from yet). The three steal rule doesn’t apply on the final turn. Players can keep stealing until someone decides they would like to keep their gift or there are no other eligible people to steal from.

White Elephant Game Rules Variations

As the game grows in popularity, new ideas and variations have been incorporated with the goal of either keeping the game moving and/or making it more strategic. Here are couple fun rules and variations you might want to try at your gift exchange:


Three Steals and You’re Out

If the gift you are holding gets stolen three times during the game, you are considered out of the game and can no longer be stolen from. The last present you choose is your final gift.


Three Swaps and the Gift is Out

If a present gets stolen three times, it’s out of the game and the person who holds owns it. Congratulations!


No Extra Turn/No Extra Swapping

Some people don’t allow the first player to steal a gift at the end.


One Extra Turn

This variation only allows for the first person to swap once with no additional swapping allowed after.


Gift Themes

The organizer will suggest people to bring a gift that fits a certain theme. Outdoors, Travel, Ornaments, Do-it-Yourself Crafts, etc.