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Yankee Swap Gift Exchange Game

The Yankee Swap Gift Exchange rule set is a very common gift exchange method. There is no “stealing” involved like in the White Elephant Exchange, but instead gifts are “swapped” with other players.


Choose a gift price limit and theme of the gifts (if any) you want to have and inform all the participants. Make sure the players know they should wrap their gifts, but leave off any gift tags. Set up an area for your guests to put their gifts for the exchange, if you have a Christmas tree up, under the tree is a very festive spot.

Count how many people you have in the exchange and be sure they have all remembered to bring a gift. On slips of paper write numbers 1 – #Guests and place them in a bowl or bag (So if you have 20 people exchanging you would write the numbers 1 – 20 on 20 slips of paper). Have each player pull a number from the bowl and that is there “gift order”.

Now is time for the “gifting”. The person who drew #1 from the bowl goes first. It is a simple game of selecting a gift, unwrapping it, and choosing to keep or swap that gift with another player.

Taking Turns

TURN 1: Person #1 takes a gift from the pile. They then upwrap the gift and show the rest of the group what they received. Their turn ends.

TURN 2: It is now #2’s turn. Person #2 now takes a gift from the gift pile and opens their gift for all to see. They now can choose to keep their unwrapped present, at which point their turn ends, or swap their gift with person #1. If they swap, person #2 would take person #1’s unwrapped gift, and person #1 would receive person #2’s gift. Now it is #3’s turn.

TURN 3: Person #3 continues the game by taking a gift from the pile, unwrapping it and then choosing to keep or swap their gift with Person #1 or Person #2.

This continues as each player, in order, gets to select a gift from the pile, open it and choose whether to keep it or swap it for any other presents someone has already opened. If you use “safe gift” rules, a gift can only be swapped 3 times and then it is “safe”, meaning it can not be swapped again and it is the current holders gift to keep. When choosing to swap players can only choose gift that are not currently “safe”.

Opening of gifts and swapping takes place until all the presents have been chosen. Finally, the person who picked first gets to choose to swap from all the now opened gifts(excluding any “safe gifts”) or keep what he/she has already received. In the end, the gift you are holding is the gift you take home.


A gift can not be swapped more than 3 times. After a gift is “swapped” 3 times it is considered “safe”. Make sure to make the swapping rules are clear before begining as things can get a bit crazy.

1. Mary takes a gift from the pile.
2. Jen swaps the gift from Mary – 1 Swap
3. Rosie swaps the gift from Jen – 2 Swaps
4. Justin swaps the gift from Rosie – 3 Swaps
The gift is now “Safe” and it is Justin’s to keep.

*Most people use 3 times swapped for a gift to be safe. You can increase this or not have “safe gifts” it’s up to you and your group.