The Official White Elephant Rules

The holiday season is that special time to relax, unwind and enjoy our time, especially if we’re going to a Christmas party in 2024 organized by friends, family or even colleagues. Who wants to be reminded about rules and regulations when the only thing on our mind is having a great time, indulging in festive cookies and swapping gifts from each other during the gift exchange?

Well, just like with every other game played out there, the White Elephant games has some rules that we must follow. The main rules ensure that the game works out right, while the optional rules and variations add fun to the regular game and allow for greater customization which can come in handy depending on the type of group or size of the group.

The Basic Rules

Here are some of the basic rules for the White Elephant gift exchange. These are the absolute must and need to be implemented regardless of what type of White Elephant party you are throwing.

One Gift Per Player

Every participant must bring one gift to the gift exchange. Showing up without a gift is not an option and bringing more than one gift is unnecessary, as everyone will be going home with a single gift.

Gifts Must Be Concealed

Every gift has to wrapped in such a way that the person opening it can not easily see or guess what it is. It’s OK to not do the best wrapping job, and it’s even encouraged to be deceitful and tricking everyone into thinking that the gift is something else by shaping the wrapping a certain way, but keep in mind that part of the fun is wondering what the gift is and you do not want to give away the secret easily.

No Immediate Stealing Back

If someone steals/swaps a gift from you, you can not immediately steal it back. This one is one of the major rules that has to be implemented, because without it two players could get into a never ending swapping back and forth, the game will not progress and there will not be any way to resolve the issue.

The easy way to avoid this scenario is to make sure everyone understands this cardinal rule: You can not immediately steal a gift stolen from you.

Optional Rules And Variations

Aside from the basic White Elephant rules there are many other fun variations that can be incorporated into the game. Some of these additional optional rules will make the gift exchange more fun, while others will make dealing with small or large groups more manageable.

For example it makes sense to have multiple rounds of stealing if the group is small because you don’t want the game to end too soon, and you would want to limit the number of rounds if the group is large as to not overdo the whole experience time wise.

Here are some of the most popular White Elephant rule variants:

Following A Poem or Story

Instead of drawing numbers to assign order of the players, the organized of the party may choose to follow a poem or a story that has “Left”, “Right”, “Across” or other directional pointers to follow. The gifts are swapped by people as they hear the direction.

Price Limit/Range

Although it is common sense to not spend over $20-$25 on a White Elephant gift, it is recommended to explicitly set the price limit or range for the presents during the planing phase of the party.

If you would like to gave gifts of roughly similar value, you would not want to have someone bring an overly expensive item or have gifts that are not up to par with the other ones. Setting a rule to spend in a specified range will ensure that the presents are of similar value.

Obviously this is not all parties will incorporate. There are White elephant parties where everyone brings unwated gifts, lightly used items and various items of various values. All of that is fine as well as long as it fits your group.

Themed Gifts Only

Another very common tradition is to have a theme for gifts. An example could be home baked goods, DIY items, books with funny titles, ugly Christmas clothing, etc. This serves several purposes: it makes buying gifts easy as everyone knows what to bring, it ensures that the gifts will be similar in nature and value, and it may be a great way to make your particular party special. Have a look at all the White Elephant themes!

Game Ends When All Gifts Are Open

This variation encourages lots of stealing and swapping until all the gifts are opened, but once the last gift is opened, the game ends. Now while this may seem like a short game play, it’s actually quite suitable for large groups. If you have 20 or more people opening the gifts and swapping and stealing in between the game may drag out too long so using this type of ending helps keep the game to an enjoyable length.

First Player Gets Last Swap

In this variation, the person who opened the very first gift gets one last swap when all the gifts are opened and swapped. If you are not going to have a swap and steal rounds and are ending the game shortly, this one makes if a bit fair for the first player who might have received a gift that no one stole from them, thus not giving them a chance for even a single steal.

First Player Gets Last Swap Only If Not Stolen From

Because the above white elephant rule where the first player gets to steal last puts them at a position to get away with the best gift, often a better, more fair variation is used. The first player is given a chance to steal last only if they were never stolen from. This is a bit more fair way to run the game and that’s important, because white elephant parties are known to have people get upset about fairness.

Wild Elephant

Wild Elephant, or the timed countdown swapping round can be a lot of fun. Once all the gifts have been opened, someone sets a timer to a predetermined amount. For example anywhere from one to three minutes is popular choice.

When the timer mandatory swapping starts until the timer is up, at which point the gift that you are holding is the one that you are going home with. Wild Elephant countdown if a lot of fun because it’s played in a very fast paced environment. Screams, laughter and excitement can be felt during this stressful but joyful period!

Player Is Out In 3 Swaps

If any particular player gets stolen from three times, the third gift that they are swapped with stays with them and they are out of the game. This is useful for elimination style game play and comes in handy for the players that like to involve strategy with their game play. The idea is that if this rule is implemented, you want to time and count swaps so that you can eliminate other player with less wanted gifts.

Gift Is Out In 3 Swaps

This one is also similar to the one above, but in this case it’s the number of times that the gift is stolen that is counted, and when that number reaches 3, the gift stays with the last person that received it. The gift and the player are out of the game.

No Steal From Last Gift Opener

You can not steal a gift from a person before you. In this case, the person before you is the one that last opened or stole a gift, not the one in order before you.

No Steal Until All Gifts Are Opened

For very large groups, there needs to be some way of making the game more snappy in terms of timing, therefore it’s a good idea to not do any stealing and swapping until all the gifts have been opened first. Once all the presents are open, the stealing can commence.

Know More Fun Rules?

These are some of the most common and popular White Elephant rules and variations. If you have a few interesting ones that you’ve heard of or used, let us know

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White Elephant Drinks

Here are couple of white elephant coctail ideas for your party. For more delicious drink recipes click here.

Arctic Elephant

Ingredients: Bourbon, Cognac, Milk, Frozen Milk Cubes

Description: Freeze milk in ice cube tray. Pour bourbon cognac and milk to taste and mix. Add frozen milk cubes. Optionally add some simple no flavor syrup to the drink.


Ingredients: Guiness, Baileys, Chocolate Shavings, Brownie Dust

Description: Touch of guiness mixed in with baileys topped with Chocolate shavings and brownie dust. This delicious treat with get your elephant party chocolate lovers in a awe!

View More Drinks