How To Play Dirty Santa Christmas Gift Exchange

dirty santa
Photo by Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

Dirty Santa is a great holiday gift exchange game to play at your Christmas party this year. Since Christmas is right around the corner, it’s great to start prepping you plans.

Dirty Santa can be played with a big group of friends, or with family for the holidays. If you’re going through the holidays on a tight budget, then dirty Santa is the absolute perfect gift exchange game for you. You don’t have to worry about getting a gift for everyone in your family.

For Dirty Santa, you don’t even need to worry about personalizing your gift for someone. After all, the point of the game is to steal gifts from each other. Without further ado, here are the rules.

How To Play Dirty Santa

First Set Guidelines

The very first thing you need to do before even playing is give guests a guideline. This is to tell them how much they should spend on a gift, how many gifts, and what type of gift. For example, gifts should be $20 or under. Bring one gift. Bring a funny or gag gift.

Ultimately, it is up to you and your friends/family to decide how you want to set the guidelines for dirty Santa.

Having a big mix of gifts makes the game a lot more interesting. One nice gift is going to be stolen a lot more than that gag gift!

How Many People Need to play?

  • The more the merrier in this game, but maybe cap it at 20. A minimum of five people will work. The more people who are playing the game, the longer it will be.
  • Each person should be responsible for bringing one gift. These gifts should have no label on them, so no one knows what’s inside.

Dirty Santa Rules

  1. Pick Who Goes First

First off, you need to pick someone to start the game. This person will be the one choosing the first gift. You can do this however you like. For example, youngest or oldest first. You can also have numbers in a cup and whoever draws the lowest number will go first. Drawing numbers is easiest, because then you automatically have a numerical order of who will get to go each turn.

2. First Gift Is Picked

Whoever is determined to be the first player picks the first gift. They then unwrap the gift, so everyone can see what it is.

3. Player 2 Goes Next

This is where the game can start to get interesting. Player 2 has the option to steal the gift from player 1 if they like it. Or, they can pick an unopened gift from the center and unwrap if for everyone to see. If they chose to steal the gift from player 1, then player 1 picks another gift from the center and opens it before the next turn.

4. The Game Goes On

Keep taking turns until every gift is either stolen, or picked from the center. If someone steals a gift from a player, it cannot be stolen back!

5. Ending the Game

The game will be over once the last gift is picked from the center and unwrapped. Depending on how many steals occur, this game could last a long time! Sometimes, the best spot is to be the last person to go.

Dirty Santa Variations

The rules listed above are simply standard, however there’s plenty of variations.

  • Limit the number of steals. Don’t’ let people steal more than twice. This means that whoever is the second person to steal a gift is the person keeping it.
  • Have guests guess who brought what gifts. Since they aren’t labeled you can make a second game out of guessing who brought which gift. Each correct answer can be rewarded with a prize!
  • Make up your own! Add your own twist to the game and make it original. You know your friends and family the best, so you can make this determination.

And that is how you play the white elephant gift exchange of dirty Santa. Be sure to check out my Pinterest page, and see more holiday posts on the Lifestyle page!


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