How to hold a “Yankee Swap” for dummies #TisTheSeason




Each year I have mentioned to people that one of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is go to a Yankee swap performed on Christmas Night by my father in law’s side of the family. It usually gets asked by multiple people as to what it is, how it is done and get the comment a lot, “oh I heard of that before but don’t quite understand it”. Well then my friends you are clearly not having as much fun at Christmas as we are and I’m going to explain the whole situation on how to do it in order for it to run properly and enjoy a great night full of fun and laughter had by all no matter the crowd.

Gift Choosing:

We have found that using $20 as a limit has been just about perfect dollar amount to go with and each person MUST spend at least that amount! This doesn’t mean because you got a great deal on the birdhouse at a craft sale, they were asking $20 and you talked them down to $10 feeling you did what you had to. Now the opposite is ok, if you run into something that is a crazy deal that would sell for a much higher value on sale for $20 take it and run with it. Put some thought into it…. This doesn’t mean to go to your nearest dollar store and spend the whole thing buying $20 worth of junk when you will probably end up with something decent or going to a pawn shop and buying a dingy nick knack that has seen the war. These rules are done this way so that people are not getting cheated. Yes some will end up with items worth more than the others even though they spent the same amount and that is ok. There is no age limit, however, I would suggest that if the kids are involved that you let them have their own first so theirs is over earlier and they can go play with whatever they received and let the adults have their time.


The amount of people involved is not a problem, however the more people you have will lengthen your night. We always end up with between 20 and 25 taking about 1.5hrs for the swap in itself. Now of course we all choose to meet at supper time with every single person showing up with a plate of something to share like a pot luck. There are so many choices of deserts, dishes, drinks (Bring your own cheer) that you have a hard time deciding what to eat.

Starting out your swap all of the wrapped untagged gifts are placed into the middle of the room on the floor, everyone’s name gets placed onto a small ticket size piece of paper, folded up and placed into a bowl, or whatever you want to put them in at which point the first name is drawn. The person who’s name ends up being revealed has the utmost of power in the game and deemed “the chosen one” as he/she Pick a prize in the middle of the floor they return to their seat and open it taking time while doing so to ensure everyone in the game sees what they have just received as a gift.

Now what you need to know is that the person who last chose a gift, picks the next name. At this time that person has a decision to make…… Will they STEAL someone else’s gift or pick one from the floor?? If they steal, the person without has to either steal from someone else or take another from the floor so they now still have a gift. A gift CANNOT be stolen more than three times before it is then locked with the person that holds it at that time. (Bob steals from Sue, Nancy steals from Bob, George steals it from Nancy and it is locked to be hers for now…the only person that can steal this item is at the very end of the game)

Throughout the game lots of laughs are had as funny gifts come into play, cooing over nicely thought out gifts, crazy ways to wrap a gift, men getting women’s stuff and women getting men’s. This moves along and of course the further you get, the more gifts you can actually see open and able to steal so sometimes it can be of benefit to be later in the game being picked in regards to options.

The last and most crucial part of the game you need to know is that you don’t want to become too attached to something you have sitting on your lap as the very first person….remember, “The Chosen one”…. He/she has the powerful option of choosing from any gift that has been opened throughout the night even if it has been stolen more than 3 times. This person can choose to keep what they have or choose to steal anything that came through the night. At this point if they stole one, it becomes a trade off as they would get the gift that was in his possession and the game is now complete.

Keep it simple or create a theme, that part is totally up to you. Just be aware of course that some people can easily be offended by things so know your audience or choose again to buy smart. Happy Swapping, and should you choose to try this out, I would love to see some random pictures and how you enjoyed it.


ATT LOGO-matthew-tully

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