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20 Gift Exchange Ideas for Your Office Holiday Party

Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela

Gift exchanges are a great way to engage with your co-workers and have a little holiday fun.

Exchanging gifts is a great way to show your appreciation for your colleagues during the holiday season. If you do choose to have a gift exchange, be sure to have the entire office or team involved so that no one is left out, and enact a firm price limit that everyone must adhere to as a way to help keep things fair. Employers should also understand that some people might not want to participate and allow anyone who doesn't to bow out with no questions asked.

Jazz up your office holiday party this year with one of these 20 gift exchange ideas. [See related story: 20 Inexpensive Secret Santa Gift Ideas for Co-Workers]

Holiday trivia

Host a game of holiday-themed trivia and allow the winners first pick at the pile of presents (brought in by each person involved). Once you win and choose your gift, you're out of the game, and the others play on until everyone has something. It's a fun way to bond and get in the spirit with your colleagues. This is an easy game to do over a video call, with presents being virtual (like gift cards) or mailed to employees' homes.

Joint gift

Rather than everyone buying a small gift for one co-worker, collaborate on a larger gift that will benefit everyone, like a new coffee machine or wall decor for the office. Be sure to give everyone in the office a chance to weigh in on the gift.

Gift auction

Like you would with most gift exchanges, set a price limit and ask everyone to bring in one present. Then host an auction where employees bid for the best price of a product, not exceeding the limit. The highest bidder gets the gift.

Homemade gifts

There's nothing more sentimental than a homemade gift that requires time and thought. You can set it up so everyone has one particular person to make a personalized gift for, or that everyone makes one universal item that could be gifted to anyone.

Themed gift

Choose a theme for your office present swap, like "food" or "gift cards," and have each person purchase a gift that reflects it. You can couple it with another method to decide who gets what. It'll be exciting to compare the creativity within your group.

Musical gifts

Much like with musical chairs, everyone gathers in a circle while a holiday song plays. Each employee brings in a present they purchased and wrapped, and they pass gifts to the person next to them until the music stops. Once the song pauses, whatever gift you're holding is yours to open.

Secret Santa

You've probably participated in a Secret Santa exchange at some point, but in case you've forgotten how this longtime tradition works, everyone in the office anonymously draws the name of one co-worker for whom they will buy an inexpensive gift. If you want to make it more fun, encourage employees to leave hints about their identities for their recipients up until the big reveal.

Gift guess

This is another great option for virtual get-togethers. In this activity, employees buy a random gift and wrap it in a way that others can't tell what it is or where it came from. When it comes time to swap presents, have each employee hold up their gift while the others guess what's inside. The first person to guess correctly gets to keep the gift. Employees can give hints if necessary, but they shouldn't be obvious. Go around until all the gifts have been exchanged.

White elephant

If your employees have a good sense of humor, a white elephant gift exchange (sometimes called a "Yankee swap") may be just the answer to spread some holiday cheer. Have each employee bring in a wrapped gift to put in a central location, where everyone will take turns selecting presents. The first person to go opens the gift they chose, and the next person has the option to steal the previous person's gift (in which case that person would have to choose another) or select a new one. But what makes a white elephant exchange unique is the type of presents involved: White elephant gifts are usually weird or funny items or unwanted things that employees choose to regift.

Book exchange

Reading is a gift in its own right, and this exchange works especially well if your office is full of bookworms. Have each employee bring in a copy of their favorite book or a book by their favorite author. To decide who gets which book, simply draw names out of a hat. To make things even more special, you can ask employees to write a note to the recipient explaining why that book is so important to them. Not only is it a fun and inexpensive way to exchange gifts, but employees can learn a lot about one another and discover a new author they may love. 

Gift grab

To do a gift grab (also known as a grab bag), employees bring in a small, wrapped gift under a certain price limit. Put a number on each wrapped gift, place corresponding numbers in a hat, and have participants draw one to determine which gift they get. Alternatively, don't label the gifts and have all employees select theirs in the order of the numbers they drew.

Coffee mug swap

Nearly everyone in the office has a use for a coffee mug. Why not make gift-giving simpler by limiting your employees to exchanging fun and decorative mugs? Assign everyone a random recipient (you can draw names from a hat, as in a Secret Santa exchange) and set a price limit. To make it even more fun, have employees fill their mugs with edible treats, like candies or hot cocoa packets.

Charity exchange

Instead of giving out presents, why not do some good while spreading holiday cheer? Have everyone write down their names and favorite charity on a piece of paper to put in a hat and then let employees take turns selecting names. Then, employees will make a small donation (again, set a limit for the amount) to that charity in the selected person's name.

Recipe baskets

Even if you're not great at cooking, everyone has a favorite recipe. A fun alternative to giving actual presents is to exchange your favorite recipes, but not just a card with instructions. Employees should make a gift basket complete with the instructions and the ingredients needed to make the dish. To choose who gets which baskets, draw names out of a hat.

Holiday cheer exchange

This is a great way to get into the holiday spirit. Have everyone bring in a wrapped gift under a certain price limit and sit in a circle. Then give them directions to stand up if they meet certain holiday-related criteria. For example, you can say, "Stand up if you've already decorated your Christmas tree," or "Stand up if you're wearing red." Those who are standing should swap gifts. Play as many rounds as you like, but make sure everyone ends up with a gift other than their own. This is another option that can be played virtually over Zoom.

Scavenger hunt

This is a fun activity that is easy for employees to participate in from their own homes. Send out a list of the scavenger hunt items and have employees log into the video call from their phones, and send them out. Try to include items that everyone can reasonably find around their house or yard, and give a prize to whoever finishes first.

Gift train

This is another great option for remote workers. The gift train works picking and wrapping gifts and putting them all into one box. That box is then sent to the first recipient. That employee picks a present to keep and then sends the box to the next recipient. This process continues until everyone has received a gift from each participant, and the box is empty.

Left or right

Have one participant prepare a list of questions that need to be answered with "left" or "right." Each person starts with a gift in their hands, and gifts are passed back and forth as each question is answered. When the list of questions runs out, whatever present is left in your hands is yours to keep.

This is a fun way to satisfy everyone's sweet tooth. Have each participant bake a batch of their favorite cookies and bring them in. Each guest can fill a bag or basket with a few of each type of cookie. For a competitive element, have participants vote on their favorite cookie and crown a winner. Just be sure to consider dietary restrictions when baking – maybe offer a gluten-free or allergy-friendly category.

Ugly sweater swap

Who doesn't love a good ugly sweater? Have everyone bring in an ugly sweater and swap them using any method, like passing them around in a circle until the music stops, or a grab pile. Offer a prize or vote for the ugliest sweater. 

Additional reporting by Kiely Kuligowski, Shannon Gausepohl and Brittney Morgan.

Image Credit: SeventyFour / Getty Images
Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't writing for business.com and Business News Daily, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. She is also the content manager for Lightning Media Partners. Check out her short stories in "Night Light: Haunted Tales of Terror," which is sold on Amazon.