White Elephant Rules

How does one play white Elephant?

That really depends on how elaborate you want to make your game of White Elephant. You can play a very simple version where you just try to steal each other’s presents or you can add a whole lot of rules to make the game harder, but also more fun!

How to Play White Elephant

The basics

  1. Decide on an amount you’re allowed to spend on your gift and pick a date for the celebration.
  2. Everyone brings one wrapped gift to the White Elephant gift exchange. Not sure what to get? Our gift finder is here to help.
  3. Seat everyone so they can see the gift pile easily.
  4. Decide the order for picking presents. You can do this based on age, from youngest to oldest for instance, or in alphabetical order. You can also draw to decide. Write numbers on paper to match the number of participants. If there are 20 of you, use the numbers from 1 to 20 and put them in a hat. Then let everyone draw a number.
  5. Let the first person pick a gift and open it.
  6. The next player can then decide if they want to open another gift or ‘steal’ the gift of the person who went before them. When a person gets their gift stolen this way, they can either choose a new gift or steal a gift from someone else. But you are not allowed to steal back your stolen present immediately.
  7. Only three swaps can be made in one turn (otherwise the game could last forever).
  8. When everybody has had their turn, the first player can decide if they want to keep or swap the gift they are holding. If they decide to keep the gift they have, the White Elephant game is over. But if they steal a present, the game goes on until someone declines to steal a present.

White Elephant Rules

White Elephant Variations

There are loads of variations to the above rules. Here are some extra rules you could use:

  • Three steals and you’re out – If you get stolen from three times, you’re out of the game and you get to keep the present you’re holding.
  • No unwrapping gifts until the end of the game – This will add some mystery and a whole lot of laughter to the game.
  • Add a theme – Add a theme to the White Elephant. Everyone then has to buy a gift that fits the theme. Think Christmas themed gifts, but also a type of gifts such as coffee table books, board games, decorations, etc. Re-gifts (an unwanted item you already have) are also a possible theme.
  • Mix up your White Elephant Exchange with a Secret Santa – In this variation you draw names and get a gift for the assigned person, but once everyone has unwrapped their presents you’re allowed to steal from each other. You can use our Online Secret Santa Organiser for this.
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