11 Unique Gift-Giving Games That Aren't Secret Santa

Plus, they all can be played virtually.

by Kaitlyn Wylde and Lauren Grant
Originally Published: 
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While the holiday season is arguably one of the most joyful and festive times of the year, it's also one of the most stressful — especially when it comes to getting the people you love gifts and especially due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a perfect, adult world, we'd all be given a present allowance that would give us the ability to get everyone the perfect gift while still being able to pay rent and not go completely broke. Alas, while I'll keep calling my representatives about that proposal, there are other ways to keep afloat during the gift-giving season — like, for instance, gift-exchange games with a price limit. And no, I don't just mean Secret Santa. I'm talking unique gift-giving games other than Secret Santa.

Here, I've put together a list of games that will allow you to celebrate the holidays with all of your friends without going broke. Don’t worry, all of these games can be played socially distanced, aka at your next holiday Zoom party. From book swaps to re-gifting games to group charity donations, there are so many ways you can give and give back without getting your power turned off. Just get your friends together on an email chain, pick a game, and start assigning. And while you're at it, you might want to suggest playing one of these games with your family, to help everyone save some money this year.

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Mystery Gift

Have all your friends or co-workers buy a gift and wrap it so that its silhouette isn't too obvious. Once everyone has their gifts, sit around in a circle and, one at a time, show the group your gift. The first person to guess what it is gets to keep it. You can turn this game virtual by having each of your friends hold up their gift on Zoom and everyone takes turns guessing the gift.

Thematic Gifting

Even when you're buying a gift for a close friend and with a set budget, it can be impossible to find the right thing. Make things easier on everyone by choosing a group theme. Ideas might include: French-inspired, tech accessories, green beauty, or foodie tools.

The Regift Game

For a group of friends or co-workers who enjoy gag gifts, this is a great game. Bring a wrapped gift — it can be something someone gave to you, something funny, or something random. Have everyone take turns selecting a gift from a pile. The first person up will open a gift, then the second person will have the option to steal that gift or open a new one. If they steal it, have the first person pick another gift. Warning: This game might quickly turn into mayhem, though, so make sure you do this with a group that has a sense of humor. You can turn this game to Zoom by making all of the gifts virtual (think a virtual gym class membership).

Book Swap

Have each person bring a book that they love, but are willing to let go of. Then once you're all together, have each person gift the book to someone in the group who they think will appreciate it. That personal touch will likely make the person more inclined to actually read it.

Caffeine Swap

This is best for an office environment, because no one understands your need for caffeine like your co-workers. Draw names out of a hat, Secret Santa style, and have each person buy their gift recipient a special mug with a box of coffee or tea that they would enjoy. Make this game virtual by having everyone draw names with an online tool like Elfster and then mail your mug to your recipient.


Donation Game

Instead of swapping gifts, pick a charity that you and your friends all want to support, and donate together to make a big impact.

Best Match Gift

After all of your friends or co-workers or family members get a gift (within the same price range) have them bring it to a gathering. One at a time, have each person list out some qualities about the gift, inviting people to raise a hand if they're enticed. For example, if you purchased a gift certificate to iTunes, you might say, "raise your hand if you don't have enough music on your phone, or have a backlog of movies you missed in theaters." That way, the gift will go to the right person. Play on Zoom in a similar fashion and have everyone mail their gifts to the matching recipient after the party.

Wish List

On a piece of paper, write down your name, and five gift options that you're really hoping for this holiday season. Then fold up the paper, put it into a bowl with the other participants' papers, and have each guest blindly pick a new piece of paper. It's similar to Secret Santa, but with a better chance of making your recipient happy with their gift. This is another game that can easily become virtual by using online tools like Giftster to draw names.

Voting Game

Have each of your guests write down three gifts they want and then send the list to everyone (excluding the guest who wrote it) and have them vote on which gift that participant should receive. Once votes have been cast, draw names on an online tool like Elfster to decide who will get their recipient the gift that was voted on by the group.

Gift Auction

You can use real cash or a pretend currency (like candy canes or Monopoly money) for this game. Have everyone submit a wrapped gift and then have guests bid on each surprise.

Scavenger Hunt

This gift exchange can definitely be played socially distanced. Gather friends to an outdoor park and hide each gift. Everyone only gets one gift, though, so as soon as participants find one they're out.

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