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Yankee Swap Rules

I wrote these rules down because a few years ago, my office began to play Yankee Swap instead of Secret Santa. (Sometimes called White Elephant, or Dirty Santa). Growing up in Boyscouts, we used to play Yankee Swap for our annual Christmas party. It always went well with a bunch of 12 year olds, so Imagine my surprise when it went horrible wrong for my office party.

The reason was immediately apparent, the people running the game were using some harebrained rules. (If someone takes your gift, you can take someone else's, and then they can take someone else's, etc, etc, etc.) The game would take forever, everyone was quite bored, since every turn consisted of everyone stealing the same present over and over. It got so bad they started making spot rules up. (Time limits, gifts can only be stolen once (This was the rule they were missing at the beginning, but by this point everyone was bored))

So I set out to find the rule set we used in Boyscouts. It works great for large groups (which was the primary downfall of the failed office party, we had 60 people) as well as small groups.

Yankee Swap Rules


  1. A Hat. (Buckets, Bag, whatever.)
  2. Enough paper strips for the game (You might want to print them out, it's easier)


  1. Create the seeding batch. Number strips 1 thru the highest number of people you expect. Add a few numbers, but no more than 5, since the numbers will come up in the game, and will have to be kept track of. 
  2. Create the picking batch of numbers. Create 3 strips of each number. So there will be 3 number one strips. 3 number two strips, all the way up to the highest number. (I did mention that a computer and a printer would make this easier. Note, don't allow people to create they're own slips, or you will have some people make LARGE slips trying to increase they're chances of getting picked. The paper should all be uniform in size 
    • Variation: Instead of using numbers, have each person write they're name on 3 slips of paper when they arrive.
  3. (Optional) All players are seating in a circle, with all the present in a "Pile" in the center.


  1. Mix the seeding batch of numbers in the hat.
  2. Have every person playing draw a number from the hat. Note, the number you get does not determine order.
    • Variation.  Instead of putting them in hat, just hand out the numbers to people as the come in the door. The actual number you get makes no difference.
  3. Remove the seeding batch of numbers from hat, and replace with picking batch. (A second hat could be used here instead)
  4. Number is drawn from hat. This first person MUST pick a gift from the "Pile".
  5. Second, and all other numbers drawn from hat. Player MUST pick a gift from the "Pile". They may either keep it, and sit down, or they may "Swap" it with any other player that has a gift.
    • When number is called, and player already has a gift (Second call of number), you may either, Keep your current gift, or swap it with someone else. You cannot select a new gift from the "Pile"
    • When number is called for the 3rd time, it is that players "Final Call". They may either keep they're current gift, or swap it with someone. However, the gift (and the player) are retired from play. The gift is no longer availble, and the player has finished the game. 
  6. Keep playing till the last number is called.

Pro's to this approach:

  • No one player has an advantage. It's random who's name gets picked three times.
  • Really Random. Someone may get called for the 3rd time REALLY early. Even before the Best gift has been unwrapped.
  • I feel it unwraps the gifts faster than other varient. If you know you can select again, you don't feel bad getting something from the pile. But you don't have too.
  • The game doesn't take forever.

Con's to this approach:

  • I've had people tell me they love the whole everyone steal from everyone approach and that the games take forever.


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