Simplify Giving – 6 Family Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas & Tools

By Tico+Tina

Last updated September 8, 2023


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This entry is part 20 of 20 in the series Simplifying the Holiday Season

Gift-giving becomes a drag when we let expectations add constraints to the process.

  • others expectations
  • our perception of other participant‘s expectations
  • our expectations of how we want to be perceived
  • our expectations of how we think things should be
  • expectations based on traditions – how things have just always been done

If we’ve never stopped to examine these expectations and evaluate their validity, we will most likely eventually find ourselves in a less-than-satisfying situation at some point.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we’re all about intentional choices – no living by default, and that certainly extends to the area of gift-giving.

Somewhere along the way, the focus shifted from giving, to the gifts.

We explore this line of thought a bit in the video below, along with several methods of gift-giving that we enjoy as a family.

We don’t want to get caught up in the “it’s the time of year to shower people with stuff” contest.

And yet, we also don’t want to take on the spirit of Grinch-ness.

In pondering the act of giving, I feel that there’s an art to it that is easy to lose in the shuffle and that can cause frustration.

When we give someone something just to give them something, to check it off our list, there’s no joy in it. It feels empty because it is empty.

I am challenging us to consider our gift list this year through this lens.

Giving should…

  • be fun (done with a happy heart  )
  • be meaningful/useful to the recipient
  • cost you something (in other words, include part of yourself, which almost always means time/sacrifice and thought)

If you’ve been going through the motions, maybe you want to rethink who is on your gift list. It’s alright to scale back on gifts for teammatescoworkersemployees, and that random group of friends from your knitting club. Maybe you want to rethink the way you approach gifting so that you can include several, if not all of these aspects.

Here are 5 family Christmas gift exchange ideas that our family enjoys.

1. White Elephant

Fun – 5 | Meaningful/Useful – 1 | Difficulty Level – 2

This is usually much higher on the fun scale than the meaningful one, but memories might be the most meaningful of all 

I don’t think most White Elephants are supposed to work like this, but we’ve had a lot of fun over the years with my extended family using the gift exchange as a chance to get rid of something we don’t want anymore.

It became almost a contest to see who could bring the lamest gift. Well, my dad thought it was a contest anyway. One year he boxed up some weights (with no bar) and underwear that didn’t fit him anymore or something.

With our version of White Elephant there’s a couple of simple steps. Start with the pile of gifts that everyone brought. You draw numbers (or use another order system, like age) and as each person goes they have the choice to test their luck with a new gift or steal any of the gifts that are already open. If someone’s gift is stolen they get to pick a new gift or steal another.

This has always been one of my favorite traditions for bigger holiday events.

2. Name Draw/Secret Santa

Fun – 4 | Meaningful/Useful – 3 | Difficulty Level – 3

Drawing names is such an easy way to simplify giving, but it’s a million times simpler when you use something more sophisticated than a baseball cap or bowl. Check out some of these options and see if they don’t make you want to draw names this year just so you can try them out!

Elfster –  Beautiful site, lots of great features.

Elfster is a website that makes organizing in person or virtual gift exchanges and Secret Santa gift exchange events fun and hassle-free. Create an Account: To get started with Elfster, you’ll need to create a free account. You can sign up using your email address or connect with your social media accounts.

  1. Start a Gift Exchange: Once you’re logged in, you can initiate a gift exchange event with your new group. You’ll provide details such as the event name, date, and any specific rules or price limits in case you need a fixed budget.
  2. Invite Participants: Invite friends, family, or colleagues to join your gift exchange by entering their email addresses or sharing a unique link that you can post on Whatsappmessenger or anywhere really. Elfster can also help you draw names anonymously, ensuring that everyone gets a Secret Santa assignment.
  3. Wishlist and Gift Suggestions: Participants can create wishlists by adding gift ideas, preferences, and even links to specific products they’d like to receive. This helps Secret Santas choose the perfect gift.
  4. Anonymous Gift Exchange: Elfster uses its random generator to match participants with their Secret Santa recipients while keeping it a secret. This adds an element of surprise to the event.
  5. Communication and Reminders: Elfster provides a platform for participants to communicate anonymously or ask questions about gift preferences. The site also sends out reminders to ensure everyone meets the deadlines for gift exchange.
  6. Gift Exchange Day: On the designated gift exchange day, participants can reveal their identities and exchange gifts. Elfster’s platform ensures a smooth and organized experience.
  7. Thank You Notes: After the exchange, participants can send thank you notes to their Secret Santas, expressing their gratitude for the thoughtful gifts.
  8. Year-Round Fun: Elfster isn’t just for holiday exchanges; it can be used year-round for birthdays, anniversaries, or any special occasions where gift-giving is involved.
  9. Access Anywhere: Elfster is accessible via web browsers and mobile apps, making it convenient for participants to join and manage gift exchanges from anywhere.

DrawNames – this was recommended by a friend, and it looks good too.

DrawNames is a website that facilitates the process of organizing gift exchanges, Secret Santa events, and similar activities. Here’s a simple description of how DrawNames works:

  1. Sign Up or Log In: To get started with DrawNames, you can either create a new account or log in using your existing credentials.
  2. Create an Event: Once you’re logged in, you can initiate a gift exchange event or Secret Santa game. You’ll provide essential details like the event name, date, and any specific rules or budget limits for gifts.
  3. Invite Participants: Invite friends, family members, or colleagues to participate in your gift exchange by entering their email addresses or sharing a unique event link which contains the group code and an invitation message .
  4. Name Drawing: DrawNames uses its random generator to set gift pairings . This ensures that the gift-giving process remains a surprise until the exchange day.
  5. Wishlist and Gift Suggestions: Participants can create wishlists on the platform, where they can add gift ideas, preferences, and links to specific products they’d like to receive. This helps Secret Santas select the perfect gifts.
  6. Communication and Anonymity: DrawNames provides a platform for participants to communicate anonymously or ask questions about gift preferences, ensuring the secret identity of the giftgiver is well-kept.
  7. Exchange Day: On the designated exchange day, participants can reveal their identities and exchange gifts. DrawNames helps coordinate the exchange to ensure it goes smoothly.
  8. Thank You Notes: After the exchange, gift recipient can send thank you notes to their Secret Santas, expressing their appreciation for the thoughtful gifts they received.
  9. Year-Round Use: DrawNames can be used for various occasions throughout the year, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or any event involving gift-giving.
  10. Accessible Anywhere: DrawNames is accessible through web browsers and mobile apps, making it easy for participants to join and manage gift exchanges from anywhere.

In summary, DrawNames simplifies the process of organizing and participating in gift exchanges, making it a convenient and quick gift exchange generator. DrawNames also has an Android and Iphone app.

3. Stocking Stuffers

Fun – 3 | Meaningful/Useful – 3 | Difficulty Level – 3

There’s really no reason you couldn’t just stick to stocking-type gifts if you wanted to – like everyone bring one small stocking stuffer for each person.

My parents do this for us kids every year since we’ve been adults, and it’s become a tradition that we really enjoy. They give us practical little items that we’ll use, not trinkets that clutter up our homes .

It’s fun to go out and find gifts like this, and you could even make it a fun group activity with a dollar limit.

4. Wishlists

Fun – 3 | Meaningful/Useful – 5 | Difficulty Level – 1

This is probably my second favorite way to get “want” gifts.

I say second favorite because I feel guilty making folks pick something from my own wishlist, and also because I feel like it forces them to spend a certain amount. That can be circumvented by everyone deciding on a dollar amount together before creating their wishlists.

This is definitely a more favorable option for me in situations where everyone gets everyone a gift

I’m a big fan of the Amazon Universal Wishlist because you can get almost anything on Amazon, but you can still add stuff from anywhere online to your Amazon list. Plus, the free shipping is something we use all the time to mail gifts to people.

5. Giftcards/Cash

Fun – 1 | Meaningful/Useful – 5 | Difficulty Level – 1

This is hands down our favorite kind of gift, as long as it’s open-ended and not to an obscure place. We LOVE being able to pick out our own stuff and see how far we can make the money go – which can be farther after the holiday season!

Sure, it feels less personal maybe and not so high on the joy of gift giving (stay tuned for a post about cool/meaningful ways to give cash/cards, though!), but for us it’s actually the most personal because we’re picky, ha!

This one is really high on the useful scale!

BONUS: There’s one other gift policy that I really rather like, and we may end up adopting with our children: “Something to wear, something to read, something you want, something you need.”

I love the idea of a little rhyme simplifying the giving process!

How about you? What’s your favorite type of gift to give or receive?

More In Simplifying the Holiday SeasonPrevious Post in the Series
Awesome Clutter-Free Christmas Gift Idea! For Less Holiday Stress.


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