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Christmas Party Idea For Home or Office: The Yankee Swap.

Updated on December 3, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.


Exchanging Christmas gifts with people we’re not related to, or not very familiar with, can be awkward at best. What’s appropriate? Will I appear cheap? Will they think I’m being pretentious?

What's more, the Yankee Swap provides the perfect opportunity to clandestinely re-gift unwanted treasures from past gift-giving occasions. Unless, of course, the person who gave you that gift is at this party. D’OH!

Here's How the Yankee Swap Works

A limit or range is set on the monetary value of the gift, say $15-$20, and each guest that attends is instructed beforehand to bring a wrapped gift that's within that range.

Do not put a “To/From” tag on the gift. Ideally, the gift would be appropriate for either gender.

The host prepares numbered tickets corresponding to the number of guests. Let’s say there are 20 guests.

The tickets, numbered 1 through 20 are put in a container and each guest draws a number from the container.

The guest who drew Number 1 takes center stage and selects a gift from among the 20 that are under the tree, and opens it.

The person who drew Number 2 then enters the spotlight, selects a gift and opens it. He or she can keep that gift, or swap it for the gift selected by Number 1.

It proceeds in that manner, in numerical order, with each guest having the option of keeping the gift he or she selects, or exchanging it for any of the gifts previously chosen by any guest.

But don’t be misled into thinking that, in this example, Number 20 is the pick of the litter.

Yes, he or she can keep the gift they open, or choose from any of the other 19 gifts.

But remember poor Number 1 who didn’t get to swap?

Well, in a Yankee Swap, Number 1, because he or she was stuck with the gift he or she selected as the first recipient, now gets to make a choice from all the other 19 gifts. No one can take that final choice away.

And the Yankee Swap ends there.


But the Swapping Isn't Over

Although the Yankee Swap is officially over, the “horse trading” usually continues with guests approaching each other in the hopes of trading the item they were “stuck with” for a more personally desirable gift.

In every Yankee Swap I’ve participated in there are one or two gifts that everybody wants, and those items change hands several times in the course of the Swap.

The activity around those gifts is particularly brisk during the Swap’s “tenth inning.”


The Yankee Swap Is an Excellent Ice-breaker

In groups of people who aren’t very familiar with each other, the Yankee Swap is a good way for folks to get to know one another.

Especially after the Swap concludes, and bargaining with another person, for example, leads to a discussion of likes and dislikes.

It’s here that many find common ground upon which to build continuing conversation and, perhaps, lasting friendships and even romantic relationships.

My wife and I, who were strangers at the time, were volunteers with our local zoo’s support group. We each attended the organization’s Christmas Party, which featured a Yankee Swap.

I drew Number 1 and, yes, although I had no particular interest in the gift she had swapped for, which she coveted by the way, I took it from her when my opportunity came at the end of the swap. And the rest, as they say, is history.

© 2012 Bob Bamberg


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