Friday, November 12, 2010

How To Play Dirty Santa At Your Next Holiday Gathering

Don't Worry, There's Nothing Adult About It - Your Kids Can Participate Too...

SOME BACKGROUND
Every year our group of friends and their children get together for a holiday party. Obviously it would be expensive for everyone to buy everyone else at these parties a present, but there are other options. One would be to do the Secret Santa exchanges where people draw names out of a hat, but what if you draw someone's name and have no idea what types of things they like for gifts? Dirty Santa (also known by many other names) has helped us to solve that problem.

We have been playing the Dirty Santa game at our annual Christmas parties for over 5 years. As alcohol is a common favorite at our parties, we restrict the Dirty Santa exchange to adults only and buy individual presents for the kiddies. However, this is easily mitigated so that children and teens can enjoy the festivities of the game by simply asking your guests not to bring alcohol.

Our Dirty Santa Christmas parties are the highlight of our year and I have found more and more people asking to be invited when they hear about how fun they are. We owe most of that to the excitement of the Dirty Santa Gift Exchange.

THE GENERAL IDEA
Feel free to participate individually, as a couple, or as an observer.

  • The game consists of everyone bringing a gift valued between $20 and $25 (or any other value the host sets). At the end of the night, each participant ends up taking a gift home.
  • Gift wrapping should be first class as it helps folks decide which gift to select. If it is a gift best for a man or woman it can be labeled as such, but it is not necessary to label the gifts.
  • What kind of gift works well? Something fun, unique, and in good taste. Last year family games were the big hit.

As an added bonus, we always do a Surprise Ending Gift. This is to motivate participants to bring well thought out gifts; the person who brings along the gift that gets "retired first" gets an additional gift valued up to $25, courtesy of the hosts.

Update: Someone responded to this post with a great idea for motivating participants to bring well thought out gifts and I wanted to share here. The gist of it is having each participant throw a dollar into a "cash pot" at the beginning of the game. The person with the gift that gets retired first wins the cash pot. If no gift is retired, each participant takes back their dollar at the end of the game.

GAME RULES
So how do we play the game? Let's assume we have 10 players. Someone writes the numbers 1 through 10 on ten little pieces of paper, places the 10 little pieces of paper into a bowl, and everyone draws a number. Before the game begins, if you and another player agree, you may exchange numbers if you wish. There is no need to keep who has which numbers a secret. In fact, it might help the game move faster if everyone knows who is next in sequence; and, it gives the players a chance to plan their strategies. Whoever is next is usually ready to jump in and start playing the game so it is usually not a problem with folks forgetting their numbers. A hidden advantage of knowing the sequence of the players is it gives those later in the sequence time to make a bathroom stop, get a drink refill or get seconds on desserts.

  • The 10 gifts are put in the center of the room or on a table where everyone can easily pick-up, shake, inspect and select a package.
  • Late arriving game players can add their gift to the pile of gifts when they come in and become number 11 and so on.
  • Player #1 picks a gift and opens it, shows it around, models it, reads it or demos it (depending on what it is of course).
  • The person with slip of paper #2 is next. That person can either select another unopened gift or take the gift #1 had opened.
  • If #2 takes #1's gift, #1 must select another unwrapped gift.
  • Next it is #3's turn. #3 has two choices. #3 could select a new unopened gift, or take an already opened gift (#1's gift or #2's gift).
  • Then, if #3 were to select #2's gift, #2 has two choices. #2 could select another unopened gift or select #1's unwrapped gift. However, a gift cannot bounce back and forth between two players without someone else taking possession of the gift in between. So, #2 cannot select #3's unwrapped gift because it was just previously taken from #2.

So each player (after the first player) has two choices. When it is your turn, you take a new unopened gift from the table or you take someone else's opened gift. When someone takes your gift (let's say an "mp3 player") from you, you cannot immediately turn around and take the "mp3 player" back from the same person who just took it from you. You either select a new unopened gift or take somebody else’s already unwrapped gift. And, let's say you ended up with a "music CD". Later someone takes your "music CD" so now you can go back to the person who previously took your "mp3 player" and take it back. When you take it back this is the second time you have had possession of the "mp3 player".

HOW A GIFT BECOMES "RETIRED"
Sooner or later someone else takes your "mp3 player" away from you again. This time you take someone else's gift, a bottle of rare Scotch. Then yet another person takes your bottle of rare Scotch from you and now you can go back and get your "Mp3 player" again. By this time, since the "mp3 player" was taken from you last, it might have been "owned" by several other players and in some cases more than once. Now this is the third time you have owned the "mp3 player" and this time it is yours to keep. The "mp3 player" is retired and you are now out of the game. The BIG confusion for some folks seems to be the third time the "mp3 player" is exchanged that the third owner gets to keep them. Not so. The gift is retired after the third time a single participant gets the same gift back into their possession. Using the 10 player game in this example, each player could take temporary possession of the "mp3 player" twice for a total of 20 exchanges. However, if you played by the 3rd owner rule you would only have 3 exchanges. The third time-same owner rule allows more players to have a chance at the "mp3 player". This also has a hidden purpose in forcing everyone to keep track of who has had possession of what gifts and how many times. This makes for more active involvement rather than passive involvement and is one of the keys to the games popularity.

HOW THE GAME ENDS
So when does the game end? Using the 10 player game in our example, when it gets down to player #10 there will be one wrapped gift left in the center of the room or on the table. Player #10 has the same two choices that everyone else did (except for player #1). Player #10 can take the last unopened gift on the table, show it around, model it, read it or demo it etc. Or, player #10 can take another participants unwrapped gift (except retired gifts).

COMMON SENSE RULES
  • If the gift is a food or drink, it absolutely should not be unpackaged until the game is over and it has been exchanged for the last time.
  • All gifts must stay in the room and all gifts must remain in sight for all players to view until the game ends in order to help each participant determine how they will play their turn out. It goes without saying that retired gifts are the exception to this rule.
  • Each participant needs to keep it uppermost in their mind that, no matter what gift it is they may be holding at the moment, it isn't their gift unless it has been "retired", or until the last gift has been exchanged.

ONE LAST THOUGHT
I have heard from other people who host Dirty Santa parties that some folks complain about the first player only having one choice. If the gift that the first player opens is a dud (meaning nobody else wants it), the first player is out of the game before the fun really gets started. But what folks don't seem to realize is that this can happen to any player who opens a wrapped gift and finds that it is a dud. That player is also out of the game as to possible further participation.

As a result of this pity for the first player, a whole bunch of special rules (swaps at the end of the game, extra gifts added to the pile at the start or end of the game) have been suggested. This gets too complicated, involved and has its own set of problems, misunderstandings, hard feelings and surprises.

The first person has the pick of the litter of all the gifts. No other player has this advantage. In all the times we have played Dirty Santa at our annual holiday party we have never had the first player feel cheated. Any player could select a dud gift whether they are the first or last player. This is the reason the gifts should be well thought out. They need to have broad appeal to most people and be something worth stealing.

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

The very notion of gift giving is completely absent in this crass exchange. If you witnessed your child receiving a gift and turning it down to "steal" someone else's gift - you would be mortified. So why are adults engaging in this type of "spoiled brat behaviour" is completely bewildering and downright rude. It's time someone calls it what it is and perhaps it will disappear. Those that indulge in this are simply over indulged and if they feel the need to waste money on gifts no one wants or needs - perhaps the money would be better spent on food banks and soup kitchens or charities where that $20 would mean something. This is simply poor taste no matter which way you cut it. Cut it out!!!

Anonymous said...

Hopefully this will keep our family from arguing AGAIN about their version of rules. This is how I played it the very first time at a friends party. It was the most fun. I like the idea of #1 getting getting a "bonus" gift at the end.

Anonymous said...

Okay, what's up with the all caps? And the crazy person who hates games? And can someone please fix "You're Kids Can Participate, Too..."?

It's "Your Kids Can Participate Too"...

Website Owner said...

Greetings Anonymous,

Thank you for catching the grammatical error on the website, which has been updated. Also, in regards to the all caps, that was a lovely feature of the Blogger template I am using - which I disabled so readers would not feel like they were being yelled at. After all, there's nothing festive about being yelled at! :)

Happy Holidays!
~me

Website Owner said...

This site was originally published with the sole intent of making the instructions for the Dirty Santa game easily accessible to the guests of our annual Christmas party. However, as a public web page on the internet it is also available to others who are interested in the "White Elephant" gift exchange concept.

All comments on this blog are moderated, and I will not tolerate foul language in the comments. Constructive feedback is always welcome, but if you have nothing nice to say - to me or to others - please say nothing at all.

Any comments that contain foul language will not be made public.

Anonymous said...

This game is really a lot of fun; I've played it for many years, mostly with coworkers. It makes gift shopping easy as you don't have to try to buy for one particular person, and is really meant for adults who don't have very close personal relationships. If there is someone special in the group and you want to buy that person a special gift, you'll have to buy another gift and give it to that person outside of the game. BTW, thanks website owner for taking the time to put these rules together for all to refer to.

Stefanie Blakely said...

We play where our #1 person gets to go again at the end of the game-- they can stick with what they have or they can trade gifts with someone who has a gift that they want (if it's not retired).

Anonymous said...

My family and I have played this game for years and we just love it. It's not about the gift to us, it's all about the fun we have together just being kids all over again! I have just as much fun with someone taking my gift as me getting to take someone else's gift. We would never have played the game as family if we were going to act like " spoiled brats" as the other reader suggested. If you can't play this game with a level head then you really shouldn't be playing it at all. RELAX! Have some fun!

Anonymous said...

I love this game, it is loads of fun, and it helps people not feel like they have to buy for everyone. Thank you for taking the time to do this. Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

We have played this game for around 20 years . My mother in law found it in a pamphlet that piggley wiggley used to give out in their supermarkets in Louisiana . The way we play it is everyone gets a numbered gift. The story The Night before Christmas is read. When the word "and" is mentioned the gifts are passed to the left , when the word "the" is read the gifts are passed to the right. The object of the game is everyone to end up with the gift they started with. In 20 years we have never had this happen because people are having such a fun time rotating the gifts that they get them mixed up! My daughter who is now 28 knows the night before Christmas by heart as well as everyone else in the room as they repeat along with the person reading. The exchange begins as the story ends and we play just as you do. The only difference is we call it "the Night Before Christmas " game. ( all English professors feel free to correct my blog)

Website Owner said...

Anonymous, your "Night Before Christmas" version sounds wonderful. I love that all of the particpants know the story by heart because of the tradition. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

In regards to the person who responded on December 4, 2010 @ 4:00 pm. You're an idiot. I bet you voted for Romney. This is a GAME. Go to the soup kitchen and leave your pointless, demeaning comments to yourself. Half-wit.

DJ Kimo said...

My family and I play this game every year. We started playing in a way to save money cause we have such a large family. I found your blog by google searching "How to end Dirty Santa". The game tends to go for ever, so I was trying to find out what the correct way to end it was lol. Some of our family members try to secretly team up to find a way to get what they want, but it doesn't always work lol. Anyway, thanks for the info. Great job on the rules. Have a Happy Holiday!

Anonymous said...

This is a fun game for employee parties. Its much easier than drawing names.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a nasty comment yourself! What does voting for Romney have to do with anything? I can tell you voted for the other guy because of your nastiness. Be nice and be forgiving. This blot is about a game. Enjoy the fun and stop the politics.

Anonymous said...

Why was this idiot post approved?

CRS said...

I like to play this game with the option of everyone who enters the game pays 1 dollar, then however many plays, determines how much the #1 gift bringer wins at the end. Also #1 player deserves to pick overall including retired gifts.

Anonymous said...

So can a gift be stolen more than once by different people in a single turn?

~alex said...

Yes,a gift can be stolen more than once by different people in a single turn. For example:

Mary steels Johns MP3 player.

John then can choose an unopen gift or to steel an already open gift. For the purposes of this example, John steels Nathans rare bottle of scotch.

Nathan then steels the the mp3 player from Mary.

If Mary chooses to take an unopen gift, the turn would end. However, she could also choose to steel an already opened gift and the turn would continue until someone who was stolen from decided to take an unopened gift.

Anonymous said...

My office played this as an adult game for over 15 years and the folks loved it. Our variation was that exchanges could go on for 1.5 minutes with no limit to the number of exchanges and there were no retired gifts. Your other rules were used. When the bell rang, whoever had no gift went to select a wrapped gift, displayed it and the next number was called. Great Stories, A Blast!

Anonymous said...

actually its a good idea, what if the person didnt get a good gift for them but another really wanted that thing. this saves people from regifting latter on.

Anonymous said...

You are just a downer!!! Dirty Santa is FUN....it's not ALL about the gifts, dork!!! It's about the camaderie, conversation, time spent with people (often ones you love) and just plain old FUN!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

anonymous asks..
S0 what happens to player #10, last player,does that person get a steal if they choose a wrapped gift and prefers to steal from another personwho has a gift that has not been retired?

Anonymous said...

awesome game

PI Martinez said...

Have played this game for years..it is sooo much fun. Its been awhile though and I could not remember all the rules so THANK YOU for your post!!!

Anonymous said...

I host a Dirty Santa each year for my friends. We haven't retired any gifts but that is worth considering. I love the "The Night Before Christmas" idea and I will work a variation of that into my evening. I have a set of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" plates and we sing our plates. You can just write the number or verse on the bottom of ordinary plates. We also crack Christmas Bon Bons and read out the corny jokes. Everyone is having so much fun that the jokes seem hilarious and the useless gifts much sort after. Have a safe, happy and holy Christmas and wonderful New Year everyone.

Anonymous said...

__________________________________

Everyone above this line has been trolled.

Anonymous said...

Can a player choose their own gift that they brought?

~alex said...

Yes, you can choose your own gift. We often go for our own gifts or steal them if they have already been taken when it's our turn in hopes that we get something we want.

~Moderator

Anonymous said...

I have a question. I have played dirty santa for many years. I read the rules but during our dirty Santa game this weekend a party pooper decided she a teenage thought she knew that a opened gift could only be stolen 3 times total. Am I correct that once the gift has been opened buy number 4 and then stolen by number 10 that number 15 can steal that gift and number 16 cannot come steal it back , they have to steal another or choose an unopened gift?

Anonymous said...

No ,they either steal or take the last gift.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your additude towards this game. I agree with being charitable but this game saves a lot of money for large families during the holidays as well as can create lots of laughter. our family has multiple infants and todlers so heading off to the soup kitchen. We choose to sponsor a family less financial furtumate than us
I can promise you there are a lot of other things you could find to complain about. Maybe consider the fact that the stores are selling Santa hats as tree toppers.

Anonymous said...

I like that idea as well.

Anonymous said...

This is a GAME! It's loads of fun and laughter! We buy gifts for the younger children and as they turn age 12 yrs, we offer the choice to play this game with the adults or have a gift of their own with the younger children.

Anonymous said...

I have played this for years and enjoy it each time. I have even been to a party that had a "themed" Dirty Santa party. For example ... Garage Sale Santa ... bring something that is Christmas themed that you already have at home but don't want any longer, or Gag Gift Santa, or Practical Santa where you bring something that is useful around the house such as dish cloths or small tool. We play for the simple purpose of laughing!! At one party, there is a "Whiner Award" for the person that whines the most about whatever. It's funny to watch grown women whine about not getting to keep a pot holder. It's all about having fun!!!! I do like the idea of player #1 having a bonus gift instead of having final pick of everything. I think I will use that idea and provide the bonus gift next year. It will be wrapped pretty and will remain on display until the end.

Anonymous said...

My extended family had a gift exchange of $1 per gift but in those days you could really buy something decent for that like embroidered handkerchiefs. We had very little money but we would not dream of doing anything like Dirty Santa or Yankee Swap. I have always said though that the Swap should be just that a swap not a steal. Doing it any other way is rude and hurtful to the person who does not want to trade. I personally prefer a grab bag of well thought out inexpensive gifts that can be traded.

Sam Fleitz said...

I've played games similar to this one at showers and they do get pretty fun. its a good way to have an interactive party.

Anonymous said...

What is to stop people from stealing the same gift 3 times in the same round, thus retiring that popular gift as early as round 3?

Anonymous said...

we play this every year at our family Christmas dinner. We have changed a few rules as follows: we let the older kids join in by bringing their dirty Santa gifts as well. They enjoy the game as much as we do. As far as the first person to choose a gift and not have the option to change it ... we have added that after everyone is done, that first person can take the final pick of all gifts that have been opened and swapped except for the retired gifts of course. Another thing we do is retire the gift after its been swapped three times. Otherwise we'd be playing this game for days on days LOL

Unknown said...

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

said...

After player ten goes player one goes again depending on what ten does.Its simple. One gets a shot at all the gifts and is the most desired number at our white elephants on Christmas.

stevenjared0853 said...

Thanks dear for these holiday gathering entertainment tips. I was just making plans for holiday party at some outdoor New York venues and found this wonderful blog. I would love to include these games to my holiday bash.

Amy Smith said...

I have everyone keep their number, put them back in a hat when the game is over and redraw a number. If it's yours u can one last time keep or steal! That's it and it's over! Keeps it fun..and I never tell anyone this they don't know if I will say the third number I draw or the 10th😂

Unknown said...

I didn't read all the comments so this might have already been said but the way I have always played is you want to be number 1 because since he didn't have the option to steal, after everyone has finished, number one then has the option to go back and steal sometime from someone else. I have played it in two different ways either he can steal anything as long as it's not frozen or in another version he can only steal it if it's not already frozen and in both what ever number one has it he chooses to steal the person he steals from ends up with what he has. Either way I like that better than the way you have it because it makes drawing for your number more exciting because everyone wants to be number one.

I came her looking for some clarity on other rules though. Lol we weren't sure how stealing works in a certain scenario. If person #9 steals from #3 then #3 steals from #6 then #6 steals from #5 then #5 steals from #3 is #3 then able to get his gift back from #9? It has swapped hands and it isn't directly after but we said at the sand time it is. So what is yalls opinions on this?

Thanks.

Rosy Mischief said...

Why can't we call it "Selfish Santa" -- dirty doesn't sound right.

Mimi said...

We play the same way but that #1 player can keep their gift or choose any other gift they want, even retired gifts. If they take someone else's gift, that person gets #1 original gift. Also, we retire a gift after it has been stolen 2 times. It doesn't matter who has stolen it. Which means: player 3 unwraps a bottle of wine, player 7 steals it, then player 9 steals it so it has been stolen 2x and is now retired. We play this at our Bird Club with 40-50 people in a large hall, so it makes it simpler, no need to remember who stole what as in the original rules above using only 10 people example. I like both ways but this works well with a large group and cuts down on time. Plus less arguing. LOL This game works well for all religions, too. We call it "Holiday Gift Game". Keeps everyone happy.

Anonymous said...

We started playing this a few years ago after we decided that "Secret Santa" turned into the adults exchanging gift cards. It was a waste of time & no fun at all. Now we have people giving a great deal of thought into the gift & huge laughs when things start flying around the room. I have played this at a very exclusive country club & it's amazing how women who could buy anything they wanted really got into it. Also did it at a party where it was just Christmas ornaments. Glad to know the clarification of retirement of a gift & we have also made the rule that #1 gets last choice.

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