If you’ve ever thought a gift exchange was going way too long, this holiday hustle gift exchange is a must-try. It’s the perfect gift exchange idea for when you don’t have a lot of time or do have time but don’t want to spend a ton of time on a gift exchange.
Plus, it’s fun. I should know – I host a holiday gift exchange every year AND I’ve created over 20 different gift exchange games that millions of people have played over the years.
We’ve all been to a Christmas party with a gift exchange. I love gift exchange games, like love them.
But I also think they can get really long, especially if it’s just the same traditional white elephant gift exchange you’ve played year over year.
So this year I thought it would be fun to speed things up by adding a timer to our gift exchange and voila, a brand new fast gift exchange idea was born!
And when I say this game was fast – I just went back and watched the video I recorded of the game from start to finish. We completed the entire gift exchange with 17 of us in just over five minutes. That’s WAY shorter than any gift exchange I’ve ever done!
What You’ll Need to Play
There’s very little you need to do a holiday hustle gift exchange, which is what makes it one of my favorite Christmas party games, especially if you want something fast!
- Wrapped gifts – everyone who wants to play should bring one gift that will work for the majority of the group. If you’re doing this for a girls night, gender neutral or female gifts are great. If you’re doing this for a work Christmas party, gender neutral is great. Here’s a list of great white elephant gifts you can send out with invites! Or you could pick one of these gift exchange themes and have everyone bring a themed gift!
Ask everyone to wrap their gift in either an easy to get into gift box, a gift bag, or just one simple layer of wrapping paper (although the first two are preferred). You want people to be able to get into the gifts fast! If people arrive with extravagantly wrapped gifts, I recommend having some extra gift bags on hand and asking them to unwrap their gift and put it into the bag. It’ll make a big difference.
- Extra gifts – I always recommend having a few backup gifts for people who forgot, didn’t get the “bring a gift memo,” or didn’t want to play because they hate gift exchanges then decided they did last minute. This is obviously optional.
- Large hourglass timer – you need a 1-minute hourglass timer for this game that everyone can see. Or you can use something other than an hourglass one, but it needs to be one that is highly visible to everyone. I also recommend a non-breakable plastic one, compared to glass. We used this one, and it was perfect!
- Numbers – you need one number for each person playing. The easiest way to do this is to just count how many people are playing, write the numbers on a piece of paper, and cut or rip them up. Put these numbers in a bowl, bag, or hat.
How to play this fast gift exchange
The basic idea of this gift exchange is that everyone only has the amount of time in the hourglass timer to complete whatever action they choose on their turn.
Here’s how the game is played.
1 – Get the Game Setup
Before you can play, you need to get the game completely setup and make sure everyone knows how the game works. This game moves very fast so it’s important to make sure everyone is clear before the game starts.
- Have everyone place their wrapped gifts on a table that’s at the front of the room and have everyone sit somewhere they can easily get up and get to the gift table.
- Place the jumbo hourglass on the table next to the gifts where it can easily be seen and easily be accessed by everyone.
- Have everyone choose a number randomly from the bag/hat/bowl you put the numbers in earlier. This will setup the game so you’re ready to play!
2 – Play the Gift Exchange
Once everything is setup and everyone understands how the game works, the rules, and what number they are – you’re ready to actually play. And like I mentioned, this game moves fast so make sure everyone is 100% ready to play before you start.
- Someone (not #1) flips the hourglass, and the person who has #1 goes to the table, chooses a gift, opens it and shows it to everyone, then flips the hourglass back over. Whatever action they choose has to be done before the time in the hourglass runs out.
- The person who has #2 immediately chooses whether they want to pick a new gift to open or if they want to steal the gift the first person opened. Once they’ve made their decision and completed the action, they flip the hourglass over. Whatever action they choose has to be done before the time in the hourglass runs out, even if they don’t have the full minute.
What happens if someone’s gift is stolen?
If someone’s gift is stolen, they immediately then have the choice to open a new gift or steal a gift from someone else.
Once they have completed their chosen action, they flip the hourglass timer over and either the next person (in the example above #3) would go OR if they stole from someone, the person whose gift was stolen would go.
Once a new gift is opened rather than gifts being stolen, you would just move onto the next number in line.
- Continue onto the person who has #3, #4, and so on until everyone who has a number has had a turn to choose to pick a gift to unwrap or to steal from someone else. Whatever they choose, their action has to be completed before the time on the hourglass runs out.
What happens if the time runs out?
If someone doesn’t complete their action before the time on the hourglass runs out, they lose their current turn and essentially go to the back of the line. Once all numbers have had a turn to go once, go through and anyone who was not able to complete their action before the time runs out has the chance to ONLY choose a gift from the table to unwrap. They are NOT able to steal during this second chance round.
- Once everyone has had their first turn, do the second chance round mentioned above for anyone who didn’t complete their chosen action before the timer ran out. Go in order of their original numbers until everyone has unwrapped a gift.
- Once everyone has unwrapped a gift, people keep whatever gift they have in hand or can trade with someone if they’d prefer!
One of the most important parts of this game to keep things moving is to implement stealing rules that everyone understands from the beginning. Here are the rules we used to keep things going smoothly.
- You can’t steal something immediately back from the person who stole it from you. You could steal it back from them a few rounds later if your gift is stolen by someone else, you just can’t turn around and ask for it back (like no tag backs).
- The second time something is stolen, it’s frozen and out of the game. So the third person to have a gift (two steals plus the first person who actually open the gift) gets to keep it.
- If you’re gift is stolen, you get to choose to steal from someone else or unwrap a new gift.
- You’re not allowed to steal during the final “second chance” round of the game, only unwrap one of the remaining gifts on the table.
If you don’t like the stealing part of this game, I recommend trying something else like this Grinch gift exchange or this left right gift exchange. This holiday hustle game is honestly not going to be fun if people are just going up, picking a gift, and unwrapping. But if you like Christmas games that include stealing, this one’s for you!
More Important Tips
Here are a few other important tips to keep in mind as you’re explaining the game and playing this gift exchange game with your family and friends.
- Make sure people know what number you’re on whether it be by everyone yelling it out, a host yelling it out, or the person whose turn it is yelling it out. People should be paying attention to when it’s their turn to go, but this helps things run a little smoother.
- Everyone who opens a new gift needs to show the gift to everyone BEFORE they flip the hourglass. We had a few instances where people were moving so fast they didn’t show the gifts and people didn’t know what had been opened. So make it a rule that you have to show off what you opened before flipping the timer.
- Keep the gift wrapping simple. I noted this above, but it’s important to mention again because if you have extravagantly wrapped gifts where people have to untie ribbons, unwrap multiple layers, etc. they’re going to run out of time. Keep it to gift bags, gift boxes you can just open, and one simple layer of paper.
- Have people hold what they actually got out in front of them or on their laps after it’s been unwrapped so people can see them. This makes the stealing part of this game possible.
- Anyone who is out of the game (with a twice stolen gift) should remove themselves from the immediate area OR just place their gift behind them so you don’t have people trying to steal gifts that are frozen.
This holiday hustle gift exchange ends once everyone has had a chance to choose and unwrap a gift. This may be once all numbers have had a turn to go or after the second chance round for people who didn’t move fast enough.
The beautiful thing about this gift exchange is that you can play this game with as many people as you want, and it will still be fast. That makes it perfect for office parties, Christmas parties, and any other occasion you have a large group together! Having the timer keeps the pace moving fast, like really fast.
The only thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need to have a number for everyone person and a wrapped gift for every person playing.
Yes, everyone will have different amounts of time depending on how long the person before them took to complete their action. The only person who will have the full one minute for sure is the person who starts the game. Then the time on the hourglass switches all the time depending on how long actions take.
Before the game starts, have everyone playing randomly draw numbers. Then when you’re ready to play, whoever has #1 starts, then #2 will go next, and so on. This is the best way to do this so that people know exactly when it’s their turn.
More Gift Exchanges
If you like gift exchanges, I have plenty to choose from. These are some of our most popular gift games!
- Dice gift exchange – this gift exchange is played using just one a die and is one of our most viral ones!
- Scrooge your neighbor – if you do an annual gift exchange with the same people, you have to try this one!
- Christmas never have I ever – this gift game inspired by the classic game never have I ever will everyone switching to try and win a gift!
- Heads or tails gift exchange – another variation on the classic gift exchange except this one is based on the flip of a coin!
- Santa’s helper gift exchange – part secret Santa, part gift exchange, this is one of my favorites!