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How to Have a Yankee Swap

By Edited Jun 4, 2014 1 1

You've heard of a Yankee Swap. But what is it? Well, it's a way to exchange gifts for a large crowd of people, such as at work, or for a large extended family on a budget. Some people think it's a lot of fun because everyone ends up with a gift at the end.  Other people don't like the fact that the whole thing is a gamble.  So if you've never done what and don't know what to expect now that you've been invited to one, or if you'd like to host one, this article will give you tips about Yankee Swaps.

Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
•    One gift
•    Little bits of paper
•    A "hat" (or bowl is fine)


Set a limit.
Tell everyone who is thinking of participating in the Yankee Swap what the price limit for the gift is. Often times it is $20 to $25, but if the majority of people wish for more or less you can certainly adjust this according to democratic process! Just make sure everyone knows the limits so no one gets embarrassed, and people can decide if they can/want to participate.

Think mass appeal.
Buy a generic gift and wrap it. In a Yankee Swap, you don't know who is going to receive the gift, so you don't want it to be too specific to one person's tastes. Some popular gifts include coffee, (with mugs and things to add up to the set cost) chocolate, candles, a cookie jar filled with cookies, and holiday decorations such as a table top snowman figurine.

Place your gift.
Put your gift with the others on the day of the Yankee Swap, usually under the Christmas tree. The host or hostess of the party will count the gifts (say there are 20) and write on slips of paper the numbers 1 through 20, so that there is a numbered slip for each person who brought a gift. Then place all the numbers in a "hat."

Draw numbers.
Each person will pick a number out of the hat.  Remember, there's no peeking! The number each person gets tells the order in which gifts will be chosen at your Yankee Swap.

Number 1 goes first.
Yes, this is obvious.  See who has number 1. That person will choose the first gift. At this point everyone should be gathered in a central location, such as around the Christmas tree.  They open the gift they opened and show it off to everyone.  No one is allowed to "hide" their gift from the group!

Number 2 goes second.

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See who has number 2. That person will choose the next gift. They open it and show it off to everyone. Then that person decides if they want to keep it, or swap it with person number 1. Person number one has no choice but to give up their gift! It's person 2 who makes the choice.

Number 3 goes...you get the idea.
See who has number 3. That person will choose the next gift. They open it and show it off to everyone. Then that person decides if they want to keep it, or swap it with person number or 2. Now person 2 doesn't have a choice either if asked to give up their gift! It's person 3 who makes the choice.

Keep it going.
Continue this process until you get to person number 20. At this point everyone but person number 1 has had a choice whether to keep or swap.  You will probably notice that although people with the lower numbers get to choose whatever present looks appealing all wrapped up, many of them have gotten their choice taken from them in trade by the higher numbers.   Except...

Person number 1 now gets the chance to swap their gift with ANYONE in the room! Since they didn't have a choice initially, they are now in the best position. So really number 1 is the best to pull out of the hat at a Yankee Swap, and it is number 2 that is the worst.

Have fun.
If you get a low number at the Yankee Swap, better luck next year. Remember it's all in good fun. Happy holidays!

More Tips:

•  Watch your face and bite your tongue. If you get stuck with a gift you hate, remember: you don't know which person brought that gift, but you DO know that they are there at the party. They WILL be watching their gift, usually hoping that whoever got it likes it. You don't want to hurt the feelings if they tried, after all, it was nothing personal to you; someone else might have liked it better than you; it was the luck of the draw.

•  You don't know if it was the person next to you who bought it either, so don't be tempted to mumble to them a joke about what a lousy gift it is either!

•  If you are hosting the party, you might want to have the Yankee Swap after people have eatten.  You can have everyone pick numbers as they are snacking, and they can continue enjoying desserts and coffee while the gifts are being opened and exchanged.


Jun 1, 2011 12:10am
Great article, I didn't know this was called a yankee swap but like it:)
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