16 Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas for Big Families
Do you have a never-ending Christmas list this year? Having to buy presents for all your brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, in-laws, grandkids, friends, and more can really put a dent in your holiday budget!
Having a big family can mean more excitement and merriment throughout the holidays, but it can also make gift exchanges more challenging! Some families manage the holiday gift exchange hoopla by only buying presents for the kids or for choosing a single name for a Secret Santa. But if you want a creative way to get the perfect gift on everyone’s wish list we’ve got lots of family gift exchange ideas and Christmas party gift-giving games that all your loved ones will enjoy.
Spread the Christmas tree and be your family’s Santa Clause this year by trying out one of these fun gift exchange ideas for big families and lots of friends too!
It’s the holiday season, and that means it’s a time of traditions, family, and gift giving. Having a big family can mean more excitement and merriment throughout the holidays, but it can also exchanging gifts more challenging.
1. Christmas Family Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts are fun for all ages, and they can be awesome intergenerational activities. With a large number of people, you can create teams in advance so that each team has a mix of grown-ups and kids.
Place clues around the house, yard, or park depending upon what kind of space you have access to can offer small gifts along the way or lead to a larger present that can be shared by the team when the scavenger hunt is complete.
Check out these Christmas riddles and clues if you need a little inspiration for your Christmas-themed scavenger hunt.
2. Plan a Family Holiday Vacation
Instead of focusing on gift-giving, why not gather your family together to make new memories together? You could agree to forego physical gifts in order to pay for an amazing family Christmas vacation that will allow you time to create special memories.
Whether it’s camping, skiing, a cruise, or a cozy country cabin shared by all, quality time is priceless. Planning a family holiday vacation and spending quality time with loved ones will always mean more than that last-minute present you got on Amazon.
Taking a family trip doesn’t have to mean skipping all of the holiday decorating or even the unwrapping, though, unless you want it to. Vacation details can be written on a Christmas card, printed and wrapped up in a box, or even hidden around the house as scavenger hunt prizes (see gift-giving idea number 1.)
And if someone really feels like it’s not the holidays without something to open, you can always wrap small items that will be needed on the trip. Think swimsuits or towels for hot springs, goggles or hats for skiing, or a brand-new sled for that mountain retreat.
3. Volunteer as a Family
The holidays are about much more than gifting, and there’s no better time to remind kids of that than getting the whole family together for a good cause. The Christmas spirit is about giving to those who have less and volunteering for the holidays will be a wonderful memory for everyone.
Pack a box of pantry goods to donate to your local food bank or soup kitchen. Make cookies to hand out at the local senior center. Shop for toys or clothing with your own kids and donate them to children’s holiday charities.
Exchanging time with friends, neighbors, and community members in need is a great way for large families to spread joy to those people who may not be able to be together with their loved ones to celebrate this Christmas season.
4. Holiday Home Tour
Does your community host holiday house tours to show off beautiful Christmas decorations, lights, and holiday inflatables? Your neighborhood or local chambers of commerce likely has lots of special events all December to get people in the Christmas spirit.
Sign up your group to visit beautifully decorated homes all over your area together. We also recommend packing some holiday treats like Christmas trail mix or gingerbread to munch on while you drive around looking for the best Christmas lights and vote on your favorites Eat lots of snacks and vote on your favorites.
Some towns combine holiday house tours with traveling dinner events, which are sometimes called progressive dinner parties. You’ll start with appetizers or cocktails at the first house, perhaps a soup or salad at the next, and continue touring and munching through dessert.
Feeling really ambitious? Grab some neighbors and host your own holiday house tour next year!
5. Go to a Holiday Show
Now that COVID restrictions are loosening up in most areas, going to the theatre is once again a viable option for many large families. If the budget is tight or clutter is burdensome, why not opt to skip the piles of gifts in favor of one truly special play, show, or concert?
Look for seasonal shows such as ice performances, ballets, holiday plays and concerts, and comedy tours. With any luck, you’ll get a group discount, but book in advance to ensure everyone has a seat.
6. Christmas Movie Marathon
Not everyone has the budget or energy for a big celebration every year. One of the most affordable yet memorable options is to gather as many family members as possible on a big bed or pull-out couch, fix a charcuterie board or snack platter, and start a Christmas movie marathon. Toss some blankets or pillows on the floor if your group doesn’t all fit.
Most cable, satellite, and streaming services will be running enough holiday specials that you shouldn’t have to pay extra to rent anything. Whether your family loves classic Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer or cheesy Lifetime Christmas movies and Hallmark rom-coms, there’s something everyone will enjoy!
7. Ornament Exchange
Another more affordable choice for planning your family gift-giving activity is to agree to exchange Christmas ornaments. An ornament exchange can be done per person or per household. Ornaments offer so many choices; they can be handmade, personalized, monogrammed, or purchased.
Ornaments also take up very little space and shouldn’t make a mess or cause extra difficulties for travelers. This is one gift exchange idea where the gifts are small but oh-so thoughtful!
8. Potluck Holiday Dinner
Make your Christmas meal part of the gift exchange and reduce the costs for whoever is hosting by having each household or each adult family member agree to bring a side dish or dessert. You can take this a step further for large extended family groups, especially if most of the family is spending time together at one house, by having each visiting household trade responsibilities for meals throughout their stay.
One household takes brunch, another dinner, another snack, and another holiday breakfast the next morning after Christmas. Pick whatever system works best for your family’s size and skill sets.
9. Assign Family Gift Groups
A great solution to make gifting more affordable within large families is to gift by the household or by age group. Some large families even do this themselves if they have multiple children who would enjoy the same item, such as a game or blocks. You can gift things to “couples,” “kids,” to “teens,” or “everyone” in the home.
Here are some of the popular family gifts we’ve tried this year:
- board games
- popcorn maker with popcorn kernels and specialty seasonings
- homemade foods or seasonings
- framed photos or photo albums
- engraved ornaments
- magnetic tiles
- plastic blocks
The advantages to family gifting are two-fold: They cut down on clutter and cost, and they let everyone in the family unit know you want to spend more time together.
10. Cookie Party
Maybe you’re baking for charity, or maybe your large family really just loves holiday treats! Go all out with a cookie party or a cookie swap.
For a cookie party, decide if you want to bake the cookies that day or ahead of time. Rolling out and cutting dough for traditional treats such as sugar cookies is a big project that becomes much more fun when family members are helping. However, baking them all in advance allows the cookies to cool and the kitchen to be cleaned and prepped for decorating.
At party time, set out drinks and snacks, crank the music, and get decorating. Be sure to stock up on candies, dragees, icing, piping bags, edible glitter, cookie cutters, and all the other fun details.
You can even make the cookie part into a silly contest where people vote on different Christmas cookie recipes. Some ideas for categories include: Whose cookie is the messiest? The prettiest? The funniest?
If you’ve got lots of aunts, grandparents, and cousins who are super proud of their special gingerbread recipe, encouraging some friendly competition can be lots of fun! Hand out a couple of dollar store door prizes for your winners. (Of course, the real winner is everyone who gets to eat them!)
11. Cookie Swap
Who doesn’t like cookies? Get your bake on and whip up a variety of holiday sweets and treats, then meet up with the rest of the family to exchange and sample all your goodies. If you really don’t like cookies, however, get creative with something you do like (or can eat safely). Try flavored popcorn, pretzels, fudge, drink mixes, truffles, cocoa bombs, and more.
12. Have Yourself a Musical Little Christmas
What’s Christmas without music? Take the whole family out caroling—”a-wassailing,” as the old song goes. You can carol door to door in your neighborhood and spread the joy far and wide. Then come home to hot drinks, snacks, and a family movie or game night.
If you’ve really got a musical star in the family or a little one in a Christmas pageant or play for their school, make it a group outing! Cheer on your family, bring flowers, and celebrate their performance with dinner or drink afterward.
If no one in your family is participating in a show this year, check local listings for community choir performances, band concerts, or spiritual services.
Bonus: Many of them will be free to the public!
Not much of a singer? Book a hayride or sleigh ride, and let someone else do the performing.
13. Secret Santa
Secret Santa is one of the most popular gift-giving set-ups for family parties, offices, and friends. This tradition is filled with excitement and the element of surprise, yet it cuts down on spending, time, and waste.
To run your own Secret Santa, simply pick names out of a hat until each family member has been assigned another family member to buy for. You can set a price limit in advance, and then each gift-giver will only have to buy for one person.
A variant of the secret Santa game that works well within large families is drawing names for each family unit every year. Under this version, the family members in one household buy or create holiday gifts to swap with another household within the extended family.
Since each household is assigned a gifting partner and the recipients change every year, no one is left out. Budgets can stay manageable, and everyone gets new chances to connect with more of their relatives each season.
14. New Christmas Present Game
This Christmas gift exchange game is along the same lines as Secret Santa. Just like Secret Santa, you have each guest bring one wrapped present that would be enjoyed by most family members attending. Then you grab some dice to make the gift exchange even more exciting.
In this game, each person either keeps their gift, steals another person’s gift, or has everyone pass their gift to the left or right. This will make for a fun time for everyone and it will heighten the element of surprise as family members finally receive their gifts. See all the rules of this modern Christmas game here.
15. White Elephant Gift Exchange
A White Elephant is a Secret Santa but traditionally the gifts are silly things rather than super thoughtful presents for a single person. White elephants usually rely on people bringing gag gifts, useful things like toiletries, or food and drink items.
Take the Christmas present game to the next level with a white elephant challenge. This office classic is a holiday staple for a reason: It’s hilarious, and it includes everyone. The rules can go one of two main ways: Gifts must be newly purchased, but objectively terrible, or gifts must be found, scrounged, made, or purged from the gifters’ own collections.
You can set very low spending limits—$1, $5, $10—or limit entries to specific categories. Try ugly sweaters, silly socks, bizarre-sounding foods, board games, or whatever level of humor matches well with your family.
Either way, the recipients won’t know what they’re getting until they select a wrapped gift from the pile, and even then, if the next player swipes it, they might not be able to keep it!
16. DIY Christmas Gifts
Why not create a do-it-yourself-themed Christmas gift challenge this season? This can lead to so many fun gift ideas, either for the whole family or for your Secret Santa recipients. Try baking cookies, creating art, playing music, singing songs, knitting scarves, or filling jars with candy or baking mixes.
You can also try options like this one where you use printables to make Christmas dates or experiences in a box for family members. If your family is not the most creative, you can always tap into its collective kindness by committing to random acts of kindness for all attending. Everyone’s efforts will be appreciated, creativity will be stoked, and presents will be valued by all.
Buying presents for every single person in the family can get expensive and wasteful fast. It can also drive up shipping costs, and pose difficulties for family members who are traveling. A focus on having a big gift for every single family member can also take away time and opportunities for fun and social interaction throughout the holiday break.
Fortunately, there are loads of fun, creative ways for big families to enjoy a Christmas gift exchange that allow for new traditions and quality time.
Looking to have a simpler Christmas this year with less stuff and more joy? Check out our Guide to Having a Minimalist Christmas with Kids.
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