Monthly Archives: October 2016

Gift Exchange Themes


Back in 2012, I wrote about our family’s tradition of fun gift exchange themes, and it has proven to be a very popular post.  So many of you have contributed comments with your own great ideas (thanks for sharing!), that I thought it would be helpful if I compiled a new and updated list of gift exchange theme ideas.

The idea of a themed gift exchange for our family came about when I started to despair over the fairly meaningless gift exchanges we were resorting to, where we would pick a name of a family member and then buy them what they asked for.  There was little thoughtfulness, and the gift giving did little to help bring us together as a family.  I wanted to turn the gift giving time into something more significant, where we would all join together and laugh.  Thus our themed exchanges began.  Sometimes we do practical, sometimes silly, themes.   The exchanges have been fun and successful, and we all enjoy and look forward to this tradition on Christmas day.  We do the exchange with the only the adults, but the kids look forward to watching the action just as much as the adults do!

With so many fun ideas, I have tried to group the themes into broader categories.  Take a look, and let me know which ones you have tried, which are your favorites, and which you want to try this year!  Be sure to set your ground rules ahead of time: set a price limit (we do in the $20-30 range, depending on the theme), provide tips on how you want the theme interpreted, etc.

Practical or Useful

  • yard and garden, outdoors
  • emergency preparedness, survivor, end of the world
  • things to hang on a wall
  • games and puzzles
  • restaurant gift card (no fast food)
  • curious kitchen gadgets
  • food, sweets, treats, snacks
  • coffees, teas, liquor (often combining a drink with something else, like a book or movie)
  • magazine subscriptions
  • winter wonderland (gifts related to cold weather)
  • sports, scouting, beach
  • bags (backpacks, gym bag, purse, fanny pack, reusable shopping bag, beach bag, etc.)
  • bath and shower
  • condiments (a bottle of your favorite)
  • plush: cushions, pillows, blankets
  • notebooks, journals, calendars, pens, stationery
  • socks


  • homemade, handmade, crafty
  • refurbished or repurposed
  • one thing you can’t do without (and buy one for everyone – small things like sticky notes, zip ties, diet cokes, etc.)
  • we have one and love it; thought you might like it too
  • all about dad, mom, grandma, etc. (especially appropriate if loved one has recently passed)
  • related to your birth year (do some research on when you were born)
  • gifts inspired by certain movies, songs, decades (that are meaningful to your family or group)


  • As Seen on TV”
  • smelly theme (have some type of scent)
  • “’staching through the snow” – something with a mustache on it
  • ugly salt and pepper shakers
  • New Year’s outfit bought at goodwill – (exchange names) – must be modeled and photographed
  • fairy tale theme (anything inspired by or related to any fairy tale), magic
  • bacon related


  • boxed gift sets, gift baskets
  • must be purchased at a certain kind of store: truck stop, big box store, $20 at the dollar store, home improvement center, etc. 
  • must be purchased from a certain part of a store: such as a specific aisle (Aisle 9), the clearance section, on an end cap, etc.
  • starts with the letter of your name, or other letter
  • color theme, circles (dots), stripes, animal print
  • travel theme, global, around the world
  • seasons, holidays
  • “one pound” of something
  • science theme