Category Archives: Gift Exchange Themes

The best Christmas exchange theme ever!


For this year’s gift exchange theme, our family has decided on this ridiculously fun one:  find out what “holidays” are on your birthday and pick a gift related to that holiday.

Simply type in your birthday (month and day) into google with the word “holiday” to find out what unusual things are celebrated on your day. seems to be a good site for this too. 

For example, if your birthday was December 2, 2016, then you could choose from the following holidays:


Today is Business of Popping Corn Day!

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

striped gifts


striped gift2I’m delighted that my gift exchange theme post has been so popular!  I hope that many of you enjoyed some fun gift exchanges this Christmas season.  Our own family exchange was as fun as always.  You may recall that our theme this year was “striped.”  This turned out to be a bit more difficult than we had anticipated.  One of my brothers said that he didn’t care for this theme as it was too hard to shop for; another relative commented that although it was a bit of a challenge finding things that would be broadly appreciated, the resulting gifts we chose showed more variety than in past years, and so they liked it.  We all agreed that using a solid color would have been much easier, but we didn’t back down from the challenge of stripes.

Here is a sample of some of the gifts:

2012-12-25 102 This is a very soft and cozy blanket, with subtle brown and tan stripes.  My niece is posing with her spoils–she was excited that her dad was the winner of this prize!

2012-12-25 100There were two blankets in the gift exchange mix.  This one was a more youthful zebra stripe, and had the young girls in our family gathering pestering their parents to try to win this fuzzy wrap.  In addition to the blanket, this gift also included his and her pajama pants.  It was a striped bonanza!

2012-12-25 104This was the festive striped bowl that I came home with!  It is large and will look perfect with the other red accents in my kitchen.  I think we need to have a popcorn party real soon.

2012-12-25 099This striped candle made a nice statement in the center of a large hurricane vase, accented with our favorite striped candy of the season.

2012-12-25 097

This is my sister-in-law showing off her new striped beach umbrella.  Since her home is within walking distance of the beach, this was an especially appropriate gift for her to take home.

2012-12-25 101Another perfect striped gift: the Stars and Stripes!  My brother and his family were actually thinking of buying a new flag this year, so it was a home run gift exchanage match.

2012-12-25 105This gift box included a fun selection of fidget toys (as well as some striped candy)–the kind of trinkets that can sit on your office desk to help you think, or get packed in a quiet bag for church or car rides.  All the kids and adults enjoyed playing with these for the rest of the evening.  Good thing they get to stay and Grandma and Grandpa’s house for future clicking, clacking and puzzling.

We had a fun Christmas and are eagerly thinking up new themes for next year.  Let me know if you had any themed success with your own exchanges!

fun gift exchange themes


I have just posted an updated list of gift exchange themes here, based on this post and all your many wonderful comments and suggestions!

I have four brothers and one sister.  We are all married, and one of my brothers has a daughter who is also married.  With our mom and dad added in, that makes 16 adults for our yearly Christmas gift exchange.  For many years, when only some of us were married, we drew names and bought presents that way.  But that system ended up being rather impersonal: we would ask what the recipient would like, we would buy it, and then quietly exchange gifts when we arrived at Mom’s house on Christmas Day.  I, for one, wanted something more fun, if not more meaningful.  I missed the Christmases growing up where we carefully purchased little gifts for each other and watched everyone take turns opening their gifts on Christmas morning.  It was so much fun to see what EVERYONE got, not just our own stack of gifts.  I wanted our adult gift exchange to have the same sort of impact–something that would be more of an event, that would focus on spending time together and enjoying each of the selections.

We eventually decided on having an anonymous gift exchange.  We would each bring a gift based on a different theme each year and then play a game to determine who would win each gift.  We always state a budget up front (generally we keep it in the $25-$30 range for our family, but you could adapt it to your own comfort level), and have the rule that gifts can be brought as a couple or an individual.  You just take home the same number as you bring.  We have also tried to avoid gift cards in this exchange (unless we choose a gift card theme, which we haven’t yet).  The games we play have varied over the years.  Originally I created a board game that we refined for several years, but after a while we changed it up with other types of games (I’ll discuss the exchange game ideas in another post).

In this post I wanted to talk about some of the theme ideas that have worked well for us (as well as some that were a bit underwhelming).

By far, our most popular theme (everyone really enjoyed this) was “As Seen On TV.”  It was a theme that even my kids liked shopping for.  Two of my children were pre-readers that year, but as we would go to stores they helped me spot the iconic red label as we considered our many, many options.  In fact, I don’t know that anyone actually ordered off a television commercial since As Seen On TV products are widely available at so many stores and at every price point.  Some of my siblings found great deals and combined several lower cost items into one gift, and others featured just one thing.  One tip I can offer is to check online review sites (epinions, Amazon, etc.) to find out if the products really work as they say.  But then again, part of the fun of this theme is just to experiment with some of the wacky products that are offered these days.

My personal favorite theme was “Homemade.”  Some of my siblings, however, felt like it was too much work.  You would have to decide if this is a theme that would work for your group.  I was delighted with the variety of gift ideas that my family came up with.  I made a jean quilt similar to the one at left.  My husband made some of his custom Star Wars figure Christmas ornaments.  My sister created a sign featuring her artistic mosaic work.  And one of the most unexpected offerings was my sister-in-law’s homemade marinade (my brother threw in a few thick-cut steaks to go with it)!  I loved the personal touch that was inherent in this theme.  Yes, it was a bit more work, but I thought it was worth it!

Another theme we tried was “Food” (every gift had to have at least one thing that was real food–the rest could be related to food).  For example, you could have a selection of cheeses with a nice cheese slicer.  Or ingredients to make cookies along with cookie sheets.  I had high hopes for this category, but it turned out to be a bit of a dud for our family.  It was fine, but we didn’t exhibit some of the fun and creativity of some of our other themes.

My family, as a whole, is blessed with green thumbs, so we have had a couple of themes centered around “Yard and Garden.”  We always seem to appreciate new plants, pots, or garden tools.  One year our theme was “Big Box Store,” where our gifts could be anything that came from a Big Box Store like Home Depot, Lowes or Costco.  This theme didn’t mean we HAD to buy yard or garden related items, but we seemed to lean towards those kinds of presents anyway.

Recently we chose the theme of “Survivor,” which is essentially an Emergency Preparedness concept.  Lanterns, flashlights, batteries, first aid kits, food storage, or any other gift that could help us be more prepared in an emergency would be appropriate for this theme.  My family all lives in earthquake country, so we know how important it is to have supplies and kits in place for when the need arises.  Most of these items can also be used in more minor emergencies as well, so this is a very practical theme, and may not have the “fun” factor that some are looking for in gift giving.  My family likes practical.

One year, one of my brothers had completed a major house addition and had a lot of blank walls in his home to fill up, so he requested the theme “On The Wall.”  The gifts that year were anything you could hang on a wall (indoors or out): pictures, frames, clocks, decorative pieces, barometers, lights, shelves, vinyl decals, shadow boxes, plate racks, etc.).  I know you can also hang television sets on the wall these days, but that would be quite a bit out of our budget!

My family grew up playing lots of board games and putting together jigsaw puzzles, so it was a natural fit to have a “Games and Puzzles” theme.  Some of us went traditional with our choices, but a lot of us bought newer games to try.  This was a really fun category, which also led to even more enjoyment when we got together to try out some of the gifts.

I am super excited about our theme this year.  We decided to have a “Color” theme, but we couldn’t agree on one color among us, so we opted for a pattern: “Stripes.”  It doesn’t matter what the gift is this year as long as it features stripes, in any color combination.   I can’t wait to see what my family comes up with for this category.

There may have been another theme from past years that I have missed in this recounting, but those are all I can remember right now.  However, I do have a list of themes that we have discussed but haven’t used yet:

  • Something “refurbished or repurposed” (find or buy something old and fix it up in some way that makes it new or different).  This is a sort of semi-homemade category.  Related ideas would be to have a “Garage Sale,” “Freecycle” or “Craigslist” theme.
  • Something “nostalgic.”  This could be anything that reminds you of times past (your own childhood, or even before your own time).  It could be something vintage, or it could be something new that reminds you of something old.  However you want to interpret it.
  • Time related.”  There are tons of cool clocks, watches, barometers, etc. to choose from that would make a fun theme.  Who doesn’t need another clock?  Or perhaps you could come up with some other kind of gift to fit this theme–perhaps a time-travel novel?
  • How about a “Religious” theme?  If you are a church going family or group, like we are, then this might be a fun category.  You could find books, music, jewelry, art or even scriptures as gifts.  Additionally, there are many nativity themed Christmas items that could also be appropriate.
  • My book club does a book gift exchange every year.  We also like to choose themes, such as “a classic we haven’t read,” “a children’s book,” “one of our favorite books,” “something from the dollar table at the local used book store,” “something we would like to read,” etc.  These ideas could be adapted to your group if you have a lot of readers.
  • Have you noticed the extensive variety of boxed gifts the stores put out at Christmastime?  I have thought that could be a fun and easy exchange theme: choose a pre-made gift basket or gift box of any kind–nuts, popcorn, candy, mugs, scarves, chocolates, spices, ties, pajamas, candles, ribbons, frames, ornaments, scents, car related, and on and on.  You could make your own gift baskets as well.
  • One year I also had the idea to have a theme like “Long or Fat, or Hard to Wrap,” but my family shot me down on that one.  My idea was that you had to choose a gift that was big and awkard–the kind that is either too pointy or too bulky to wrap nicely or too large to fit in a standard sized gift bag.

I hope these ideas inspire you to start your own gift exchange tradition in your family, or to think of new and unusual themes to add a sense of fun to the activity, as well as make it more memorable.  Happy gifting!