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28 Ideas for Exchanging Christmas Gifts

Sure, you could just hand over a gift, but why not present your presents in a more creative way?

By Vanessa DiMaggio and Sarah Humphreys
Wrapped holiday gifts Bob Hiemstra

Make Gift-Giving a Charitable Endeavor

  • Adopt another family for the holidays. Instead of buying gifts for one another, sponsor a needy family. If you have kids, talk to them about the difference the gesture can make to the other family and make sure they’re okay with giving up presents (you can always get them something little). You can find a needy family through your local Salvation Army branch, which will provide a wish list to shop from.
  • Put a charitable spin on secret Santa. Jeanne Benedict, an entertaining expert, suggests adding a philanthropic twist to the game: Instead of buying material gifts, make a $20 donation to a charity your recipient would support. For instance, is he or she an animal lover? Donate to the ASPCA. It makes a more meaningful gift than another stocking stuffer.
  • Swap toys with Santa. Along with cookies and milk, leave (gently used) old toys under the tree on Christmas Eve for Santa to “take back to the North Pole.” (You can donate them to an organization like Toys for Tots or Goodwill.)

Make Gift-Giving a Themed Affair

  • Ornament/craft exchange. Benedict suggests making handmade ornaments out of 4-inch-by-4-inch boxes that are light enough to hang on the tree. Inside the box, fashion a small kit of some kind, like a stamping kit, a jewelry-making kit, or a knitting kit—something fun that would be easy to pick up as a hobby. Each guest should bring a kit to the party and then exchange it, so that everybody takes home a handcrafted ornament and gets a new project to start on in the New Year.
  • Pet present exchange. Incorporate your furry friends into your holiday celebrations. Dress up your pet in holiday garb, like a Santa hat (if he’ll allow it), then gather with your friends and their pets to share gifts. “Obviously you want to stay within the same species, either all cats or all dogs,” says Benedict. Theme the presents toward the pets: bones and biscuits for dogs, claw scratchers and catnip for cats.
  • Cocktail swap. Give the gift of holiday “spirits”: Have guests bring gift bags full of the items needed to make a certain cocktail (like coffee liqueur, orange cognac, and Irish Cream for a B-52), and then exchange the bags. Or choose to exchange red, white, or sparkling wines.
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Blue ice cube tray

A few days before a party, start making ice and storing it in baggies in the freezer.