PHOTO: iStock
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Whether you’re looking for ways to save money this holiday, keep a safe distance while still enjoying friends and family, or both, a virtual gift exchange (or two) might be just the ticket. With everything else going virtual this year, from graduations to birthdays to weddings, it only makes sense that the winter holidays are next up. Let’s face it: The holidays wouldn’t be complete without exchanging gifts, so to help you create the most jolly virtual holiday gift exchange, we chatted with some experts and got the scoop.

Meghan Langseder, community manager at Elfster — a secret Santa gift exchange generator that has helped millions organize gift exchanges online for over a decade — says that “virtual gift exchanges are a great way to continue long traditions with a new twist, or start a new tradition with friends and family.”

How to set up a virtual holiday gift exchange

You can easily use a free service like Elfster to set up your exchange by entering email addresses, names and other details and letting it decide who buys for whom (it’s not your fault that Grandpa has to buy for Aunt Sue!).

“2020 is the year of all things virtual,” says Langseder. “Creating a virtual gift exchange is as easy as creating any other gift exchange; you’ll just want to be sure to share a link to your virtual meeting (Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc.).”

PHOTO: iStock

Seri Kertzner, chief party officer of Little Miss Party, weighed in on exactly how to organize the event so that it goes off without a hitch.

“Send out an email (or virtual invite) with all the details well in advance so your participants have enough time to get and ship the gifts to each other,” advises Kertzner. She also recommends considering including these common parameters in your invitation:

  • Date, time and link of the virtual gift exchange
  • Budget for the gift if you want to set one (typically in the $10 to $40 range per gift, pre-shipping costs)
  • Ensure everyone has the gift wrapped or boxed so that the recipient can open it live
  • Any other details to make the virtual party festive (see more info on this below)
PHOTO: iStock

Kertzner also says, “One thing you can do to make sure it goes smoothly is assign an order for opening the gifts in advance. This way, everyone knows when their turn will be and you won’t be talking over each other to figure it out, which can be hectic. When the person is opening their gift, give them the stage and mute your mics or stay quiet so they can open and share their joy with you while doing so.”

Christmas gift exchange ideas for families

Both experts advised choosing a theme that everyone can get in on to create maximum fun and minimum stress. And it means that Uncle Jeff won’t be able to hand out a regift again this year. Be sure to come to a consensus before the official kickoff so that everyone knows what they’re aiming for.

Games, subscriptions, pajamas, food, ornaments, gift cards and holiday sweaters are all popular categories that can fit any age participant. Here are a few gift ideas for family exchanges to get your wheels turning:

Men’s Gaudy Garland Ugly Christmas Sweater ($44.95, originally $64.95; tipsyelves.com)

Men
Men's Gaudy Garland Ugly Christmas Sweater
PHOTO: Tipsy Elves

It doesn’t get more festive than this totally over-the-top Christmas sweater. Tipsy Elves has a sweater for every sense of humor, from raunchy to classic, and in sizes for the whole family.

Buttercream-Frosted Holiday Cookies and Gourmet Pretzels (starting at $24.99; cheryls.com)

Buttercream-Frosted Holiday Cookies and Gourmet Pretzels
Buttercream-Frosted Holiday Cookies and Gourmet Pretzels
PHOTO: Cheryl's

Anyone with a sweet tooth will welcome a delivery of cookies that are loaded with holiday spirit.

FaceTory Subscription (starting at $7.57 per month; cratejoy.com)

FaceTory Subscription
FaceTory Subscription
PHOTO: Cratejoy

There are so many options for subscription boxes that we can safely say there’s one for everyone. Cratejoy has a massive selection to choose from, and we love this FaceTory subscription that sends new Korean face masks and beauty supplies each month for as little as $7.57 per month. Start them off with one month or more, then they can opt to continue if they’d like.

Ekouaer Pajamas Set (starting at $39.99; amazon.com)

Ekouaer Pajamas Set
Ekouaer Pajamas Set
PHOTO: Amazon

An Amazon bestseller for a reason, these ultra-soft pajamas come in sweet and subtle holiday prints, like this Christmas tree one.

Small Packages Holiday Box (starting at $35; smallpackages.co)

Small Packages Holiday Box
Small Packages Holiday Box
PHOTO: Small Packages

We love a personalized gift box, and Small Packages is an expert in curating just the right gifts for the faraway person in your life. Take this holiday box, for example, which can come packed with a must-read book, a festive cookie and hot chocolate on a stick.

Funny Christmas gift exchange ideas

Kertzner advises that “themed gift exchanges are the funniest. A theme like the ‘80s or ‘90s would be amazing, and no doubt your guests would come up with some pretty hilarious ideas like neon socks or old games like the Magic 8-Ball and Twister!”

Magic 8-Ball: Retro ($8.88; amazon.com)

Magic 8-Ball: Retro
Magic 8-Ball: Retro
PHOTO: Amazon

When an ‘80s-themed gift exchange is happening, a Magic 8-Ball is sure to be in the mix. This retro classic has all of the answers to life’s most complicated questions… Well, sort of.

Chia Pet Bob Ross ($16.99, originally $20.99; amazon.com)

Chia Pet Bob Ross
Chia Pet Bob Ross
PHOTO: Amazon

You can’t get much more classic than a Bob Ross Chia Pet, a gift that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Wanna bring it to 2020? There’s even a Baby Yoda Chia Pet.

Retro NES Cartridge Coasters for Drinks ($11.42; amazon.com)

Retro NES Cartridge Coasters for Drinks
Retro NES Cartridge Coasters for Drinks
PHOTO: Amazon

For the gamer in your life, these fun coasters will remind them of games of yore.

Whaline Neon Scrunchies, 12-Pack ($8.99, originally $10.99; amazon.com)

Whaline Neon Scrunchies, 12-Pack
Whaline Neon Scrunchies, 12-Pack
PHOTO: Amazon

And how about some ‘80s fashion? These bestselling velvet scrunchies do the trick.

Lip Smacker Original Flavors Party Pack ($9.99; amazon.com)

Lip Smacker Original Flavors Party Pack
Lip Smacker Original Flavors Party Pack
PHOTO: Amazon

Get a real taste of the ‘90s with this Lip Smackers 8-pack, which comes with all the most iconic flavors, vanilla and strawberry included.

Vintage Candy Co. 1990s Retro Candy Gift Box ($39.99; amazon.com)

Vintage Candy Co. 1990s Retro Candy Gift Box
Vintage Candy Co. 1990s Retro Candy Gift Box
PHOTO: Amazon

And naturally we have to throw in some classic ‘90s snacks too. This gift box comes with all your favorite ‘90s candies, including Hubba Bubba, Push Pops, Skittles and more.

’Nevermind’ by Nirvana LP ($22.26, originally $24.98; amazon.com)

"Nevermind" by Nirvana LP
"Nevermind" by Nirvana LP
PHOTO: Amazon

A ‘90s-themed gift exchange begs for a Nirvana reference, and with LPs and record players seemingly making a comeback, a fresh press of “Nevermind” seems like a solid call.

White elephant gift exchange ideas

White elephant gift exchanges are infamous for being a place where it’s safe to be outrageously hilarious and creative. “We know this occasion usually calls for gag gifts, but if you’re participating in a white elephant exchange, you want to bring a gift people will actually want — something useful but fun that no one else will think to get,” shares Langseder.

“Ah, there are so many great ideas out there!” raves Kertzner. Here are a few that she loves that tend to be well priced:

Guajolote Prints Funny Novelty Memo Pads Bundle ($12.99; amazon.com)

Guajolote Prints Funny Novelty Memo Pads Bundle
Guajolote Prints Funny Novelty Memo Pads Bundle
PHOTO: Amazon

“Funny and relevant notepads like these are hilarious,” says Kertzner. This pack of four notepads comes with four separate but related designs featuring the sayings “Everything is fine,” “This is my life now,” “I have no idea what I’m doing” and “I’m not even trying anymore.”

Homestia Gold Cocktail Shaker Set ($25.99; amazon.com)

Homestia Gold Cocktail Shaker Set
Homestia Gold Cocktail Shaker Set
PHOTO: Amazon

Kertzner also likes the idea of giving this flashy cocktail shaker set “if no kids are playing.” It comes with a stainless steel 20-ounce martini shaker, a muddle spoon, a double jigger, a fine strainer and two liquor pour spouts.

What On Earth Unicorn Ice Cube Tray ($11.99; amazon.com)

What On Earth Unicorn Ice Cube Tray
What On Earth Unicorn Ice Cube Tray
PHOTO: Amazon

This totally trendy (who ever really gets tired of unicorns, though?) ice cube tray will bring a little bit of magic to any gift exchange — and also to any drink from here to eternity.

Original Salbree Microwave Popcorn Popper ($15.90; amazon.com)

Original Salbree Microwave Popcorn Popper
Original Salbree Microwave Popcorn Popper
PHOTO: Amazon

This handy gadget will have them buying popcorn kernels in bulk and upgrading their movie nights immediately. The bowl is collapsible for easy storage, and it comes in 18 colors for an opportunity to add personal flair.

Buffalo Games Like Totally ‘80s Pop Culture Trivia Game ($14.99; amazon.com)

Buffalo Games Like Totally
Buffalo Games Like Totally '80s Pop Culture Trivia Game
PHOTO: Amazon

Kertzner suggests gifting a game or puzzle like this ‘80s trivia game that will have them digging deep into their memory and reliving some of the best and biggest ‘80s (hair) moments.

Virtual gift exchange props

Although most people will have some holiday decor set up somewhere in their house that they can use as a backdrop, it can be fun to rally everyone around a theme to set the mood.

“Have everyone come dressed in their PJs or an ugly sweater, which you could turn into a contest during your virtual gift exchange! Another idea is to send everyone a recipe that they can make in advance,” says Kertzner.

“Be sure to make it festive!” says Langseder. “Decorate your background, dress up in your best party clothes, gather for a meal (virtually) and make it less about getting new possessions and more about how rewarding it is to surprise and delight someone you care for.”

Aneco Glitter Christmas Decoration Costume Eyeglasses, 6-Pack ($8.99; amazon.com)

Aneco Glitter Christmas Decoration Costume Eyeglasses, 6-Pack
Aneco Glitter Christmas Decoration Costume Eyeglasses, 6-Pack
PHOTO: Amazon

Become a rotating holiday display yourself with this set of six glittery holiday glasses. Start with one and change them out every so often to keep everyone on their toes.

Big Dot of Happiness Happy Holiday Presents Clothespin Garland ($19.99; amazon.com)

Big Dot of Happiness Happy Holiday Presents Clothespin Garland
Big Dot of Happiness Happy Holiday Presents Clothespin Garland
PHOTO: Amazon

String up some color and festivity in the background with this fun gift garland that comes with 44 paper cutouts of festive gifts, 50 cute mini clothespins and 10 yards of satin cord to fasten them in any arrangement you’d like.

National Tree Company Pre-Lit Artificial Mini Christmas Tree ($28.32, originally $29.99; amazon.com)

National Tree Company Pre-Lit Artificial Mini Christmas Tree
National Tree Company Pre-Lit Artificial Mini Christmas Tree
PHOTO: Amazon

Grab a small tabletop tree that will easily fit into your virtual camera shot to add holiday festivity from wherever you plan to perch for the event. At 2 feet tall and pre-lit, this one is easy to stow and set back up year after year, virtual gift exchange or not.

Gift exchange dice games

One trend that we have our eyes on is dice games. They’re fun and simple games that groups can play together without having to be in the same room. All guests need are some dice and a printout of the game board. This is a way to make the process of opening gifts one by one more entertaining and energized.

“Etsy has a pretty amazing variety of these dice gift exchange games! I’d take a look through here and find one that best suits your group,” shares Kertzner.

PaintedDaisiesMI Roll the Dice Gift Swap Game Digital Download ($1.99; etsy.com)

PaintedDaisiesMI Roll The Dice Gift Swap Game Digital Download
PaintedDaisiesMI Roll The Dice Gift Swap Game Digital Download
PHOTO: Etsy

Instantly download this game sheet and share it with your gift swap crew. Be sure to give each person in the swap a number so that you know who’s up when you “pass left” or “pass right.”

PrintsofLifeEvents Christmas Gift Exchange Dice Game ($3.50; etsy.com)

PrintsofLifeEvents Christmas Gift Exchange Dice Game
PrintsofLifeEvents Christmas Gift Exchange Dice Game
PHOTO: Etsy

This dice game is also an instant download and has a slightly more modern and Christmassy vibe. Print it and send it to the people participating, or email it to them to print themselves and let the fun begin.