Dirty Santa is one of the most longstanding holiday traditions, first originating from the American South.
Despite what the name might insinuate, Dirty Santa is actually a family-friendly activity. You can play this game with your colleagues at work too!
It is a “dirty” game because it involves vigorous “stealing.” You are supposed to scheme to steal the good gifts while trying to avoid the joker gifts, that everyone else is also trying to avoid! The more shameless of a thief you are, the better your gift will be.
Dirty Santa borrows elements from both Yankee Swap and White Elephant games. The major distinction between those two games and Dirty Santa is that the latter allows many rounds of conniving and the theft of a gift.
The Rules of Dirty Santa
There are many ways to play Dirty Santa. For your occasion to be successful, lay down the common rules and then sprinkle in some optional rules of your choice.
We have listed both the general rules and their popular variants in this article.
- In theory, you can have as many participants as you want in this game. However, Dirty Santa is ideally played among 6 to 20 people.
- Set the price limit for purchasing gifts. Having a price range ensures that the value of the gifts will be similar. Common gift limits usually hover around $20 to 25.
- Each person should buy a gift, because at the end of the day, everyone will go home with a present. Send everybody a gentle reminder so they do not forget.
- Regardless of how whimsical your gift might be, the packaging must be deceptively good. Excellent wrapping makes people want to open it. Nobody should be able to guess what is inside from the wrapping.
You are allowed to be cunning and even use dead weight to make it seem valuable or shape it into something it is not. This is the time to tap into your devious side.
During the Game
The game starts with the host placing all the gifts in a central spot. Every player can see the pile and access it to make a selection. You may choose for the gifts to be around a Christmas tree.
Decide who goes first by drawing numbers in a bowl. Each participant will play according to the sequence of the number that they picked from the container.
Player number 1 selects a gift from the collection. Then they open it and show it to everyone. The fun in this part is from the gift in the deceptively attractive wrapper and the reaction of the player.
Player number 2 has two choices. Either select a gift from the unopened pile, or take the unwrapped gift from player 1. If player 2 chooses to take player 1’s gift, then player 1 will pick another item from the remaining heap.
As the game progresses, each subsequent player has the choice to choose an unopened gift or “steal” an already unwrapped gift from any of the other players.
If it turns out that the preceding players’ gifts are stolen, they can either pick up new unopened gifts or steal one of the opened gifts from another participant. None of the players is allowed to take back their gift from someone who has just taken it from them.
The game concludes when the final unopened gift is picked.
Sometimes, the game rules are set in such a way that stealing isn’t allowed until the entire pile of gifts has been picked. Everyone then opens their gifts in the order of the numbers they drew. After that, the number 1 player does the first stealing and it goes from there.
Optional Game Rules
- Themed Dirty Santa: Themes make gift buying easier and more fun. For example, a party for a family of all adults may decide that the party theme should be fine liquor. Company parties can choose a gift theme that is relevant to the industry they operate in.
- Swapping Timer: At the end of the game when all gifts have been unwrapped, you can set a timer. Gifts are then stolen from each person until the countdown is complete.
- No Swapping Until All Gifts Are Opened: This optional rule can mitigate boredom when many people are invited to the party. Stealing is put on hold until everyone has picked and opened a present. Throwing in a countdown timer is even better in this scenario.
- Strike Outs: If a player is stolen from, or a gift is swapped three times, the person holding the gifts gets to keep it. They are also out of the game.
How the Game Should End
The ending of a Dirty Santa game is entirely subjective, based on the set of rules you have chosen to use.
However, the basis of the game is that it ends when everyone has had a chance to steal and open a gift.
The ending should not leave anyone feeling like they did not have enough chances to play. On the other hand, it should not be too long, or you’ll bore everyone to sleep.
Achieving a balance between these two extreme end results is not too difficult. If you are hosting a small group, allow a longer swapping time. Add a timer for dramatic flourish towards the end.
For a large group of people, do not allow swapping before all the gifts have been unwrapped.
Spicing Up Your Dirty Santa
If you thought that the game in its raw form was interesting enough, just wait until you hear these ideas! There are a number of extra ways to make this game even more interesting.
Guessing Game: Participants each pick their gifts and exchange without opening. They are supposed to use the weight, shape, and texture to guess what gift they might be receiving.
Remember, all of these parameters were deliberately obscured when the gift was being wrapped. Good luck trying to guess the correct answer!
Or for an even more interesting experience, have all the gifts wrapped using identical boxes and let the games begin.
Who Bought This: In this version, the party attendees try to guess who bought which gift. To motivate everybody to participate, there can be rewards for correct answers.
Let’s Go Fishing: Everyone in the Dirty Santa party goes to scavenge for gifts at the same place. This can either be online at eBay or Amazon, grocery stores, thrift stores, or anywhere else.
Rewards are offered for the persons who bought the item that gets stolen the most.
Paired Participants: Buying one gift as a couple means you get a gift of higher value. However, you also have to select one gift from the pool as a couple and share whatever you end up with at the end of swapping.
White Elephant Vs Dirty Santa
When playing White Elephant, the gifts usually have little to no value. The gifts are intended to be things that nobody wants or actually needs.
Dirty Santa, on the other hand, requires gifts that participants would actually love to take home. These items should have value, whether they are intended to be witty, charming, or just realistic.
Gift Ideas For Dirty Santa: At Home or the Office
Giant 128 Oz Sasquatch Flask: Gifting someone a gigantic 3-liter liquor flask is a cause for hilarity. It is not a common present, so you have an opportunity to steal the thunder for yourself. Go ahead and engrave it with a random friend’s initials because chances are that your friend will not land the flask in a game of Dirty Santa!
Hilarious Coworker Trump Mug: Mugs are common gifts, but witty Donald Trump mugs are not. This is the perfect gift to add to the office Dirty Santa pile. It doesn’t matter who ends up with the mug – they will go home believing that they are the best among the bunch.
Couple’s Spa Certificate: This is an excellent gift for Dirty Santa at home with your family. It may be on the pricier end, but if you are doing it for family, it is totally worth it.
If this couple’s certificate does not end up with your parents, chances are that everyone will have a good laugh when your single sibling bags it. Imagine everyone offering to accompany the lucky winner to the spa.
Relative Insanity Board Game: This is a game about crazy relatives. It was created by comedian Jeff Foxworthy, to be a merry adult party game.
The game celebrates the quirks and craziness of family members. There is a lot of laughter to look forward to with this unique game.
Motion-activated LED Toilet Light: Who knew that they already invented a device that helps you not lose your sleep in between late-night bathroom breaks?
The toilet light will sense when you enter the bathroom and automatically switch itself on so that you do not have to turn on the lights or risk splashing the toilet seat.
This is a thoughtful gift for family and colleagues.
Slice n Share Giant Snickers Bar: Snickers came up with a large 1lb snack bar that can be shared between 9 people. However, the lucky winner of this piece of candy does not necessarily have to share.
Wrap it up for home or office Dirty Santa and make somebody’s entire week good.
A Portrait of Yourself: Massage your ego byexcellently packaging a framed professional photograph of yourself.
If the poor soul that lands this obnoxious gift is particularly displeased, they can always throw away the picture and use the frame for their own picture.
Fifty Shades of Chicken: Normally, nobody would be falling over themselves to take home a recipe book. However, the circumstances will change when it is a particularly naughty cookbook about chicken.
Everyone loves being naughty and everybody loves chicken. Besides, we already know which particular bestseller this book is a caricature of.
Ostrich Travel and Power Nap Pillow: Like the proverbial ostrich who buries its head in the sand, this innovative pillow literally buries your head in slumberland.
It is an excellent gift for workers in a company that requires a lot of travel or just a high-pressure environment that everyone wants to take some breaks from.
It makes it easy to take a nap anywhere, eliminating the distractions from your surroundings.
Emergency Snack Glass Shadow Box: We all have someone close to use who gets hangry when they cannot access food or sacks. It’s unfortunate to cross paths with them when they are in that state.
However, this is a problem that has quite a brilliant solution. The box is very much like the fire alarm box.
Fill it with various snack bars and let a grateful friend or coworker break that glass in case of a hangry emergency.
Wine Condoms: This isprobably what you think it is, but at the same it is not what you think it is. These are condoms, except they are worn by an unfinished bottle of wine that cannot be recorked.
I cannot overemphasize how great an invention this is. Your wine will not aerate and spoil while you wait to finish it later.
This package is going to be a banger!
Hot-dog Toaster: Once you try the hot dogs that pop out of this appliance, you will wonder why you ever microwaved your hot dogs – and then you will never do it again. You can also toast the buns on it.
Besides, this hot-dogs toaster has a really sleek retro look going on for it. This is another gift that will be a hit at the party.
Stainless Steel Wine Tumbler with a Customized Message: Lift the spirits of one of your close lady friends, siblings, or mom with this inspirational and unbreakable wine tumbler.
The tumbler bears a lovely message: “Sometimes you forget you’re awesome so this is your reminder.” On hard days, this stemless tumbler will bring a smile to your face.
Butt Fart Pads: There are some days when we eat something bad and our gastrointestinal system starts releasing noxious gases.
When this happens in the presence of other people, it is incredibly embarrassing. Fart pads take away the stench from the gas.
Simply stick one in the right place and go about your day. This is a suitable gift for both men and women.
Half Pint Glass: This is literally half a glass, like a half-moon. This is a visual deception glass that looks like a full glass from the front until you get the side view.
Show your support to that person who has been trying to drink fewer amounts of alcoholic beverages.
Put it in the pile of presents and hope that they steal it for themselves. Whichever way it turns out though, you did your part.
Miniature Desk Trash Can Organizers: These come in sets of two little storage containers that are an exact replica of garbage cans. They are 5-inches tall, enough to organize all kinds of writing implements and a large pair of scissors.
Buy it for your coworkers’ Dirty Santa. Perhaps that person who never seems to find his pen will steal them for his desk.
Camouflage Grilling Apron: Do you want to be addressed as a grill sergeant major? You’ll be armed with all the implements a man needs for an afternoon of fun, thanks to the numerous pockets of the camouflage grilling apron.
There is space for 6 beer cans across the chest, plus ketchup, mustard, and BBQ sauce in one pocket. There’s also space for at least 5 barbecue utensils on the other pocket just above the spray bottle.
In short, this apron will carry all you need to do a yard cookout or a barbecue.
750 Ml Wineglass: We have finally found the perfect wineglass to hold an entire bottle of wine in one serving.
This might be a difficult gift to part with, because it is so perfect for wine enthusiasts. Maybe you can get two of them and keep one for yourself.
Floating Superman Bookshelf: I suspect that we may have outdone ourselves with this peculiar shelf suspended mid-air by Superman.
It is a metal wall shelf with a concealed base and a superhero attached to it via a magnet. It gives the illusion that he is preventing the books from falling onto the ground.
If you intend to buy this for a gift pile, then you should once again consider buying this gift in a pair. One will be for your living room or bedroom.
The Toilet Mug: This gift idea may have a high cringe factor, but it is perfect for people who have a warped sense of humor.
If you are brave enough to drink your coffee from a toilet every morning, then we are confident that this ceramic mug deserves to be on this list.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Dirty Santa
Dirty Santa is meant to be a fun and entertaining pastime with the people you have spent a lot of your time with. Do not take yourself or the event too seriously.
Observe the following do’s, as they will help everybody to have as much fun as possible.
- If you are hosting this party at your house, ensure you have some extra gifts wrapped in case someone forgets to bring one. In some cases, there is always an extra guest or two you didn’t know was coming. The more, the merrier!
- Wrap your gift with an intent to deceive. This is simply trick wrapping, where you put a small or light object then you fill out the box with a bunch of stuff to make it seem like a real find.
- Let your creativity run wild when purchasing an item for Dirty Santa. Try to understand the temperament of the attendees. Are they strictly formal, fun, or naughty? Pick something cool that is likely to lift everyone’s spirits.
- In case you are held up with no time to shop, you can select some alcohol from your home bar. Almost everyone appreciates liquor, and you will not be out of place. However, this is an inappropriate gift if anyone under the age of 21 will be in attendance.
- It is okay to re-gift. A gift that was a hit at the previous Dirty Santa will make a hilarious entrance for this year’s dirty Santa.
- If someone has opened a gift you are eyeing, STEAL it. That is the whole point of the game. If everyone is polite and keeps opening gifts rather than swapping them, it kills the spirit of Dirty Santa.
With all that said, here are some reminders on what to not do so that everyone – yourself included – can have a grand time.
- Do not give in to the temptation of bringing random household rejects that no one in your family wants. Chances are, nobody in the party wants them either. You want to bring something that people will fall over themselves to steal and feel jealous of the winner.
- Don’t spend too much money on a Dirty Santa gift. If there are budget limits, adhere to them. If there aren’t any, consider $50 the highest amount to spend on a gift. A gift that is expensive will be stolen immediately. There is no fun in that.
- For the sake of fun, please don’t pick out or steal what you bought to the party. If you like it that much, get another one for yourself later on. Ensure that you go home with something else that is fun and that you can use – or re-gift.
- Don’t get upset if someone steals what you picked. Steal from someone else! The point of the game is to actually steal presents from each other.
Nothing will say “Merry Christmas” better than this beloved holiday tradition of scheming and “theft.” If your workplace, family, or book club is not aware of this wonderful game, please add it to the list of activities you enjoy this year.
The budgetary considerations are minimum, with gifts usually restricted to the $15 to 25 range. Plus, if you have multiple Dirty Santa in a Christmas season, it is okay to re-gift what you got from the previous party to the next one (we won’t tell!).
The essence of your Dirty Santa gift is how you wrap it rather than what is inside. Be bold in stealing from others, and be calm when your gift is taken from your hand. Happy holidays!