How to Play Dirty Santa

Updated on September 21, 2018
parrster profile image

Among his varied other writing interests, Richard Parr aspires to creating interesting and inspiring stories about life.

Every Christmas the adults in my extended family (twelve of us) get together and, for the past few years, we've played our version of Dirty Santa.

Dirty Santa can be hugely entertaining, especially if you are anticipating significant number of adults gathering for Christmas celebrations. I say adults because the nature and rules of this game are rarely appreciated by children; especially the young. Let me explain...


  • Number of Adults: Ideally this game requires at least six adults; and would suggest no more than twenty; though you can technically have as many playing as you want.

  • Number of Gifts: Each participating adult must provide one unlabelled, gift-wrapped present of a predetermined value; for example, between $5 - $20. Gifts can be serious, humorous or ridiculous, however, effort should be made to wrap the gift in such a way that the contents remains unknown until opened.

The Rules

They are simple:

  • The gifts are placed in a central location where players can easily access and make their selection.

  • Select who starts. There are several ways to do this. Typically everyone draws a number from a container; one containing the same number of tokens as there are players. Each then plays in sequence. In our version we actually have a quiz/skill challenge. The winner of each round selects who goes next. NOTE: this does require a quiz master.
  • First Player. The game starts. Whoever's turn it is to go first picks a gift from the central pile, and opens it. They show everyone. Of course, the fun here is in the gift itself and the reaction of the recipient. There will normally be a dynamic range of gifts, from desirable to useless, practical to hilarious. The first player now takes their seat with their gift in hand.

  • Player 2 has a choice. Player 2 now has the choice of either selecting another unopened gift from the central pile or, doing the dirty, taking the opened gift from Player 1; in which case Player 1 must select another unopened gift from the remaining pile.
  • Each subsequent Player has a choice. Select an unopened gift from the pile, or take an already opened gift from any of the preceding players; in which case that preceding player can select another unopened gift from the pile or select one of the opened gifts from the other players (however, they cannot take back from the person who just took from them).
  • The 3rd time owned-retired rule. This is optional, but if you have taken possession of a gift for the third time, it is considered yours and retired from the game; you get to keep it. For example: player 1 selected a gift from the table; kitchen scales (first ownership). Player two takes it from her, so player 1 selects another gift from the pile; a vase. Player 3, takes the vase from her. Player 1 takes back the scales from player 2 (second ownership). Player 4 takes the scales from player 1. Player 1 selects another gift from the pile; mp3 player. Player 5 takes the mp3 from Player 1. Player 1 takes back the kitchen scales from player 4 (3rd ownership, she gets to keep it).
  • How the Game Ends. When the last unopened gift is selected, the game ends.

As you can imagine, the best gifts are battled over to the bitter end. Adding even further humour is the sheer uselessness of some of the "gifts". I was once lumbered with a giant painted acorn, the type normally adorning the top of a fence post; we continued the hilarity by having a competition of who could come up with the best use for it.

Try it, it's great fun.

Xmas Traditions

What is your favorite thing about Christimas

See results


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • parrster profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      11 months ago from Australia

      @Roe~True, the first in line can be lumbered with a present that they or no one else wants. Allowing them an extra turn at the end is an option, though that could create its own problems. Ultimately the fun is in the game and not the gifts, and whether interacting or just watching there is so much laughter to be had that any disappointment over a lousy gift is quickly forgotten. As I said, I was once lumbered with a giant acorn :)

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      What happens to the number one person. I've heard they also get to go last because they (sometimes) never get to swap. Thanks

    • parrster profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      6 years ago from Australia

      @GlstngRosePetals ~ Hope you enjoy it as much as my family have. All the best.

    • GlstngRosePetals profile image


      6 years ago from Wouldn't You Like To Know

      Wow I'm going to have to try this game this year at christmas, it sounds like a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing :)

    • FrugalandFab profile image


      6 years ago from New Hampshire

      Great hub, creepy picture. We always called this game a Yankee swap and actually just played it last weekend at a Christmas party. I somehow ended up with a hideous cigar ashtray...yep, a cigar ash tray. Anyone care to guess what I'll be bringing to the Yankee swap next year? Ho ho ho

    • moiragallaga profile image

      Moira Garcia Gallaga 

      6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I've encountered variations of this at office Christmas parties, though proper gifts were used. I like the idea of using useless and ridiculous gifts as your article suggests, makes it more fun. Love that picture, Dirty Santa indeed. Hehe. Nice hub Parrster.

    • prettynutjob30 profile image


      6 years ago from From the land of Chocolate Chips,and all other things sweet.

      I played this game when I was about twenty ended up with a pretty good gift.

    • parrster profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      6 years ago from Australia

      @Ghaelach ~ Good question. I did a search on wiki and found this article; it appears you may have been hibernating :)

      It appears that it is a common game to North America, and known under various names; Yankee Swap, Chinese Gift Exchange, Dirty Santa, Thieving Secret Santa, Parcel Pass, Christmas Swamp Thing, or Pollyanna.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi Parrster.

      A great hub.

      Q. Is this a US game??? because i've never heard of it or may be i was hibernating.

      It sound a great game and the mind boggles when you think of the different variations you could try.


      LOL Ghaelach

    • parrster profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      6 years ago from Australia

      @Gypsy Rose Lee ~ Sounds like you may have a goblin for a neighbour :)

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Sounds interesting and amusing. That Santa at the head of the hub looks like one of my neighbors while drunk during the holiday season. lol

    • parrster profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      6 years ago from Australia

      @bradybybun ~ glad I could bring back the memories, hope you have a great xmas and get to enjoy another memorable game of dirty santa.

      @tammyswallow ~ I wonder why it would be called Chinese Christmas? Maybe like Chinese Whispers, where you never knew what you were going to end up hearing, with Chinese Christmas you never know what you're going to end up keeping. Thanks for commenting. Photo spooked me too :)

    • tammyswallow profile image


      6 years ago from North Carolina

      I totally forgot about this game. When I played it years ago we called it Chinese Christmas. Very nice hub.. scary photo!

    • bradybynum1 profile image


      6 years ago from Texas

      I had played this game a long time ago and had hoped to play it again. This really refreshed my memory on the rules. Thanks!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)