How to Play Dirty Santa
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.
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.