How to host 'The Great Holiday Swap'

Erin Thorburn, Tribune News Service on

Published in Entertaining

Friendsgiving, usually celebrated around Thanksgiving, and white elephant exchanges, typically held around the winter holidays, both involve the gathering of family, friends and/or coworkers. Perhaps not as commonly celebrated — at least by a proper name — but equally fun and easy to implement this time of year is “The Great Holiday Swap Meet.” This event combines elements of Friendsgiving and a white elephant exchange but with its own special twist.

Begin with a theme (get inspiration down below). Everything from the gift exchange to the party’s entertainment, activities, decor and even food/beverage centers on the theme. The beauty of having a specific focus is that attendees don’t have to spend time thinking about what unique or sentimental gift to purchase for Friendsgiving or an eccentric, often never used — albeit often humorous — white elephant exchange offering.

Before we dive into individual theme ideas, here’s how the gift swap meet works: 1. Send an email to your proposed guest list with three choices for your holiday-swap-meet theme (ex: wine, books or movies) — the theme with the most votes wins. 2. Assign a dollar amount for gift exchange items. 3. Make sure to have each guest wrap the gift they’re bringing. 4. When guests arrive on the day of the event, each person is given a number and the host keeps that corresponding number in a bowl/hat/basket (raffle tickets work well for this!) 6. Place gifts in a central area. 5. Call out numbers randomly as the designated “selector" picks them from the raffle basket.

Host tip: If budget allows, purchase a couple of extra exchange gifts for those who may not have gift exchange funds in their budget, or for unexpected or last-minute-invited guests.

Now that you know how The Great Holiday Swap Meet works, here are a few themes to try:


This theme can be paired down to genre — sci-fi, drama, comedy or rom-com, or it can be left wide open to any type of movie, depending on the consensus of your guests. As far as gift ideas, provide attendees with gift inspiration in the form of cinematic posters, journals, mugs, T-shirts and other movie-focused merchandise. Select a movie for all to enjoy or to simply play in the background. Serve all the big-screen usuals — popcorn, soda, soft pretzels, candy assortments and other snacks.


Much like a movie theme, a book gift swap can be narrowed down by genre or relegated to fiction or nonfiction. Or, you can leave it open and invite any type of literary theme. In addition to gifting favorite books, other book-lover gifts can include reading lamps and lights, bookmarks, book stands, book bags and booked-themed clothing. Create reading nooks with comfy pillows and blankets and serve regular and decaf coffee, espresso drinks and teas with a variety of sweet and savory pastries.


Concert T-shirts

Invite all generations to unite in their love of music by making concert T-shirts the focal point of your gift-exchange extravaganza. See what happens when grandma unwraps a Britney Spears tee and her teen grandchild unveils a Beatles shirt. Arm your Bluetooth speaker with a variety of bands and bangers while you serve hot dogs and beer for the older crowd and Rockstar energy drinks and burgers for the 21 and unders. Encourage concert nostalgia to flow freely.


For a gathering of vino enthusiasts, provide a beverage cart full of reds, whites and pinks — with cheese pairings and palate cleansers. For the gift exchange, broaden the wine-themed packages to not only include varying Chardonnays and Cabernets but also include bottle openers, wine apparel and wine guide books or magazines.


Do you have a dog-walking group, kitty conclave or birds-of-a-feather flock you regularly meet with? If so, formulate your holiday gift swap around your furry, feathered or scaled friends. Provide doggie beds or obstacle courses for four-legged friends, perches and swings for avian guests and cat trees for felines. Include snacks and goodies for both humans and their companions. As for the gift exchange, encourage unique pet items from someplace like Etsy, where you can also support a diverse pool of artisans.

Use these five ideas to get started on your first holiday swap meet, and encourage trading of gifts so everyone gets something they love and remember for years to come.


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