Smart Living How to Host the Perfect White Elephant Party
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Whether you call it a White Elephant Party, a Yankee Swap or, uh, a Dirty Santa Exchange, this gift-trading event is certainly one of the season's most festive gatherings. But throwing a stellar party does require a bit of pre-planning. Luckily,has everything you need, so consider it your one-stop shop. Follow these tips to make sure every guest goes home happy, and no one leaves empty-handed (or empty-bellied).
Catch up on the rules:
Just in case you haven't been to one of these since middle school, here's how it works:
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- Each guest brings a wrapped gift ($25 or under is a good limit) and places it in a communal area.
- Players then draw numbers to determine who gets to pick a gift first.
- Gather everyone into a circle (to make it easy, have them sit in the order of their number draw), and then have player number one choose any gift to open.
- Player number two then has the option of taking that gift or opening another.
- Everyone then gets a turn to open — or steal — a present. The variations from there are infinite, but you get the gist.
White Elephant parties do take a bit more planning than the average cocktail celebration. "The gift exchange is really the main attraction, so figure out your timing in advance for that," says event strategist and founder of Fête and, Jung Lee.
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"Breaks my heart."
She recommends drinks and light snacks for half an hour, followed by a festive dinner, and then finally gathering everyone in the living room (or somewhere else comfortable) for the exchange. "Everyone has had cocktails, wine, and food — now it's time to have real fun!" she says.
Get crazy with the décor:
You don't have to buy tiny white-elephant-covered napkins and plates (although no one's stopping you), but as these parties generally happen during the holiday season, it's OK to get a little festive. You can find a set of exclusive Berkley Jensen Holiday Lanterns from BJ's to add a little flair to your tablescape, or snag some of their holiday-themed throw pillows to make your couch extra comfy and on-theme.
Color-code your food:
There's an inherent kitschy factor to a Yankee Swap, so don't be afraid to run with it when it comes to your food. "Your food and drinks should serve as part of your décor," Lee says. "Keep them white and silver with accents of red. Red candy, for example, is easy and so pretty."
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You can organize everything with an exclusive Berkley Jensen Collapsible Buffet Caddy from BJ's, which has handy stations for plates, napkins, and silverware.
Curate a bar area:
"Create a [drink] station with an ice bucket, all the bar accessories, lemon and lime wedges, and glasses so guests can help themselves; and let them know that!" Lee says. A word to the wise: "It's more than okay to have extra booze, but not okay to ever run out," she adds. "That's a party killer."
Create a killer playlist:
Your favorite holiday mix is perfect for this type of event, but if you're drawing a blank, there are always premade playlists on Spotify. "It's important to have music throughout the party, but turn it off or down when you do the gift swap; you want to hear what others are saying," Lee says.
Bring a creative gift:
Despite what you might think, there's a lot you can buy with $25 — so choose wisely. The idea behind a Yankee Swap, though, is that the presents should be fun, and probably not something you'd buy for yourself. BJ’s is one of the best places to find quirky gifts for the right price: think Dearfoam Holiday Slippers that look like Christmas trees or Snowman Stackable Mugs.
How long do you really have to RSVP?
You walk to your mailbox, open up the little door and bring a stack of envelopes back into your home. You sort through bills and some junk mail and then, at the bottom of the stack of papers, you find an invitation. You’ve been officially invited to a birthday party, wedding or other celebration. Hooray! At the bottom of the invite, you see a note asking guests to RSVP before a certain date. Great, you think. You have a couple weeks to send your confirmation or regrets, right? Wrong. You actually need to send back that RSVP, ASAP.© shutteratakan/Shutterstock How long do you have to RSVP? 1/25 SLIDES © istock.
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Send guests home with an extra gift:
Party favors are a wonderful way to thank guests for coming, even at a gift-swapping get-together. "While the spirit of the gift exchange may not be practical, the favor should be usable or able to be eaten," Lee says.
She recommends picking up some white-hued treats, like white chocolate popcorn, and presenting them in a clear plastic bag tied with a festive bit of red ribbon. Or better yet: Just get Lindt's 6-pack party favors from BJ's — no packaging necessary.
And most importantly, don’t stress!
Remember that even if the theme of this party is people stealing gifts, it's all meant to be in good fun. "This should not be stressful. It's a party!" says Lee. "So as a host, you need to remind yourself of that."
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