Creative gift ideas for your family gift exchange

Family Gift Exchange

You have to love a holiday family gift exchange. It’s the perfect solution to big-group giving, whether it’s because you’re trying to save money or nobody needs more stuff or your family is ginormous or all of the above.

And once you’ve decided whether to draw names or do the Secret Santa thing or host a White Elephant Party, we’ve got ideas for creative gifts to give.

Inspired? Create and share by tagging @HallmarkStores.

The Upcycle/Repurpose Challenge  

For this exchange, you give something used or pre-loved. But you’re not just foisting something from the garage on a beloved friend or family member. You’re not simply regifting a candle. You’re remaking. You’re transforming. That could mean anything from bedazzling a pair of socks to turning a birdcage into a planter.

The key here is to provide parameters for your participants. If you just say “upcycle something from your house,” folks might get overwhelmed with all the choices. Here are some rules to choose from to make things easier:

  • Choose a category: You can ask participants to choose from wearables, like clothing, jewelry or accessories. Or you can make it about home stuff—décor, artwork, even small furniture. Choose a category that fits the folks doing the gift exchange.
  • Pick a place. To narrow things down, you can tell people where to find the item they’re going to transform. Does it have to come from their house? Can they scour thrift shops and garage sales? Are found objects from hikes in the park and neighborhood strolls fair game?
  • Limit the investment. Anyone can make a piece of junk cool with unlimited resources. Another way to level the playing field is to set a limit on how much they can spend on the transformation.
Snowman with gifts

Art Exchanges  

If your group includes creative types—or even better, kids—an art exchange might be the way to go. And there are a bunch of ways to play this one, too:

  • Make something for everyone. Instead of drawing names, everyone makes one piece of art for everyone in the group. Here are tips on how that works.
  • Create art for the person whose name you draw. Make something super personal for just one person.
  • Everyone makes the same thing. Decide on a medium for everyone’s artwork: a drawing, something knitted or crocheted, a plant holder or pencil cup. A few easy ideas include macramé keychains, block printing and clay bowls.
  • Do on-the-spot art. If everyone will be together, why not make it a Christmas Craft Night? Gather up craft supplies, draw names (keep them secret), enjoy adult beverages while you create gifts and give them to each other at the end of the evening.
Family exchanging gifts

Christmas Care Packages  

This one is just right for long-distance gift exchanges. The challenge: Draw names, set a spending limit, include found and purchased items, and use DIY shipping containers to create perfect, personalized care packages. Here are some ideas to make it even more fun:

  • Set a theme: Try something like self-care, favorite hobbies, time capsule or Christmas goodies.
  • Pick a size: Decide on a standard USPS box size and fill it up. You can even get the box for free at a post office or order it online.
  • Include digital surprises. Write down or print out a link to a music or video playlist or photo album.

For inspiration, take a peek at our Christmas care packages, mini care packages and birthday ideas. And check out our holiday gift wrap to make every present extra festive.

The Speedy Shopping Spree Party  

The origin of this was a friend’s birthday party. In lieu of gifts, the guest of honor had us all draw names, then took us to a flea market and gave everyone $10 and one hour to find the perfect gift for the person we drew.

I’ve since recreated the event with my coworkers at an antique mall and my family at the International Marketplace in Waikiki. The best part of this exchange is the storytelling: You all meet up after your shopping spree, present the gifts and explain yourself.

Here’s how to do your own Speedy Shopping Spree:

  • Figure out your shopping location, a time limit, and a dollar amount. Think of places with a lot of variety—flea markets, craft fairs, areas full of tourist shops, discount stores or shopping malls. Give folks enough time to think and explore a bit—but not so much there’s no sense of urgency. The dollar amount should limit their options: The creativity here will come with the stories they tell to explain the connection between gift and receiver.
  • Decide where you’ll meet up. It might be a nearby restaurant or someone’s home. Hot cocoa or adult beverages and good snacks will just make it feel more festive. Make it somewhere you can settle in for a bit.
  • Share the gifts. When everyone has a seat and a drink, start the gift exchange. Whoever you choose to begin will say what they bought, the reason why and who it’s for—not necessarily in that order. Then just go around the table or room until everyone’s gifts are given.
  • How to make it personal. When people write their names on a slip of paper for the drawing, ask them to provide a little more info to inspire the gift shopping. Think about what folks will find at the designated shopping spot. For example, if you shop at a flea market or antique mall, ask them to name their favorite childhood toy, color or room of the house. If you’re going to a dollar store, you might ask about favorite movies or TV shows, hobbies or flavors.
  • How to make it work long distance. Instead of a dollar limit, consider choosing a size of USPS box to fill. If you’re hosting, provide a shopping day, an Instagram hashtag (so people can give sneak peeks of their adventures), a shipping deadline and a video call invitation.

Let a card do the talking when you give your present. You can tell the story behind the gift, let the recipient know they matter to you or just send happy wishes for the season.

Gifts hiding in a holiday scene with a cat

Making Dreams Come True  

Maybe you’ve heard that people want experiences, not things? If that’s your jam, this is your gift exchange. Without giving away any details, ask the people in your group to write their name and the number one thing on their bucket list on a slip of paper.

Once everyone has drawn a name and a dream, give them the assignment: It’s your job to make that person’s dream come true—and you’ve got $10 to do it. (Of course, you can choose another amount—but the cheaper you go, the more creative you get.)

We did this at work, and here’s what people did for their friends:

  • Printed out and mounted photos of jungle animals on sticks for people all over the office, made a cardboard Jeep and took them on a cubicle safari.
  • Turned their office into a used book store and coffee shop and gave coworkers fake money to make purchases.
  • Made skis out of cardboard and suspended a box filled with shredded paper above a desk so they could go snow-skiing.


Some tips for making dreams come true:

  • Mark your calendar. Pick a week, or weekends, for the dream makers to do their work.
  • Get volunteers. Choose other people in the gift exchange group to help out so they can see the results—along with kiddos and neighbors.
  • Save boxes. You can make almost anything from cardboard.

The creative gift exchange isn’t just about saving money. All of these ideas are designed to get everyone excited about giving, thinking about the people whose names they’ve drawn and focused on making others feel loved at Christmas.