by Kym Byrnes

For many families, the ridiculously hard decision to stay distanced this holiday season might make it feel like we’re forfeiting the holidays altogether. Gift exchanges, parties, shopping — all are curtailed as we work to keep a pandemic at bay. But just as we figured out how to work our jobs from home and teach our kids from home and hoard toilet paper from home, we can also have a festive holiday season from the comfort of our homes. With a little tweaking and some technology, you can still have fun and exchange gifts with family, friends and co-workers. Check out these ideas for virtual gift exchanges. Don’t let 2020 take away your gift-giving (and -receiving) joy this holiday season.

Idea 1

Virtual Holiday Trivia Gift Exchange

This might work better for larger groups as the game could end pretty quickly with smaller groups (although the trivia portion could continue after the gifts are all exchanged). As with the White Elephant event, each participant should purchase and wrap a gift to have ready at game time. Set an event date and time and establish rules — perhaps a gift theme or spending range. This game will require a host/moderator who will have to do prep work that includes making a list of trivia questions in advance of the event and determining how answers will be provided. The game will also vary slightly depending on the technology platform used for the event, i.e. some platforms like Google Hangout and Zoom have a chat function that can be used to enter answers. Ready to play?

Fun twists:

Instead of trivia, the moderator could announce a task, and the first person to complete the task or volunteer to complete the task gets to choose their gift (and then sit out until everyone has gone), i.e., sing a Christmas carol, consume a shot, do five pushups, give the birthdates of all participants in the group; if it’s a group of close knit friends, the trivia could be personalized to the group (“Who spent Christmas with a boy in Paris in 1995?” or “Where does Chrissy get her Christmas tree every year?”).


  1. Everyone should have the gift they purchased wrapped and visible on screen for all to see.
  2. The moderator will ask a trivia question and participants will answer (you will have to decide what answering looks like depending on the call platform, technology available, etc.). Answers might be entered with chat function, or whoever does five jumping jacks and sits back down first gets to answer, or use buzzers. Whoever answers the question correctly will get to choose one of the gifts, the person holding the gift will open it so the person who answered correctly can see what they’ve gotten. The person who answered the question correctly and got a gift is now out of the game.
  3. The next question is asked, the person who answers correctly gets to choose a gift and is then out of the game.
  4. After all participants are out of the game, the moderator either gets the gift that is left, or the moderator can steal any of the already opened gifts and the person who had their gift stolen gets the final wrapped gift.
  5. After the game, gifters send or deliver presents to their rightful owners.



Idea 2

Virtual White Elephant

White Elephant gift exchanges typically involve wrapping up a wacky, funny or silly gift and during the game, people have a chance to pick a gift to open and then steal each other’s gifts. The end result — after some laughs and steals — is that everyone ends up with something fun. Taking the game online means setting a date for the virtual exchange and establishing the rules — typically there’s a set amount participants can spend, sometimes there is a theme (think gifts that have to do with “happy hour,” “in the kitchen” or “outdoor fun”); sometimes there are limits on how many steals can happen in a given round. Ready to play?

Fun twists:

Ask participants to wear ugly holiday sweaters or holiday pajamas; choose a custom cocktail in advance that everyone will make to drink during the exchange; or start each person’s turn with them sharing what they’re looking forward to in 2021 or singing a verse of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”


  1. Everyone should have the gift they purchased wrapped and ready for display so everyone else on the call can see it. Have fun trying to make the gift look desirable.
  2. Pick numbers or randomly generate the gift picking order.
  3. The gifters hold up their presents on screen so the person choosing can see all the options. The person whose turn it is chooses a gift. The person holding that gift opens it and shows it off so all participants can see what it is.
  4. The next person to go can either steal a gift that has already been opened, or choose to unwrap a new gift. If the person chooses to steal someone’s already opened gift, then the person who had their gift stolen has the choice to steal (but cannot steal back the gift they just had stolen) or unwrap a new gift.
  5. After the game, gifters send or deliver presents to the rightful owners.



Idea 3

Virtual Secret Santa

In this virtual game, everyone should ship their gift to their intended recipient so all gifts are received and ready to be opened during the scheduled virtual gathering. This requires advanced planning and a commitment to do your part so no one on the call is left giftless. Set a date and have someone assign secret Santas or use something like the Secret Santa Generator on When you send your package, do not put information on the gift that will identify you as the giver. Try to personalize the gift to the person receiving it if possible and try to set a price range to avoid crazy spending discrepancies. Ready to play?

Fun twists:

If you don’t feel like spending a lot and it’s a crafty group of people, set a rule that all gifts should be handmade; instead of sending the gift, leave it on the recipient’s porch (mind those doorbell cameras!) or have someone not included in the game deliver it for you; set attire for the event — it might be nice to have a reason to get dressed up, or to wear your favorite holiday hat.


  1. Everyone should have their gift when they call into the virtual gathering. Gifts can be opened at random or a specific order can be chosen.
  2. The first person to go should open his or her gift for everyone to see (and ohhh and ahhh over). Then the next person goes.
  3. Once all gifts have been opened, folks get to try to figure out who their secret Santa is. This could become a game in and of itself (take a drink for every wrong guess; or share if you were able to figure out in advance who the gift came from and how).