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Family Name Drawing_ A Christmas Tradition

Looking for an easy way to draw family members’ names for a Christmas gift exchange or for a Christmas party? You’ve come to the right place! We’ll share the way we share gifts at our large family gathering and creative ways to change it up if you’re looking for a new tradition! 

Most of you have probably done some version of a Christmas Name Drawing before, whether it is with your friends, your family, or a Secret Santa at work.

The basic principle is everyone’s names are put into a hat and each person draws one name. Whoever they draw out of the hat is the person they are “assigned” to that year. Pretty simple steps, right?

Our family has drawn names for Christmas ever since I can remember. It’s one of my favorite Christmas traditions! I can still see myself sitting around the table as a kid the day after Thanksgiving practically bouncing in my seat with excitement to see whose name I would draw that year.

Lots of family in our family name drawing

My mom was always in charge of writing the names down on slips of paper and making sure that no one was missed and there were no duplicates. 

We were always so miffed that Mom knew who had her because it was supposed to be a surprise. But at least no one was left out that way!

For next year, I’m suggesting a Secret Santa app like Santa’s Secret Keeper or DrawNames, or an online secret Santa generator like Elfster so our Mom can join in on the fun surprise! She still does it old school because she likes to set exclusions like not getting your own spouse or having the same person too many years in a row. 

Reasons to Do a Family Name Drawing

I loved this tradition for several reasons growing up. One reason I have already mentioned: the excitement! It was fun just drawing the names, but then we had a whole month trying to figure out who had drawn who while also trying to keep our own name a secret.

Sharing rooms even added to the intrigue in the early years; it’s hard to hide your gifts in a shared bedroom, so we all got creative with when to work on presents and where to hide them.

I also loved this tradition because it took a lot of pressure off of all of us. We never felt obligated to get everyone in our large family a present. You could if you wanted to of course, and there were many years that we gave one another drawings or little crafts that we made ourselves.

But we never had to scramble with our allowance to buy a gift for our six other siblings and our parents, which made the holidays much more carefree and thus much more enjoyable. 

This part has become more and more important as our family continues to grow! Not only do we have the original 7 kids and 2 parents, but we also have 6 in-laws and 17 grandkids! Buying gifts for everyone is completely out of my budget.

So it’s better for us both time and money-wise to have only one person to focus on each year.

Finally, because I have fewer people to get gifts for, I get to spend more time on the gift for the person I draw. My family always makes fun of me because my presents have been notoriously late in the past. Because I like to put a lot of time into the gifts I give people, I don’t always make the deadline. 

But, I think most of my family will agree that I give pretty awesome gifts. The point is drawing names gives me the opportunity to either buy or make something really meaningful to the person I draw. Instead of frantically checking people off my list as I buy gifts I’ve barely thought about, I can focus on making my person feel special.

Grandpa gives baby a kiss while he hands her a present for a family Christmas gift exchange

How Our Family Does the Name Drawing: Secret Santa Gift Exchange

So those are some of the reasons I absolutely LOVE this tradition and plan to carry it on with my own family. Now, how does this tradition work in our family? 

As I mentioned, our mom sits down and writes down all of our names on a piece of paper. She then puts them in a hat and we each draw a name out of the hat. If the name is not your own, that is your person for this Christmas! We make a master list of who has who that Mom keeps just to make sure that everyone is accounted for.

Otherwise, your name is a secret! Don’t share it with anyone! We usually do the actual drawing on Black Friday.

Over the next month, you work on your present for the person you drew. We often had a spending limit when we were younger, though we didn’t always stick to it. The big reveal happened on Christmas Eve!

>Every year on Christmas Eve night, we would gather together for the family gift exchange. We would have whoever drew the youngest person’s name give their gift first. We would all watch in anticipation as the first person showed their hand and got up to give their present to our youngest brother, Dalyn.

After Dalyn opened his present, he would then give his present to the next person. We went in a chain as long as we could until we would get to someone who had already given their gift.

At that point, we would just restart the same way, have the person give their gift to the youngest person who has not yet gotten a present. This continues until the last person has received their gift. Don’t forget to take a picture with each pair together as they give their gifts! That is part of our tradition also. 🙂

Preschooler smiles while uncle gives her a Christmas present and Aunt smiles at the party

Adjustments we have made to the Family Name Drawing

Now that we do not all live in the same house (long distance across the country!), have added even more people to our big family, and have a lot more young children involved:

-Mom draws the names for us and texts/emails us to let us know who we have for Christmas that year.

-We usually draw names before Thanksgiving to give everyone more time to get their presents ready for one another.

-One of us sets up a shared Google Sheets page and emails it to all of the adults. We fill in some of the things we would like to get as presents and share things we are interested in (i.e. books, gardening, exercise clothes).

We get together for Crouch Christmas every other year, so on those years we exchange presents on Christmas Eve just like we used to. On the years that we are apart, we ship each other our presents early so we can open them in our respective homes.

When we do the exchange together, we have whoever has the youngest person give their gift first. Then we have the person who has the next youngest kid give their present next, and so on. This keeps the children occupied and happy while the adults open their presents and prevents the little kids from possibly waiting and being the last person to open their gift. It’s better all around for everyone. 🙂

-We have unofficially done away with the spending limit since none of us followed it anyway. We just try to be conscious of the amount we spend. So for example, we don’t get each other iPads or expensive headphones or anything like that. The gifts we try to exchange are more modest and more treasured. Often a meaningful homemade gift will be loved for years!

More Fun Gift Exchange Ideas

If you’re looking for a different take on a family name drawing, try one of these great ideas!

Play Christmas Gift Games

Yankee Swap, White Elephant, or Dirty Santa 

The names are endless, but the premise is the same. Each person at the gift exchange is assigned a number. This number represents the order in which people will choose or “swap” their gifts.

All gifts are gathered in a central location without tags showing the giver.

Gift Selection and Swapping:
  1. First Player: The person with number 1 selects a gift from the pile and opens it. Their turn is complete.
  2. Following Players: Subsequent players (in numerical order) have two options:
    • They can choose a new, wrapped gift from the pile and open it.
    • OR, they can “swap” with any previously opened gift. If they choose to swap, the person whose gift was taken now has the same two options.
  3. Gift Limits: Establish rules regarding how many times a gift can be stolen. Common limits are two or three times per gift.
  4. End of the Round: Continue the process until all participants have had a turn. The person who drew number 1 gets the opportunity to swap their gift with any other opened gift, concluding the game.
Additional Tips:
  • No Immediate Re-Swapping: You can enforce a rule that a person cannot immediately steal back the gift that was just taken from them.
  • Revealing Gifts: Depending on the group, you can choose to keep the gifts anonymous until the end of the game or have each person reveal what they contributed after their gift is opened.
  • Laughter and Fun: The key to a successful Yankee Swap is to keep it lighthearted and fun. Encourage creativity and humor in gift selection. You might want to pass on this game for young children because the idea of “stealing” the gifts can be overwhelming.

Pass Phrase

You can also play a version of a pass phrase game, where each person sits in a circle and is given a present. A short Christmas story or song is played, with two keywords selected that repeat frequently. Each keyword represents passing the presents to the right or to the left. The presents are passed each time the keywords are sung or spoken until the end of the story/song.

For an even easier version, use the T’was the Night Before Christmas story that uses the words “right” and “left” to tell you how to pass your gift.

Pass the Present

A favorite gift exchange game in our family is based on a Halloween song my sister sang in elementary school! We changed the word “pumpkin” to “present”. Instead of drawing names, everyone can contribute a fun gift for any age (treats, family-friendly movies, and games work well), and each person sits in a circle.

The host or game moderator gives someone a wrapped gift. Then you sing a song and pass the present while you’re singing. 

I can’t find the tune anywhere online, but the lyrics are

"We will pass the present all around the room, 
And while we are passing it, we will sing this tune, 
La la la la la, and the present drops, 
Or the one who has it when the music stops!" 

We don’t remember the missing words, but we still play this game, and when we stop singing, the person holding the present gets to open it!

Or you can just play Christmas music and stop it randomly, and whoever has the present opens that gift. Then that person is out, and the cycle continues until everyone has opened a gift. 

Family Drawing Versus Individual Drawing

This method is perfect for a large extended family or those who want to just purchase one family gift versus lots of individual Christmas gifts. Each family draws one family’s name and will purchase or make a gift for that one family.

For example, the Tyler Smith family might buy their brother Bill Smith’s family movie tickets, and Bill Smith’s family might give Jill’s family passes for an ice skating rink.

Maegan’s husband’s side does family exchanges, and they are so fun! One of the highlights was a gift card for a bed and breakfast that they used on their first anniversary!

Gift Card Swap

Everyone buys gift cards to a favorite restaurant or store for a set price range, and each gift card is put into a random small gift box, stocking, or other opaque package. Each gift card is used as a prize for a Christmas game, or the wrapped gift cards can be passed around like in one of the passing games above. 

Themed Gifts

A fun way to change up any gift exchange is to give it a theme! You can do secret santa style with individual gifts or family gifts, but each gift needs to fit a particular theme. A theme could be favorite things, ornaments, game night, books, technology, travel, foodies, DIY, or pampering.

Family Name Drawings Should Be Fun!

Whatever drawing method or gift exchange style you use, remember to focus on having fun together as a family! Yes, there can be some bumpy patches with large family gatherings, but sometimes the mishaps become the memories we laugh about the most later!

Good luck finding the perfect gift exchange option for your holiday season! Do you draw names for gifts for your family Christmas? We’d love to hear your method!


Looking for more Christmas fun? You’ll love our other favorite family Christmas traditions or these fun holiday movies!

Snow Ice Cream
Light Drive: A Christmas Tradition