Dirty Santa Rules

Are you going to a Dirty Santa party and want to know the rules? Are you hosting a Dirty Santa gift exchange and want to set and announce the rules? You’ve come to the right place. In order for the game to play out properly everyone must follow the rules and Dirty Santa is no exception.

There are a few basic Dirty Santa rules and additional variations. If you are the organizer of the gift exchange and planning the event, you can set the rules to your liking. Keep in mind, that not everyone may have heard of Dirty Santa, so it’s a good idea to direct them to this page as well as the general information for them to understand what this is all about.

Let’s get right into the rules.

The Basics

Before we look at the optional rules of the Dirty Santa gift exchange game, let’s have a look at the basic rules. Parts of the rules are set by the organizer, like price and theme of the gift. These are optional rules but recommended for the your party.

Rules Summary

1. Everyone Brings One Gift
2. Price Can Not Exceed Maximum
3. Gift Must Follow The Theme
4. Game play Order Is Randomly Determined
5. Gifts Opened/Stolen In Order
6. Can Not Steal Back Immediately
7. Game End When Stealing Stops

Rules Details

1. The Dirty Santa exchange idea revolves around lots of people sharing gifts with each other. Because there can be lots of people in certain groups or offices, it is not possible for everyone to buy each other a gift, so it makes sense to everyone to bring one present and go home with one as well.

In order to have a proper gift exchange, everyone must contribute with one gift. Not more, not less. If there are less gifts than there are layers, there won;t be enough gifts to go around, and if there’s extras – how would you decide who gets them? This is why it’s important to remind everyone that only one gifts should be brought to the party.

Regardless of the type of gifts being brought, they all must be wrapped so that no one can tell what’s in them. It’s ok to not do a perfect wrapping job, it could even be used strategically, but all gifts must be concealed well.

2. If the gifts are being purchased, everyone should try to bring gifts of relatively similar value. Do not exceed the price limit set by the party organizer. The goal of the game is to have many people swapping all the different gifts. You want to avoid a situation where everyone is after the same gift, or a situation where there are gifts no one would swap.

Sticking to this rules is important, and if you are in charge of planning of the event, in addition to setting the price range rule, you can take steps to encourage guests to bring good Dirty Santa gifts.

3. Has the gift theme been set? Make sure to bring the gift that’s within the theme of the gift exchange. You don’t want to bring a book to a inappropriately shaped cookie exchange. Follow this rule and stay within the proper category.

4. Player order has to be determined. This is easily done by writing numbers from one up to number of participants and placing these numbers in a box. Have everyone select a random number, which will become their order number in the game. Players should sit or stand around the pile of gifts in that order, making it easy for the opening and stealing to take place in sequence.

5. First player will choose any gift they like from the pile. Players can inspect the gifts, shake them, weigh them in hand to get a sense of whether they want to open them or not. Once the player selects the gift, the gift must be opened and shown to everyone. The next player has a choice to open a new gift or steal one from any already opened items. If the player decides to steal, while they have not opened the gift, the person being stolen from either opens a new gift or steals from yet another person.

Note: Some rules will restrict stealing to the point in game when all the gifts have been opened, others will allow stealing at any point. You can chose any variation you like for your group. The larger the group, the simpler you want to make rules as it may take a very long time for the whole game to play out. Keep timing in mind when selecting variations.

6. If a gift is stolen from you, you can not immediately steal the gift stolen from you. You must open or steal any other gift, and only after getting another shot at stealing can you go back and steal the gift stolen from you earlier.

This rule is important, because without two players can simply get stuck in a never ending loop of stealing from each other.

7. Simply speaking, game ends when all the gifts are opened and the stealing stops. Stealing can be stopped by various means: You can have a final round stealing timer (which is a lot of fun), or a number of steals counted down after the final steal happens.

Regardless of how you want to end the game, make sure to make the rules clear to everyone so that there is no doubt about fair play.

Optional Rules

If you want plain vanilla Dirty Santa game play, that’s fine and dandy, but why not spice it up with a few extra fun rules? With a bit of optional rules you can make your Dirty Santa party unique and special.

Gift Themes

Don’t just everyone to bring any gift they want, set a gift theme. It could be anything from GAG gifts, to DIY items, baked goods and books.

Timer Ending

After all the gifts have been opened, set a timer and have everyone do mandatory stealing and swapping until the bell rings. When the timer is out – the game is over and everyone goes home with the gift in their hand.

This is a lot of fun by the way, because it introduces an element of rushing and that causes a bit of stress and lots of laughter.

One Last Chance

One last chance to steal for the very first gift opener. This is rarely used option because people feel it’s not fair, however it can be fun hoping to pull out the paper with number one on it during the draw.

Can’t Steal From Neighbor

Who said that a Dirty Santa could have common courtesy? I guess there are times when this can happen. With this variation you are not allowed to steal from a person sitting before you or after you. If this rule is used, you can apply some strategy to turn thing in your favor.

Player Out In 2 Steals

Common optional rule. If someone is stolen from twice (the number may differ from game to game) then they are out and have to keep the gift in their hand.

This one is interesting, because it makes you want to avoid great gifts in the beginning as to not be the one to be stolen from the second time.

Gift Out In 2 Steals

If a particular gift is stolen twice (again, numbers may vary) the gift stays with the person that stole it the second time and they are out.

Know More Rules?

Have you been using other fun rules and variations? Tell us and we’ll post it here!

Few Gifts

More Gift Ideas


Can only 3 players play?

Yes, 3 players could play it but it works better in larger groups, more the merrier.

What's a good date to hold a party?

It's recommended to run a Dirty Santa in mid December, but the best date is the one majority can attend.

What Is Dirty Santa?

Dirty Santa is a Christmas gift exchange game where guest swap and steal random gifts.

What is the most important Dirty Santa rule?

If someone steals a gift from you, you can not immediately steal the same one back. Otherwise you'd get stuck in a never ending stealing loop.