How To Host an Ornament Exchange


DIY ornaments are a charming and cozy way to decorate your tree and they’re even more endearing when the ornaments are made by your friends or family. Holding an ornament gift exchange is especially lovely for handmade ornaments, but can also be focussed on shop bought ornaments. Any type of exchange a great way to get your friends and family involved in Christmas festivities.

Ornament Exchange Ideas
Photo by Kyle DeSantis on Unsplash

There are many different ways you can host a Ornament exchanges and we’ve compiled a list of them. It’s often hard to find Christmas activities that all age groups will enjoy, but this is one that really is fun for everyone, young or old!

What is an ornament exchange?

An Ornament Exchange can take many forms, but the post popular version is a lot like a secret Santa. Participants buy or make ornaments, the arrive at the party / exchange and swap them with their friends or family. It ends up with everyone having a unique, home made ornament to go home with hang on their tree for years to come! Ornaments exchanges can be exchanged in “secret” or quite openly. They can be added to gift wrap or can be part of Christmas games and prizes. Check out or Ornament Exchange Themes below!

What do I need for an ornament exchange?

The great thing about Ornament Exchanges, is that you can make it work for YOU. You don’t necessarily have to buy super expensive ornaments to exchange with other participants. It all depends on your theme! If you are hosting a handmade exchange, then half the fun of an ornament exchange is making the an ornament from scratch, and thankfully we have tons of DIY ornament posts to help you along with making yours.

However, you can also go for themed ornament exchanges – e.g. maybe you want to gift a photo ornament every year to mark the pass of time? Or maybe you want to create an heirloom for families and you buy a certain type of ornament from a collection. It really is up to you, your interests and your budget!

How do you make an ornament exchange?

Below you’ll see a few ways to host them that we’ve compiled, but there’s really no one right way, you can totally get creative with these. There is also an example of Ornament Exchange Themes below!

Ways to Host an Ornament Gift Exchange in Person:

The Traditional way:

The most traditional way to host an ornament gift exchange, is to just treat it like you would a normal Secret Santa. It puts a fun DIY twist on this classic Christmas tradition and it also allows for that creative streak in everyone to merge.


It essentially plays out by each guest or family being randomly assigned another guest or family to give their home made ornament to. The idea is to make the ornament, that you plan on giving, from scratch. You DIY one that is suited to the person who’s name you have drawn, and then give it to them on the day. We have plenty of prompts below if you’re struggling for ideas as to what to make and you’re sure to find one that your person would love. The fun is, that you have no idea who has your name, only who you have and by the end everyone should come home with a home made ornament to hang on their tree.

The Random Way:

Sometimes, not knowing is better. With this method it makes it more exciting because no one has any clue who their ornament will go to. You simply have to make one that you can bring to the party and chance rules what will happen next.


The way this one works is that Guests will bring their DIY ornaments from home to the exchange. They will then be laid out on a table and assigned a number. Each guest, one by one, will then randomly pick a number from a hat and take the gift that correlates to their number. This is super fun because you can’t be sure which one you’re going to get. You can display the ornaments so all the guests can see them first, or you can wrap them to make it more exciting for them, when they draw their number from the hat. We think the second one is more exciting because it adds that extra layer of suspense. Either way though, it’s still a fun experience for all who attend!

Picking From a Tree:

This one makes the appearance of your DIY’d ornament that much more important because guests will be picking which one they want. This method is best if you’re already planning on having a party and the ornament exchange is a fun activity to add. It also means you get to pick which ornament you want yourself rather than it being random.


Guests will bring their home made ornament to the party and hang it on the tree when they arrive. Throughout the night, while drinks and food are being served, everyone has the chance to take a look at all the ornaments that people have made and at the end, each guest picks an ornament to take home and hang on their own trees. This is fun because everyone goes home with an ornament they chose. But beware! This can method can be prone to making things competitive.

Swap and Steal:

This method makes a traditional ornament exchange much more fun and is the perfect game to play at any Christmas party!

It can be a bit tricky for younger children to get their heads around, so it’s a good one to play with a family when there are adults present to assist.


Attendees bring their home made ornament, wrapped, and set it on the table to create a row. It’s important to make sure the ornaments are placed in a random order. Guests are then numbered and guest number one then unwraps the first ornament in the row.

Once they have done this, they can choose to either keep the ornament they have unwrapped or unwrap the next one in the row and have that one instead.

(Note: they are only allowed to swap their ornament once).

Guest number two can then either take the remaining opened ornament if there is one, unwrap a new one, or they can steal an ornament from the previous guest, swapping their ornament with the person who went before them. This should continue until every guest has an ornament.

The key rules to remember are that each guest can only steal from the person before them, and only open the next ornament after theirs if they choose to. If there is a remaining ornament when a player goes, the new player must take that one and do with it what they will. They can swap or steal!

How to organise a virtual Ornaments Exchange

I have been involved in a numver of “virtual Ornaments Exchanges” in the past – it is a lovely way to connect with a community or friends and family that is spread all over the world. It is very simple… you will need an organiser who creates a Secret Santa type list and allocates people and addresses.

Then pick a them. Buy or make your ornament and post by a certain date!

When I have done this, it was usually part of a certain community – e.g. who love to crochet, so everyone crocheted and ornament and posted it. But it can be any theme!

Ornament Exchange Theme Ideas

Cork Koala Christmas Ornament
Example for themed exchanges – our Koala Ornaments made from “goodbye party” corks

As mentioned previously an ornament exchange can follow many themes! Obviously we ADORE Handemade Christmas Tree Ornaments, but anything goes really. And I do love exploring different ideas@

  • Handmade Ornaments – they are extra special as someone has taken the time to create these! You can of course make it themed – e.g. can be crocheted ornaments, made from air drying clay, using recycled materials OR how about filling glass ornaments as a theme? So fun!
  • Colour Schemes – colours are very precious to people, I get that.. so you can either have a themed colour for all the ornaments that year.. or, when picking the person you are making for… they can ask for a specific colour theme to suit their decor
  • Silly/ Fun Ornaments – I think my kids love this one best, if I am being honest. They love to shop…. and looking for the silliest ornament you can find, can make a great Christmas Activity – lots of shopping and browsing, with only actually buying one item! A wonderful way to explore the festive high street without spending a fortune
  • Photo Ornaments – similarly to the handmade ornaments, these make a great keepsake – especially if the photos are of the kids and you can watch them “grow” each year
  • Heirloom Ornaments – ok this one may be a little pricier – but you can, if you wish create an Heriloom Ornament exchange – where ever year, you invest in a particular line of ornaments that you are interested in! E.g. maybe a Swarovski Star Ornament every year?

I hope you have been inspired to include an Ornament Exchange in your Chirstmas Activities this year! If you need some Homemade Ornament inspiration try these:

Handmade Christmas Ornaments
Now 25 of our favourite Christmas Ornaments to Make

Check out more of our Most Popular Christmas Activities to try out with your family and friends:

Christmas Shopping LIghts