We’ve already been over the history of White Elephant, so let’s dive into the other two popular gift exchanges: Dirty Santa & Yankee Swap.
Yankee Swap comes from a couple of places. First, Walt Whitman used “yankee swap” to describe ideal Americanisms. With Americans trading more and more with the world in the 1800s, “yankee swap” was used to describe Americans, primarily coastal regions, engaging in the swapping of goods with the world. Which could be why Yankee Swap is generally played in the Northeast – including our favorite Northeasterners: The good folks from Dunder Mifflin Scranton
The other use was during the Civil War when Northern and Southern generals would exchange prisoners based on rank. They developed a type of currency for what each soldier was worth based on rank (privates could be swapped for privates, but majors could be swapped for multiple privates and a captain, for example).
The origins of Dirty Santa aren’t very concrete. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it was just made up by some random person like the Easter bunny and Scotland*. This version is usually played in southern areas of the country.
So, why three versions?
Besides being regionally specific, each game is paired with a distinct flavor of play.
White Elephant is more about bringing gifts that are disappointing or burdensome and having friends get stuck with them. Get rid of bric-a-brac in your house and laugh when your cousin gets stuck with it.
Yankee Swap tends to focus on useful gifts. Maybe not “video iPod” useful, but toolkits and sweaters do well when we’re talking cold winter weather.
The “dirtiness” of Dirty Santa has to do with the stealing of gifts and bringing gifts that nobody really wants. The more you steal and scheme, the more fun it is. Plus, it’s a mixture of Yankee Swap and White Elephant – the gifts can be both gag gifts and useful items. I mean, Papa sure did enjoy that emergency roadside kit he got last year. Too bad I got stuck with the tiny hands.
Have it your way
You can get all three of our versions here. Each of our games have the same setup and gameplay, just uniquely branded. We’re trying to protect your traditions. So whether your family is disappointingly burdensome, disgustingly helpful or deviously dirty, you can enjoy each of our party kits.
For the record: I got most of my material from Caroline Bologna (if that is her real name…). She has good links that give deeper information if you’re interested. Thanks Caroline. Or whatever your name is.
*Backstory on this: when our daughter was 6, we were watching a movie. Afterwards the TV switched to a show about aliens and spaceships in Scotland. Our daughter looks at the TV and says, “That’s silly. There’s no such thing as Scotland.”