Now more than ever, we cherish being able to gather with our friends and family and embrace the warmth of the holiday season. When it comes to holiday traditions, Secret Santa and White Elephant are typically the most popular, however, an ornament exchange can be a thoughtful, fun, and inclusive way to create memories during Christmastime.
“The holidays are expensive, so any annual tradition that doesn’t involve a great financial commitment is welcome by everyone,” says Brooke Sheldon, an event planner and founder of Lilybrooke Events. Sheldon notes that an ornament exchange in particular is an easy way for friends to get together in a simple and festive way. “Especially now, people want to gather and embrace traditions that feel simplistic,” she adds.
Meet the Experts
Brooke Sheldon is an event planner and founder of Lilybrooke Events.
Christopher Radko is a renowned ornament designer known for his glass-blown ornaments.
If you’re looking for ways to get your friends together this season, or want to start a new tradition with your family members, consider hosting an ornament exchange party. Up ahead, we share how, plus advice for planning and buying ornaments as gifts.
How Does an Ornament Exchange Work?
Similar to other gifting parties — like Secret Santa or White Elephant — an ornament exchange requires a set of guidelines for guests. To make it easier to narrow down an ornament idea, Sheldon recommends setting a theme, such as funny ornaments, ornaments shaped as food items, sports-related, or even a specific color. She also says a price point or budget for the ornaments is a must. Ornament exchange budgets can vary depending on what everyone is most comfortable with, though they typically range from $10 to $50.
As for the rules of playing the exchange, you can either do a more Secret Santa format where each guest is assigned a specific person and buys an ornament for that person, or play a more White Elephant-style exchange game, where the ornaments are wrapped, disguised, and not purchased for one individual. For this version, Sheldon says “guests can select a number from a stocking or a hat and then choose from the wrapped ornaments.” To keep the game going, she recommends allowing guests to “steal” when their number is chosen. And, when all is said and done, she says it’s best for everyone to open their ornaments at the same time, just like White Elephant.
The Ornament Party Tradition
Planning an ornament party goes beyond adding new decorations to a Christmas tree. “It’s a moment when you can take a step back from your everyday commitments and create new memories of the season and being together,” says artist Christopher Radko, a renowned ornament designer known for his glass-blown ornaments. “An ornament exchange party gives it an extra special touch because everyone gets to take home an ornament that’s been given to them as a token of love,” Mr. Radko adds.
The purpose of an ornament exchange is to gift others a thoughtful decoration for their tree, allowing them to create a more purposeful and meaningful tree each year. “Unpacking each ornament is like seeing old friends again,” Mr. Radko notes, adding that an annual ornament exchange can easily transform your Christmas tree into a family diary, filled with heartwarming memories through ornaments given to you by your loved ones.
What to Consider When Planning an Ornament Exchange
If you’re feeling inspired to plan an ornament exchange party with friends or family, Mr. Radko and Sheldon have a few tips and tricks for creating the perfect festive event — and buying the best ornaments for gifting.
Set a Budget
If you’re hosting the exchange, Sheldon recommends setting a budget for both the party and the ornament exchange. “Stay within your budget as it can easily snowball as we get excited buying items to entertain,” she notes. Instead of catering food, you can set up a simple and festive snack board or ask guests to bring a dish and make it potluck style. As for decorations, lean on the holiday decorations you already have set up — you likely won’t need much more than that. And, of course, you’ll want to set a budget for the ornament gifts. You can do so by asking friends and family to vote for a price range. Typically, ornament exchange budgets range from $10 to $50, depending on the guests’ choice.
Shop for Ornaments With Significance in Mind
Choose an ornament gift that holds some sort of significance to the recipient (or a memory you share together). “It could be a hobby, or from a place you both visited together,” says Mr. Radko. You could also choose a particularly special — be it handmade or intricately designed — Santa, snowman, or angel that feels unique.
Create a Festive Mood
One of the quickest ways to get everyone in the holiday spirit is through the senses. Sheldon recommends playing holiday music and filling your space with holiday aromas by “lighting a candle or boiling a pot of water with cinnamon.” If you don’t have a real Christmas tree, you can always purchase evergreen-scented plug-ins, like the Pura Smart Fragrance Diffuser with Evergreen scent or an essential oil diffuser, such as the Saje Aroma Light Starry Night (which creates the most gorgeous star-effect on the wall!) and Saje Reunion citrus and spice essential oil blend.
The Best Ornaments for Gifting
When participating in an ornament exchange, the more thoughtful, the better — after all, this is a special occasion. With that said, sometimes you know who your recipient is, and sometimes you don’t (depending on your gift exchange rules). To help you find the best ornament for gifting, we put together a list of our favorites, below.
Crate & Barrel Jolly Santa Ball Christmas Tree Ornament
A traditional Santa Claus ornament is always a good route to take when gifting ornaments — especially if you don’t know who will end up receiving your gift at an ornament exchange party. We adore this whimsical spin on classic Santa from Crate & Barrel. The ball-shaped ornament features a chic and illustrated feel (with the cutest tiny Santa hat on top) and is made from high-quality glass and ceramic. Not to mention: It has a more budget-friendly price tag and is an excellent pick for an under $10 ornament exchange.
Mueller Handcrafted German Holiday Wooden Ornaments
Ornament exchanges with family might have a higher price range. If that’s the case, these Mueller Handcrafted German Holiday Wooden Ornaments are so special. Made by hand from wood, these ornaments are sure to become a cherished family heirloom. You can purchase a set of three different ornaments — which includes Santa, a gingerbread lady, and a snowman — a matching set of nutcracker ornaments, or a solo Santa ornament for less than $40.
Anthropologie Just Married Ornament
If you’ve been assigned a newlywed at your ornament exchange, gift them a thoughtful Just Married Ornament. This one from Anthropologie has an elevated feel with a “something blue” car, pink roses, and a handcrafted feel.
Christopher Radko Jingle For All To Hear Gem Christmas Ornament
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a Christopher Radko ornament. While Radko makes tons of gorgeous themed holiday ornaments, the Jingle For All To Hear Gem Christmas Ornament is our top pick for those who want to gift something thoughtful but aren’t sure who will end up with your ornament at the end of the exchange. Inspired by a European Santa, this ornament boasts tons of texture and style, making it a truly special addition to any tree.
Disney Santa Minnie Mouse Bell Ornament
If you’re shopping for a Disney lover, you can’t go wrong with a cheerful Minnie Mouse ornament. This one feels very of the season with its bell-shaped design, adorned with a luxe velvet ribbon, and a smiling Minnie Mouse dressed in a festive Santa outfit. The ornament is also under $20, which is a good price range for an ornament exchange with friends.
Anthropologie Stork Ornament
Gifting a new parent this holiday season? Skip the tacky pink and blue new baby ornaments and get them something special, such as the Anthropologie Stork Ornament. This stylish clear glass ornament features a parent and baby stork on a glistening tinsel nest and has a sophisticated feel with tons of eye-catching texture, thanks to the glitter and tassels.
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