Penny Christmas

Penny Christmas

This is a game we played in our family when we were young. We added it to our regular Christmas gift-giving, but if a family is having serious financial difficulties, it could easily replace the traditional gift exchange. In case you are worried it may not go over well with the current generation, let me assure you – we have recently revived it for the next generation of kids in our family and it is a big hit.

Pile of gorgeous gifts

Pile of gorgeous gifts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So let’s review how it works. Everyone brings a few tiny and inexpensive gifts – wrapped and ready to go. You can set any rules you want for spending. In our home, each and every item had to be no more than a dollar. (We called it Penny Christmas simply because Dollar Christmas does not have the same ring to it.) If you want to make the limit 50 cents, that works too, and will make your Christmas even more frugal.

The presents are piled in a circle on the floor, and all family members sit surrounding the presents. It is customary to let the youngest person open the first gift. You can continue in order of youngest to oldest – or just go clockwise around the circle – either works.

As soon as the second person has a turn, the game really gets going. Each person from the second onward can choose to A. open a new gift or B. “steal” one that has been previously opened.  If option B is exercised by the second player, the person whose gift was “stolen” gets to open a new present. Then the third person in line gets a turn and can choose to open or steal, and the game proceeds from there. Sometimes you really have to keep track of whose turn it really is! It is lots of fun. There are a few simple rules to prevent complete pandemonium from ensuing. An object may be taken only 3 times and then it is “retired.” The person whose gift was stolen cannot simply take it back.

We always allowed for trading at the end of the game once all the presents are open, but that is up to you. Usually everyone ends up with a gift or two that they really like. It is a lot of fun to see which gifts are the most prized. One year 2 women in my family really wanted a matching set of washcloths that had been wrapped separately. You just never know what will be a hit.

If you wonder what gifts you can use, here are a few suggestions. Buy candy bars when they are on sale. You can do this as early in the year as you want, because they last a long time in the freezer (provided they are not discovered that is). A bag of small toys works well if there are young children. Each toy can be wrapped separately and make your money go very far. You can even choose to wrap up pennies, nickels, dimes or quarters. Purchase sets of things – like the wash cloths mentioned above – and divide them into individual gifts. You can take a packet of gum and wrap up each stick individually if you want. If this game is played with the right spirit, these white elephant type presents can go over quite well, as long as no one gets too serious about the whole thing. The point is to be economical, not mean or cheap. A sense of humor and an eye for fun will make this activity a success. Let your imagination guide you and let the gifts fit the ages and interests of your family members and you are likely to begin a much-loved tradition with this playful game.

About the Author

Margo Smith graduated with a B.S. degree from BYU. She draws from her experiences as a modern day children’s governess, her time spent in New England, her years in the corporate world and an author’s perspective on life when compiling articles about a variety of subjects from holiday memories to online colleges to children’s books.

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