On our invitations include a note to bring a gift of a specific price range if you would like to participate in the gift exchange. I do this so someone doesn’t bring a 25 dollar gift and leave with one which cost 5 dollars.
As guests with gifts for the exchange arrive for the party, we place a numbered sticker on each gift. We also place a paper with a corresponding number into a Christmas stocking. To separate the girls’ gifts from the boys’ gifts, we put different stickers on them, for example the gifts brought by girls get a snowman sticker and the gifts brought by boys get a Santa sticker. We also put the corresponding slips of paper into separate stockings – one for the boys and one for the girls.
Near the end of the party, I call all of the kids who are participating in the gift exchange to gather around the Christmas tree where all the gifts have been placed. (We do not place any other gifts under the tree until after the party.)
We pass the Christmas stockings around instructing the boys to select a number (without looking) from the Santa stocking and the girls to do the same from the Snowman stocking. When everyone has their number, I call the first group of 6 or 8 kids up to the tree to find their gift. I instruct the kids to wait until everyone is ready before anyone opens the gifts.
After everyone has found their gift, I ask if anyone drew their own number and has the gift they brought. Typically someone does and since we do this before gifts are open it’s usually easy to find a volunteer to switch gifts – and if no one else volunteers, my children know that, as hosts, it is their job to switch.
When everyone has a gift and everyone is ready I shout 1 – 2 – 3 -OPEN! and the pure joy and madness begins.
We have used this method of exchanging gifts for several years now and it worked well when they were very young and continues to work well as they approach the tween years.