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Organize a Yankee Swap
Each guest brings one wrapped gift to the swap, regardless of how many people are attending. Participants draw numbers from a bowl to determine the order in which they pick presents. The person who gets number one starts by choosing and unwrapping a package. The person with number two follows and has the choice of keeping and unwrapping her gift or swapping with number one. Each subsequent participant may either keep her unwrapped gift or swap with anyone who has already opened a gift. (By the way, anyone who's asked to swap a present must do so.) With this game, you can never be sure what you'll end up taking home, but that's the fun of it.
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Set Up a Secret Santa Exchange
Names are drawn from a bowl at a gathering of family or friends, and each person is assigned to be a "secret Santa" for someone else at a future get-together. Besides the fun of trying to figure out who your secret Santa is, you get to sneak around, doing nice things on the sly for your assigned person. Some Santas even send their recipients sweet notes or small gifts throughout the holiday season. Santas are revealed on the day of the party, when they hand out their final gifts. This type of exchange even works with friends and relatives who live miles apart -- sites such as elfster.com will help you organize your gift swap and will match up participants via confidential email.
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Make Lucky Bags
In this gift-giving tradition, names are selected from a hat a month before the holiday, and each participant has to buy five presents each for $3 or less, for a total of about $15. When you're ready for the exchange, each person receives a bag filled with 5 treats. Staying within the budget can be a challenge, but once you start looking, you'd be surprised at what you can find. A lucky bag filled with gourmet foods or fragrant soaps and lotions is a gift that will please most anyone.
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Give the Same Gift to Everyone on Your List
Eliminate the stress of having to find several great gifts by getting or making everyone the same gift, such as engraved glassware, label-making machines, or homemade fudge. If you can't think of one gift to suit all of your family and friends, break your list up into groups and give one type of gift to women, men, and something different for all of the children.
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Think Outside the (Gift) Box
Remember that gifts don't have to be objects. There are many luxuries that can't be wrapped but that almost anybody would love to receive: a day at a spa, a two-hour massage, dinner at a local restaurant, or tickets to the theater or even a sporting event. Or, make your own gift certificates offering services that you can offer to your loved ones, such as baby-sitting, or preparing a home-cooked meal on a busy night.
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Set Up Wish Lists
Why should kids have all the fun? Wish lists can help with shopping, and everyone's sure to get something that he likes. Look at your favorite retail websites for online wish lists; many run them, and amazon.com will allow you to register for items on your wish list from their site as well as others. The wish lists work like wedding registries; you can "register" for desired items, and then tell family members where you have registered.
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Build a Collection
Present your nieces and nephews, children or grandchildren, with a special Christmas tree ornament each year; or give your siblings leather-bound editions of the classics or wine of varying vintages. You might pick out an item they already collect, or try something new that you think they'll enjoy. Each year they will look forward to adding to their growing collection, and you'll know exactly what to get them.
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Think Small and Useful
Buy gifts that anyone would appreciate and have use for: movie tickets redeemable at any time or gift certificates for a bookshop, music store, or gourmet grocer. Just slip vouchers inside holiday cards, or create your own gift envelope.
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Keep Token Gifts at the Ready
Come holiday season, friends make impromptu visits, often bearing gifts. Avoid being caught empty-handed by stocking up on inexpensive items like poinsettia or amaryllis plants, candles, wine, or good-quality olive oil -- have them wrapped or affixed with a bow, ready for gift-bearing friends just dropping by.
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