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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSB chapter.

It’s the time of year to gather with friends and family to celebrate the holidays! You probably have your own traditions that you’ve stuck with for years, but why not add some new ones this year? Below are some holiday game ideas and a brief history of where they came from.

White Elephant

White Elephant, also known as Yankee Swap or Dirty Santa, is a game that involves gift exchange. The basic rules are that each person brings a wrapped gift, sets it down in a pile, and takes turns picking gifts. People can also steal your gift after you’ve chosen it, making it a fun and chaotic game. The full rules can be found here.

The history behind this gift exchange game is up for debate. Some say that it started with the King of Siam giving white elephants to people he did not like, because white elephants were seen as too burdensome to upkeep, yet too valuable to get rid of. The practice of gift exchange games really took off in 1907, with historical journals describing them as “swapping parties.”

Secret Santa

According to the holiday game website elfster, the rules for Secret Santa are as follows: “Members of a group of friends, family, or coworkers draw random names to become someone’s Secret Santa. The Secret Santa is given a wish list of gift ideas to choose from to give to their chosen giftee. After opening their present, the giftee has to guess which member of the group was their Secret Santa.”

Secret Santa is primarily a Western game, and the history behind it is wholesome. According to Bustle: “a philanthropist named Larry Dean Stewart is thought to be the ‘original Secret Santa’ who came up with the idea of giving anonymous gifts during the holidays. For more than 25 years, Stewart secretly donated $100 bills to people in Kansas, according to USA TODAY. He also donated $25,000 in the form of $100 bills to New Yorkers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.” Secret Santa is also played in other parts of the world under different names. In the UK, it is called “Kris Kringle” and in Ireland, it is called “Kris Kindle.”


If you’re Mexican, you’ve probably played this traditional game during the holidays. The game is reminiscent of Bingo, except, in my opinion, more fun and involved! The rules are simple: pick a board and place markers on each picture when it is called from the deck. To win, you must fill the board, or create a diagonal, horizontal, or other design agreed upon before playing. Once you’ve filled your board, you yell “Loteria!” to signal you’ve won.

The Mexican game has its roots in Italy, with the Spanish bringing the game to Mexico in the 18th century. It was initially a game played by the elite, yet traveling fairs would bring the game to towns for locals to play. According to a 12News article: “In 1887 French entrepreneur Don Clemente Jacques created the ‘Lotería El Gallo,’ the most traditional format of the game played today.”


Another Hispanic holiday game is Pirinola, which involves a wooden top similar to a dreidel with the same name. The pirinola has six sides with instructions such as “Take one” or “Put one.” The player spins the top and follows the instructions. Each player starts out with a certain amount of money, usually coins, and whoever ends the game with the most amount of money wins!

The toy has its origins in Rome, and dates back to as early as 100 BCE. It was originally played with four sides but now is usually played with six sides. The pirinola was originally made out of wood, but variations are now made of plastic. The game is traditionally played after “Dia de los Muertos” celebrations, but many families also play it during the holidays.

Incorporating new games into your traditions is a way to keep things interesting. Learning about the history of games is also interesting because your favorite game may have roots you knew nothing about. Whatever games you choose to play with your family and friends this year, have fun!

Hello! I’m currently a fourth year English major at UCSB and an editorial intern for HerCampus UCSB. I enjoy reading fiction books that include coming-of-age stories as well as romance novels. I also enjoy creative writing and journaling. I am a first-generation college student, as well as a child of immigrants. Looking forward to using my voice to shine light on mental health issues in young adults and to give a voice to the Latina community.