An ornament exchange is a gift exchange of holiday ornaments held within a group of people such as a group of friends, a family, or members of a club or organization. Ornament exchanges are often held in the form of holiday parties, with the ornament exchange being a focal point of the party. They can also be held as a long-distance affair, or as a special type of Secret Santa in a family, office, or school.
The idea behind an ornament exchange, no matter how it is organized, is that everyone brings one ornament to the exchange, and takes another away. In some groups, the ornaments are hand-crafted, but it is also common to see exchanges of commercially produced ornaments, heirloom ornaments, or antiques. Usually, a basic standard of cost and style is set, to ensure that all of the ornaments are roughly similar.
When people hold a party featuring an ornament exchange, there are a number of ways to organize the exchange. Classically, everyone draws a number upon arrival, and numbers his or her ornament with a random number as well. When the exchange begins, the person with the number one opens the ornament with the same number, and the person with the number two can either open the ornament labeled "two," or "steal" the first ornament, forcing the first person to choose another ornament. Limits may be placed on the number of times an ornament changes hands, and as a variation, the number system may be abandoned, and people may just pick wrapped ornaments at random.
In other ornament exchanges, all of the ornaments are unwrapped and displayed, and people bid for them in some way, getting a chance to see all of the ornaments and make a choice. In these cases, people may bring multiple ornaments so that everyone has a shot at his or her first pick. Individual groups may develop their own traditions and methods for settling disputes.
In addition to the exchange, the holiday party also usually features holiday foods, music, dancing, and other holiday-related games and events. The party is typically designed in such a way that it is fun for people of all ages to participate. The casual atmosphere makes it a good setting for a mixed group.
An ornament exchange may also be done by mail, in which case people draw or are assigned names of people to send ornaments to, and they receive ornaments from other people in the group. Online communities sometimes do this as a way of fostering friendships between community members. Ornament exchanges can also be worked into a blind Secret Santa exchange, for groups of friends, family members, and coworkers who participate in such exchanges.