Pass the Parcel

“Pass the Parcel” is a popular party game that gives players the chance to win a gift. The game possibly dates back all the way to medieval times. Nowadays, it is most often played at children’s birthday parties (especially in the UK). However, since gifts are often exchanged at Christmas, it is an ideal game for children or adults to play during the holiday season.

How to play Pass the Parcel, Christmas style

You will need (for one game):

  • A main gift (try to avoid fragile gifts because the parcel will get tossed and dropped repeatedly)
  • Lots of Christmassy wrapping paper (recycled/recyclable paper if possible!)
  • Adhesive tape
  • Scissors
  • A cardboard box that is larger than the gift (optional)
  • Christmas sweets, e.g. candy canes and chocolate coins (optional)
  • Small gifts (optional)
  • Pieces of paper with jokes or mini-tasks written on them (optional)
  • A hifi or other means to play Christmas music (There should be an easy way of stopping the music abruptly. To make it easier, there is party music available that is specifically designed for the game. With this you don’t need to stop or pause the music yourself. See the Amazon links below.)
  • Christmas music
  • A space where a group of people can sit in a circle

Preparing the parcel

Start this well in advance of the party! If you want to increase the final size of the final parcel, consider putting the gift in a cardboard box before you start the wrapping process. Wrap the gift or boxed gift with several layers of wrapping paper. In general, the more layers you add, the longer the game will last. Do not stick the layers of paper together because the aim when playing the game is to remove one layer of wrapping paper at a time. Varying the colour/pattern of the paper from layer to layer will also help the players to only unwrap one layer.

You may want to incorporate sweets or several small gifts between the layers of paper. This will make the game more fun for everyone, as there will be more to “win”. Alternatively or in addition, you could incorporate little pieces of paper with either Christmas jokes that can be read aloud or mini-tasks for the unwrapper to do (e.g., sing a Christmas song in front of everybody).

Playing the game

  1. Set up the music player and allocate someone to be in charge of it. Note that this person will not be playing the game and will not have a chance to win the gift!
  2. Get all of the participants to sit in a circle on the floor. Provide cushions if needed!
  3. Give the parcel to a random person in the circle.
  4. The person in charge of the music should start it playing. While the music is playing, the parcel should be passed around the circle.
  5. Preferably without looking at where the parcel is in the circle, the person in charge of the music should abruptly stop the music.
  6. Whoever is holding the parcel when the music stops, gets to unwrap one layer of paper. If there is a gift or sweet under the layer that they have taken off, this is theirs to keep. If there is a joke or task, they should read it out loud. In the case of task, they should perform it, however embarrassing they might find it!
  7. Steps 4 to 6 are then repeated until the central gift has been uncovered. Note that when only two players remain in the game they should sit back to back while passing the parcel.

Pass the Parcel as a means of exchanging gifts at a Christmas party

If everyone going to a Christmas party brings a prepared Pass the Parcel parcel, the game can used to exchange gifts. Note, however, that the random nature of the game may mean that some guests leave with no gift. The person whose parcel is being passed around should be in charge of the music for that round. This way, they won’t end up with their own gift.

If you want everyone at the party to win a gift, the music could be stopped at calculated moments. Some may think that this spoils the fun of the game. However, people will still end up with a surprise gift. Alternatively, it could be stated at the start that people winning multiple gifts will have to share with those who have won nothing. The latter will probably happen anyway, without the need to state it formally.

Since there will be several parcels and therefore several rounds of the game to be played at the party, there should not be too many layers of paper on each gift. Unwrapping each parcel would otherwise take too long. Alternatively, you could have multiple parcels being passed around at the same time to save time. This may mean that someone gets their own present back though!

Ideally, gifts that are suitable for everyone should be purchased. On the party invitation, the organiser could set a maximum budget that people are allowed to spend. The budget should be reasonably low so that all can afford to play.

“Hot Parcel” version

The game “Hot Parcel” is a modified version of Pass the Parcel. In this game, the parcel is only wrapped with one layer of paper. It is therefore relatively environmentally friendly compared to the original game. During the game, the person holding the parcel when the music stops is eliminated. The final surviving player gets to open and keep the gift. Playing the game this way means that the players will want to hold the parcel in their hands for as little time as possible! Since they will therefore virtually throw the gift to the next person and since there is very little (wrapping paper) padding around the gift, it is especially important to have non-breakable gifts!

“Left right” version

The following version of Pass the Parcel is sometimes referred to as a “left right” game. Instead of playing music during the passing of the parcel, you can have a reader reading a (Christmas) story out loud. The story should frequently contain the words “left” and “right”. When the word “left” is read out, the parcel should be passed to the left, and when the word “right” is read out, the parcel should be passed to the right. The player holding the parcel when the story ends gets to keep the parcel or just unwrap a layer, if there are multiple layers of wrapping paper. You could have several parcels being passed around at the same time. Suitable stories to read out loud are easy to find on the Internet.

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