Virtual Holiday Book Exchange

I want to believe I would have written about this even if it didn’t work, but it did! So now I’m passing this great idea along to you to spice up your online parties. You’re welcome.

You see, every year at our Holiday Book Club event, after we talk about the book, we do a book exchange that has always been a lot of fun! Everyone wraps and brings one book, unlabeled, and game begins. This year, since we couldn’t be in person, there was talk of skipping this tradition. If you’ve been reading this blog, you already know that I believe virtual activities (though not the same) CAN actually be great.

So I begged the group to let me try to recreate the magic of our Holiday Book Exchange on Zoom. Before I explain how to do this virtually, let’s review how it works in person:

  • Everyone brings one wrapped book to the party with no label.
  • Each person rolls a pair of dice, trying to get doubles.
  • When the first person hits doubles, they get to select and unwrap a book.
  • As we go around the table, each time someone rolls doubles they can either steal an unwrapped book or unwrap a new one. If they steal, the person who just lost their book has to unwrap a new one.
  • Once all the books are exposed, we go around the table three final times rolling the dice to allow those who want to steal a chance to hit doubles.
  • Everyone walks away with a book!

As you’d guess, there is always a “hot” book or two that everyone wants to steal, which makes it fun, and believe it or not, there are rarely two books that are the same. Fun, right? You can imagine us all together around a table, laughing, eating food and drinking. While the pandemic took part of that away, it couldn’t take everything.

Here’s how the book exchange worked virtually:

  • Each person mailed a book to our house, where two small elves (Zoe & Ella) wrapped them in various wrapping paper to simulate the “everyone wrapped their own book” experience.
  • As you can see from the photo above, we lined up all 15 books on display, and set up a selfie light with a phone attachment to show all the books during the whole event. We placed a numbered sticker number on each book so people could easily select one to open.
  • The girls created a bookmark for each participant with their name boldly written up top and festive images below. We used these cards to keep track of the current “owner” of each book, and put them in a stack alphabetically by first name to determine the order we’d go in for each turn.
  • We setup a second device (Zoe’s iPad) on a tripod aimed down at a table, where she rolled the dice for each person (we were going to let each person use their own dice, but this turned out to be much more efficient).
  • When the first person got doubles, they chose a book by number, which Ella brought to Zoe’s table for her to open under the camera for a close-up view.
  • Ella placed the named bookmark card in the unwrapped book and returned it to the display exactly where she’d taken it from so everyone could see the opened and unopened books at all times.
  • I also created a Google Sheet to keep track of the flow of names, along with the titles of who had which book, who needed a book, and how many times a book had been stolen. To keep the books moving, we decided a book could only be stolen 3 times.
  • We moved the bookmark cards from book to book as books were stolen, and we kept them in the books once we were done, so we can distribute the “gift” books to their new owners.

By all accounts, our book exchange was a blast! One thing I’d do differently (and my sister suggested it, though after all the books were wrapped…): I would have had the girls write down the title and author of the books before they wrapped them. Selfishly, I had wanted to be surprised. And ironically, most of the books arrived from Amazon without a note, so I had no idea who had sent which one.

Though the person who had purchased the book was able to give a brief overview to the rest of us live on the call, if we had been in person, we could have easily read the book jacket summary to know which books we wanted to keep or steal.

I could have just as easily copy/pasted those summaries from Amazon into our Google Sheet in advance so anyone who wanted to know more about the book could check it out. As it was, our smart group used their phones to look up the info live, so it “worked”.

I would also have found a bigger box for Zoe to roll the dice in, so you could SEE your role close up and also see the book cover. She called out the roll and held up the dice, which also “worked,” but I am always looking for ways to improve. Here’s an example of one of the cute bookmarks the girls made:

We were going to use Post-it notes, which would have been an effective alternative, but these bookmarks are now a bonus gift we get to give our friends along with their book. It’s the little things.

Anyway, while books are super easy to manage, I can see the above working with lots of gift exchanges! A white elephant?! So don’t think you’ve missed the boat. In fact, while we’re still living in this infinite time loop, I don’t know why it even matters when the “holidays” are… Can’t (shouldn’t?) we just make any old time into a special occasion? I say YES.

Plus, we’re not out of the woods yet, and staying at home to stay safe is not always easy to do. We could all use some ideas. I hope that before things go back to whatever “normal” is, we can all find ways to stay connected across the miles. I hope beyond hope that things do NOT go entirely back to normal. I’ve been in touch with more friends and family, more often than EVER during this crazy time. And I’m thankful for every single connection and reconnection I’ve had a chance to make.

So let’s embrace virtual for SOME things and get good at it. And if you have other ways you’ve made virtual fun, please share. I’m a believer.

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