Play Pass the Parcel

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A favourite kids' party game that can also be a great game for adults just by making slight variations. The idea is to pass around a parcel wrapped in many layers that has a gift in the middle. In the musical variety, the parcel can only be passed when music is playing. As soon as the music stops, one layer can be unwrapped until the surprise in the last layer is reached. Three variations on this game are provided here; two musical and one descriptive.


  1. Prepare your parcel. This can be done in three ways, each of which creates a variation of Pass the Parcel:

    • One (musical): Place a gift at the centre of the parcel. Use a small box if you want an even shape or to make it look larger than it is. Wrap as many layers as players, with some to spare in case more players turn up. The parcel should be large enough for at least a 5 minute game, so add more layers even when you have only a few players; it just means they get more turns.
    • Two (musical): Place a gift at the centre of the parcel and a smaller gift on every layer of the parcel. This is the best way of preparing the parcel for children ages 3 - 8, as then each child receives a prize no matter who wins the prize wrapped in the middle of the parcel.
    • Three (descriptive): Place a gift at the centre of the parcel. Only this time, you have extra work to do. Instead of a gift on each layer, you leave a label. The label should state "For the person who...". Add reasons such as: "is wearing green", "has a pink ribbon", "likes penguins", "got an A in math this week" etc. The labels should be more descriptive the better that you know the children and less descriptive for parties where you aren't very familiar with the children. Colors, hairstyles, types of clothing and shoes are always a safe bet.
  2. Sit in a circle. All the players should be seated comfortably and close enough to the person each side of them that they can pass the parcel quickly.
  3. Begin the game (variations one and two):

    • Select the music-keeper. This person will be responsible for turning the music on and off. It should be someone who is able to keep an eye on the players and stop the music in a fair way that allows everyone a turn at unwrapping. It is a little tricky because the music-keeper must be able to both see the players but at the same time, players should not be able to see the movements of the music-keeper getting ready to stop the music.
    • The music-keeper plays the music and stops it when least expected.
    • The player holding the parcel unwraps a layer. If the parcel was midway in the air between exchanges, the parcel goes to the player it was being passed to.
    • The music-keeper starts the music again. This continues until all the layers have been removed. Continue playing until the last layer is unwrapped. The player who unwraps the last layer keeps the item.
  4. Begin the game (variation three): This game does not require music. Rather, each player reads out the labels and everyone in the group has to guess who the parcel is meant for. The person who made the parcel should act as the umpire if there is any disagreement. Continue until all the layers have been unwrapped. Read "Tips" for how to make this more fun for adults.


  • Newspaper is the best thing to wrap in - it's cheap and it is usually lying around the house. Brown paper is also good. If you want to be really fancy, use dollar store gift wrap as the paper is only going to be ripped without consideration. Tissue paper is not good because it is too fragile and will tear as the players pass it around.
  • Wrap the first layer in one design of wrapping paper, and the next layer with a different color or pattern.
  • For young children (ages 3 - 10), always try to ensure that the music stops at least once for each child so that they each have a turn. This will ensure that they feel the game has been fair.
  • Younger children will soon catch on to the fact that hanging onto the parcel might increase their chances of getting to unwrap a layer. Avoid this by explaining at the beginning that that is not allowed (and for very young children, you will need to keep explaining) and by encouraging them to move the parcel along with cries and cheers. If all else fails, simply refuse to allow that child to have more than one turn.
  • Adult variations:

    • Make the gift in the centre valuable and desirable.
    • Speed up the music and require the adults to pass it quickly and without dropping.
    • Use variation number three and make the labels revealing, teasing, stirring etc. - great for office parties or family reunions where everyone is fairly familiar with everyone else and their personal foibles, habits, funny stories and traits. Be careful to only write kind and general things about those people you know are not very keen on being the source of laughter. In fact, there is no harm in mixing both jokey fun and praise on the one parcel; it makes everyone wonder what is coming next and how they might be described.
  • There is one further variation possible. Instead of a gift or a descriptive label, there could be a forfeit (a task of daring) added to the parcel. This would have such things as "Go to the person next to you and pull their nose." Or "Wiggle your ears." Or "Stand on one leg for a minute." You get the idea.


  • DO NOT tape the layers together. The layers should be independent.
  • Don't use anything fragile as gifts - this parcel will get tossed about a lot.

Related Tips and Steps