The term Yankee has an origin of North Eastern United States primarily New England and the area. The settlers in these areas were often regarded as Yankees while the dialect of English they spoke was called Yankee.
Later during the civil war era United States, all Union army and the Northern United States were regarded and Yankees. Due to this significant historical element, often Yankee Swap is confused with having something to do with the Union (Yankee) soldiers exchanging prisoners with the confederate forces. Although this may seem logical to some, there is no evidence of any relationship between the civil war era prisoner exchange and the gift exchange that we have come to adore these days.
"Yankee" in this sense means American, specifically United States and the term Yankee Swap was coined in the early twentieth century New York city when the immigrant settlers noticed locals exchange silly gifts at the market. They noticed "Yankees Swapping gifts", adopted the tradition but decided to call it a new name.
Even though this claim can not be fully verified, there are some indications that would prompt us to believe that this is one of the most likely origins of the name of this gift exchange, which includes early recounts of merchants, travelers and circus show managers of the time. One of those was P.T. Barnum, who's failed venture of bringing an exotic elephant to United States gave way to naming the ancient gift exchange tradition of White Elephant. Roots of the Christmas gift exchange can be traced to his story and what transpired when his circus spectacle was not well received and his hopes to monetize the rare spectacle backfired.
In the modern day, the Yankee Swap has become a popular Christmas game not only throughout the United States of America, but Canada, parts of Europe, United Kingdom, Australia and even parts of Asia. In the today's world, this Christmas favorite has crossed all borders and boundaries to enter our lives as one of the most anticipated event of the year!
Even though there are major similarities with other gift exchange traditions, especially with the rules and game-play, there are still quite a bit thematic differences when it comes to the Yankee Swap. It is not uncommon to see the participants of the gift exchange to dress up and wear clothes that have American flags, bold eagles and other icons to signify the Yankee Swap. Surprisingly enough, some of the most unexpected places to do or should we say over-do this is Japan, where in recent years Yankee Swap has become part of the pop culture.
If you'd like to share your recounts of unusual or even unexpected occurrences of the American gift exchange elsewhere in the world, feel free to email us and let us know. We'd be glad to share the information on this website.