How Rare are the LEGO Employee Christmas Gift Exclusives?
4th May 2023
One of the many perks of working for LEGO is that the company puts on its Santa hat each year and gives all its employees, regardless of their role, a free exclusive set, as a thank you for all their hard work.
The sets also find their way into the hands of business partners (e.g. employees of Walt Disney, Lucasfilm, Warner Bros. etc), members of the LEGO Ambassador Network (LAN), and LEGO Certified Professionals (LCPs).
The LAN includes representatives from LEGO User Groups, LEGO Online Communities, and LEGO Fan Media outlets (e.g. people running user groups, LEGO fan websites, youtubers etc), of which there are approximately 450 members, while the LCP network is comprised of a small group of adult LEGO entrepreneurs who have turned their passion for LEGO into a full-time or part-time profession. At the end of 2022 there were 22 LCPs.
As strange as it may seem, not everyone decides to keep their gift, and many of the sets find their way onto the secondary market. Being exclusives, naturally they aren't cheap to buy, but have you ever wondered how exclusive they really are? Knowing this might affect what ones you choose to buy and how much you're willing to pay.
In this article we've provided our best estimates as to how many of each exclusive were distributed. To do this we've got annual employment figures for LEGO and factored in the number that would likely have been given to business partners, LEGO Ambassadors, and LCPs.
2008 Employee Exclusive: Heart polybag
Estimated production run: 5,400
This meagre set was the first Christmas gift exclusive given to LEGO employees and contained a simple red brick-built heart packaged in a polybag.
In 2008, LEGO employed 5,388 full-time people, so it's estimated that around 5,400 copies of this set were distributed, as there would have been far fewer LEGO Ambassadors and partners then there are today. It's also not known if LEGO handed out this set to anyone other than its employees, as this practice might have started a few years later.
2009 Employee Exclusive: Heart
Estimated production run: 7,300
For the 2009 gift, LEGO gave out the same set as in 2008, but this time it came in cardboard packaging. It included 92 red pieces, all of which are commonly found in other sets.
In 2009, LEGO had 7,286 full-time employees. Therefore, it is estimated that approximately 7,300 copies of this set were distributed.
2010 Employee Exclusive: Happy Holidays - The Christmas Game
Estimated production run: 8,500
Things began to get a bit better in 2010, with an exclusive celebrating the LEGO Games theme. The set included a game which involved collecting as many LEGO presents as possible, with players' actions determined by rolling a LEGO dice. At the time of production, the dice mould was the most complex and expensive LEGO had ever created as it had a hard red ABS core with soft rubber moulded on to the outside.
This wasn't the only interesting part, as the green and white marbled tree intended to depict a Christmas Tree, has only been seen in two other sets.
In 2010, LEGO employed 8,365 full-time people, so it's estimated that approximately 8,500 copies of this set were handed out.
2011 Employee Exclusive: LEGO Duck
Estimated production run: 9,500
The 2011 exclusive was a replica of the LEGO's iconic wooden duck from 1935, which was one of the first toys the company produced. The set functions just as the original, with the beak opening and closing as you pull it along.
LEGO also made this set available in 2020 to visitors of the LEGO House in Billund, who could buy it for 599DKK ($90 / £70). However, this version came in different packaging with the LEGO House branding.
References to the wooden duck have appeared in several other sets and it was the source of inspiration for LEGO's first 3D printed element that was made available to buy, but again this was only at the LEGO House.
9,374 people worked full-time at LEGO in 2011, so it's estimated approximately 9,500 LEGO Ducks were distributed.
2012 Employee Exclusive: Ole Kirk's House
Estimated production run: 10,500
2012 saw a very significant bump up in the size of the exclusive, with Ole Kirk's House having 910 pieces and being exactly ten times bigger than the LEGO Duck. This is the only Christmas employee gift set to include a baseplate and it depicts the house of LEGO founder Ole Kirk Christiansen, which is now home to a section of the LEGO Idea House and LEGO's hallowed vault.
This set was actually a replica of a set produced three years earlier for the 2009 LEGO Inside Tour (LIT), the only difference being the packaging. The LIT version is much rarer, had LIT information and a picture of the tour group on the back of the box, and was hand numbered from 1 to 32.
I have never been very impressed by this set, as its appearance is somewhat blocky, and it's not constructed to minifigure scale. Takeaway it's significance and you're left with a rather uninspiring build in my opinion.
LEGO had 10,400 full-time employees in 2012 so it's estimated around 10,500 copies of this set were given out.
2013 Employee Exclusive: A LEGO Christmas Tale
Estimated production run: 14,000
The premise behind the 2014 exclusive was having a set that families could build together. With this in mind, there are four diorama-style builds of wintry scenes, all with their own instruction book. Disappointingly LEGO opted against including minifigures, instead including weird hybrid figures with minifigure heads on plain coloured headpieces that acted as the torso and legs.
In 2013, LEGO employed 13,869 people so this set is estimated to have been limited to approximately 14,000 copies.
2014 Employee Exclusive: HUB Birds
Estimated production run: 15,000
The 2014 gift is my favourite as it features five charming brick-built birds. They're known as the HUB birds because each one represents the national bird of LEGO's five global hubs: Bald Eagle (US hub), Robin (UK hub), Crimson Sunbird (Singapore hub), Crane (China hub), and Swan (Denmark hub).
14,762 people worked for LEGO in 2014. This year also saw the Ambassador Program revamped into the LEGO Ambassador Network. It's not known whether LEGO started giving a gift to ambassadors from 2014, or whether this was done previously, but regardless it's expected that the number of ambassadors began to increase significantly from this date. Therefore, we estimate that around 15,000 HUB Birds sets were produced.
2015 Employee Exclusive: Borkum Riffgrund 1
Estimated production run: 17,500
The 2015 festive set commemorated the opening of the Borkum Riffgrund 1 offshore wind farm in the North Sea off the coast of Germany. This subject was chosen because the first phase of the project was partially owned by KIRKBI, which is the holding company owned by LEGO's founding family. The company's investment in this project was aimed at helping LEGO achieve 100% renewable energy use by 2020.
In 2015, LEGO employed 17,294 people so we estimate around 17,500 copies of this set were distributed.
2016 Employee Exclusive: 50 Years On Track
Estimated production run: 19,400
In 2016 employees got something a bit special as LEGO took to the tracks and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first train sets, which appeared in 1966. It includes replicas of some of LEGO's most iconic locomotives, namely the Motorised Train Set, Western Train, Monorail Transport System, Metroliner, Emerald Night, and Winter Holiday Train.
This is a fantastic set, and a must have for any train lover. At 1,141 pieces is also one of the most substantial employee gifts, surpassed only by 2021's exclusive.
2016 was the third year of strong growth for LEGO as the employee count increased to 19,061. Based on this, it's estimated that around 19,400 gifts were given out.
2017 Employee Exclusive: The Nutcracker
Estimated production run: 17,900
After a break of a few years, LEGO returned to the Christmas theme for its holiday gift in 2017. The Prince from the Nutcracker was the inspiration here, who transforms from a toy to a man during the ballet, so it was an inspired choice for a LEGO set.
This set made extensive use of Technic parts because 2017 marked the theme's 40th anniversary. This set also commemorated LEGO's 85th anniversary. The model includes a working jaw and came in a unique pointed box, which the Nutcracker fits neatly into when built.
2017 saw a decrease in the total number of employees to 17,534, so approximately 17,900 sets are expected to have been distributed.
2018 Employee Exclusive: 40 Years LEGO Minifigure
Estimated production run: 17,700
2018 saw the 40th anniversary of the LEGO minifigure, which could not go uncelebrated. So for the first time, employees got some minifigures in their festive gift, each packaged in a separate box. These included minifigures from classic LEGO themes, namely a Blacktron Astronaut (Space), a Female Doctor (Town), and a Pirate (Pirates)). While technically, the doctor and pirate are exclusive, this is not due to unique printing, but rather the internal structure of the moulds.
The bulk of the set featured models of Santa, his sleigh, and a reindeer. This set is notable for the unusual scale of the brick-built Santa, being 3 times bigger than a minifigure. The box art also got a makeover and was styled to look like a Christmas gift, complete with bow.
Employee numbers decreased again in 2018 to 17,385, so we estimate around 17,700 gift sets were given out.
2019 Employee Exclusive: Christmas X-Wing
Estimated production run: 19,200
2019 gave us the most collectible employee gift, as it celebrated the 20th birthday of LEGO Star Wars. It featured the X-wing from the X-wing Starfighter (75218) set, but with a festive paint job. I think the overall effect looks fantastic, and I especially like the candy cane style shooters on each wing.
One of the reasons this set is now a bona fide collector's item, is that it included a unique minifigure: the Yuletide Squadron Pilot, who's now one of the most expensive LEGO Star Wars minifigures. It also included a festive Yoda, an R2-D2, and a snow covered Yoda's hut that doubles as a display stand for the X-wing.
Employment was back up again in 2019, with 18,800 employees in total. When taking into account business partners, the LAN, and LCPs, it's estimated that around 19,200 Christmas X-wings were given out.
2020 Employee Exclusive: 40 Years of Hands-on Learning - LEGO Education
Estimated production run: 21,000
Another theme anniversary was chosen as the basis of the 2020 employee gift, with LEGO Education hitting 40. The 50th anniversary of the Technic gear piece also occurred that year, and it was subsequently used as the basis of the set's moving parts. The set also includes a unique printed panel spelling out 40 in Technic parts.
The main build shows two brick-built elves in their workshop, with another one peeking over the wall. There's also an elf minifigure rather cutely perched on the mantlepiece, alongside a mini Mindstorms NXT brick.
Although the world was in the midst of a pandemic, the headcount at LEGO jumped significantly, up to 20,468 employees, so it's expected around 21,000 gifts were distributed.
2021 Employee Exclusive: The Temple of Celebrations
Estimated production run: 28,000
It was NINJAGO's turn in the spotlight in 2021, as the theme turned 10. The set features a snowy oriental temple, a dragon pulling a sleigh, a Christmas Tree with presents, and 12 minifigures. LEGO included all the golden minifigures of NINJAGO's main ninjas from the 2021 wave of 10th anniversary sets, plus the golden Sensei Wu from the Ninjago City Gardens.
The set doesn't include any exclusive parts or minifigures, and there are no stickers to apply, so regular folk could build the exact same model themselves. Trivia buffs will like to know that this was the first set to feature recyclable paper bags, rather than the disposable plastic ones.
2021 saw the biggest annual expansion in LEGO's workforce, with over 4,000 employees joining the ranks, giving a total of 24,484. We estimate this leads to 25,000 copies of this set being produced.
2022 Employee Exclusive: 10 Years of Friendship
Estimated production run: 25,000
Another 10-year anniversary came around in 2022, with Friends hitting the milestone. The 10 Years of Friendship set acted as a swansong for the five original Friends characters, who were soon to be replaced with eight new ones that represented greater diversity.
The set includes figures of the five Friends, and a large fireplace decorated in Christmas paraphernalia. The back of the set is more exciting than the front, as it opens up to reveal some hidden display scenes.
In 2022, LEGO employed 27,338 people meaning approximately 28,000 sets will have been sent out. This growth was largely fuelled by the company's retail expansion in China, with 95 new stores being opening in the country.
As you would expect the older holiday gifts are significantly rarer than the ones produced today, because of LEGO's growth. However, age and rarity on their own do not determine collectability, as the Christmas X-wing from 2019 is by far the most desirable and valuable now, because of the popularity of LEGO Star Wars.
Although many of these exclusives didn't have the most limited production runs, they're sets that people are going to be more reluctant to sell on because they were gifts. It's also likely that a large proportion were opened and built at the time, so new, unopened copies will be harder to come by.
Graham is a passionate LEGO collector, who has a penchant for the Castle, Pirates, and Western themes. You can usually find him monitoring the latest developments and giving his opinion on what's hot and not in the LEGO world.
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