Gift giving is as much a part of the holidays as Christmas trees, caroling, and eggnog. Adding some holiday hilarity and seasonal scheming to the mix, the white elephant gift exchange has been around since the early 1800s.
This game of swapping gifts, usually gag, funny or even themed, is a great way to liven up the family holiday gathering or as an alternative (or addition to) Secret Santa in the workplace.
The elephant in the room
“The term “white elephant” refers to an extravagant but burdensome gift that cannot be easily disposed of, based on the legend of the King of Siam gifting rare albino elephants to courtiers who had displeased him, that they might be ruined by the animals’ upkeep costs.” –Wikipedia
Today this gift giving gaffe is great fun and has little to do with ruining the recipient and more to do with finding that perfect present – to share and to “win” the best gift during the exchange.
At my family gathering, we forego the usual gift giving among the adults (ensuring the gifts left by Santa for the children are enhanced with those gifts the adults would have swapped). Instead we all (adults) bring our white elephant treasure and hope for the best, knowing that fiendish fun is sure to follow.
There are many variations on how to hold a white elephant gift exchange, but the rules are pretty simple:
The White Elephant Game Rules
- (optional) Send festive invites detailing the particulars of the party.
- Bring a wrapped, anonymous gift to the shindig.
- Draw numbers to determine who gets to unwrap a present when.
- Sit in a circle and place the gifts in the center, preferably under a festive tree.
- The person who drew #1 selects a gift from the pile, opens it, and holds it up for all to see.
- The person who drew #2 decides whether to steal that gift or unwrap a mystery present from the pile.
- The game continues in such a fashion, with each person getting the chance to steal someone’s gift or unwrap their own surprise.
- When there are no more unwrapped gifts, the person who drew #1 gets one last turn. If they decide not to steal a gift, keeping the one they have, the game is over. If they do steal a gift, the game continues until someone decides to keep their gift, rather than steal.
Variations include letting the person who picks from pile unwrap their gift and THEN decide to keep or steal; concluding the game after person one decides if they want to steal someone else’s gift or keep the one they have (or have ended up with) after all participants have had their turn. It’s probably best to set a dollar limit, too.
Add some flavor to the fun. Set a particular theme for the exchange (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Kitchen Gadgets, booze, etc.) or have someone play auctioneer or give play by play during the exchange (ideal for office parties).
In most cases gag gifts or things that one would not normally buy for themselves personally or for someone else are what winds up in the pile. Alcohol seems to also show up a lot, too (it must be the OTHER Christmas spirit).
Of course, we have a few suggestions for your next white elephant adventure. Keeping in mind various price points that might be set, their varying values listed below.
1. Fifty Shades of Chicken cookbook
Good food and great parody – perfect fit for white elephant gag-yet-useful gifts.
2. Exploding Kittens
Family friendly version (there is a “Not Safe for Work” version to be found as well). Laser pointers, catnip sandwiches and, the title, exploding kitten card are all part of the adventure to be the last person standing.
3. Tequila Mockingbird
Crafty companion gift to the above mentioned popular alcohol offering (and a great substitute for instances where alcohol itself is not permitted).
4. Poo-Pourri Master Crapsman Kit
This product was actually the most stolen item during a white elephant exchange a few years ago. Now there’s a pair of Poo-Pourri in a mock toolbox waiting to be part of the fun.
5. Harry Potter Ceramic Cauldron Mug and Spoon
There’s no rule against bringing a bit of magic to the party. This mug is both fun and practical (spells optional).
6. Mickey Mouse Shower head
Who’s the leader of squeaky clean? A great gift for a Disney-themed white elephant party.
7. “Our Adventure Fund” bank
Practical, pretty, and also fitting for a Disney-themed exchange.
The sky’s the limit (within budget) for themes, gifts, and variations on the way the white elephant plays out. Take any of these 7 suggestions as a starting point to your white elephant adventure (hmm… safari theme? KUNGALOOSH!).
What are some white elephant gifts that you’ve received or brought to the party? Unwrap your tales in the comments below. Just be aware that, those ideas, like a white elephant gift, have the possibility of being stolen.