Of White Elephants and Gifting

My favorite holiday tradition is the white elephant gift exchange. If you don't have these in your family or at your workplace, you're missing out on a lot of fun. Maybe I'm easily amused, but it's consistently the most fun I've had during the holidays. As an adult, anyway. The rules for a white elephant gift exchange are simple:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2005/12/of-white-elephants-and-gifting.html

We had a gift exchange at work this year. This is what I brought, which was the most-stolen item:

I ended up with a Dummies book – “Starting an eBay Business for Dummies.” Not a bad gift. Interestingly, someone offered to buy it from me before the party was over.

I’m not sure what you mean by “anecdotal” w/r/t to the derivation of the phrase “white elephant.” Are you saying that’s not the true origin? I can’t find a better alternative explanation …

I had not heard of this before. What’s the optimal size for the group? It sound like fun for 10-20 people, but does it scale to, say, 100 people?

Wikipedia gives three different derivations of the term

although the Thai king version sounds most likely to me.

The most stolen gift at the last one of these I did was a pair of very cute jammies (with penguins on them).

In exchanges where the recipient can select their gift from the “pool”, my fave is a 24- or 48-pack of toilet paper. The box is gigantic, and after all isn’t bigger == better ? :rofl:

1 Like

My in-laws’ neighborhood has a New Year’s party every year with a white elephant gift exchange. There have been some great gifts going around the neighborhood for 20 years. The best I ever saw was when one neighbor stole and wrapped up another’s hubcaps and gave them at the gift exchange. The victim’s response when they were opened and his efforts to steal them back all night were priceless!

I can’t find a better alternative explanation

There’s no substantive evidence that Thai kings actually gave white elephants as “gifts”. It’s a great story though.

Avenging Unicorn? must… stop… laughing… why didn’t I know about this until now?

The toilet paper thing is funny but a little cruel. You’d have to package it with a gift card of some kind (maybe hidden?) to get the value up to $20. That or else it’s REALLY nice TP.

but does it scale to, say, 100 people

Good question. I’ve only played with ~30 max. I think you’d have to modify the rules a bit to reduce the trading. Maybe 3 steals per turn max? And you’d definitely need a “referee” to keep things moving quickly with a group of that size.

It is tremendous fun though.

I attended my first white elephant party this year, (although it was called “greedy santa”, the rules were almost the same). Extremely fun game, I wasnt aware of how important it is to get bizarre gifts and i just bought a boring gift card z.z.zzz, now i know. :slight_smile:

Here in Maine (and maybe elsewhere in New England) this game is generally called Yankee Swap (although there is another kind of Yankee Swap as well).

I’ve played it at work with up to 70 people. Yes you definitely need someone to keep everybody on track, but it’s uproariously fun. I’ve played it at home with the family too and under 10 people doesn’t seem to be enough to get the momentum going. Either that, or everyone in my family is too “polite” or easily satisfied by weird gifts to get the swapping part happening!

The best Yankee Swap gift I ever brought to one of these was a “Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwich Kit”. It was basically a loaf of nice bread, jars of good peanut butter and jelly, on one of those blue speckled enameled tin camping plates, with a spreader knife, wrapped up in a nice big colorful dish towel. It was traded several times, and the final recipient just mentioned to me today that he still uses the plate all the time.

The other kind of Yankee Swap is more of a true swap. Everyone coming to the party brings a number of things from their house that they don’t want anymore. Everything is put on a big table (unwrapped), and everyone can simply pick what they want. Anything left over gets brought to Goodwill. People can get rid of “junk”, bring home something they like (hopefully), and no money was spent. That’s the part that yankees mostly appreciate I suspect.

1 Like

A bottle of Jack Daniels is not an inappropriate gift. I’d love to get that :slight_smile:

We used to do this at my old work. My boss got a baseball hat with the phrase “Show me your b**bs”.

1 Like

One of the things I miss about a small company I used to work for is the white elephant gift parties they’d have every Christmas. The all-time best gift (or worst, depending on your perspective) was one that made an appearance every year, namely a Chia Head.

One year, one of the most-stolen gifts was a big tin bucket of popcorn. We also lamented how the Chia Head had not made an appearance, that it had seemed to have completed its run. Well, guess what was inside the bucket.

A costly possession requiring so much upkeep that it becomes a burden.

Maybe because it takes so much effort to wash and keep a white elephant clean and sparkly?

The version of “Yankee Swap” I have always played (both in Alaska and now in Maine) only let you swap once with a person.

You drew numbers. 1 goes first. Each player opens 1 gift. They can then swap it with another players item. Only 1 trade allowed. At the end, player 1 gets to swap with any player.

I think I am going to try this “White Elephant” variation next year. :slight_smile:

My wife’s family has been doing this with friends for years, but no gifts are unwrapped until all trading has finished.

In consecutive years, I received 2-packs of tape measures - I have no idea how. I got a 2-pack of yellow plastic-cased ones one year, and a 2-pack of metal-cased ones the next.

They have one musical refrigerator magnet that gets recycled (regifted) every year.

When I was finally old enough to be in the adult white elephant gift exchange the gift I ended up with was a disposable diaper with chunks of fudged (the kind with nuts) in it. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it.

1 Like

I chuckled when I read this article, this was my first christmas with my new company and I had never experienced this “method” before. I was #2 which isn’t a good number for this game. I promptly went for the big box. Before I open it I should mentioned that many of the other gifts included misc niceties such as best buy gift certificates, formal pens, portal DVD etc. I was very surprised to find that I opened up a weighted down box that contained a NC state chicken head. For those of you less familiar with this hat it’s similar to red skull cap with a chick head and long chicken legs that drape down more then a foot to my shoulders. Needless to say nobody “stole” it from me! I thought at least my son would get a kick out of it. He simply ran away scared and crying! Anyways hope you have yourself a good new year Jeff. take care

Josh (NC)

1 Like

I was #2 which isn’t a good number for this game

It’s the worst number! :stuck_out_tongue:

Needless to say nobody “stole” it from me!

This is why I like the idea of hiding a high-value gift card in one wacky item.

I lucked out and drew #1 at Vertigo this year, but I couldn’t bring myself to use the final trade. I guess I should have, just for laughs… :wink:

This is great. I am going to my first white elephant party in a couple of weeks, and I didn’t realize how fun it could be. I didn’t know the rules either. Thanks!!

a 20 inch tall chubaka pez dispencer- with sound effects.

I’m in the Air Force Reserves, and every year my unit has a Christmas Party and the “White Elephant” is the highlight. We usually end up with a little bit over 100 people participating. And usually, there is plenty of alcohol, sometimes very exotic alcohol as the gifts. There is also a few items that have been “re-gifted” for several years now, such as the “adult friend blow-up doll”. It’s funny, but one year I bought oven-mitts and the wives actually were fighting over them. You never know what you’ll end up with. Best I ever did, a nice tea sampler set that had about 25 different types of tea.

1 Like