White Elephant Gifts - This Year's Best Gift Ideas (2024)

What is a White Elephant Gift?

The white elephant gift exchange is a hilarious holiday tradition full of useless gifts, bizarre surprises and trivial disappointments. Whether you love them or hate them, you’ll probably end up participating in one this year and will need to find some interesting crap to wrap up. Choosing the right white elephant gift can be challenging. You want something unique that will go over well in your group, be memorable, entertaining, perhaps even fought over.

White elephant gifts trace back to legends of an ancient King of Siam, who had an interesting way of getting payback on those who dared to displeased him. The cantankerous King was said to take his revenge not through battles, but through gifts. Get on his dark side and you may be bestowed with a rare albino elephant, and animal that was praised as a symbol of prosperity and signified the high social status of anyone who owned such an impressive beast. The trick was, the elephant would cost so much to feed and take care of that its owner would be financially ruined. The burden of owning the animal far outweighed it’s usefulness, and it was a difficult gift to get rid of.

Today, white elephant gift exchanges aren’t intended for revenge, but cutthroat rivalries can develop as people attempt to steal the best items and dump the trash. The most memorable white elephant gifts are generally things that most people would be happy to get rid of. They may be tacky, useless, embarrassing, or more trouble than there are worth. The tradition is also known by a number of other names including Yankee Swap, Dirty Santa, Cutthroat Christmas, Chinese Auction, Rob your Neighbor, Thieves’ Christmas, and more.

How a White Elephant Gift Exchange Works:

The rules for a successful white elephant gift exchange are rather simple. While it’s suggested that the number of “players” be around 6, as many people can play as have the time to exchange. Each person brings a wrapped gift and all are collected in a common staging area. Everyone is given a number, and whoever is determined to go first selects his or her gift. They unwrap it, show it to the group, and the next person in succession takes their turn. The second player can choose to either steal the previous player’s gift or open a new one. If a gift is stolen, the previous owner then selects and opens a new gift. The next player can open a new gift or steal one of the previous two, and so on until all the gifts have been opened. Typically after the last gift is revealed, the player who went first gets the final option to steal any of the gifts. In some versions a player can open a new gift before deciding if they want to swap it with someone else's. Some groups allows players to steal if they get stolen from, but this can lead to endless swapping if additional rules aren't created.

There are a number of variations to the game that can help speed things up, make the game more fair, more competitive or more interesting. Often a maximum price is set for any gifts that are purchased, typically between $20 and $30. Players may decide to prevent infinite steals of popular gifts by adopting a “three strikes” rule. After three swaps, a gift can no longer be stolen and may be considered safe. Or there can be a limit on how many times any individual player can have something stolen from them. Some white elephant parties have a theme around which all gifts must relate. Possible themes might be handmade gifts, used gifts, or things found around the house. Some variations involve only offering “ugly” gifts, or “gag” gifts. Particularly savvy hosts may even opt for a more detailed game, in which certain gifts include cards with instructions and special rules on stealing gifts, adding new layers of complexity to the game. Other variations may include helpful hints for ensuring that the right person picks the right gift - for example the bath salts may be marked as female to ensure they don’t end up in the hands of the dude who was hoping for the whiskey glasses.

Picking a Good White Elephant Gift

What you choose to bring to your white elephant exchange will depend a lot on the rules your group has decided on and the people you’ll be exchanging with. You may have strict budgets on gifts you can buy or be restricted to homemade gifts or things you already have around the house. In general you want to bring a gift that is either entertaining to the group or valuable in some way. To keep things interesting choose a gift that you think will be actively swapped or stolen, either because it’s something everyone wants or it’s the dud everyone tries to dump on someone else.

Funny Gifts: Everyone loves to laugh. Funny gifts and gags are always a big hit and make some of the best stories. There’s a huge range of things to choose from online at all prices. Funny gifts keep the game light-hearted.

Weird Gifts: Things that make you wonder why they exist. People are fascinated by the absurd. It can be good to show up with something that no one has ever seen or would think to ever want like a fish training kit.

Useful Gifts: Things that people actually want or need always do well. If you bring something valuable or useful it’s sure to be stolen repeatedly, which creates a fun roller coaster of excitement and disappointment for each person that owns it for a moment.

If your party has agreed to a spending limit, don't be the person that overspends to bringthe best gift. Obviously you have some wiggle room, you may have gotten a great deal on a typical more expensive item, but be mindful of the group's guidelines when selecting your gift.

Be sure to think about your audience. A gift that may be a big hit at an office IT party may not go over well at the church gift exchange. Choose something that relates to the common ground in the group. A gift that is perfect for the foodies at a restaurant staff party may not resonate with the team at the corrugated cardboard plant.

Where to Look: Thrift stores are great places to find white elephant gifts that are truly unique. Other places worth checking are pawn shops, antique stores, flea markets and winter garage sales. If you have a family member or friend who is a collector they may have the perfect thing in an attic. You may get lucky and find something on eBay, Etsy, or Craigslist. If you need something you can order online and get delivered quickly, we think you'll find the perfect white elephant gift right here in our collection.

Safe Bets: Lottery tickets are always a good choice and will definitely be swapped many times. Same goes for gift cards. As Seen on TV items also make good gifts that people love to steal. Alcohol of any kind is usually a winner depending on your group. If your party is at the office you have something of value like a parking space you could offer for a few weeks. You could print a handmade coupon for a free lunch or other favor. While it may be the least creative gift you could bring, no one will argue with the gift of cash.

White Elephant Gifts - This Year's Best Gift Ideas (2024)


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