white elephant gifts
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The “white elephant gift” exchange is a party game in which fun and impractical gifts are exchanged during the celebration. The purpose of the white elephant gift exchange is to entertain the party guests, not to obtain a truly valuable or highly sought-after item.
The term “white elephant” refers to an extravagant and impractical gift that cannot be easily disposed of. The term is thought to have originated from the historical practice of the King of Siam (now Thailand) giving rare albino elephants to his unwanted courtiers to break them because of the expense of keeping the animals. Although the first use of the term remains a subject of debate among historians, one theory suggests that Ezra Cornell introduced the term into the popular lexicon through his frequent social gatherings as early as 1828.
Each participant brings a wrapped gift, usually of equal value. The gifts are arranged in the center, and the participants determine the order in which they will take turns choosing them. The first person opens the wrapped gift, and the turn ends On subsequent turns, each participant has a choice: either unwrap a new gift or steal someone else’s. When a person’s gift is stolen, he or she can choose another wrapped gift to open, or steal it from another player. To avoid infinite circles, each gift can only be stolen twice per game. The game ends when everyone has a gift. The first player can also steal a gift at the end of the game at will.
In the “white elephant” gift exchange, everything depends on the luck of the draw (and theft). If you want to win over friends, family and co-workers, or at least make everyone laugh at this year’s vacation party, show up with one of these “white elephant” gifts. Since this annual gift exchange can be approached in many different ways, we’ve put together a list of “white elephant” gift ideas that include hilarious gifts, useful household finds, and office gifts that will cause an all-out war of theft. But really, the stranger (okay, more unique) the gift, the more fun the party will be. In that case, make the most of it by ordering one of these weird and wonderful gifts that cost less than $30 (many are $10 to $20 if you’re on a tight budget).
While you’re at it, think about the other gift exchanges – Secret Santa, Dirty Santa, etc. – that you have planned for this holiday season, because you’re sure to find some ideas on this list that everyone will love. Suffice it to say.
On a side note, some items may ship later this year due to the pandemic. You can check here for all the shipping deadlines to get your item delivered in time for the vacations.
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1. Each player brings a wrapped gift to contribute to the general fund.
The organizer of the white elephant exchange (aka white elephant party) should provide information about which gift should be brought.
2. Players draw numbers to determine the order in which they will go.
Alternatively, someone can draw friend group names from a hat, or the order can be established by the organizer before the event begins.
3- Players sit in a circle or in a line so they can see a pile of gifts.
For ease, everyone should sit in the order in which they will take turns.
4. The first player chooses a gift from the pile and opens it.
Make sure everyone can see the present!
Santa is standing next to the pile of presents and points. The next players out of your friend groups can choose an unopened gift from the pool or steal the gift from the previous player. The one whose gift was stolen can do the same – choose a new gift or steal from someone else.
There are some restrictions on gift exchange, so that the game doesn’t get bogged down:
A gift can only be stolen once at a time, which means that players who have had a gift stolen will have to wait to get it back.
After three exchanges, the turn ends automatically (otherwise things can drag on for a long time).
“Popular Variations” below for other possible turns.
6. After all players have taken their turn, the first player has the opportunity to exchange the gift they are holding for any other open gift. The person who had their gift stolen can steal it from someone else (as long as that person has not already been stolen). If someone refuses to steal a gift, the game ends.
It’s the perfect holiday season game!
Note that during this last “extra” turn the three-turn rule does not apply. Players can continue to trade until someone decides to stay away or until there are no more suitable people to steal from.
Last year, I was tasked with planning a “White Elephant” office gift exchange party, and I kept coming up with ideas on how to make this unconventional game even more unique. Eventually, I made it my own by setting certain rules for gifts. There are many ways to make the game more fun, so put on your Santa hat and think like an elf!
Here are some options that can elevate your White Elephant organizer status from anonymous elf to Santa’s favorite helper:
Establish a theme for gift exchange: It can be puppies, vacations, or condiments-whatever! The original “White Elephant” requires you to bring an obscure item you received as a gift but didn’t use, such as the boiled egg slicer your grandmother gave you two Christmases ago. If you don’t want to end up with a pile of junk, ask participants to make wish lists online so you know you’ll bring a gift that someone in the group will be crazy about, as opposed to the nasty snowman who loved… well, whatever.
Don’t unwrap the gifts until the end: add an element of mystery to the game by keeping all the gifts wrapped until the last person. You’ll keep stealing wrapped presents from each other, but you won’t know what’s inside until you receive the gift. Expect lots of laughter when everyone opens their gift and realizes it’s not what they guessed. Funny gift wrapping will make this variation really funny!
Appoint a commentator: My friend, a White Elephant fanatic, says that having someone comment on the flow of the game will add another level of humor to the craziness of it all. Use your best auctioneer or sports commentator voice and get ready to announce the game behind the scenes. This can also be useful if you have a large company or are hosting an office party for remote employees online, as people may not see all the presents when they are opened.
Combine Secret Santa and White Elephant Gift Exchange: This may sound crazy, but what if each participant bought a gift for a specific person (like in a traditional Secret Santa gift exchange), and after everyone opens their gift, they can exchange it with others (like in a White Elephant game). It’s mind-blowing, isn’t it? Using the online Secret Santa generator will help you with organization so you can save your brain for the game.
Remember, the point of exchanging gifts in a White Elephant gifts game is to have fun, not to end up with the best gift. Sure, it would be great to get that awesome screwdriver with interchangeable heads, but if you can’t, don’t worry. A wise, green, and exceptionally furry man once taught us that Christmas is not about presents, right? Not everyone will walk away from this triumphant exchange, but everyone will certainly be pleased!
You’re looking to arrive with great gifts for your white exchange party; so let’s make it a little different this year. Perhaps you and your loved ones will meet outdoors or sit inside wearing masks. Or perhaps you’ll meet exclusively online (and send your gifts accordingly). However, the basic principle of a successful white elephant gifts exchange remains – yes, everyone should walk away with a fun and silly gift, but ideally it should also be useful. According to the folks at Wirecutter, here are the great gifts that made us smile.
From humorous paperweights to completely crazy gifts like socks with the donor’s face and practical gifts like insulated mugs, gift ideas for the white elephant abound. But finding the right gift for a white elephant can be tricky, so here are a few things to keep in mind.
First, consider what group you are exchanging gifts with for white elephant. If it’s a group of your close friends or family, consider the personalities of the participants. If everyone knows how to joke around, almost everything is fine if it is a group of adults. If there are children in the group, it is wise to make the exchange separately for children and separately for adults, so that everyone gets an age-appropriate gift. However, the age range of the participants should be considered when choosing a gift.
If you are holding a white elephant gift exchange in an office or with a group of colleagues, keep office etiquette in mind. After all, you don’t want to offend anyone with a gift that is meant to be funny. Edible Arrangements® offers an extensive collection of delicious gifts and gourmet treats suitable for any “white elephant” gift exchange, whether at work or with like-minded friends, including gifts that both children and adults will enjoy. Choose boxes of chocolate covered strawberries, freshly baked cookies in different flavors, gourmet cakes and mini cheesecakes, and more.
You should also keep your budget in mind. Many participants in the white elephant gift exchange set a budget of $20 or $30 so that each participant receives a gift of approximately the same value. At Edible Arrangements®, you can choose from a wide variety of gifts under $50 and gifts under $30 to find an amazing gift at the right price. The Maddy & Maize™ popcorn set with four amazing flavors of gourmet popcorn is sure to be the most sought-after gift at the swap meet. Or, for a humorous twist, give a box of “donuts” that aren’t really donuts. While this fun twist on traditional donuts will make you laugh at first, our Edible® Donuts won’t disappoint – they even taste better than regular donuts! Made in the form of Granny Smith apple slices dipped in real semi-sweet gourmet chocolate and covered in colorful glaze and sprinkles, the lucky recipient will enjoy every bite.
For more spectacular elephant gift ideas that your friends, family or colleagues are sure to love, we have launched an idea contest and collected the responses below. (Note: Edible Arrangements® does not endorse any of the companies or ideas discussed below, but we asked for suggestions to get some different perspectives). Read on to see what our responding authors had to say about their favorite white elephant gift ideas.