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White Elephant Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas and Rules for Work, Family and Friends

( [email protected] ) Dec 13, 2014 01:08 AM EST
Most of us have participated in a White Elephant Christmas Gift Exchange, either in the workplace or with a group of family and friends.  Even though there isn't an established set of rules for a White Elephant Christmas Gift Exchange, here are some ideas on how to make it a good holiday memory.
White Elephant Gift Exchanges can be fun if organized properly. (Photo: The Office Season 2 "Christmas Party")

Most of us have participated in a White Elephant Christmas Gift Exchange, either in the workplace or with a group of family and friends.  Even though there isn't an established set of rules for a White Elephant Christmas Gift Exchange, here are some ideas on how to make it a good holiday memory.

Setting up a white elephant gift exchange is not difficult.  All one has to do is tell people to bring a certain gift, and be certain that it is wrapped for the time of the gift opening.  A lot of white elephant gift exchanges combine it with Secret Santa, where the giver is covertly given a name and must target that gift for that person.  It is highly recommended that a price be set so that givers are not spending too much on an item. 

Related: Christmas Gift Ideas for Your Mom, Dad, Grandma or Grandpa

A lot of White Elephant Gift Exchanges establish a "Yankee Swap" rule where the receiver can choose from a pile of presents or take a gift that has been previously opened.  Under those rules, the person who has had their gift taken from them chooses another gift.  You will also want to establish the rules of the White Elephant Gift Exchange before you begin, otherwise you might have the Christmas Party episode in Season 2 of The Office, which was a complete disaster. 

Most white elephant gifts are usually novelty ones.  That is, some kind of joke gift that might be kind of embarrassing, like an electric nose-hair trimmer.  If you are in a workplace environment, it is usually considered bad taste to bring an item that is NSFW (not safe for work) for obvious reasons.  You can find a lot of interesting novelty gifts on sites like stupid.com, dodoburd.com, or similar sites. 

There are many white elephant gift exchanges where the presents are things that are just lying around the giver's house.  If it is a useful item and in good condition, there really isn't anything wrong with giving it away.  However, it can look pretty tacky as no one appreciates a used gift. 

Here are some examples of what you can give for a white elephant gifts:

Gift cards:  This is always good for any occasion, and allows the receiver the right to choose what it is they want, to a limited degree. 

Humor books:  Check the humor section in your bookstore and you'll find fun books like Awkward Family Photos and similar books. 

Kitchen gadgets:  If you have someone who likes to cook, you can usually find a fun and useful kitchen utensil like a large salad fork. 

T-shirt:  What's a better gift than a shirt with a funny slogan?  And who can't use another shirt. 

Picture frame:  People always want one of these, and as an added bonus, you can put a picture of yourself or the receiver. 

Board Game:  Not only is this a great activity for a group of people, it can be played at the white elephant gift exchange as part of the fun. 

The white elephant gift exchange can be a good time to unleash creativity.  Those that really like making gifts can really create something magnificent.  If you don't have time for making a homemade gift, you can always purchase one on sites like Etsy.com. 

According to wackywhiteelephant.com, the term white elephant is derived from Asian countries, where a king would give a subordinate a white elephant, a costly gift that is costs as much to maintain.  In short, the white elephant gift would cost more than it was worth, but now it has become a term used to apply to deliberately tacky or homemade gifts given at parties.   How did this term completely change in meaning?  Some theories point to Ezra Cornell (of Cornell University) who used this term to describe gifts at parties and social gatherings.