How to Plan the Best White Elephant Gift Exchange

December 7, 2017

With the holiday season upon us, there’s a good chance you’re looking for some fun ways to shake up your gift-giving game. Perhaps you’re organizing a party for a bunch of people who don’t really know each other; this can get tricky, especially when trying to please everyone and their mother. Soooo, how about throwing a White Elephant gift exchange?  

Where does the term ‘White Elephant’ come from, anyway? You may be surprised to learn that it’s steeped in history, based on the legend of the king of Siam giving rare albino elephants to people who displeased him so that their lives would be ruined by the cost of the upkeep of the animals. (Source: Wikipedia) Now, who knows how much truth there is to that legendary tale, but it’s certainly funny to think about. With that in mind, the idea of the modern White Elephant gift exchange is usually a little less villainous (unless you’ve got some serious friend or coworker drama) and much more humorous. The name itself has evolved as well, be it ‘Yankee Swap,’ ‘Secret Santa,’ or something else.

While we highly recommend not gifting live albino animals to your acquaintances, there are some pretty outrageous items out there that you can definitely WOW your friends and coworkers with. If you’re planning a White Elephant exchange, it may also be fun to make it thematic so that peeps have guidelines for the types of items to get.

Here are a few ideas along that line:

  • Recycled Gift Swap: Everyone has to bring a “re-gift”—something they received as a gift previously but didn’t want.
  • Handmade/Homemade Swap: Only custom-made items allowed!
  • Ornament Swap: This is a fun way to build an ornament collection and show off your offbeat decorating skills.
  • Booze Exchange: Everyone brings some type of adult beverage to exchange.
  • Gift Card Swap: This is especially great for a group that doesn’t know each other very well. Set a dollar amount so it’s fair.
  • 70s/80s/90s Exchange: Everyone brings a gift from a certain decade (who wouldn’t want a Nirvana CD or tie-dye t-shirt?!).

Not so much into themes? Hey, that’s OK! It’s always fun to see what people come up with when left to their own devices. However, be sure to set a few guidelines, especially when it comes to the price/value of items.

The modern White Elephant gift exchange also has a certain level of competition; it’s not unusual for people to get in fights—good-natured or otherwise—over the “best” gift. (An episode of The Office comes to mind, where Michael Scott measured the value of friendship through the value of gifts exchanged in the office Yankee Swap.) So, if you organize a swap where gifts can be “stolen,” it’s worth establishing some basic guidelines—otherwise, things could get out of hand.

At the end of the day, remember that this is supposed to be FUN. There’s no need for a situation where people feel badly about the gifts they’ve brought, or about not ending up with a “good” gift.

Do you have any particularly fun ideas for holiday gift swaps? If so, we’d love to hear about them!