What Is a White Elephant Gift Exchange?
A White Elephant gift exchange, also known as a Yankee Swap, is a fun holiday activity where participants bring humorous and inexpensive gifts to exchange. White Elephant gifts are usually tacky, have very little use, are inexpensive, and are funny. The funnier and more absurd, the better! The best part of the game is "stealing" gifts from other participants. Gift swaps are great because they can bring a lot of entertainment to a party and are especially good at livening up the office holiday party.
The Snuggie: A Great White Elephant Gift!
What are the Rules?
- Minimum of six participants, but the more people involved in the gift exchange the better!
- Each participant brings a wrapped, humorous gift. Typically someone sets a maximum price, usually no more than $10 or $20. Items you have around the house can also work—as long as they are funny, so feel free to re-gift that ugly Christmas sweater.
- The organizer puts numbers in a hat from one up to the number of players.
- Players choose a number—this determines the order that they select a gift.
- The participant who chooses number one opens the first gift and shows it to everyone.
- The second player now has a choice. (Here's where the fun begins!) She can either choose to unwrap a new gift or steal the first player's already opened gift. If the second player steals, then the first player can choose an unwrapped gift from the pile.
- In later rounds, the person who was stolen from has the option either to open an unwrapped gift or to steal a gift from someone else, who in turn will have the option to open an unwrapped gift or steal from someone else, and so on.
- Repeat steps 1-7 until all gifts have been opened.
House Rules and Variations
While the principles of the game are fairly simple, there are a number of additional rules and variations designed either to speed up the play or make the game more fun by introducing a new and unexpected element. Here are a few ideas to spice things up:
- Gifts can only be stolen three times. After a gift is stolen for the third time, it is now "safe" and can't be stolen again.
- Alternatively, you can place a limit on the number of times a person can be stolen from. When that limits is reached, the gift is "frozen" to that person, who can no longer be stolen from OR steal from anyone else.
- The person who chooses the first gift gets to steal the last gift after everyone else has gone. It's up to you if they can even steal "safe" gifts that have already been stolen three times. I think it's more fun if they can! We always play with this rule.
- You leave all the gifts unwrapped until the very end. Stealing is still allowed while the gifts remain unwrapped, but not once they're open.
- The host provides several extra packages that, instead of containing gifts, contain instructions, such as "pick two wrapped gifts," "trade this card for the last wrapped gift," or "the holder of this card cannot be stolen from." For every card giving players an additional gift, the host will provide an extra wrapped gift.
Ideas for the Office
Here are a few of my favorite white elephant gifts for the office. While white elephant gifts are usually funny, when you are purchasing a gift for a coworker, you have to keep in mind your audience. While a saucy book might be funny for a friend gift exchange, it might be very uncomfortable for your boss! Appropriate white elephant gifts for the office should be fun and safe. Here are a few ideas:
- Fake mustache kit or Donald Trump hair
- Fake chest hair (Austin Powers style)
- A personal photo in a frame (I once gave a childhood picture of myself - it was hideous - bowl cut and all!)
- Half-eaten box of chocolates.
- Jesus or unicorn bandaids. These are great, but make sure you're not offending anyone
- Bill and Hillary nutcracker and corkscrews - a bit obscene, but funny if you have a group that is open to sexual innuendo.
- Star Wars items
- Chia pet
- Any item from As Seen on TV.
- Alcohol - these are always a favorite and traded multiple times.
- Yodeling pickle - who doesn't want a pickle from the Alps?
Our Company Party- We were pretty tame this year!
Great for an office with open seating!
Ideas for Friends and Family
This is where it gets fun! Of course, you should know your audience, but in our group of friends, the naughtier the better! Here are a couple of ideas:
- Books that would make their parents blush. Any book that is off-color and makes you laugh out loud when you read it is a great gift.
- A personal recording. Record yourself singing and put it on a disk. This is so easy with today's technology and could bring a lot of laughs. Christmas carols would be great.
- An autographed photo of yourself. If you could put it on a t-shirt, even better.
- One year a friend gave "truck nuts," plastic testicles that hang from the back of your car - very funny.
- For parents, the book Go the F**k to Sleep. It's really funny and very inappropriate.
- Polly the Insulting Parrot. Definitely not for kids, but super funny.
- Emergency underpants in a tin can
- Bacon-scented air freshener. Who doesn't love bacon?
- Oinking kitchen timer
I kind of want this!
What's the best white elephant gift you ever received?
Robert Loescher from Michigan on January 09, 2015:
I saw a great White Elephant gift this year. It is called an "Eye Phone". It is a magnifying glass shaped like an iPhone. It even has four LED lights. Another favorite gift of mine is the giant remote control units with super big buttons.
jstankevicz from Cave Creek on December 13, 2010:
My wife belongs to a quilt group that has a white elephant exchange every year at this time. Their "understood" rule is that you should spend around $15 on a fun quilting item, but should try to use a discount coupon to get to $15. Makes the shopping a challenge, and increases the value of the gift.
Shane Belceto from WA USA on November 24, 2010:
I love these they are so Fun I think even though I know some who disagree with me smiles
Hello, hello, from London, UK on November 18, 2010:
Very interesting hub and idea.
GojiJuiceGoodness from Roanoke, Virginia on November 17, 2010:
Great hub. I love white elephant gift swaps, but you do want everyone to bring something real--at least that's the way I like it. My philosophy is--Keep it cheap, but useful.