White Elephant Gift Exchange

Rules and Ideas for your Christmas White Elephant Gift Exchange

One of the most popular gift exchanges is the White Elephant Exchange. Originally white elephants were given by kings / emperors as a way to financially ruin wealthy families, because cost of caring for an elephant would financially weaken them. Today the term white elephant when used in a gift exchange is defined as something that is unused and unwanted by the owner and if brought to the holiday present exchange to hopefully end up with someone who wants it. While many white elephant gift exchanges still use the re-gifting model, people now host themed white elephant parties that focus on funny, gag, or adult beverage gifts.

White Elephant Gift Exchange - Rules, Ideas, TipsWhile the original White Elephant concept was to give a gift that burdens the recipient rather than the giver, today’s White Elephant gift exchange tends to refer to giving a gift or re-gifting one that has little or no use to you but might be useful or at least funny to others.

Today White Elephant Gifts Tend to be:
1. Gag Gifts
2. Recycled Gifts (Gifts the giver has received but never used)
3. And Regular Gifts like Gift Cards, Wine, Gadgets

If you have run a White Elephant Gift Exchange for several years, mix your gift exchange up by adding a theme like Toys, Beverages, Hot Stuff, Cold Stuff, Christmas Movies or Cartoons, Red and White, Edible, Crafty, Re-Gift, Gifts that reference a Christmas Carol or Christmas story. We found that the White Elephant themes changed things up and made the gifts more creative. If you are new to hosting a holiday party please be sure to check out the White Elephant Rules and tips on how to run your present exchange below.

How to Play & Rules for a White Elephant Gift Exchange

1. Send out an invitation or email letting people know that there will be a White Elephant Gift Exchange.

2. In this Invitation include the follow:
How much can be spent on the gift. $10, $20 or more.
If having a theme, let them know what your White Elephant Gift Exchange theme is.
Make sure they know that gifts should be wrapped but with no gift tags (To / From) on the gift.

3. On the day of your event, have White Elephant Gift Exchange participants bring in their wrapped gift and have them drop the gift off in a designated present area.

4. Create a designated place for guests to drop off gifts.
In an office environment people often want to drop off their gift without being seen, so see if there is an empty room, space under a tree or area where the gift exchange presents can be dropped off unnoticed.

5. When it is time to hold you White Elephant Gift Exchange bring out all the gifts and confirm that everyone in the gift exchange has brought a gift.

6. Determining the Gift Picking Order
a. Count how many people are in the gift exchange and place that many numbers in a bowl.
So if you have 10 people you’ll use numbers 1 through 10 and more for larger groups.
b. Now going around the room and have everyone draw a number from the bowl.
c. The person with #1 goes first and the person selecting the highest number goes last.

7. White Elephant Gift Selection, Stealing and Keeping a Gift / Safe Gifts
a. The person with #1 goes first and selects a gift from the gift pile and unwraps the gift.
b. Then it’s #2’s turn, where they have the option to: Select a Gift from gift pile or steal the gift that person #1 selected.
– If person #2 steals the gift from person #1 then person #1 must select a new gift from the gift pile and unwrap it.
– If person #2 selects a gift from the gift pile and unwraps the gift.
c. Then person #3 goes and the process continues of stealing or selecting gifts.
– If person #3 steals person #2’s gift then person #2 (the giftless person) has the choice to steal any gift other then the one stolen from them or safe gifts or choose from the gift pile.
– Note: This can get pretty intense once you get into the gift exchange.

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White Elephant Rules – Stealing Gifts
Gift stealing can be a touchy subject during gift exchanges so we recommend you clarify the rules before any gifts are selected.
a. When it is a player’s turn they can steal any gift (except safe gifts) from any player or select from the gift pile.

b. However the person that has their gift stolen can only steal gifts from players and gifts from the gift pile. They can not steal the gift from the person who just stole their gift and they cannot steal safe gifts.

Keeping a Gift / Safe Gifts
In most cases, White Elephant Gift Exchanges include steal and safe gift rules. A Safe Gift means that the person holding that gift gets to Keep that Gift and it can no longer being stolen. Prized Gifts are stolen often and early in a white Elephant game.

In most White Elephant parties we have attended a gift can be stolen 3 times and then it if safe.
i. Sally picks a gift from the gift pile.
ii. Joe takes the gift from Sally – 1 Steal
iii. Tonya then takes the gift from Joe – 2 Steals
iv. And then Adam takes the gift from Tonya – 3rd Steal
Adam’s gift is now SAFE (and that is the gift he ends up with)

3 Steals seems to work well, but you can opt for more if you wish.

With groups under 15 people it is pretty easy to track how often a gift has been stolen, for large groups you might want to place 1 and 2, 3 numbers on gifts as they get stolen, this way participants know quickly how often an item has been taken or if it is safe.

8. End of the White Elephant Gift Exchange
a. When it is the last person’s turn to select a gift, they can either steal a gift or select the last gift remaining.

If they steal a gift, then the gift stealing continues until someone finally chooses the last gift. At this point the Gift Exchange is over and everyone keeps their gift.

b. End of game Twist
The first person to select a gift is often in a bad position as they never had a chance to steal any gifts. This option changes that.

Before the game announce that there is a twist, once all the gifts have be selected you will announce the twist in the Gift Exchange. For fun type up the Twist and place in a sealed envelope for dramatic effect and once the last gift has been selected pull the envelope out and read.

If the 1st person does not have a Safe Gift at this time, then they may Trade for any available gift!

The twist is good for one White Elephant Gift Exchange but not every year.

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White Elephant Gift Exchanges continue to be one of the most popular holiday events and it is easy to see why.

Friends, Family, Co-Workers
Strange and Bizarre Gifts
Crazy White Elephant Rules
Gift Stealing
The Element of Surprise
And the fear that the gift you really, really, want will be stolen!

In the end White Elephant parties lead to a great holiday event and often many laughs.

If you are thinking you want to try something instead of a White Elephant this year, then check out our other Christmas Gift Exchanges.

And if you are looking for additional activities at your holiday event check out our printable Christmas party games. We offer trivia games, bingo, left right stories, holiday scavenger hunts and more.

Christmas is a magical time of year and gift exchanges and holiday gathers help bring us all together. We thank you for visiting our site, wish you a safe and happy holiday season and hope our White Elephant Gift Exchange Rules and Ideas has made your holiday celebration a huge success.