White Elephant Gift Exchange
Supplies: Wrapped gifts, budget limit, paper and pen
Originally white elephants were given by kings / emperors as a way to financially ruin wealthy families. Since white elephants were considered sacred, the recipient had to properly care for the white elephant. The cost of owning an elephant far exceeded the benefits of the animal, thus allowing those in power to slowly weaken their enemies financially without going into battle.
While 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 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.
How to Run a White Elephant Gift Exchange Rules
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 area.
4. Create a designated place for guests to drop off gifts.
In an office environment some people want to drop off their gift without being seen, so see if there is an empty room, space under a tree or area where gifts can be quietly dropped off.
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.
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.