Enjoy 'White Elephant' This Holiday Season

Useful, no? by rlz
Useful, no? by rlz

Strapped for cash for gifts this holiday season? Tired of the rampant commercialization of Christmas? Then why not try this low- or no-cost gift exchange this year?

Begin preparing for ‘White Elephant’ by digging through your basement, attic or the back of that clutter closet in the hall for a new or used household item or past gift that never found a proper place or use in your home. Don’t worry if it’s ugly, wacky, seemingly useless or an affront to all that’s logical and tasteful in this world — often those make the best White Elephant gifts.

Now wrap it up in gift wrap, or old newsprint, or discarded shopping bags, or just place it in the appropriately sized cardboard box. Do not label it; it is to be anonymous.

Contact all those you expect to gather for the holidays, and conscript them to the same process. Each participating member of the gift exchange should bring one anonymous White Elephant gift of modest or no value. (We usually pack up a couple extra gifts to make sure we can include those who might arrive unannounced, or who might have been too timid to initially agree to participate. The more the merrier!)

At the appropriate time, all of the anonymous White Elephant gifts are piled in the center of the gathering. Numbered slips of paper (equal in quantity to the gifts and the number of participants) are passed around, after being thoroughly tossed in a paper sack. Each participant pulls out a number.

Beginning with the holder of slip number 1, each participant selects an anonymous gift from the pile to open. For the time being, they are stuck with whatever silly or bizarre tchotchke or gewgaw they’ve discovered within.

Beginning with the holder of slip number 2, each successive participant has a choice of a) opening another of the anonymous gifts from the pile, or b) stealing a previously opened gift from another participant. If one should happen to have their gift stolen, then they, too, have the same choices: they can open another new gift, or steal one of the previously opened gifts from another participant. The sequence continues until all gifts have been opened, and all the fighting over the miscellaneous trinkets has ceased.

The great fun of this gift exchange is, in part, the satisfaction of seeing your maiden Aunt Isolde getting stuck with a coordinated set of edible body lotions, or macho, outdoorsy cousin Seth opening a set of dainty hairclips featuring Ariel the Mermaid. It is also, of course, entertaining to find out that half a dozen relatives keep sequentially stealing that grotesque handmade clown coffee mug from one another. You can’t beat ‘White Elephant’ as some of the best and cheapest holiday entertainment you’ll encounter this year. It’s also a fun reminder that the importance of the holiday is not the value of the gift, but the joyous interaction of giver and recipient. And, speaking of joyous interaction, take a peek at rickzworld.

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