30 Ideas for a White Elephant Gift Exchange

Great white elephant gifts come in all shapes and sizes.
Great white elephant gifts come in all shapes and sizes.

Finding just the right white elephant gift is a bit of an art. White elephant gifts are given usually at holiday parties as a party game and conversation starter. Great white elephant gifts must either be highly desirable or so bad that you just want to give them away. During a typical white elephant gift exchange, participants take turns unwrapping a gift or "stealing" a gift that someone else already unwrapped. Gifts may be stolen only twice, then that item is off limits. This prevents one or two items from being repeatedly stolen. The term "white elephant" is often attributed to any small, inexpensive gift, usually under $10, but some people consider gifts to qualify in the white elephant category only if the item is a re-gift. White elephant exchanges can be a lot of fun, but are not recommended for small children who are easily disappointed when a favored item is taken from them.

Here are 30 or so white elephant gift ideas that are sure to get a reaction during your next holiday party.

The Monchhichi doll is an 80's fad that will get a big reaction at your white elephant gift exchange.
The Monchhichi doll is an 80's fad that will get a big reaction at your white elephant gift exchange.
You don't want to be the person left holding this box!
You don't want to be the person left holding this box!
Blech! This is candy?
Blech! This is candy?
Some children's books make great white elephant gifts. Try this one or Beware of the Frog by William Bee.
Some children's books make great white elephant gifts. Try this one or Beware of the Frog by William Bee.
  1. Really weird Christmas ornaments. An over-sized blown-glass mosquito, a shark wearing a hula skirt and a coconut bra, a skiing pig or an ice-skating hippo all will work fine. All of these ornaments are selling at Target stores.
  2. Dancing animatronic Christmas dolls. The weirder, the better. One year we received a be-bopping fuzzball with ogling eyes and a beak that dances and sings to the tune of Deck the Halls in a jazz voice.
  3. A selection of Christmas Carols on 8 track or cassette tape.
  4. Self-help or promotional video tapes or audio cassettes from the 1970s.
  5. Obscure kitchen gadgets such as a garlic roaster.
  6. Specialty pet items such as a holiday pet sweater for a small dog.
  7. A box of chocolates that has been opened with obvious bite marks in the chocolates. I have seen this done more than once at a white elephant gift exchange, so I'm not sure how original the idea will seem to others, but if the idea is fresh, the look of shock on the gift recipient's face will be well worth it.
  8. A simmering bean pot. These stoneware kitchen items were must-haves during the 1970s.
  9. An aebleskiver pan. These unique Danish cooking pans are shaped like a frying pan but have several small round holes about the size of a donut hole inside for making ebelskivers. Attach a recipe for Ebelskivers or don't. This will be a much stolen gift.
  10. A "collectible" Avon cologne bottle.
  11. A scorpion in a glass paperweight.
  12. A blue light flashlight that is sold to help people identify scorpions which are nocturnal and fluorescent in the blue light.
  13. A Monchhichi doll. These dolls according to my daughter look like a cross between a badger and a monkey, but I think they look like a cute version of the ape men on Planet of the Apes. These "cute and cuddly" dolls were popular during the 1980s and are trying to make a comeback. These dolls are both too cute to be ugly and too ugly to be cute, and in the words of a friend "that is soooo creepy!"
  14. Smurf dolls are the original blue men. If you are lucky enough to have one of the original blue dolls from the 1980s hanging around your house, now is a prefect time to find Papa Smurf and all of the other hard-working smurfs a new home.
  15. A nativity set missing one key piece.
  16. A bag of miss-matched socks from the laundry room and a box of sweet smelling dryer sheets.
  17. A roll of unopened film from an old film-operated camera.
  18. In a sunny southwestern climate, consider giving cold-climate items, such a s a hat, gloves, scarf, and carrot and label it "instant snowman kit."
  19. Peel and stick magnetic photo albums. I don't know if these atrocious items are still for sale, but I have never met anyone who actually stored photos in these things.
  20. A Junior League cookbook with your favorite recipes highlighted.
  21. A collection of assorted movies from the 1980s including Ferris Buehler's Day off (on video cassette, of course), Say Anything, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Better Off Dead,or Desperately Seeking Susan starring Madonna.
  22. A T-shirt that says "I'm with Stupid." Better yet if the T-shirt is homemade using a permanent marker. You could also write "I came to so and so's Christmas party and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."
  23. Giant oversized office supplies such as a gigantic calculator or an oversized pencil are good selections for office gift exchanges. They are quite silly but still have a useful purpose.
  24. Clothing that is gaudy and tasteless will make a good white elephant gift. Think Elton John meets Elvis. A polyester zoot suit or pair of used bowling shoes fit this category. A slinky sized-two dress covered in gold sequins with a matching purse. A purple wig and Groucho Marx glasses, a pair of orange polyester pants with a lime green bowling shirt. Or going in a different direction, try a REALLY UGLY Christmas sweater.
  25. Signed "autographed" pictures of your favorite celebrities. Print a photo of your favorite ex-president or childhood celebrity, so think Gary Coleman from "Different Strokes" or Punky Brewster. George Bush was served up at a recent Christmas gift exchange and he was the hit of the party with an elected Democrat who happened to be there at the party with us. It is helpful if the autograph says something really out of character for the person in the photo.
  26. Out-of-style household décor items. When I was married 18 years ago my husband and I received a lamp that was made from a plastic trash can that had been turned up side down, drilled with hundreds of small holes, and then stuck full of Light-Bright pegs. This odd lamp hung from a chain and was easily the ugliest personal décor item I have ever laid eyes on, but it made a fantastic white elephant gift at a party I attended years later. Other items to consider are macrame plant hangers or 1980s-era geese. For years my parents had a pair of oversized wooden kitchen utensils that I would love to use as a white elephant gift.
  27. Strange-looking children's toys. Think Trollz or stuffed Star Wars Ewoks. Or what about those new Barbie dolls with the extra small heads and long bodies. These are rather bizarre looking in my opinion.
  28. Horehound candy. That stuff is foul tasting, and not too hard to find. Unsweetened black licorice that you could find at a health food store is another good choice. That stuff tastes like tire rubber.
  29. Speaking of health food stores, my last suggestion is any kind of over the counter medicine or treatments designed to treat embarrassing health conditions. Hemorrhoidal suppositories, do-it-yourself enema, bowel-cleansing kits, pin worm treatment medicine, head lice treamtment, or flea and tick shampoo. (Get the last one at the pet store).
  30. Now that we are on the subject of disgusting humor, I have to mention Walter the Farting Dog. This children's book by William Kotzwinkle is a gas.

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Comments 20 comments

Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 5 years ago from South Carolina

Great hub. Love white elephant parties. The last place I worked had them every Christmas and it was always a blast cause we had some very creative and artistic employees.

The most clever gift was a box of Trix Cereal that no-one wanted. It wasn't till the final person got stuck with it that the significance of the word Trix (i.e. trick) was discovered. The "real" gift was sealed inside the box and tucked in between the trix- a $25 gift certificate for a local restaurant which took that gift from most reviled to most highly prized!


carrie450 profile image

carrie450 5 years ago from Winnipeg, Canada

A great hub with great ideas :) Our family is doing a white elephant gift exchange just for the fun of it and these tips are very helpful, thanks.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 5 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thank you, Happyboomernurse, that is an excellent idea. I may just have to give that one a try!

Carrie, thanks for commenting and have fun!


Lily Rose profile image

Lily Rose 5 years ago from East Coast

My parents do a white elephant gift exchange every year with their friends. This year my mom ended up with a box of plastic hangers - pretty cheesy of the giver!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 5 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Lily Rose, that definitely qualifies in the stuff nobody wants category!


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

Enjoyed. Thanks for sharing.


danamisi 5 years ago

Perfect timing. Need a White Elephant for a Christmas Party we were invited to tonight. Great ideas thanks.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 5 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks dallas and danamisi, have fun at your Christmas Party!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

I have never heard of it but it sounds a lot of fun.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 5 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

I wonder if this is one of those crazy American traditions, or is the white elephant exchange done in other parts of the world, too? Anyone?


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 5 years ago

I love White Elephants.............. greats ideas ~ thank you, and MERRY CHRISTMAS~ Kaie


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 5 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thank you Kaie, I was inspired by a recent gift exchange. We had a blast and my Mohnchhichi doll was the score I adore. Merry Christmas to you too!


cheapsk8chick profile image

cheapsk8chick 5 years ago

I love those White Elephant parties and haven't been to one in ages! We always called them "sneaky Santa" parties. Thanks for getting the Mohnchhichhi song stuck in my head!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 5 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

I hadn't either until recently! The Monchhichi doll inspired this hub. I like the "sneaky Santa" name better. There's always someone who doesn't play fair and brings a really nice present, though!


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 5 years ago from Great Britain

I´ve never heard of these parties over here in Britain. I found the entire hub hilarious. Thank you.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 5 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks Dim, maybe it is a unique American phenomenon?


sweetguide profile image

sweetguide 4 years ago from River side

Very informative piece and well written too. Excellent. Bless you


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 4 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks sweetguide. I hope the list proved useful ;).


Joy M profile image

Joy M 4 years ago from Sumner, Washington

I loved you idea about the t-shirt "I came to so and so's Christmas party and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." I am definitely using that next Christmas.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 4 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks Joy. I've been on the hunt for something especially atrocious at yard sales and consignment shops. I haven't found the right thing yet but I came close with the pig salt and pepper shakers for pork-lovin' Iowa.

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