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How to Plan a White Elephant Gift Exchange

Updated on December 25, 2013

White Elephant

A possession that is useless or burdensome, one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.

The Original White Elephant Game

When the white elephant started it was meant to bring something laying around your house that you didn't want or need. That also extended to gifts you have received and rendered useless or ridiculous. They were generally gaily wrapped and brought to the party as a coveted gift. The idea was to pawn your unwanted gift on an unsuspecting innocent! Of course we all knew that it would probably be something silly but continued to look forward to it, There was a time set aside for the White Elephant exchange and it was often the highlight of the party. As the years passed, it became somewhat more sophisticated. It began to take on themes, as well as adding new rules to the game. In many families or groups, it has become quite a contest as to who can bring the most clever white elephant gift!

White Elephant Gift Exchange

Parties often incude the exchanging of gifts. For some people, bringing everyone a gift is not feasible. However, preparing one gift to exchange with an anonymous recipient, can be fun, simple and shouldn't break the bank. While many groups choose a "Secret Santa" or "Grab Bag", others find the White Elephant to be more than just a gift exchange. It is an entertaining fun part of your holiday event.

Choose a Theme

It would probably be easier for your guests if you give them a theme. It can also be more fun.There are several ways to pick a theme including the reason for the get together.If this is an office holiday party, you can choose holiday themed gifts or work related themes. Some people have changed it up to include "wanted" gifts, such as gift cards, coffee mugs or candles. It is important to specify whether this will be a "gag gift" or a real gift. It is also important to specify a price range. As fun as the game may be, a person who brought a $10 gift card to Starbucks may be dissappointed with his beautifully wrapped but empty Tiffany box!

The Original White Elephant!

 A royal White Elephant.
A royal White Elephant. | Source

A Fun, Illustrated set of Instructions for the White Elephant Gift Exchange

How the White Elephant Game got its Name

According to wikipedia, the term derives from the sacred White Elephants kept by Southeast Asian monarchs. To possess a white elephant was regarded as a sign that the monarch reigned with justice and power. It was a valuable but burdensome possession whose owner could not dispose of. They began to "gift" these white elephants to obnoxious courtiers to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance.

A White Elephant Gift Exchange

Let the games begin!
Let the games begin! | Source

Have you ever participated in a White Elephant Gift Exchamge?

See results

Ideas for making your White Elephant game successful.

Do give the attendees guidelines. Plan a theme. Decide on a dollar amount. Talk it up. Make it fun. If you are doing a crazy ornament theme, show some examples. If you are planning other silly ideas, wear the ugliest Chrisrmas sweater when you introduce it. Whatever you end up doing, the idea is to have a good time.

White Elephant Gift Ideas

  • Keychains.
  • New gift cards.
  • Gag gifts.
  • Games.
  • Poems or stories.
  • A framed picture of you.
  • Books.
  • Used gift cards

White Elephant Theme Ideas

  • Work related
  • The,Worst.Gift.Ever.
  • $10 Gift cards
  • Ornaments
  • Baked goods
  • Gag gifts
  • Vacation Theme
  • Holiday related

Enticing White Elephant Gifts.

Even the silliest of gifts are usually beautifully wrapped.
Even the silliest of gifts are usually beautifully wrapped. | Source

On the sillier side:

A silly book.

An empty box.

A chocolate bar encased in glass (to be used only in emergency)

Soap on a rope.

Funny coffee mugs or soup bowls.

A framed, autographed picture of yourself.

Memorabilia from a different decade.

Used gift cards.

If you have an office/family mascot, wrap him up!

Peruse novelty store for fun ideas.

Something funny that is specific to the participants. I.E. a collection of a rival company's pens, magnets, pads of paper, etc.

Specific Gift Ideas

On the more serious side:

Starbucks gift card in a mug.

A popcorn bowl with a movie ticket.

A pedicure set complete with lotions. manicure set, nail polish and flip flops.

An electric massager.

Travel size games.

A pamper yourself gift set with lotions and bath crystals.

Candles or candle warmers.


Slippers or gloves.

A book.


Make it Fun!

No matter what theme you choose or how much you spend, the idea is to have fun. It doesn't matter how many go rounds you have or who ends up with what, if they are still laughing about it the next day, it was a success! Have fun!


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    • btrbell profile imageAUTHOR

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Oh, drbj, I hope they like them. I sure would miss you!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      5 years ago from south Florida

      I am adopting the used gift cards idea for a silly gift. If you never hear from me again you will know that the recipient was very unhappy! :)

    • btrbell profile imageAUTHOR

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Hi, Melissa! Nice to see you! I think you are right. The re gifts are the best!

    • btrbell profile imageAUTHOR

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Flourishanyway, those are greagt ideas! Thank you for sharing!

    • btrbell profile imageAUTHOR

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      I definitely agree with you, Frank! Once I brought this ridiculous (I thought!) soup bowl. The girl who received it couldn't understand how it ended up as a white elephant. She loved it! Merry Christmas!

    • btrbell profile imageAUTHOR

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you so much, Faith! Merry Christmas!

    • btrbell profile imageAUTHOR

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      You are welcome, cygnetbrown! Thank you so much for stopping by!

    • btrbell profile imageAUTHOR

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Bill! I haven't done this in many years. I had forgotten how much fun it can be! Merry Christmas, Bill! I hope it was a great one, even if it was only a little snow!

    • btrbell profile imageAUTHOR

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Maria, thank you! I also like the baked goods one. Last year my book club did one. It was my first and I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for the holiday wishes. I wish for you a heappy, healthy new year! xo

    • btrbell profile imageAUTHOR

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Jackie! We did it for our office party and it was definitely the highlight of the night!

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 

      5 years ago from Minnesota

      I think the White Elephant parties where you get to re-gift the worst present you ever received are hysterical (unless the original gift giver is at the party-then it is just plain awkward!). Very fun hub!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      My husband and I go to a party every year that features a white elephant gift exchange. Some fun things we have given include a shoe box full of hotel shampoos/soaps/sewing kits; a One Direction magazine; a gag gift of "Shittens" which are wet wipes in the shape of a mitten; and finger cots which we relabeled as "elf condoms." (Awful, I know, but it had the room cracking up.)

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      5 years ago from Shelton

      this can be a great deal of fun.. ones garbage is another's treasure can that apply here too? LOL useful hub brtbell :)

    • btrbell profile imageAUTHOR

      Randi Benlulu 

      5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Carol! So nice to see you here!I would definitely love to get together. I have been pretty much of a recluse here with my daughter breaking her ankle.We are at our busiest season at work but that will end in another couple of weeks. Are you still coming out here?

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      It is a lot of fun indeed! I have participated in this before. I enjoyed reading about how it came about too.

      Up and more

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Cygnet Brown 

      5 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      We used to do this when I was growing up! It was so much fun! Thanks for bringing back those memories!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      We do this every year and it is fun for sure.

      Merry Christmas, Randi!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Wonderful ideas, Randi...I love the idea of everyone sharing their baked good specialty...that sounds like a cookie exchange we did for our Ladies Group.

      Hugs and happness to you during the holidays and as we enter 2014.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Looks like a great fun idea Randi! Very complete with interesting tips. Up & +

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      i was perusing through my email account and thought I would drop in to say hello. Great hub as always--you are such a great writer..How is everything? Your job etc? All is okay here.. Still would love to get together sometime.


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