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White Elephant Gift Swaps

Updated on December 5, 2008

Christmas gift giving


A White Elephant swap is traditionally an American or "Yankee" game. Here is the basic game, however, I've played several variations which I'll explain later.

Each person brings a rather useless or odd item, wrapped with the white side of the gift wrap facing outward. Perhaps this is where the name came from. The players sit in a circle and the unmarked gifts are placed in the center. The first player is chosen by the host to start the game. The player chooses a gift from the pile and opens it. The next player can either steal' that gift or choose an unopened gift from the pile. This continues until all the white elephants' are opened and we usually go around another two times which gives folks more chances to steal or swap their gift for one they like better.

I belonged to a garden group and we did this with perennials at our yearly party. Each gardener brought a start of one of their perennials. Some brought beautiful Hostas, Daisies, Lily bulbs and sometimes odd things like Horseradish roots or Mints which can be very invasive and therefore folks tried not to end up with them. The plants or tubers, etc. were placed in a paper grocery bad instead of gift wrap, but the idea was basically the same.

I've heard of people of varying interests playing their own version. A wine group will bring a bottle of wine in a wine bag or grocery sack. Quilters play for quilting fabric squares. Cooking groups play for kitchen gadgets or even recipes!

I attended a Christmas party where everyone brought a tree ornament for the game, that was great fun! We had a re-gifting White Elephant game in the office where I worked. The rule was not to bring anything that someone in the office may have given you, so no feelings would be hurt. Most of the gifts were very nice, they were just items that the gifted didn't or couldn't use (like perfume when they were allergic, or a color that looks bad on them, etc.) Sweaters, nightgowns, perfume, hand-thrown clay pots, ornaments, and many really great gifts were in that one!

So, be creative and choose the items to fit your group, interests and budget. It's great fun!


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