Every year on the last workday before our holiday break, our office would have the traditional holiday twosome: a potluck lunch that included everything from my co-worker Kathleen’s tasty Jimmy Dean sausage balls to someone’s corn concoction that I would never touch followed by, of course, a white elephant gift exchange.
In our office, the white elephant gift exchange wasn’t an opportunity to which people looked forward to receiving nice, new fabulous gifts. No, it was more like a swap meet for unwanted items and “regifted” atrocities. There were a few good items thrown in the mix, too. And that’s what made our white elephant gift exchange so much fun. As Forrest Gump said, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”
For those who share my enthusiasm for a white elephant gift exchange that includes a mix of items that can only be described as the good, the bad and the ugly, I have some white elephant gift ideas to share. But first, let me tell you a little about how a white elephant gift exchange works and offer some tips.
White Elephant Gift Exchange Rules and Tips
Rule: Each person who wishes to participate in the white elephant gift exchange must bring a present that is already wrapped.
Tip: People are drawn to fancy packaging, so why not disguise that half-used bottle of perfume that smells like rubbing alcohol that you’re bestowing on some lucky white elephant gift exchange participant? Doll it up in a beautifully wrapped box with lots of ribbons and bows, and you’ve got yourself a sucker for sure.
Rule: Before the white elephant gift exchange begins, each participant draws a number out of a hat (or whatever receptacle is handy). This number indicates when each participant will take his turn at unwrapping a present.
Tip: It’s better to draw a higher number so that you can select your white elephant gift as far into the game as possible. This is because of the next white elephant gift exchange rule.
Rule: When it’s your turn to select a white elephant gift, you can choose a wrapped present off the table to reveal another white elephant mystery item to the group. Or, you can take someone’s item that you’ve been eyeing. Yes, this is a game about coveting your neighbor’s possessions and stealing them, too. Each item can be taken from another participant a maximum of two or three times, depending on the house rules. Once the final person takes possession of the white elephant gift, it cannot be stolen again.
Tip: Some versions allow the participant who drew number one to choose from all the still-available but unwrapped items. So if you’re playing that way, “one” isn’t such a bad number to draw.
Now that you know what you’re in for with a white elephant gift exchange, here are some ideas for what to bring to make the game interesting.
White Elephant Gift Ideas: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Good white elephant gift ideas are those that can be appreciated by either gender. Many times they are useful. But they never cost a lot. They should simply be items that, when compared to the other bad and ugly choices, people want to take from each other. Some good white elephant gift ideas include:
A “movie night” pack, which could include a coupon from Blockbuster for a DVD rental and a package of microwave popcorn plus some Jujubees
A coffee mug with a cool design and a box of tea or cocoa
Some kind of irreverent office supply such as a stamp that reads, “I haven’t got time to read this crap” (Don’t laugh; I have one of these.)
Bad white elephant gift ideas aren’t necessarily bad in the traditional sense. Many bad white elephant gifts are the best presents of all. Well, they’re the most fun for others to watch you unwrap, anyway. Some examples of bad white elephant gift ideas include:
A twisty-bead necklace from the 1980s, complete with a seashell clasp (Whoever opens this is stuck with it.)
Half-used anything, such as a bottle of hand lotion that someone took from her desk and hurriedly wrapped because she forgot to bring a white elephant gift from home
Anything that requires you to pull its finger or that is mentioned in Gift Ideas for People Who Love Funny Junk
Ugly white elephant gift ideas somewhat overlap with bad white elephant gift ideas, but there are some subtle differences. Some examples of ugly white elephant gift ideas include:
A white porcelain “praying hands” statue that you received as a wedding present or any other hideous knickknack you need to get out of your house
A piece of “art” featuring a scary clown created by your crazy old Aunt Bertha that she left you in her will (Unless you later go on the John Edward show, Aunt Bertha won’t be able to tell you she’s ticked off at you for giving it away.)
One of those fake-looking nature scenes with lots of deer in it that has been plastered onto a piece of plywood and turned into a clock (These are not an urban legend; they exist.)
So that’s it: the good, the bad and the ugly suggestions I have for your white elephant gift exchange. I hope that you will use these white elephant gift ideas with caution. There will probably be another white elephant gift exchange next year, and nothing makes a better white elephant gift than the worst white elephant gift from the year before. So if you give a hideous white elephant gift this year, watch out for the pretty packaging next time around.