White Elephant Gift Exchange for a Fun and Frugal Christmas Party

Updated on September 11, 2019
Sherry Hewins profile image

My family has been doing a White Elephant Gift Exchange for many years. I'm happy to share tips on this fun holiday activity.

This photo was cropped and wording added by the author.
This photo was cropped and wording added by the author. | Source

Why Do a White Elephant Gift Exchange?

If you have a large extended family that you get together with at Christmastime, you might want to consider doing a White Elephant Gift Exchange. There are many benefits to doing this instead of giving a gift to each person:

  • The major advantage, in my book, is that it relieves the pressure and hassle for everybody of choosing so many gifts.
  • It also saves the expense of buying all those gifts.
  • It is much easier for everybody to enjoy getting together for Christmas without all of that shopping stress.
  • This is also a great way to add fun to an office party or any other group Christmas gathering as it is an activity as well as a gift exchange.

My family has been doing this for adult members of the family for the past several years. My siblings and I all have grown kids, many of whom are married with their own kids now. Sometimes, people would be reluctant to come to a Christmas get-together if they could not provide gifts for everyone. This game helps alleviate those concerns without doing away with the gift-giving aspect altogether.

How Does It Work?

There are variations on the game, but this is how we do it:

  1. Each person who wants to participate provides a wrapped gift. We set a limit of $30 per gift. Of course, you could put any limit on it that works for you.
  2. Everybody draws a number; each person takes their turn according to the number they drew, number one being first.
  3. When it is your turn, you can either choose a gift to unwrap, or steal a gift that someone has already unwrapped. If someone steals your gift, you get another turn. Each gift can be stolen a maximum of three times.
  4. After the last person has taken their turn, the first person has an opportunity to steal since they did not have anything available to steal when it was their turn.

The gift exchange lasts longer—and is more fun—than if everybody just draws a name, gets one gift, and opens it. It is interesting to see which gifts are the most sought-after. Sometimes it can be surprising which gifts are the most popular.

What Kind of Gift Should I Choose?

Traditionally, a White Elephant was a gag gift or a used item that people did not want anymore. We usually go for new items, or at least items purchased just for the occasion, like flea market items. They can be funny or serious.

At first, family members were apprehensive about buying a gift that would be suitable for anybody at the party, but that is not so much of a problem since people have the opportunity to steal. I usually tell everyone, "Just get something you would want." Chances are, if you would want it, someone else would too. I think this approach works well.

Gift Ideas and Tips

Just to help get you started with some ideas, here are a few of the gifts from our past Christmases:

  • Music CDs
  • Movie DVDs
  • Gift Baskets
  • Plush Blanket or Throw
  • Wine or Wine Glasses
  • Remote Control Car
  • Rustic Sign
  • Plant Stand
  • Fondue Set
  • Cool Picture Frame
  • Collectable Figurine
  • Fancy Shelf
  • Small Furniture
  • Carved Wooden Box
  • Streaming USB Stick (such as Roku, Fire TV Stick or Chromecast)
  • Gift Card for Amazon
  • Lottery Tickets

The lottery tickets were a last-minute purchase, and they were stolen three times; that's more than any other gift. Last year, I gave a set of Redneck Wineglasses, which was sort of a gag gift (they are made from mason jars). They were stolen twice.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Redneck WineglassesWooden Box Carved in the Shape of a FishMetal Shelf/Plant StandMusic CDsMetal Garage SignVintage GE ClockShabby Chic ShelfLottery TicketsCutting BoardGift Basket
Redneck Wineglasses
Redneck Wineglasses | Source
Wooden Box Carved in the Shape of a Fish
Wooden Box Carved in the Shape of a Fish | Source
Metal Shelf/Plant Stand
Metal Shelf/Plant Stand | Source
Music CDs
Music CDs | Source
Metal Garage Sign
Metal Garage Sign | Source
Vintage GE Clock
Vintage GE Clock | Source
Shabby Chic Shelf
Shabby Chic Shelf | Source
Lottery Tickets
Lottery Tickets | Source
Cutting Board
Cutting Board | Source
Gift Basket
Gift Basket | Source

Simplify the Holidays

Why not make life easier for yourself and the people you love by introducing this as a new family tradition?

I have found that my family looks forward to this event. I think they actually enjoy shopping when they can focus on that one gift instead of overspending and running themselves ragged.

White Elephant: Yea or Nay?

Have you ever participated in a White Elephant Gift Exchange?

See results

© 2013 Sherry Hewins


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    • profile image


      6 months ago

      I did my 1st white elephant gift exchange at my husband’s office Christmas party. We were new to the group that year (1993), but it was clear these folks had been doing this for many, many yrs. One gift was a can of sardines. It kept getting stolen by several of the administrative assistants. They also seemed to know something we didn’t know. At the end of the stealing, the woman who had the can of sardines opened the can & inside was a crisp $100 bill sealed in a ziplock bag! To this day I don’t know how the giver (one of the owners of the firm) got that $100 into a sealed sardine can!

    • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Hewins 

      6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Indian Chef - It's great for any occasion.

    • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Hewins 

      6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      poetryman6969, then you would have given a wonderful gift!

    • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Hewins 

      6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      KoraleeP, the stealing is the best part.

    • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Hewins 

      6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      You're right vocalcoach. It really gets the party going.

    • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Hewins 

      6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thanks for the sharing Denise. You should try it!

    • Indian Chef profile image

      Indian Chef 

      6 years ago from New Delhi India

      wow this sounds lots of fun. May be we can try that next Diwali. Voting it up and awesome

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      6 years ago

      I could not bear to part with lottery tickets. Suppose they won? Expect an actually stuffed white elephant instead.

    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 

      6 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      We did this one year and it was so much fun, especially the stealing part. But, in the end, everyone got the gift they wanted :D

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      This can be so much fun!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Awesome hub, Sherry. I enjoyed learning more about the White Elephant gift exchange. I have to admit that I've never done it before. Thanks for share. :) Nice job. UP/U/I/A and shared.

    • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Hewins 

      6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      teaches12345 - I highly recommend it. Have fun.

    • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Hewins 

      6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      DzyMsLizzy - That sounds like a fun tradition.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Hm, my family never did this, (I was an only child, so just the 3 of us), but it was rather a tradition for someone to get a ridiculous, useless gag gift. One year, my dad and I wrapped up a set of old curtains from the rag bag for my mother; another year, my mom gave my dad a set of toy tires from a model car. (It was the year he retired, so the gift was a pun.) Those were our "White Elephant" gifts, as the saying originally implied a useless, unidentifiable, tchotchke that no one would want.

      Voted up and funny.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      This sounds like lots of fun. I may try this out with my family. Your suggestions are very helpful.


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