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White Elephant Gift Exchange for a Fun and Frugal Christmas Party

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.

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:

  • Gift Baskets
  • Echo Dot or other smart speaker
  • Tablet Stand
  • Plush Blanket or Throw
  • Wine or Wine Glasses
  • Remote Control Car or Other Cool Toy
  • Rustic Sign
  • Plant Stand
  • Fondue Set
  • Framed Artwork
  • 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.

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.

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Read More From Holidappy

White Elephant: Yea or Nay?

© 2013 Sherry Hewins


Shirley on December 16, 2019:

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 (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on December 01, 2013:

Indian Chef - It's great for any occasion.

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on December 01, 2013:

poetryman6969, then you would have given a wonderful gift!

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on December 01, 2013:

KoraleeP, the stealing is the best part.

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on December 01, 2013:

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

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on December 01, 2013:

Thanks for the sharing Denise. You should try it!

Indian Chef from New Delhi India on December 01, 2013:

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

poetryman6969 on December 01, 2013:

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

Koralee Phillips from Vancouver British Columbia Canada on December 01, 2013:

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

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on November 30, 2013:

This can be so much fun!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on November 30, 2013:

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 (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on November 30, 2013:

teaches12345 - I highly recommend it. Have fun.

Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on November 30, 2013:

DzyMsLizzy - That sounds like a fun tradition.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 30, 2013:

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.

Dianna Mendez on November 30, 2013:

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

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