With the holidays fast approaching, it’s time to discuss one of my favorite traditions- choosing hilarious White Elephant Gifts.
If you are looking for a fun way to exchange lighthearted gifts with a group of friends without breaking the bank, a White Elephant Party is the way to go. Be warned, it can get loud and cause some intense bartering and debates over desired items. Expect boisterous laughter and some awful gifts.
I volunteer with a high school youth group, and the returning college students, youth leaders, and current high school students gather for an annual White Elephant Gift Party that provides shared jokes for years to come.
Those of us that have been attending these parties as adults fondly talk about the epic “Dancing With Cats” book. It featured adults in costumes dancing with their cats. Each owner gave a very serious description about their relationship with their cat. This book caused an uproar of laughter and was in high demand. In fact, one of our ministers was able to track down a second copy of the book and gave it as a wedding gift.
What Is It?
A White Elephant Party is a gift exchange. Everyone brings one gift, however, this is not your regular holiday gift.
These “presents” are either gag gifts, tacky items, retro or nostalgic items, or decorative atrocities that others won’t believe were serious products made in the first place. The objective is to not spend a lot of money, or none at all, on a gift for others. Instead, the focus is on the hilarity of the shared experience.
Your friends will open up a chosen gift one at a time or decide to steal a coveted item. It does get intense at times when favorite gifts are taken away.
Be sure to communicate the point of a White Elephant Party in your invite. A few people might not be aware that gifts are supposed to be funny and spend too much money on a quality gift. You can choose to put a price limit on what people spend, or give suggestions for digging through closets or visiting thrift shops to find a proper gift.
If you would like, you can have people dress up in their ugly Christmas sweaters to add to the ambiance of the event.
It is helpful to have the person in charge of the event have an extra wrapped gift or two in case someone shows up without a gift to exchange. It is a much better experience to have everyone involved in this group game.
Have numbers written out on tiny slips of paper ahead of time. Once your guests arrive, finalize the count of everyone participating, and put those folded up numbers in a container for everyone to draw from. That will be the order in which people get to choose their gifts.
Rules for Playing
At White Elephant Parties I have attended, the first person chooses a gift and opens it for everyone to see. The next person up has the option to open a new gift or steal another person’s gift that has already been opened.
Once a gift has been stolen, that friend gets to choose another gift. They can either chose a new one or an already opened one. Taking back the same gift is not allowed.
When a gift has been stolen three times, it is out of play. The third person to have stolen it is the official owner of it. There might be a few rivalries started up or crushed dreams when this happens.
While this is going on, the host will need to keep track of what number is on queue for the next gift opened. Personalities come out as people either are desperate to get rid of their gift or are trying to hang on to what they opened.
Where to Find the Best White Elephant Gifts
Dig Through Closets
You can begin by searching your closets for items from your childhood that will bring a wave of nostalgia. One student once made a CD of the most annoying songs from the past.
If you have ever received something hideous, you now have permission to re-gift it. Re-gifting is encouraged at such an event.
Not finding anything memorable enough at home? Hit up a thrift shop!
Thrift shops have huge sections of ugly decorations like ceramic cats or bunnies in awkward poses. I was on the receiving end of a “fancy” ceramic toilet candle complete with an Eiffel tower on it that was found by scouring a thrift shop.
At a resale shop one student found a crazy gem called the Kitty Picasso, which was a cat painting set. Another year I became the new owner of a Billy the Widemouth Christmas Bass. He sings Jingle Bells with a Santa hat attached to his head.
I also opened up the scariest angel for the top of a tree. It was battery powered, and sang “Silent Night” in the CREEPIEST voice while moving it’s wings and hands.
The high school students thought I should scare my husband with it in the middle of the night, but I wanted Dan to live.
It wasn’t until my husband went into the bathroom that night that I brought it out. I waited for the bathroom door to open, with it poised at eye level. As soon as the door opened, I started up the song. Dan jumped a bit, and let out a “What is THAT?”
For a small price you can purchase tacky mugs or decorations.
One year the selection of Jesus mugs were delightfully awkward in their phrasing as well as illustrations. That year I received a drawstring Jesus backpack featuring Jesus on a rainbow surrounded by children and baby animals.
Novelty Stores or Regular Stores
You will spend more money on gifts here, but they are guaranteed to have some popular treasures. A giant panda onesie was the source of a loud scene when it kept on getting taken from one proud owner to the next.
If you decide to get rid of junk, sweeten the deal by adding in chocolate or popcorn. That at least gives someone consolation for “winning” a lame gift.
When in doubt, start searching Amazon for cat gifts. Cat shirts, socks, books, coloring books, you name it.
Otherwise, Super Mom Picks has compiled a list of Funny Office Secret Santa Gifts that contain some gems.
Keeping the Longevity Going
I have a storage bin in my basement devoted to White Elephant Gifts. I save “treasures” from previous years in there as well as some cringe worthy gifts.
Every year when I pull that tub out, it’s a trip down memory lane. I love remembering the previous years most laughable and sought after gifts.