Here’s a list of 14 White Elephant gift ideas for holiday parties at Christmas, plus the rules for the gift exchange. I describe how a White Elephant Gift Exchange works so you know what you’re getting yourself into — and I also share a list of really bad ideas for White Elephant gifts.
If you want a new twist to the traditional White Elephant Gift Exchange, check out the Wacky White Elephant Holiday Party Gift Exchange Game. It’s a set of cards that includes Christmas trivia (the Egg Noggin Cards), physical movement within the game (the Bah Humbugger Cards, which for example might require all players to pass their gifts to the left), performance cards (the Nutty Cracker Cards ask the player to must perform an action and please the crowd) and of course the Wacky White Elephant Card. Whoever draws this card at the end of the White Elephant Gift Exchange can trade their gift with any other gift they choose, including closed gifts.
A White Elephant Gift Exchange is the best way to jazz up a Christmas or holiday party! And, it’s a great way to get rid of your clutter. You’ll learn how to give gifts (and regift) in a creative, festive, fun way.
This is my favourite holiday party game because it’s full of surprises, steals, and super deals. The best gift I ever got at a White Elephant party was a funky brand new kitchen set with a chicken theme (oven mitts, tea towels, miscellaneous kitchen stuff). This was a perfect gift because I’d just moved back from Africa and had no household items. The gift giver was thrilled to get rid of it because she had tons of kitchen junk. Copacetic!
That’s the idea behind a White Elephant gift exchange: you get rid of something nice but unnecessary, such as a vanilla bubble bath basket or a calendar from 1947. The gift giver takes home something nice but probably not necessary, such as an unused box of frog band aids.
Rules of a White Elephant Gift Exchange
First, the rules. Then, a list of bad and good White Elephant gift ideas. Before you decide what to give for the White Elephant Gift Exchange, make sure you ask your hostess if you should bring silly, goofy gifts or nicer gifts.
1. Put your White Elephant gift in a box or bag and wrap it up. Try to conceal its identity (for example, put a bottle of wine in a mandarin orange box and wrap it with newspaper. For gift wrap ideas, read How to Wrap Awkward Gifts). Don’t put your name on the gift – it’s like Secret Santa that way.
2. Go to the party. If you’re part of a couple, both of you should bring gifts.
3. Draw your number out of a hat. Try to draw a big number, not a little one. It’s best to be the last “gift picker” at a White Elephant Gift Exchange. If you draw a number less than 10, bribe something with a higher number to trade with you.
4. Sit in a big circle, with the gifts piled in the middle. Y’all could be sitting in numerical order, according to the number you drew out of the hat. Or you can sit out of order – but make sure you keep or remember the number you drew!
5. Watch Number One pick a gift. The first person gets to choose and unwrap a gift from the pile. Laugh, especially if it’s something funny such as an 18-roll package of toilet paper and a “bathroom humour” book. Commiserate with her because she’s stuck with that gift – unless someone steals it from her.
6. Watch Number Two pick a gift. The second person can steal the first gift, or choose to unwrap a gift from the pile in the centre. If Number Two steals Number One’s gift, then Number One can choose another gift from the pile. Number One can’t steal the gift back, but can steal someone else’s gift.
7. Continue until everyone has a gift. If Number One got stuck with toilet paper and never got a chance to steal or unwrap anther gift, decide as a group she gets to go again. I vote yes.
A gift can only be stolen three times. If you’re the third “thief”, then that White Elephant Gift is yours for keeps.
The most important rule: no hiding gifts! I played with a guy who hid his $40 Starbucks gift certificate so it wouldn’t be stolen. Everyone forgot he had it until after the gift exchange was over, but we’re still mad at him.
For new gift ideas, read Gift Ideas for Your Sister – Nifty and Thrifty.
Good White Elephant Gift Ideas
If you have nothing at home that would work as a White Elephant Gift, check out the Big Mouth Toys Toilet Mug. It’s a funny gift idea that’s both practical and silly, which is one of the best ideas for White Elephant Gift Exchanges!
The goal is to choose wacky, funny, or entertaining gifts – the more bizarre the better! But if you have nothing wacky at home (like garden gnomes), then go with something you don’t need that people will like.
- Tacky art, ceramics, knick knacks
- Kitschy religious icons
- Wine, Scotch, Brandy (any type of liquor)
- Funky decorations (Christmas or other)
- Unopened Christmas, birthday, or wedding gifts from years gone by (eg, spa gift baskets, fondue sets, etc)
- Garden statues
- Gourmet food items
- DVDs , CDs, books, mixed tapes, or records
- Gift certificates (I have a $25 Earl’s gift certificate that I’ve been carrying around for months, and suspect I’ll never use)
- Coffee or coffee mugs (like the coffee mug pictured!)
- Provocative t-shirts
- Sexy fireman calendar
- Funky hats
- Creative recipe books
Two of the Best White Elephant Gift Ideas
A silly and practical (my favorite combination for White Elephant gifts!) is a Funny T-Shirt Stick Figures I Got Your Back. Get it in a hot pink or chartreuse color.
Here’s a fun gift idea from a forum post called Need White Elephant Gift Ideas:
“My brother (the joker in the family), took a close up 8 x 10 picture of his face and then he autographed it. It was framed and was a big hit. The next year, that picture came back on a t-shirt! Another good one was a big box of golf balls, but inside was grass, tees, chipped golf balls, plastic balls, etc. A GIANT beef summer sausage became a prop and brought a few laughs. For the White Elephant Gift Exchange this year, we are bringing a pogo stick as the gift.”
White Elephant Gift Ideas You DON’T Want to Give
- Canned or boxed food items (eg, a can of tomato soup or a box of Kraft Dinner)
- Half-used bottles of shampoo, hand lotion, or ketchup
- Used batteries
- Sawdust or lumber
- Old textbooks
- A calendar from 1992
- Your cast from 1982
One Last White Elephant Gift Tip
Pair a really bad gift (a rawhide bone that even your dog won’t eat) with a wacky or creative one (a painting of dogs playing cards). Kitchen items are always good gift ideas – who doesn’t have an unused thingamabob in the kitchen cupboard?
If you don’t have anything at home that’s suitable for a White Elephant Gift Exchange, buy a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, or a nut and cheese tray. Don’t spend more than $10 or $20, and don’t buy junk. Last year, my husband and I snagged a giant Toblerone Bar – it was one of the best gifts we ever took home from a White Elephant Holiday Party. The gift giver didn’t want his kids to eat that much chocolate, so we lucked out!
If you’re having a White Elephant for work, read 10 Secret Santa Gift Ideas for Coworkers.
White Elephant Tips
The best gift at the White Elephant Gift Exchange party at my place last Sunday night was a huge glass platter. It was gorgeous, and made locally. Another great gift was a beautiful Indian cookbook, with pictures and easy to follow directions. It was almost a coffee table book, it was so beautifully made.
The worst gift at the White Elephant party was a keychain with a glittery green high heel shoe on it. A guy ended up opening it, and was stuck with it because nobody stole it. Sad for him, funny for us :-)
So there you have it – that’s all I know about organizing and enjoying a White Elephant Gift Exchange. What about you? I welcome your thoughts and tips :-)