Tribune Tries It: White Elephant Gift Exchange

A White Elephant Gift Exchange is the perfect way to get and give a fun gift with your friends or family this holiday season.  The “game” is also called a “Yankee Swap,” according to Caroline Bologna of the Huffington Post. The term “Yankee Swap” even appears in an 1855 writing by Walt Whitman where he lists it as an example of “the essences of American things.”  The name “White Elephant” has several origin stories, but Jake Flanigan of Quartz writes:

“The expression ‘white elephant’ refers to a gift, typically cumbersome and large in size, that is difficult to dispose of and exorbitantly expensive to maintain. Like, say, something that eats 200 to 600 pounds of food in a single day. Legend holds that the king of Siam would bestow white elephants upon his wilier courtiers, in hopes that the high cost of handling would bankrupt them—inspiring the modern Christmas party-game of ‘White Elephant’…”

There are several variations of rules on how you can play the gift exchange:

Variation 1:  You draw numbers and the person with #1 chooses a gift first, the person who draws #2 goes second, and down the line.  The person who goes #2 can keep the gift they unwrapped, or exchange with the person who drew #1.  The person who goes #3 can keep the gift they unwrapped or exchange with the person who drew #1 or #2, etc.  

Variation 2:  The same as above, but in the end the person who drew #1 can exchange their gift with anyone at the end of the game.

There are also various themes that you and your friends/family can use.  We at the Tribune used the “Recycle, Reuse, Regift” theme, and we all had to bring in a gift that we already had laying around our house.


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Other Ideas:

Gift Card Roulette:  Everyone brings a gift card for the same dollar amount to a store/restaurant/etc. of their choosing.

Guess the Gift:  People pass around each gift before it is opened and try to guess what is inside.  

Theme Exchange:  The host decides on a theme for the gifts prior to the exchange, and everyone sticks to the theme and tries to be creative.  Some ideas are:  Edible gifts, holiday ornaments, socks, board games, or all gifts must start with the same letter of the alphabet.