What Is A White Elephant Gift Exchange?

what is white elephant exchange

Often used for office Christmas parties, a white elephant gift exchange is a fun way to have fun with your colleagues at work or at holiday family gatherings.

White elephant gifts are traditionally ‘presents’ that are considered extremely tasteless or do not fit the recipient’s taste. Strange idea, right?

The idea behind a white elephant gift exchange is to give everyone a chance to get rid of these tacky gifts, and get a new one! White elephant gift exchanges can be done in a number of different ways.

Some state in the rules that the item must have been yours previously, which means that you are giving back an unwanted item or trinket. Others buy a new gift, usually cheap and in bad taste, just for the party.

The objective is to choose absurd, funny or entertaining gifts. If you can’t think of what to give, just pay a visit to your local thrift store or check out this article which is full of great ideas for white elephant gifts.

white elephant gameIn some countries, the game is called “White Elephant Game” because in the old Southeast Asia white elephants could not perform work in the field, so if someone gave you this animal you had to accept it as an honor, when in fact it was very expensive to maintain and could not work.

Little by little, the meaning drifted towards a gift, sometimes extravagant, that does not take into account the tastes or needs of the recipient and is therefore a “white elephant gift”.

In the countries where this game originated, all players participate with white elephants, old presents that they do not like or want.

However, in our version we will use all kinds of objects that we no longer use without distinguishing whether they have been given to us or we have acquired them ourselves.

How To Play The White Elephant Game

white elephant game with dice

For our version of the game we need two dice and the more people the better. Each person brings his or her own gift wrapped in paper, or a gift box or bag – the important thing is that people won’t be able to identify it before unwrapping it.

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All the gifts are placed in the center of the meeting and the participants sit in a circle around them. From there, the players begin to roll the dice by performing the following actions according to the roll they get:

  1. Steal the gift from the person of your choice

  2. Give your gift to the person on the left

  3. Take a gift from the center

  4. Give your gift to the person on the right

  5. Give your gift to the person of your choice

  6. Take a gift from the center

If a participant does not yet have a gift and is given the number 2, 4 or 5, he will simply pass his turn to the next player. A person can accumulate all the gifts they get.

Once there are no gifts in the center, the rules change a bit.

All the rolls remain the same except for number 3 and 6:
3. Open Gift
6. Roll two dice and count the number that has come up on the left (for example, if 7 comes up, you have to count seven people on your left).

That person has to give the shooter a mission: recite a poem, tell a childhood story, explain what was the most fun moment of his life, etc. If this part of the game doesn’t appeal to your party attendees, you could simply allocate rolling a 6 to opening a gift instead.

This is one of the funniest parts, when you start discovering the gifts and people start fighting to get one or the other, or to get rid of the one they have!

In our experience, it’s the weirdest gifts that give the most play… Until you play white elephant you don’t know what your friends are capable of doing for a tacky or weird gift!.

what is a white elephant gift exchange

This second phase usually takes a little longer, so if you see that it is getting too heavy you can make the number 6 also a cue to open gifts like we suggested above.

When the last gift is opened the most exciting part begins! We start a 10-minute countdown and when it’s over, all participants will be left with the gift they have in their hands at that exact moment.

That’s when people can really go crazy and the frenzy begins because there are three minutes left to get a particular gift while the others are laughing themselves silly to see a fierce fight for a peculiar trophy.

There are different ways to play white elephant, we’ve just given you a rundown of the most traditional way here, but you can change any elements of the game to suit your party and the number of people attending.

The important thing to note is to make sure you’ve established the rules of your game before you get started so everybody is clear on what’s about to happen. Want to skip the part where poems are read and stories are told?

No problem – it’s probably the most common adjustment made to the game – just get on with the gift exchanging!

So, make your next Christmas party more fun and memorable with a white elephant gift exchange.

Set a price limit for the guests if you like, to keep all the gifts of similar monetary value, although you’ll probably find that some of the white elephant gifts are considered priceless by your crowd!

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