How to Throw a Legit White Elephant Party

Hey Ya’ll,

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “a white elephant is an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others. Or something of little or no value.” To throw this type of party, I recommend including both the rules and gift budget in your invitations to eliminate any confusion or crazy fighting happening at your holiday party.

Here are the basic rules for a legit “White Elephant” gift exchange:

1. Each party guest brings an un-labeled, wrapped gift of the same monetary value.

2. Everyone draws one slip of paper from a hat (slips of paper are numbered to match guest count).

3. The person who draws #1 is the first to select a gift from the pile.

4. Once the first gift is opened, the person who draws #2 gets the choice of either “stealing” person #1’s gift or choosing their own wrapped present from the pile to open.

5. Next, person #3 gets the choice of “stealing” ANY unwrapped gift or choosing a new wrapped one to open.

6. Turns proceed until everyone has a gift. A turn is ended when a gift is opened.

Additional rules:
* If a gift is stolen from you, you can steal a gift from someone else, or open a new one!
* A gift cannot be stolen more than once in a turn.
* The third owner of a gift gets to keep it and it cannot be stolen again.
* At the end of the last turn, the first person (who had no choice at the beginning) can choose to put back his or her gift and steal ANY gift that is still available.
* Then the gift “exchange” is started again (see #3 and #4 above) and ended when someone either chooses or is forced to take the gift given up by person #1.

Bonus Tip: Encourage your guests to purchase really kooky and unique gifts. This makes the exchange a lot more fun!

What’s the wackiest gift you’ve ever received at the holidays? Let me know in the comment section below.

145 thoughts on “How to Throw a Legit White Elephant Party

  1. I just attended one of these! Unfortunately, I liked the gift that I brought more than anyone else’s. I brought “Creationary” (a Lego version of Pictionary) but left with a stuffed animal. Lame.

    For future reference – is it tacky to choose your own gift? 😉 haha

    I do rather enjoy these events, though. Such good fun.

    • I went to a White Elephant party the other night… I thought the same thing, is it rude to take back what you brought? The good thing is that everyone was pretty silent about what they brought, so I could have done it, but I didn’t. I ended up with a cake and cookie carrying case that could hold a small dog, but it was nice to know that my gift was stolen twice… that made me happy!

  2. I just blogged about a book I found at Barnes & Noble called “Extraordinary Chickens” — the PERFECT white elephant gift, if I do say so myself!


    Thanks for the concise tips here. Desperately needed for my own upcoming exchange!

  3. This is almost like Dirty Santa! Hmmm, on second thought, I think they’re the same, just with different names, but I’m not entirely sure.

    I haven’t received wacky gifts, just useless stuff like figurines. Why do people bother with that? They’re just dust collectors and look tacky as hell.

  4. My dad is notorious for giving the craziest gifts. They were the: “Something you always wanted, you just never knew to ask for” gifts, such as:
    A fake arm, gardening tools (I don’t garden), a WWF nightlight, a squishy eyeball keychain, and mousetraps.
    My favorite, however, was a pig shaped alarm clock that oinked as the alarm. For the next, oh, I’d say, 5 years, it became the standard “Oh I hope I get the alarm clock!” for White Elephant gift exchanges to come. It showed up EVERY year and every year, we would all fight over who got it. Man, those were good memories–thanks for stirring them back up again. I almost forgot about it 🙂

    • Like your father, my grandmother always wants everyone to open lots of gifts on Christmas day, so she does something called a closet present where she literally will go through the closest and wrap up a bunch of random stuff she has collected over the years. Most of the things get left behind and two years in a row I received the same watch that had a golfer on the face and the golf club kept the time. I wonder who got it the third year? She did it with the best of intentions so everyone had lots of gifts!

  5. We do this for every cookie exchange, but it got so brutal in my book club last year (since no one followed the dollar limit rule) that we disbanded it! Luckily there was very little blood shed!
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  6. Around here we call that a “Yankee Swap”! memorable worst gifts: a pickle fork, child sized fluffy pink puppy slippers, a superball, a gallon of milk….memorable great gifts: great original artwork, homemade jams and jellies, red sox christmas tree ornaments! What fun!

  7. But don’t you think it’ll be a little difficult to keep track of who has stolen what and how many times something’s been stolen? What if it’s a really big Christmas-party? Do you propose a game-master who will keep track on a giant black-board and yell at people if they don’t follow the rules?

    *realises she has very little faith in the civilized interaction of other human beings*

    • You could always make a card for each gift, and each time it’s stolen, put a mark on it. … I lost out on a baking stone once because someone claimed it had been stolen the maximum number of times (but I’d counted). I didn’t want to make a fuss, so just let it go.

    • You can split parties up. That’s what we do at work. Also makes it easy to make sure no one can pick their own gift. (The gifts brought by one circle go to the other circle.)

      So far we’ve maintained civility… :}

  8. We do a Yankee swap with our friends. Usually there are a few VERY wacky gifts. This year the worst/best wacky gift was “Penis Wine” made using the dried, ground-up penises of three different animals. It was imported from Chinatown. And yes, we did taste it. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever drank.

  9. My friends and I do one of these every year and every year the same Tupac dartboard (so you too can shoot Tupac (!!!)) shows up in the pile. It’s become a tradition that’s very funny. Luckily I’ve never ended up with it because it’s huge and I don’t ever want to be the person who has to store it for a year.

  10. My sister and brother-in-law just did this at their holiday party. We put a new twist on it this year, which I think made it more exciting; no gifts could be opened until the very end of picking and stealing, which made stealing a lot riskier!

  11. I did one of these with my youth group kids last week! The only thing we change is the limit on how many times a gift can be stolen over the course of the exchange (we keep the same rules per round). It’s fun to see which gifts are stolen over and over again, and it keeps everyone on their toes!

  12. My family back home does this every year, and there is a secret santa as well (names are drawn at Thanksgiving). We use playing cards to determine who goes first. We’ve never obeyed the “3 steal max” rule 🙂

  13. I’ve been to two white elephant exchanges in the past two weeks, including one at work yesterday that found itself featured on my blog. I ended up with the Worst Case Scenario board game. It’s not the wackiest gift I’ve received, but may be the best white elephant. My coworkers got some pretty fun ones–a previously stolen bowling pin, deteriorating ceramic pond turtle, and a bar of ivory soap. My all time favorite though was a box of tampons taped to a barbie that one of my male friends got in high school. Such a great time for laughing.

    • “My all time favorite though was a box of tampons taped to a barbie that one of my male friends got in high school.” Too, too funny!!

  14. This is exactly how I like white elephant gift exchanges to take place. Especially the gift cannot be stolen more than 3 times rule. 🙂 good stuff.

    • If you do a post-holiday party, make it a Re-gifted White Elephant party and have everyone wrap up something that they got for Christmas that they didn’t want. They may end of up with something they did want!

  15. I attend a party like this every year and we do the same rules you have listed – it’s SO much fun. This year I packed up $10 worth of malt liquor 40’s in a brown paper bag. The paper bag is how it was “wrapped.” Ironically it got stolen quite a few times!

    There is a “mascot” to the party which is a mannequin. Whoever ends up with it has to promise to bring it back the next year. If they do not attend the next year, they are responsible for making sure someone else does 🙂

  16. We’ve done this at a family party every year and most memorable gifts have been: Anti-Monkey-Butt Powder (with a gift card given to the eventual owner though that wasn’t known as it was traded) and a roll of toilet paper with dollar bills wrapped inside the roll. At another party I once got a CD of “Yodeling the Classics”. I love it when people get creative to make it interesting/fun. Thanks for taking the time to post the rules.

  17. White Elephant parties frustrate me… I always feel really bad for the person who gets a wonderful gift and immediately has it stolen from them. Am I too sensitive? Maybe. But still.
    Great post! (the comments are especially funny, as well. LOL :D)

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    • Very true, we had a limit of $25 bucks this year and the invite stated that the gifts should be something that you would want! I do however think the gag gifts are a blast, it is a true opportunity to see how people actually think!

  19. I just got two TAE BOE work out videos on VHS. This would have been a great gift 15 years ago, but today I can’t even watch it to laugh because who owns a vcr anymore. And to think I could have gone home with a copy of Ace of Base’s first cd.

  20. These comments are amazing… I went to a white elephant party, my gifts were stolen from me twice and I ended up with a cupcake and cookie carrying case…. perfect for the holidays. thank you everyone for the responses! It seems that every year you get invited to a White Elephant party and the rules change as much as they do when you play Celebrity or one of those other games that you pretty much make up because there isn’t a game board or directions. They are all very vague.

    Happy Holidays and thanks again for the responses…. great stuff and some really odd gifts as well.

  21. I just went to one of these tonight! It was great fun and I ended up with a box of junior mints and a stuffed doll. My gift landed with a lady who loved the snowman socks I picked out and brought! These are great and wacky all in one. People get creative, one lady brought a stake… not exactly what I would want.

  22. We had our White Elephant exchange at work yesterday and it got a little rowdy. Two of us brought the same $9.99 candles from CVS as our gifts which everyone fought over. Candles from CVS…. People wanted those more than the wine…

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed & Happy Holidays!

  23. It was getting lonely out there in “Freshly Pressed” land. Finally today, a “guy” selection posting, that is beautifully done and explained on a function, I have attended many times in years past, including one last week for my wife’s Rotary Club. Great fun in the spirit of Christmas, regardless of what one goes home with.

  24. I’m actually going to a White Elephant party tomorrow night…really appreciate these tips! I always enjoy these kinds of parties, mainly for the surprise of opening up the packages. I get the biggest kick out of the creativity some folks have when it comes to this kind of stuff.

    Thanks for sharing, & congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  25. Combine with an ugly sweater party and try using a deck of playing cards to make it more random. I like the idea of telling people the rules before they come to the party, we told them when they got there.

  26. I have a bowl of brains….my own…hard to believe I know but I just scooped them out myself….they look like pudding once in the bowl. I’m not tempted to taste them though like I thought I might….must have hit the “impulse?|” section….uh oh! ….taste too…..oh no….sorry…I gotta run to my urologist now….be careful what you give….and save the container if you can…maybe someone can wrap it next year….

  27. Nice post! We’ve done this every year for a while now. Next year we are changing it up and doing an “as seen on t.v.” exchange with a $20.00 limit-which isn’t really white elephant but should still be a silly swap!

  28. I love the White Elephant idea. It makes Christmas so much more fun! Takes the drama out of gift-giving, and gets us back to being a family again. (I just wrote on the topic of how much Americans suck at Christmas) Thanks for posting!

    • Agreed. Way too much emphasis on gifts these days and the amount that you spend. I’m all about family time and parties/gifts that don’t cost a lot! 🙂 Thanks for your comment, CassieCares!

  29. Best gift I ever got was a coo-coo clock. It was obviously, someone’s re-gifting of something they didn’t want, but it fits in with our decor. (Isn’t that scary?)

    The worst gift was a hot-chocolate basket, with bags of hand-wrapped coco powder and candy bars and marshmallows. Please, when gifting, don’t re-gift food from last year!

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  31. I went to one of these once, except we didn’t unwrap until the very end- so if you were stealing, you didn’t know if what you were stealing was any better than what you had.
    I wrapped my present to resemble a robot. The funny thing is, everyone was fighting over the robot, having no idea it was only a rubber ducky inside.
    Good times.

  32. I received a great white elephant gift exchange at our workplace:

    a 3 ft. tall Santa Claus who looks merry and chubby. Since I don’t have a Christmas tree after hurriedly moving a new place, he looks great by my fireplace. 🙂

  33. I once got this crappy coat hanger looking thing with alligator clips hanging from it all over in various places. “What the hell is this?” I said… “Its a picture mobile that hangs from the ceiling.”, said the girl who brought it. I was actually told that I was getting a pocket size water fountain in a box like the ones from the mid 2000s they sold at Barnes & Noble (I loved them) and I was specifically told that Id get it regardless cause EVERYONE knew what everyone was bringing. Unfortunately for me, I had it stolen (it was specifically bought for ME) and I ended up with the funky mobile thing. More misfortune for me, I didnt have pictures to hang from it, nor a hook on the ceiling, so I took the crap apart and gave the alligator clips to the stoner neighbor of mine. He found good use of it and was happy he got something for Christmas. I however, pretty much got ripped off.

    WORST “Yankee Christmas” EVER!!

  34. My fiancee just did a form of this and he also wanted to keep his own gift at the end. I think lots of times you may bring in something that you’d actually like to steal back for yourself. And, he ended up getting stolen from several times. It stresses me out too much people stealing things from me and all that.

  35. A few years ago, I attended a party where we played White Elephant (we called it “Nasty Christmas”) where the gift limit was $5.

    The present I left with was 500 pennies wrapped up in miles of masking tape.

  36. After everyone opens their gifts tomorrow, I think that we all need to post the GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY! I tend to get money or gifts that I have picked out… yesterday my mom and I went shopping for my gifts, I picked everything out that I wanted and she will wrap them up so that I have something to open.

    When I was in high school, cell phones were the size of bricks and just becoming the cool thing to have…I opened one of my gifts, and we had this on video. I pulled back the wrapping paper and saw the words CELLULAR PHO… I was ecstatic, only to continue unwrapping to see that PHO was actually PHONEY. It was a plastic car cell phone with a magnetic antenna that you could mount to the top of the car. I was totally bummed, but for the next few weeks I did pretend that I had a car cell phone and would drive around acting like I was on the phone!

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  40. I have been to a few white elephant parties and most of the time the gifts that were being stolen the most were anything out of the ordinary. Usually something you don’t see every day that is still somewhat useful. With a gift limit of only $10, I was amaze at all the weird and wacky things I could get while keeping my bank account happy. I found this online store while doing a Google search containing many things that are just perfect for a white elephant party. The link is below and hopefully this helps with your future white elephant gift parties!

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