Saturday, December 21

How to throw a white elephant gift exchange

Location: Trenanthia Cottage located in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada (90 min north of Toronto)

White Elephant is no ordinary gift exchange.  We love this game in our annual Christmas tradition because it's that wonderful and elusive combination of simple and hilarious.  All you need to do is to show up with a wrapped gift and hope you don't end up with the white elephant ...

What's a White Elephant Gift Exchange?

Good question.  The term “white elephant” is rooted in the folklore of some Asian countries where they were regarded as holy pets that symbolized power, wealth and fertility.  

Much like that puppy your five year old thought was such a great idea, at first glance owning a white elephant was seen as a great honor.  But as reality set in, the novelty wore off and owning a white elephant proved to be nothing more than a burden (and you thought yard cleaning after little fido there was a pain).

Ancient royalty who were displeased with their assistants were known to offer the white elephants as gifts, transferring the burden on to its new owner.  Doh.  I think I'll take a wristwatch any day.

And so from these auspicious beginnings, comes the modern-day white elephant gift exchange...

How Do You Play?

There are tons of different little rules, so don't be afraid to make up your own using the basics...
  1. Everyone brings a wrapped gift. Have a bit of fun with the criteria for the gift, like:
    • used but reusable gifts (no half-eaten chocolates allowed)
    • just re-gifts from last year
    • only red or green gifts
    • only gifts that start with the letter f 
  2. Lay all the gifts in the centre of the room 
  3. Draw numbers from a hat to determine who goes first (so if there are 12 participants, you'd make numbers 1-12) 
  4. The person with #1 will pick from the pile first and open the gift in front of everyone (show casing it with a pirouette, would be my personal suggestion ;)
  5. Now the person with #2 has an advantage - they can open a new gift OR if they like the gift that person #1 has, they can steal it (mwahahahahaaaaa)
  6. If your gift gets stolen, then you pick a new one from the centre pile and hold your breath that you don't end up with a dud
  7. And so we continue - pulling a new gift or stealing an existing one - except for the really-cool-gift-exception which is that a gift can only be stolen three times and then it has a proud new owner for life.  (Remember pets are for life, not just for Christmas!)
The object is to steal the gift you really want (or perhaps more aptly, avoid ending up with the white elephant) – but you can only do this if it’s your turn, or if your gift has been stolen from you

Oh, and don't forget: Once you touch it, it’s yours - you can't touch, rattle or otherwise get a feel for a gift before you take it.  You cheater, you.

Enjoy!  Get strategic and don't be shy to steal!

What's your favourite variation?

The radio controlled tarantula easily won the creepiest gift award
The radio controlled tarantula won last year
Prefer to a white elephant gift exchange and karaoke hybrid?  Maybe you're a fan of the creepiest gift award?  What's your favourite variation?