Here’s a list of 14 White Elephant gift ideas for parties at Christmas, plus 8 bad ideas for gift exchanges. I also describe how a White Elephant Gift Exchange works, so you know the rules going in.
A White Elephant Gift Exchange is the best way to jazz up a Christmas party! 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. The gift giver takes home something nice but probably not necessary.
Rules of a White Elephant Gift Exchange
First, the rules. Then, a list of bad and good White Elephant gift ideas.
1. Put your 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 Creative Ways to Wrap Christmas Gifts – Not Store Bought Paper). 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.
White Elephant Gift Ideas
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
- Provocative t-shirts
- Fireman calendar
- Funky hats
- Creative recipe books
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 8X10 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. This year, we are bringing a pogo stick.”
Bad White Elephant Gift Ideas
- 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
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).
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.
On a related note, if you need Christmas gift ideas for people who are as unique and precious as white elephants, read 10 Christmas Gifts for Elderly Parents and Grandparents.
I welcome your thoughts on White Elephant Gift Ideas below!