White Elephants for Christmas



To galvanise any Christmas gathering, many Americans turn to what is known as a white elephant gift exchange. Here are the basic rules: each person arrives at a party with one wrapped present. Preferably, all the gifts are of similar value. After selecting an order, one person opens up the first gift. Each subsequent person has the option to either unwrap a new gift or steal another person’s present. If your present is stolen, then you can steal another gift or choose to unwrap a new one. Generally speaking, more people equals more fun, and you play just for the entertainment value.


The term “white elephant” can be used to describe any possession that is expensive, difficult to dispose of, and more or less useless. It comes from a legend in which the King of Siam gave rare albino elephants to people who he disliked. The king’s plan was to bring about financial ruin to these individuals. Upkeep costs for the elephants would be substantial, but getting rid of one was a near impossibility. Hence, the name “white elephant gift game” is a nod to the ironic implication that most players will be stuck with a present they have no desire to keep.