Have you heard of the “White Elephant”?

This time of year we all usually have lots of holiday parties to attend for our places of employment, friends and family.  More than likely you have come to know the “White Elephant” gift exchange.  It is also referred to as the “Yankee Swap” or “Dirty Santa”.  There are tons of versions of this game / gift swap, but here are the simple rules:

  1. Each player brings one wrapped gift to contribute to a common pool – 
    The organizer should provide information on what type of gift people should bring. There can be a theme for the gifts, a monetary limit for the amount or no rules at all.  
  2. Players draw numbers to determine what order they will go in.  
    This can be done by drawing numbers from a hat, order of arrival to the event, or the order can be set by the organizer prior to the event.
  3. Players sit in a circle or line where they can see the gift pile.  
    Everyone should sit in the order in which they will take their turns.
  4. The first player selects a gift from the pool and opens it.  No hiding your gift!  Everyone needs the opportunity to see it.  
  5. The following players can choose to either pick an unwrapped gift from the pool or steal a previous player’s gift. Anyone who gets their gift stolen in this way can do the same – choose a new gift or steal from someone else.  A present can only be stolen once per turn, which means players who have a gift stolen from them have to wait to get it back. This rule doesn’t apply at the end of the game. 
  6. After all players have had a turn, the first player gets a chance to swap the gift he or she is holding for any other opened gift. Anyone whose gift is stolen may steal from someone else (as long as that person hasn’t been stolen from yet). When someone declines to steal a gift, the game comes to an end. NOTE: For this last “extra” turn, the swap rule from step 5 doesn’t apply. Players can keep swapping until someone decides to stand pat, or there are no other eligible people to steal from.

Sound like fun?  It is!  But let’s take a look at what makes a good White Elephant gift? It can meet one or all of the following criteria:  Funny, Weird, or nice.  

For the organizer, here are some tips: 

  1. Communicate – Make sure all guests attending are aware of the gift giving game and make sure they know to wrap their gift prior to arrival
  2. Set limits – Help your guests out by providing a monetary limit such as $5 or $10.  This keeps the game light and fun for all.  
  3. Allow for enough time for the game.  – It’s no fun to be rushed at the end, that’s when the game gets good!

So where did this game originate?  Well, I checked out Wikepedia and here is the answer: The term white elephant refers to an extravagant, but impractical, gift that cannot be easily disposed. The phrase is said to come from the historic practice of the King of Siam (now Thailand) giving rare albino elephants to courtiers who had displeased him, so that they might be ruined by the animals’ upkeep costs. While the first use of this term remains a matter of contention among historians,[4] one theory suggests that Ezra Cornell brought the term into the popular lexicon through his frequent social gatherings as early as 1828.[5]  

Explanation provided by http://www.secretsanta.com is as follows:
The game derives its name from the term white elephant as defined by something of dubious or limited value or an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others. Thus, in its basic form the game calls for people to bring “gag” gifts or gifts they received that they have no use for.

I hope you all enjoy your holiday celebrations with co-workers, family and friends!  Happy gift giving!

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