What exactly is White Elephant, anyway?
The White Elephant — also known as Dirty Santa or Yankee Swap — is pure, unadulterated chaos. Arguably the most competitive holiday tradition, it’s a game that calls for gifting your best friends quirky stuff and DIY gag gifts they probably don’t need (but will definitely find hilarious). The gist of White Elephant is pretty simple:
Each participant brings a single Christmas gift or stocking stuffer to the White Elephant party. The gift is anonymously placed in a pile. Each participant then draws a number or numbered card — don’t worry, this is not a card game.
The participant who drew the lowest number picks a gift from the pile and unwraps it.
The participant who drew the next lowest number is next, and can choose between either picking a new gift from the pile or “stealing” the already-unwrapped gift from the first participant.
The third participant can then choose a gift from the pile or steal one of the two unwrapped gifts in prior turns.
This continues until either everyone has a gift to take home or friendships have been forever ruined by questionable gift stealing. (Just kidding! But seriously, it can get heated.)
In short, White Elephant is a lot like a Secret Santa gift exchange — just a bit more villainous.
What are the rules of the White Elephant?
While everyone has their own home rules, here are some standard White Elephant rules to guide you as you play:
Continue the exchange until everyone has had a turn for a gift.
If someone “steals” a popular gift — maybe that therapeutic coloring book or the night light shaped like a wine bottle — the person stolen from can either steal someone else’s gift or choose a wrapped gift from the pile.
A gift can only be stolen once per turn.
A gift can’t be immediately stolen back from the person who just stole it.
Once a gift has been stolen three times, it is retired and can’t be stolen again.
The exchange ends when the last wrapped gift in the pile is chosen and opened.
At the end of the day, the White Elephant gift rules and limits are up to those who participate in the exchange—just make sure to define them all before the game begins!
What are some of the best White Elephant gift ideas?
Now that you understand the rules and are ready to play, it’s time to dig deep for some fun gift inspiration! Here are 13 perfect White Elephant gift ideas that are sure to be a hit at your next exchange.
Mini Desk Vacuum Cleaner
Researchers from Harvard University recently discovered that a cluttered desk can throw a monkey wrench in productivity, so help your friends clean up with a tiny, rechargeable desk vacuum. This small but mighty device (Buy from Amazon, $12.99) can clean dirty surfaces and dusty keyboards like nobody’s business, and can also get the gunk out of Bluetooth speakers, iPhones, and any other gadgets that need some TLC.
Hot Dog and Bun Toaster
Toasting two hot dogs and their buns at the same time? Sign me up! This funny White Elephant gift (Buy from Amazon, $23.99) makes it easier than ever to enjoy one of America’s favorite foods. Simply toss in your buns and weiners, and toast ’em in the little appliance. To make this White Elephant gift even funnier, consider adding a condiment or two for the lazy foodie in your life. (Think: ketchup and mustard).
Gift someone the thrill of caring for (and eventually killing off) a small pixelated pet. These little egg-shaped digital pets (Buy from Amazon, $15.99) will surely have everyone battling to take one home. Just be warned: if you forget to take care of this great White Elephant gift, your Tamagotchi will beep, and beep, and beep, until it gets your attention. In other words, steal this gift only if you’re up for a commitment!
Before You Go Toilet Spray
This practical gift (Buy from Amazon, $9.54) is both funny and purposeful — especially at the office when you’re stuck sharing the restroom with others. For extra giggles, wrap this gift with a roll of toilet paper.
Did you know that head massages promote hair growth? It’s true — gentle pressure on the scalp stimulates blood circulation within the hair follicles, which causes them to produce thicker strands of hair. This holiday season, give your buddy the gift of healthy hair with a head massager (Buy from Amazon, $10.39). These nifty little tools don’t just support a healthy man, but they feel good and are especially great for erasing all that work stress after a long day.
A perfect pet in a packet, Sea-Monkeys are fun, lovable little creatures that are too small to hug but big enough to enjoy. Plus, these low-maintenance itty-bitty pets are fantastic for anyone who can’t seem to keep plants alive. Bring this unique gift (Buy from Amazon, $14.99) to the exchange, and it’s sure to be a hit.
Mini waffle maker
A waffle maker (Buy from Amazon, $12.99) is probably one of those kitchen appliances you never purchased because you didn’t think you needed it — kind of like your popcorn popper or the juicer that’s been collecting dust in the corner of the kitchen counter . But then, someone gifts it to you in a White Elephant exchange, and you’re quickly left to wonder how you ever lived without it.
Tabletop Cornhole Party Game
Super easy to store and even easier to transport, a tabletop cornhole game (Buy from Amazon, $19.99) makes an especially good gift for colleagues. Whoever ends up with it can quickly create an intra-office cornhole tournament at their desk.
Avocado Tree-growing Kit
Want to bring a cool gift to the holiday party? Consider an avocado tree-growing kit (Buy from Amazon, $9.96) as your contribution to this year’s White Elephant game. Although it takes about five months for one to sprout, whoever gets this gift will have fun watching their favorite toast topping come to life. Plus, who doesn’t love avocados?
Succulents are pretty hard to kill, but for some special folks… it can happen. Instead of bringing live succulents to the exchange, opt for adorable succulent candles (Buy from Amazon, $10.99) to elevate the recipient’s home decor. Not only do they look real and make great gifts, they don’t require water to stay green.
Whether you call it White Elephant, Dirty Santa, or the Grinch Game, the holiday gift exchange of wheeling, dealing, and stealing is a whole lot of fun. This desktop boxing gift (Buy from Amazon, $9.95) will be among the exchange’s most coveted — and most stolen. Is a client driving you mad? Annoyed at your boss? Can’t stand Barb’s unsolicited office commentary? Save your job and finger-punch the mini boxing bag instead.
Zen Garden Litter Box
Zen gardens evoke feelings of tranquility, calmness, and peace — sort of like essential oils and a full wine glass. For a fun spin on these calming gardens, consider gifting one that’s litter box-inspired. This tiny desk accessory (Buy from Amazon, $8.99) is perfect for cat lovers and will certainly earn some major laughs whenever it’s put to use.
Last on the list, but certainly not least, is a mini sound machine (Buy from Barnes & Noble, $13.99). Perfect for the office clown, you can create applause, drum rolls, clinking wine bottles, laughter, boos, and much more with the touch of a button. It makes work meetings a lot less boring — just don’t boo the boss, or you may be looking for another job.
The bottom line
And there you have it: 13 unique and fun White Elephant gift ideas that are way more interesting than a coffee mug or gift card. From tabletop games and pocket pets to tiny appliances, gizmos, and gadgets, these gifts are sure to be a hit at your next exchange. Just be sure to go over the ground rules prior to playing so everyone is on the same page.
Whether you’re among friends and family or colleagues at work, the White Elephant gift exchange brings people together to share laughs, make memories, and have a good time. Don’t take it too seriously if someone swipes your gift. After all, you can always win them back next year!
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