The term “White Elephant” originally refers to an extravagant, but burdensome gift that cannot be easily disposed of. It’s believed to be based on a legend of the King of Siam (now Thailand), who often gifted rare albino elephants to important or significant guests, who had displeased him in some way during their visit. White Elephant gifts were intended to hinder the recipient, by overwhelming them with the animals’ enormous upkeep costs.

Today, the most common use of the term is celebrated during the holiday seasons, as a way of injecting humor into holiday gift exchanges. These gifts are often inexpensive and humorous, and are usually items that one would not normally consider as an idea for normal holiday gift giving. The rules around the concept do vary, but all follow a common set of base instructions:

1: Each person supplies an anonymously wrapped gift.
2: All gifts are placed in one area, gathered together.
3: One person selects a gift of their choosing, and unwraps it.
4: The next person can either select a new, unwrapped gift to open, or decide to “take” any gift that has been previously opened.
5: Anyone who has their gift taken, can either choose a new gift or “take” one from someone else.

giftsMost commonly, certain additional rules are set up to make the game more fun, including: limiting the number of times a gift can be “taken” or that a person can have their gift “taken from” them, and that after everyone has had a turn, the person who started the game has a final option to take any available gift.

What is the best type of White Elephant Gift?

There are always a number of different approaches to take when selecting a White Elephant Gift. The usual determining factors are any price limits, themes, or special instructions by the organizers. However, the best options is to select an item from one of the three following categories:


Gifts of an odd nature, like novelties and goofy gadgets are often extremely popular and sought after, adding excitement to the game as people will often try and “take” the items from others.


One of the most common and popular types of gifts to give, funny items like joke gifts and other novelty items usually give the most cheer due to their comical nature, and are often the most fun to watch who they end up with.


Sometimes, a great way to add to the competitive nature of the game is to supply a gift that many people would genuinely like to have, such as a gift card or something useful. There’s nothing wrong with this method at all!

No matter which type of gift you decide to give, as long as you do something interesting, it will fit into the mix just fine.

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