Do you and your friends and family like to celebrate the holiday season with a quirky holiday game? If you haven’t already tried the traditional “White Elephant” gift exchange, it’s time to learn how to play!

This popular holiday game is a standard for office parties and large groups of people that are not able to purchase large quantities of gifts for every single person. It sets gift giving on its ear by turning it into a fun-filled guess-and-grab event, leaving each participant with one gift by the time it’s over.

But wait… why is it called “White Elephant”? According to Wikipedia: “The term white elephant refers to an extravagant but burdensome gift that cannot be easily disposed of, based on the legend of the King of Siam gifting rare albino elephants to courtiers who had displeased him, that they might be ruined by the animals’ upkeep costs.” Oh, and if you would rather not call it a “White Elephant” party, there are several other names to call this type of party, such as: Thieving Elves, Grinch Exchange, Yankee Swap, and so on.

Now back to the fun part….

White Elephant parties have been known to result in playful rivalries between players trying to get sought-after items. The goal of a Whtie Elephant party is usually to entertain each other, rather than to gain the best prize. Of course, part of the rivalry between players is getting something they would rather have.

How to Create Your Own White Elephant Party

  1. Each participant brings one wrapped gift to the party.
  2. The gifts are placed in a central location in the party room, and participants determine in what order they will take turns selecting them. The best way to choose the order is to draw numbers out of a hat.
  3. The person who draws #1 chooses and opens one gift from the gift pile. After opening the gift, their turn ends.
  4. Play continues with the person who drew #2, and so on.
  5. On subsequent turns, each person can either select a new, unwrapped gift from the gift pile to open, or (and here’s where the fun really begins), they can choose to “steal” another person’s unwrapped gift. For example, let’s say Player #3 has unwrapped a $10 gift card for Starbucks. It could be that Player #7 really wants that gift card. So, when it’s Player #7’s turn, instead of opening a new gift, Player #7 “steals” the gift card from Player #3.  At that point, Player #7’s turn ends.
  6. When a person’s gift is stolen, that person can either choose another wrapped gift to open or can steal from another player.
  7. The game ends when the last person goes and the first person goes again. This ensures everyone ends up with one gift.

What Kind of Gifts Should You Bring?

Gifts for the swap are typically inexpensive, humorous items or used items from home… with a few really good gifts thrown in to create a bit of jealous and inspire gift-stealing. Usually, the gifts cost $10 or less, but some offices may go as high as $20 or less.

Controlling the Game

Since the process of stealing can prolong the game, depending on how many people are participating, these rules can be implemented to speed up gameplay and maintain a fair game. For example, you can:

  • Limit the number of steals allowed per turn. For example, after the third gift on a turn is stolen, the fourth player is required to open a wrapped gift.
  • “Lock” a particularly sought-after gift after it has been stolen 3 times. For example, if the Starbucks gift card is stolen from Player #1 by Player #7, and then stolen from Player #7 by Player #8, and then stolen from Player #8 by Player #9… then Player #9 gets to keep it. It cannot be stolen any further.
  • Since the very first player of the game is the only one without the option of seeing any unwrapped gifts, this player can take one final turn after all gifts have been opened and swap with any “unfrozen” gift.

Only one thing left to do at this point: Send out the invitations and have fun playing!

Do you have any other rules for White Elephant or your own holiday games? Leave a post with the game below in the Comments section, or tell us your story.

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