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How to Be A Winner in a White Elephant Gift Exchange

It’s Christmas time which means that White Elephant gift exchanges are in full swing around the nation. (If you are unfamiliar with White Elephant gift exchanges, go here).

I participate in at least four White Elephant gift exchanges every Christmas.  I think church groups like to host white elephant parties because it’s a socially acceptable time to laugh and make fun of people. We don’t get to do this for the other 364 days of the year.  But at White Elephant parties, it’s perfectly okay to point and laugh when someone opens a horrible gift.

I don’t want to jinx myself, but I tend to always walk away with a good gift.  This isn’t by accident.  I have a strategy.

1. Hope you get a high number.  The worst thing that can happen to you in a White Elephant gift exchange is having to open one of the first 5 gifts.  Odds are, there isn’t going to be anything good. If this happens to you, I don’t have much advice to offer. The best I can do is say go small.  Don’t been fooled by the large box that is wrapped beautifully. Anyone who spends a lot of time wrapping a gift is someone who has spent a lot of time picking the perfect white elephant gift.  Your best bet is a small gift bag. Odds are it’s a gift card or an ornament.  Even if it’s horrible, at least you won’t be lugging a bowling ball home.

2. Steal, don’t unwrap a new gift.  A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. I get it that you are not in love with the Christmas tree candy dish, but at least you know what you are getting.  A wrapped gift could be anything.  It might be a $5 Starbucks gift card, but it could also be expired canned food.  The other thing about stealing someone’s gift is that someone might later steal it from you.  This gives you another chance to steal other unwrapped gifts.

3. Check your emotions at the door.  It’s tempting to not steal the cute stuffed reindeer from someone because they mentioned it would be perfect for their grandson.  You know who else it would be perfect for? You. Don’t let their words fool you.  They are trying to take advantage of your sentimental weaknesses.  Don’t fall for it.  Steal it anyway.  They will get over it. If they don’t, remind them that they are at a White Elephant party.

4. There is always next year.  At some point, you might find yourself with no good options left.  The exchanges I participate in usually have a 3-steal max on each gift.  The good gifts usually get stolen three times pretty quickly.  If your number is called too late, or someone steals from you late in the game, there might be only bad gifts left.  When I find myself in this situation, I like to go for the gold.  This is a great opportunity to pick the absolute worst gift in the mix.  You can bring this awful gift to your next party and share the love with a new crowd of people. Remember the laughs that the Mr. and Mrs. Claus salt and pepper shakers got when they were opened? You could provide that laughter next week at your next white elephant party. Or better yet, hold on to it until next year.  There is no gift that gets a bigger laugh than the gift that returns from last year.

I kicked off my first White Elephant exchange of the season yesterday.  I walked away with a remote control car still in the box.  It’s going to be a perfect gift for my son who will be receiving a large number of small gifts due to his mother’s inability to purchase gifts online.


Cynthia Lopynski

Love this!! What fun we had yesterday!!


I’ll trade you the remote control car for the (being politically correct here) Appalacian homespun Mr. and Mrs. dolls I got with the scary painted eyes. going once…


Found this very helpful until the end….when I glanced into my kitchen at Mr. and Mrs. Claus salt and pepper shaker that my husband put out! I guess I won’t have to look far for a good white elephant gift:)


You forgot one… Make sure you’re going to a White Elephant exchange. Nothing worse than bringing a white elephant to a non-white elephant exchange, and yours is opened with a forced “oh… isn’t this…. nice ” and is the only one that DOESN’T get stolen….