How to play a white elephant gift exchange

How to play a White Elephant gift exchange

If you fancy mixing up your Secret Santa gifts this year you could try playing a White Elephant gift exchange.

More about providing entertainment than getting a meaningful gift a white elephant gift exchange, sometimes known as dirty Santa, can be a fun game for an office Christmas party or a festive get together with friends.

If you are wondering when to give secret Santa gifts this is definitely a variation where all recipients need to be there. Although it actually doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t turn up as gifts are not allocated to specific recipients.

What is a White Elephant

A White Elephant is something that is useless or troublesome, expensive to maintain or hard to get rid of. The term comes from the fact that the King of Siam would give the gift of an albino elephant to those who had displeased him. Though beautiful the animals were of no use and cost astronomical amounts to keep.

Nowadays a white elephant gift is one where the practicality or usefulness of the gift is definitely second to the silliness.

How to play the game

Like a traditional Secret Santa each person buys a gift anonymously to bring to the party. But unlike a secret Santa the recipient is as yet unknown.

All the gifts are placed in a pile, ideally without anyone seeing who bought which gift.

Numbers are drawn to determine the order of play, and everyone sits in a circle around the gifts.

Whoever drew to go first takes a gift from the pile and opens it for everyone to see.

Player number 2 is up next. They can choose to either take a gift from the pile OR steal the first person gift. If the gift is stolen then player 1 opens another gift.

This continues until everyone has had a turn. Player 1 then gets the chance to steal. Exchanging their gift with any other person or keeping the gift they have.

If they steal the game can be continued until someone decides to keep their gift.

Optional White Elephant Rules

Obviously the game could go on forever so you might need a few rules in place to stop that from happening. You could:

  • Limit the number of turns per person.
  • Limit the number of times each gift can be stolen.
  • Limit the number of times each player can be stolen from.

Like any secret Santa game you will need to set a budget, but you can also have a lot of fun assigning a theme. This could be literally anything from silly hats to condiments to gifts you have been given but never used. Or you could combine a white elephant with traditional secret Santa and get each person to buy for someone specifically so you can be pretty sure there’ll be a gift in the pile each person will like.

Another fun alternative is to not unwrap your gifts till the end of the game. So people still steal and exchange gifts but no-one knows what’s in each package.

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