White elephant gift exchange

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A white elephant gift exchange or Yankee Swap[1][2][3][4] is a Christmas party game found primarily in North America. Generally, white elephant parties need a minimum of six participants. With a larger group, game play may be more protracted. White elephant parties have been known to result in playful rivalries between players trying to get sought-after items. The goal of a white elephant party is usually to entertain rather than to gain.

The term "white elephant" refers to an extravagant but burdensome gift which cannot be easily disposed of, supposedly after the King of Siam gifted rare albino elephants to courtiers who had displeased him, that they might be ruined by the animals' upkeep costs.


A man selects a taken gift, while its previous owner is reluctant to relinquish it.

In its most basic form, the game is as follows:[5] each participant supplies one wrapped gift. The gifts are placed in a central location, and participants determine in what order they will take turns selecting them. The first person opens a wrapped gift and the turn ends. On subsequent turns, each person can open a new present or gets the choice to "steal" another person's unwrapped gift. When a person's gift is stolen, that person chooses another wrapped gift to open. The game is over when the last person has taken their turn (but see variations below).

Gifts are typically inexpensive, humorous items or used items from home. The term white elephant refers to a gift whose maintenance costs exceed its usefulness. While the first use of this term remains a matter of contention among historians,[6] one theory suggests that Ezra Cornell brought the term into the popular lexicon through his frequent social gatherings as early as 1828.[7][8][9]


Since the process of stealing can prolong the game and can confer distinct disadvantages to certain places in the order of play, variations have arisen.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Posted: 12/04/2013 12:30 pm EST (2013-12-04). "Secret Santa Rules: How To Make Your Gift Exchange Go Smoothly". Huffingtonpost.ca. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  2. ^ "When the weather outside is frightful". Portlanddailysun.me. 2013-11-26. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  3. ^ Kurtz, Kelly (2013-12-13). "LIVING WELL IN OUR COMMUNITY | www.leominsterchamp.com | Leominster Champion". www.leominsterchamp.com. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  4. ^ Anonymous (2013-11-29). "CAPE ANN SYMPHONY: ‘Yankee Swap’ will raise money for Red Cross - Gloucester, MA - Wicked Local Gloucester". Wickedlocal.com. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  5. ^ Strearns, Catherine. "White Elephant Gift Exchanges Rules, History, and Tradition". Stixs News (Stixs News). Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  6. ^ Larsen, Derek; Watson, John J. (September 2001). "A guide map to the terrain of gift value". Psychology and Marketing 18 (8): 889–906. doi:10.1002/mar.1034. 
  7. ^ Dots and Dashes: Interesting Stories of Progress in the Telegraph Industry, Volumes 3-20, Western Union Telegraph Company, 1927
  8. ^ Ruth, Julie; Otnes, Cele C.; Brunel, Frédéric F. (March 1999). "Gift Receipt and the Reformulation of Interpersonal Relationships". Journal of Consumer Research 25 (4): 385–402. doi:10.1086/209546. 
  9. ^ Dryland, Ann (October 1968). "Review". British Journal of Educational Studies 16 (3): 336–7. JSTOR 3119303. 
  10. ^ What to get your girlfriend for christmas Blog