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The Official White Elephant Rules

With Christmas season fast approaching this year, everyone is getting excited about white elephant gifts exchanges that await. White elephant rules are simple but can be versatile. There are many variations and versions of this cheerful game.

Whether you have been tasked to organize and host the most amazing Christmas party or a guest wondering about the rules of the gift exchange, you have come to the right place! Here you will find updated rules for the 2018 season.

Don't forget to check out this year's funny and budget friendly white elephant gifts ideas!

Basic White Elephant Rules

Without going into too much unwanted detail, let's look at the basic white elephant rules. These are the bare minimum required rules eof gift exchange to run everything smoothly.

1. Each Player Must Bring One White Elephant Gift

Everyone bring a gift to the party. There must be one gift for each player to take home so each guest chips in the pool of gifts by bringing one present to the party. There are many variations of rules that state how much you should spend or what types of white elephant gifts are acceptable, but if no such instructions are given out it's safe to buy something funny that costs under $20 or $25. It's also possible to get rid of unwanted gifts or items around the house. More onthis later.

2. Gifts Must Be Wrapped

Part of the gift exchange party excitement comes from the fact that you get to guess which gift is better before you choose one to open. There are many ways people love to prank eachotherduring this process anywhere to shaping gift as something they are not to making gifts seem heavy by putting rocks in the box with the teddy bear. For all this to work, gifts must be wrapped well, even deceivengly shaped to create more intrigue and dissapointment resulting laughter!

3. Players Must Open And Steal Gifts Orderly

There must be some order to the whole process. As a common white elephant rule, names or numbers are drawn to determine who goes first and who follows next. This way players can arrange themselves around the pile of gifts and start opening and swap gifts. When it's their turn, each player can open an unopened present or steal a gift from someone who had already opened one. This process continues untill all gifts are opened or until certain amount of gift swapping has taken place. There are variations of the white elephant rules below where you can see several interesting ways to conclude the game.

4. No Immediate Re-Stealing

It is very likely that out of all the opened gifts, there will be a few that everyone wants to steal, so it's important to make sure that once a gift is stilen from one person, that person can not immediately steal it back, otherwise the stealing between two people could never end. This is one of the most important rules to follow regardless of what variation of the gift exchange you are playing.

5. Each Player Walks Away With Final Gift They Are Holding

When all gifts have been opened and all the stealing has finished, the gift that everyone ends up having is now theirs and they get to take it home. Sometimes, when the game is over, people like to offer eachother to swap and that's ok too but obviously optional.

Planning a party this year? Have a look at our guide on how to plan the best white gift elephant exchange party page.

Optional Rules And Variations

Apart from the main white elephant rules above, there are many interesting variations that you can choose to use. With these variations you can pick unique set of rules that would be best for your group and make the evening of stealing gifts even more exciting!

One of the fun rule variations for the gift exchange is to pre determine the theme of gifts to be brought to the party. A white elephant theme can be anything from toys, books, unwanted gifts being regifted, GAG gifts or even self made DIY projects.

Although it's common sense to not spend too much on a common Christmas gift, sometimes it may be a good idea to set a price limit and restrict gifts that are in a specific range. A good rule of thumb is something under $20.

Tired Elephant is one of the variations when if gift gets stolen certain amount of times, let's say 5 times, then this gift is out of the game and so is the person to be holding it last. If this rule is used, it can allow it to be used as a tactic for some to snatch a gift they like most.

"Timeout" is a common way to do white elephant exchange in large groups. The guests are not allowed to steal from eachother untill all the gifts are opened, and then the timer is set to count down for set amount of minutes where a continuous gifts stealing takes place. When the time is out the game is over.

"First In - Last Out" is a variation where whoever gets to open the first gifts also gets the option to do the final swap and take any gift they want. This is a good one and the luckiest player is the one that gets to open the first present.

How To Play White Elephant Game

To illustrate how the game is played, Kelly tells her story of how white elephant gift exchange takes place during her extended family Christmas party.

We have a big family with lots of uncles, aunts, cousins and all, so every Christmas, after each family has gone throuh their morning ritual of opening gifts, we all gather at my grand parents house. It's our favourite day of the year, because rarely we see eveyone together like this unless there is another major event, say like wedding.

Now even though grandma insists that noone has to bring any food, each family usually brings something to eat to add to the holiday feast of the table we set for this occasion. Aunt Roies's casSeroles are everyone's favorite and so are the cookies my cousins bake. In the end, there is so much food and drinks, that dishs have to compete with apearence and smell to make it to the main table. Forget about sitting down at the table, everyone grabs a plate, loads it up with all kidns of food and heads over to the basement where main action takes place.

Although the big deer antlers and a hunting rifle catches your eye when you go down to grandpa's basement, the true attention grabber is the big pile of gifts in the middle of the room between the pool and air hokey table. After everyone has come down, one of my younger cousins will write numbers on pieces of paper, as many as we have people playing and drop them in a baggy. Then we all take out a random piece. Once we all have our numbers, we start opening the gifts up in order.

Anyone can open a new gift or steal one from others. We keep doing it untill all of the unwrapped gifts are opened. Then we set a timer and untill the time has run out will keep on stealing from eachother in order. You have a choice to open a gift or steal an opened one from someone. If someone gets their gift stolen, they can in turn steal from someone else or open another unopened gift.

Our family always competes to bring the funnies gifts to the family party and my uncles always try to out do eachother and bring the most embarassing stuff, but despite grandma warning them not to they still do it every year :)

More About White Elephant Gift Exchange

What Is White Elephant?

What is white elephant gift exchange? Simply put, it's a Christmas party where each guest brings a funny, unwanted, GAG or cute gift. The idea is for everyone to walk away with a random gift, but first, they will have to fight for them. Not literrally of course. The process of swapping gifts is fun, energetic and full of excitement. Gift exchange adds much needed laughter and fun to the Christmas party.

Why Is It Called "White Elephant"?

You might be wondering why they call it the "white elephant" exchange. How did this name even came to be? Without going too deep into history, the basic consesus is that it all relates to an old tradition of kings to gift each other and sometimes their subordinates gifts of burden. A white elephant was rare, expensive to care for and of not much use other than being a financial drain on the person who received it as a gift.

In the beginning of the twentieth century when groups of people started exchanging Christmas gifts, a name was coined for this event and it stuck. Today, white elephant gift exchange represents of the most anticipated, fun and exciting days of the year!

What's The Point?

The main point behind the white elephant gift exchange appart from the obvious entertainment value, is that buying gifts to large number of people is not practical. We already have family to take care of and Christmas shopping can get very busy. If everyone at the office, a large family or friend group bought eachother gifts, each person would have to get every single person a gift. It's just not feasible. White elephant fixes the problem by having each person bring only one gift and walk away with only one while at the same time introducing a fun game to play and enjoy the evening.

View Gift Ideas

white elephant gifts

Once you learn the rules for the gift exchange, you will need to select a gift to bring to your party. There are a lot of great white elephant gift ideas out there, and we have created a list of some of the funniest and budget friendly all in one place. Have a look at our collection of gift exchange present ideas, and let us know if you know of better ones that we should include in the list. We update the gift list every year, so you are presented with the lates and greatest.
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White Elephant Facts

Did you know? White Elephant Gift Exchange is one one the most popular Christmas games not only in United States but also the rest of the world! It's very popular in UK, Europe, Asia and even Australa!

Some of most common white elephant gifts are funny or sometimes even GAG gifts that everyone loves opening at the party. Some of them are especially funny when someone easily embarassed opens them!

White Elephant has other names too and although these games are slightly different, the premise is the same. Other common names are: Dirty Santa, Yankee Swap, Bad Santa, Secret Santa, Greedy Santa, Thieving Elf, Thieving Secret Santa, Pollyanna, Chinese Christmas, Chinese Auction, The Grinch Exchange, Steal The Gift, Cutthroat Christmas and many more!