When I first heard about the trend of “White Elephant” gift exchanges becoming popular alternatives to the traditional dollar-limit Secret Santa system, I was pretty excited. I had never thought about buying my own elephant, but I became immediately attracted to the idea of owning one. And to be guaranteed a rare white elephant?! Can you say BONUS?!
Then I did some research. Doing research usually bums me out pretty hard, and this instance was no exception. I found that the good users of Wikipedia define the “White Elephant gift exchange” in the following terms:
“each guest contributes one gift to the game, and ultimately each guest walks away with one different gift from the game… Each successive participant… can either 1) “steal” an already opened gift… or 2) go for a wrapped gift from the pile. If the participant chooses to steal, the person whose gift is stolen repeats their turn…”
Ah, now I remember! The White Elephant is that hilariously-long gift exchange game that can result in a lot of animosity and drunken fistfights! That is, it could… if it weren’t for the rules stating that the gift more or less has to kind of suck. A nice site called “How to Organize a White Elephant Gift Exchange” had further information on common rules for White Elephant gifts:
“While it is acceptable to re-gift… many people end up purchasing new tacky items with a cost limit set… The goal is to choose wacky, funny or entertaining gifts.”
Now this is starting to sound really fun. (Even coming close to getting an actual white elephant, hey?) But let’s be realistic; the grind of daily office life has sucked the fun out of many of us and we find ourselves simply incapable of thinking on that “wacky, funny or entertaining” level sometimes.
Maybe you just need a push in the right direction. Here are a few of my favorite, all-original White Elephant Gift Exchange ideas. (I’m too cheap and unliked to actually participate in gift exchanges, so I’ll pass my brainstorming on to you.) These are surefire ways to put you in the running for best White Elephant gift of the year.
Huge lots of useless stuff from EBay.
It’s amazing (and slightly sad) how many EBay sellers think they’re going to turn a profit on selling lots of not-very-useful stuff. A quick search yielded the following: a set of pink and green handbags with free shipping and a starting bid of $0.01; a set of two questionable antique chairs, also with free shipping and a starting bid of $0.99; and a wholesale lot of “fashion bracelets” with bidding up to a competitive $1.04 (again, with free shipping.) I also found dirt-cheap glass beads, doll eyeballs, fifteen assorted belly button rings, multi-colored urban-style do-rags, and a very enticing “business opportunity” (*cough* scam *cough*) of 100,000 “e-books” for only $2.99 (with free “digital delivery” of course.)
You can see how this could become a lot of fun. You can bundle two chairs, fifteen pieces of body jewelry, and a home-based business and still keep it under your $10 or $15 limit.
The important thing to remember is the keyword “lot”. Try searches like “wholesale lot”, “huge lot”, “new lot”, or more specific ones like “broken cell phone lot” or “animal figurine lot”. (“Pirate lot” is my personal favorite. Try it yourself and delight in the 500+ baseball cards, temporary tattoos, and LEGO sets that come up.) Get creative! Get a memorable White Elephant gift and help these delusional EBay users out at the same time this holiday season!
The best part of using stupid EBay lots in your evil White Elephant gift scheme is that you’ll probably end up with a huge, intriguing package that will be irresistible to everyone playing the game.
Your child’s bad artwork.
Please, please, do not take this as a suggestion to transfer your 2-year-old’s precious finger painting from the refrigerator door to the White Elephant gift exchange. I’m talking about hilariously lame artwork made by teens who have taken one or two years of mandatory art classes that they really weren’t all that enthusiastic about in the first place.
Uninterested art students inevitably have one or two half-assed art projects buried somewhere in their “files”. Remember that self-portrait your daughter started at midnight when it was due the next day? How about that ceramic ashtray your son made when he accidentally transferred into Advanced Art with no prior experience? Or maybe the watercolor landscape that finally convinced little Johnny he wasn’t cut out to be an artist. Even talented students who love their art classes usually have one or two really bad sketches they’re willing to sacrifice from their portfolios.
If the art you choose is two-dimensional (e.g., a painting or sketch,) have it framed or matted in as classy a way as you can manage within the bounds of your spending limit. The glamorous presentation will make the terrible artwork a lot more funny and bizarre. You can even go all-out and print a nice-looking “certificate of authenticity” signed by your son or daughter.
If you want to go really over-the-top, choose a piece with the art teacher’s comments scribbled on it. An appropriately-bad letter grade in bright red ink can really add some spice too.
Always ask the “artist” first. A lot of teens will find this hilarious; you might even score a few “cool” points with them for the utter weirdness of the idea (but don’t count on it.) Still, you shouldn’t even consider this option if you think your kid will have his or her feelings hurt by your request.
A lot of struggling musicians and tiny independent record labels are releasing really off-the-wall underground music in professional and semi-professional packaging. If you have a PayPal account and you can navigate MySpace, it will be easy to find them.
Find the websites (and CD ordering information) for the weirdest, most underappreciated bands possible using search terms like “experimental”, “freeform”, and “noise”. Have a little fun and do some more detailed searches… “experimental punk bands in Alaska”… “Christian thrash metal”… “Scandinavian hip-hop”… whatever tickles your White Elephant fancy. You’ll find something hilariously good in no time, and–even though your intentions are kind of questionable–you’ll be supporting an independent artist who is sure to appreciate it.
It’s worth noting that some of the most “underground” artists can also be some of the most controversial and potentially offensive. If you’re not really familiar with the artist whose music you buy, you might not want to bring this particular White Elephant to, say, your church’s gift exchange.
Something incorporating an embarrassing picture of your supervisor (or group leader.)
This one isn’t quite as original, but it’s still pretty funny. A coffee cup, t-shirt, or even a 12-month calendar adorned with one or more embarrassing pictures of your boss is a surefire winner that other contestants will fight over. (Unless your boss is really scary, in which case they’ll try to give it back to you.)
If you think your supervisor will appreciate the joke, you can directly ask him or her for a silly photo. Or (as long as they aren’t too straight-laced) they may even have a few semi-compromising pictures of themselves posted on MySpace or Facebook that you could download.
Just make sure your boss won’t be offended or upset by the gift. Ten seconds of laughter at the office party isn’t worth losing your job or missing out on that promotion next month. Besides that, it’s important to remember that Christmas isn’t a time for hurting anybody’s feelings–even if that person happens to be “the man” who’s been holding you down all these years.
All in all, just try to have fun and do something unique. A decent new idea is a hundred times better than a spin-off of the same “awesome” White Elephant gift that the others in your game use year after year. Most importantly, don’t over-think your White Elephant gift to the point that it isn’t fun for you anymore. The last thing you want is for your Christmas exchange gift to contribute to your on-the-job and holiday-induced stress!