White Elephant – Why Do We Play this Stupid Game?

White Elephant – Why Do We Play this Stupid Game?

Lauren PesinMonday,22 December 2014

The Snap:

A long time ago in a land far away there was a kingdom of elephants, including white elephants. The land was called Siam (Thailand). Rumor has it that in Siam, if someone annoyed you and you wanted to grief them, you would gift them with a white elephant. It was a great honor to receive an elephant, but the white elephant was far more costly in resources and energy than it was worth. Although beautiful and cherished, white elephants were completely impractical and difficult to care for.

Today, officemates and families play a game around the winter holidays called “the white elephant” (aka Yankee Swap, Dirty Santa, Thieving Elves, etc.). The closest version of the game nowadays is when participants gift unusual or unwanted items that aren’t worth much (i.e. a velvet pig figurine). It is supposed to be funny or annoy the person who gets stuck with it. The following year, you hopefully have the satisfaction of putting the piece of crap back into rotation, so somebody else gets victimized by it.

Typically, people group together to give a single gift instead of buying a present for every co-worker, family member or friend, and we (being inherently cheap) decide to play the white elephant gift exchange game. Everyone brings a wrapped, unmarked present of similar worth (usually $10 to $20). These are placed into a pool from which everyone may take an unopened gift or steal from one another in an order that is determined by picking numbers from a bowl or hat.

The Download:

The fun and frustration is derived from people getting mean and competitive, stealing the best presents from each other. Depending on what number you get, you may not have a chance to steal or pick anything good for yourself. Ultimately, you have little control over what you end up with. There is always someone who spends way too much and people usually fight over that gem. Unfortunately, I am usually “that” person, so I never have a chance at those presents. Then, someone usually buys the super fun and destructive present (marshmallow shooter or Nerf gun). People always try to hide these hoping marauding opportunists forget they are up for grabs. Weapons always end up getting gift ripped away sometimes to be stolen back, naturally resulting in trash talking one’s mom and a victory dance. Lastly, there’s always some tool that apparently forgot until five minutes before the exchange or is so out of touch with reality that they think a package of computer paper or pens is a good contribution.

You could also get saddled with one of these beauties: championship wrestling belt, farting butt coin bank, rubber horse head made with authentic mane hair, inflatable unicorn horn, emergency underpants, yodeling pickle, or a dashboard Jesus.

Depending on the participants these may be the very presents you fight over or fight to give away. Oftentimes people give good or super fun presents, like mega huge zombie shooters or a set of awesome beer mugs. More often you end up with some lame junk, questioning why you wasted time picking out a cool or funny gift, just so somebody else can enjoy it.

So, why do we play the white elephant game?

When I asked the more than fifty participants of the three exchanges I was involved in this year, the answer was always the same. “It’s fun!”

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Image Credit: Flickr



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