White Elephant Party Rules

by Amy Guettler
White elephant gift exchanges add a lot of color to your holiday celebrations.

White elephant gift exchanges add a lot of color to your holiday celebrations.

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If you're looking to add a little extra levity to your holiday gift-giving celebrations, consider switching to, or establishing, a white elephant gift exchange at office holiday parties, celebrations with friends and family, or even casual get-togethers with the neighbors. You'll find that these types of gift-swap parties are not only guaranteed to be wildly entertaining and memorable, but they also have other benefits: These exchanges can slash the size of your shopping list and save you money. With just a bit of planning and creativity -- and a clearly articulated set of rules -- you can host a lively party and organize a white elephant gift exchange that will fast become a much-anticipated and enduring tradition.

All Participants Come Bearing Gifts

Ensure all guests arrive with a wrapped gift that meets the criteria and/or theme you included on the invitation. For example, you may decide to have everyone bring one $20 gift to ensure equality, and further suggest that each gift fits a predetermined theme. While you're only limited by your imagination when it comes to developing a theme, some common white elephant gift exchange themes include: Homemade gifts Coolest gadget for $10 Ugliest ornament Items you already own but don't want Place all the gifts on a table or another stable surface where it's easy for guests to view the offerings.

Choose a Number

Before the guests arrive, the host should mark slips of paper with numbers corresponding to the number of participants. Label them clearly, remembering to underscore the numbers 6 and 9, fold them in half, and toss them into a hat. Be sure everyone takes and keeps a number. Since white elephant exchanges can get on the raucous side, this is also a good time to pass out copies of the rules to ensure every participant is informed. A good way to ensure all guests understand the rules of the game is to hand participants a copy of the rules before they choose a number.

Choose a Gift

Allow the first player to select and open a gift from among the collection of available presents. Encourage her to hold it high so everyone can see exactly what's been unwrapped. To ensure that everyone playing knows which opened gifts are available, suggest that once gifts are opened, the recipient keeps it in a visible location -- either on her lap, in her hands, or on the floor directly in front of her. No hiding is allowed.

Past the Third Turn

By the third turn and beyond, guests with higher numbers have this same choice -- and the higher the number, the greater the opportunity. That's because in white elephant gift exchanges, players have the opportunity to "steal," or take, an opened gift away from another player. So while player No. 3 can "steal" one of only two opened gifts, player No. 10 has been able to see a great deal more of what's already been unwrapped, stolen or traded, and can therefore make a more informed decision about whether he'll select an unwrapped gift or steal another player's present.

Additional Rules of Play

In most white elephant gift exchanges, by the time the same player steals the same gift the third time, it stops and stays with her. No one else can steal this gift, so the participant removes herself from the game at this point. Everyone must wait her turn to steal or open a new gift; this means that if player No. 11 has just stolen player No. 7's gift, player No. 7 cannot steal the gift back right away -- she must wait until her turn comes around again. After a gift has been stolen three times, it is considered "dead," which means the next player to take the gift keeps it, knowing that no other player can take or steal that gift away from her. The game continues until all the presents have been opened, opportunities to steal gifts have been exhausted, and every guest has a gift she will keep and take home.

Photo Credits

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