Saturday, December 12, 2009

white elephant gift exchange

My department at work had our holiday lunch this past week, and for a number of years now, part of the tradition is to have the white elephant gift exchange. Participation is voluntary, but most people usually join in the fun, and each person who brings a gift would then end up with a gift. This isn't one of those gag gifts things so no weird or bad gifts.

The rules:

1. A maximum dollar amount for the purchased gift is set, usually $20 or $25. All gifts should be no more than that amount, but most people also know not to bring something like a $5 gift because that just wouldn't be cool.

2. In the past, lots of people brought gift cards, and that was deemed to be not enough fun, so a few years ago, the rule was implemented that gift cards weren't allowed.

3. The gift should be non-gender-specific since both men and women will be participating in the game.

4. All gifts are placed on a table together, and some people take great measures to hide which bag/box they brought so that someone won't pick a gift just because that particular person brought it.

5. There are slips of paper with a number on it, each in ascending order, up to the number of people playing the game. The slips of paper are then put in a bag or box or something equivalent, and each person playing the game takes a turn at drawing out one of the slips of paper. The number on each slip of paper will determine the order in which the players get their turn.

6. The person with number 1 goes first. That person goes to the table and picks a gift and opens it.

7. The person with number 2 goes next. That person can either take the gift from person 1 or that person can pick a gift from the table. If person 2 takes person 1's gift, then person 1 picks another gift from the table.

8. Person number 3 can either take the gift from person 1 or person 2 or pick a gift from the table. If person 1 or person 2 has their gift taken, they cannot take back the gift just taken from them, but they can take the gift from the other person or pick a gift from the table.

9. Each gift can be "stolen" a set number of times before it is "frozen", meaning that it cannot be stolen anymore, and the person currently in possession of the gift gets to actually keep it. We used to allow 3 steals (meaning the fourth owner gets to keep it), but that was deemed to be too many times, so we now only allow 2 steals (which means the third owner gets to keep it). You can't steal back a gift that was just stolen from you, but if you have another turn in another round because your gift is stolen, you can steal back a gift that was stolen from you previously during another round.

10. Each subsequent person has the option of either stealing a gift that's not already frozen or picking a gift from the table. If anyone has a gift stolen from them, they can either steal another gift that's not already frozen or pick a gift from the table.

11. Once the last person has gone, the first person gets a final turn. If they so choose, they can decide to switch gifts with any other person who has a gift that's not frozen. Since the first person didn't have any option other than to pick a gift from the table, that gives them the chance to steal something if they want to. But if they're happy with their gift, they don't have to do anything, and the game is over.


The game can be a lot of fun when people are stealing things a lot, especially when several people want the same gift. It's even more fun in a work environment since supervisors and subordinates are playing together, and lots of jokes are made about stealing a gift from a supervisor.

There are a couple aspects of the game that can crop up which I don't particularly enjoy. Some people take the game very seriously, too seriously. For me, it's $25, so I'm not putting out a lot of money, and I don't really expect to come out of it with a treasure. Sometimes, I have come home with something really neat, but if not, oh well, it's just a game. I also do try to put some thought in what I get, that it might be something people would want. It annoys me when someone just brings something that isn't appealing at all. That's no fun that way. If you don't want to think of something, or if you can't afford the $25 gift, that's ok, just don't play and watch and enjoy the fun. And some people get REALLY bent out of shape if they don't get something they really want. Yeah, some of the stuff is really neat, but, again, it's only $25. If I ever saw something that I really wanted and didn't end up with it, I'd try to find out who brought it and where they got it and just buy it myself!

Some people also take a really long time to decide what they want to do, and everyone just sits around waiting. The gifts are usually pretty simple, so it's really a matter of deciding what you want and don't want or if you just want to pick from the table. I tend to keep a running count in my head as much as possible of the things I might like that are still available, and I also cross them off when they're frozen, so I pretty much know if there's something I want or if I need to pick from the table. But I think a lot of people aren't really paying attention until it's their turn.

There's also one other thing that people do that I don't particularly think is fair, and that's when they pick up several different gifts from the table and shake them or try to see how heavy they are to see if they might want it. For me, you see how the gift is presented, whether it's in a box and wrapped or in a gift bag or whatever. You make your decision that way. Again, it's just a game.


The game can be a bit more complicated when there are a lot of people playing because there are more gifts to keep track of as far as what's still available and what's frozen. We had a smaller number this year, about 20, which was pretty good to keep the action going without people getting bored and without too many gifts to track. Some years, we've had a lot, and I think something like 30 or 40 people playing could get more complicated. You really need to make sure that whomever is keeping track of the gifts (it's usually better if it's someone who's not actually playing in the game, if possible) does a good job so when the questions come up about what's available, they can run down the list of items.


This year, I had a number of really cool things, but most of them were stolen from me. So, here's what I ended up with.






I wouldn't normally buy this for myself since I'm not really into the whole Snuggie thing, but since I have it anyway, I'm going to keep it. However, if I'm going to have one, I don't want just a generic blue one, so I'm going to try to see if I can exchange it in a store for the leopard print one. :)

2 comments:

Sherry said...

Yeah, girl. Go for the leopard.

Rrrroooowwwrr!

That's what I would do.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the deets!!! I wanted to try this with my family this year because we actually did it at a previous job I had. It was so much fun and I loved my gift! Thanks a lot for the detail in your post. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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