Evelyn’s First Annual White Elephant Gift Exchange

white el·e·phant [noun] a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.

Gifts are typically inexpensive, humorous items or used items from home. The term white elephant refers to a gift whose maintenance costs exceed its usefulness. While the first use of this term remains a matter of contention among historians, one theory suggests that Ezra Cornell brought the term into the popular lexicon through his frequent social gatherings as early as 1828.

Quite simple, bring something to re-gift, is a gag, or might be coveted and useful. It is nice to have a variety of gifts to steal from. Make sure it is wrapped. Don’t hint as to what it is, and there is no high or low limit to worth for the exchange – whatever works.

In its most basic form, the game is as follows:

  1. Each participant supplies one wrapped gift. The gifts are placed in a central location, and everyone takes a random number to determine to order of gift choosing.
  2. The first person opens a wrapped gift, and the turn ends.
  3. On subsequent turns, each person can open a new present OR gets the choice to “steal” another person’s gift.
  4. The gift cannot be stolen once the third participant touches the gift (i.e. – it is stolen for the 2nd time). When a person’s gift is stolen, that person can either choose another wrapped gift to open or can steal from another player.
  5. The game is over when the last person goes and the first person goes again (BUT see variations below).


  • Only two steals of a gift can happen and it becomes frozen.
  • No gift may be stolen more than once per turn, so NO STEAL BACKS per turn – a new item must be stolen or unwrapped.
  • Since the first player is the only one without the option of seeing any unwrapped gifts, s/he will take one final turn after all gifts have been opened and swap with any “unfrozen” gift.

white el·e·phant Downloadable