Good Holidays: How to White Elephant like a pro

by Kim Merrikin, Seattle Goodwill
December 4, 2015

Whatever name you may know it by—the time has come for holiday gift exchanges. (If you’re not familiar with the game, check it out here.)  I don’t know about you all, but when I select a gift, I do it with one of two goals: To either bring the most coveted gift that people compete for, or to bring the most hated gift that everyone spends the game trying to get rid of, and hoping not to end up with. Either way, picking the right (or very, very wrong) White Elephant gift can add an air of joyful delight—and a solid dose of humor—to the party.

So don your Ugly Christmas Sweater (or your fancy party outfit), bake your cookies and tiny squares of fudge and head to your White Elephant holiday party with confidence by following some of these tips for gift selection:

  1. Evaluate your budget.
    Is it a $5 limit? $10? Think about what might work on that budget—and then think about how much further it can spread at Goodwill—especially with weekly tag sales!
  2. Evaluate the crowd.
    I cannot emphasize this step enough. The gift you bring to an office White Elephant party might be drastically different from the gift you bring to a party of your closer friends. What might be funny to you—or in a certain group—might not go over well in the office setting or in mixed company. You can also evaluate the crowd on a more personal level—for example, is this a general audience that would appreciate… vintage Pyrex? Star Wars memorabilia? Tacky wall art? Christmas mugs?
  3. Decide on a goal: Best gift there? Worst gift there? Something undeniably practical? A gag gift?
    There are so many different ways you can select a gift—but it’s helpful to think through how you would like your gift to be received. It could even help narrow down which departments you need to visit at the store, and expedite your White Elephant shopping.
  4. If you know someone that will be there extremely well, perhaps pick something they’ll love.
    This can potentially ignite a round of gift-stealing. If you know someone in your audience well enough, select a gift that they’ll love—and fight for. The odds of them picking it in the first round are low, so it can help add a little spice to the game! For example, if I was playing with my family, I would head directly for Star Wars memorabilia, because it would create quite the gift-stealing stir.
  5. Wrap deceptively.
    After you’ve chosen your item, wrap it in a way that’ll throw the initial gift-chooser off.  Do you have a lightweight small item? Put it in a larger box with some rocks to add weight. If you want to get super tricky, you can put the real gift inside of an oddly shaped package—like a cat-shaped cookie jar. (Then wrap it.) Conversely, sometimes it can be fun to wrap blatantly—like filling a cat-shaped cookie jar with cookies, and then wrapping it in paper that reveals the cat shape. (Also: baked goods are nearly always a hit.)

The biggest and best advice, however, is to relax and enjoy the holiday season! And if you wind up going home with a White Elephant gift that you’ll never use—Goodwill will gladly take your donation


Kim fancies herself a professional communicator. She has experience in writing, graphic design, and social media, and is always looking to expand her knowledge base into other fields of communication. She loves people, coffee & Seattle (including the rain).

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