Column: Christmas Tradition that Continues to Sweep the Nation


Photo by: Ethan Krueger

White Elephant gifts under the Christmas Tree.

Ethan Krueger, Student of Journalism

One day a year, stealing from a family member is allowed and does not result in a misdemeanor. No one is going to be taken away to the slammer. In fact, it is encouraged to steal. Involving over 36 million people in the United States according to the online retailer Zulily, the white elephant gift exchange sweeps the country as a growing holiday tradition in countless family’s homes.

Every year around Christmas, families and friends come together to participate in the best game of the holiday season — the hilarious white elephant gift exchange!

From a family who participates in the widely-known game, I have had my fair share of hunting for and unwrapping of the infamous “gag” gift.

Across the states, the game goes by different names depending on location. In Eastern states, it is referred to as Yankee Swap. In the South, it is often called Dirty Santa. According to Washburn Review, however, the most popular is White Elephant.

Mental Floss says, the term white elephant originates from the Kingdom of Siam (modern-day Thailand) dating back to the 1800s, in which the king would gift an actual white elephant to those who displeased him. That white elephant was seen as the gift that stood out but no one ever wanted, making it a fitting name for the modern holiday tradition.

For most people, the game is known for its competitiveness, low cost and most importantly, good humor. It is also a great way to engage adults in gift-giving whereas the holidays typically focus on children.

So, how does it work? The rules are simple. If you bring a wrapped gift, you are allowed to play. All the gifts are put in a pile in the center of the room. Each person takes his or her turn at selecting a gift, having the option to take a new, random gift from the pile in the middle or to steal an unwrapped gift from somebody else.

Of course, the key is the gift itself.  The gifter seeks to find a gift that strikes the perfect balance of uselessness and humor. A white elephant, like its namesake, in that it stands out but is not likely on the top of anyone’s most wanted list.

Whether it is a Hannah Montana karaoke machine, a Bob Ross Chia Pet, or a collection of mixed tapes from the ’80s, they are the gifts that keep on giving when it comes to laughter and great memories.

With a great variety of gifts to receive, what is the best White Elephant gift? According to the Cosmopolitan, the Cat Butt Magnet set was listed number one for the best white elephant gift for Christmas 2019. 

Some people detest the white elephant tradition. They consider the gifts unnecessary and pointless because you would be giving away crappy gifts just to get other crappy gifts right back. But they would be missing the main point.

Whereas those who enjoy the tradition do so for the entertainment value, laughter and good memories made that come from those weird but clever gifts. And who knows . . . you might even get something you did not even know you wanted, like that framed retro print of Marilyn Monroe that now hangs proudly in my room.