Holiday season prompts White Elephant tradition

Amy Reinhardt

With the start of the holiday season people are decorating trees, hanging lights, singing along with Christmas stations and completing their holiday shopping. Another activity also gaining popularity during this time of year is the gift exchange, with one particular kind standing out.

White Elephant, also known as Yankee Swap or Dirty Santa, is a unique gift exchange that relies on people’s creativity and sense of humor. Every group of people play this game differently so the rules are eligible for alteration.

“I usually follow the guidelines set; for example, spend only five dollars. Often times I try and find things in my house that I no longer want or never use,” said Thalia Fenton, senior French major.

The typically rules for White Elephant are that each person brings one wrapped present to contribute to the pool of gifts. Participants then draw names or numbers to determine the order.

Participants usually sit in a circle with the pile of gifts in the center. One by one each person selects a gift to open and show to the entire group.

After the first person finishes their turn, the following participants have a choice: they can either keep the gift they select or steal a previous player’s gift. The basic rule is that a gift may only be stolen once during a turn and after three steals the turn comes to an end. Of course, there are several other twists that can be added to these traditional guidelines.

When one is brainstorming gift ideas for White Elephant there are a few different strategies available. Participants will typically select a gift from one of the following categories: funny, weird or thoughtful.

“I usually try to get as creative or as silly as possible,” said Abraham Pfannenstiel, freshman political science major. “This year I wrapped up a couple packages of batteries with the note ‘Gift Not Included’ inside. The looks on people’s faces was the best part about the game.”

Some examples of worthwhile, memorable gifts for this type of exchange would be funky hats, creative recipe books, tacky knick knacks, ridiculous calendars, funny t-shirts or clever coffee mugs.

“I think white elephants gifts are best when not taken too seriously,” Pfannenstiel said. “Only when participants go the cheap and silly route is the game fun.”

Fenton’s favorite gift that she received was fuzzy socks because of their degree of usefulness and warmth. Pfannenstiel, on the other hand, enjoyed the silly gift of a singing, dancing moose. Sarah Edelman, junior business management major, received a cup shaped like a toilet, which was both silly and useful because it’s now used to store her post-it notes.

“I like the anonymity of giving gifts and how you can do it in a group without having to buy specific things, but I hate stealing and that awful look if someone doesn’t like the gift they picked,” Fenton said.

Although some aspects of the game may make it unenjoyable for some, White Elephant has become a tradition for most people during the holiday season.

“My close friends and I do a white elephant exchange every year, and it’s my favorite game because it’s fun to see what everyone gets and enjoy those moments with each other,” Edelman said.

This gift exchange has also been appearing on the Washburn campus. A few student organizations have been utilizing this game to provide a bonding experience between their members.

One of the groups to utilize this game was the Leadership Institute’s Leadership Council. Sarah Edelman and Abraham Pfannenstiel both attended and participated in this event.

“It was fun to be able to sit back and socialize with my peers and laugh at all the silly gifts,” Pfannenstiel said. “It was a great way to end the semester on a high note.”