How to Plan the Perfect White Elephant Party

by: Welk Resorts | December 6, 2017

Once a year, stealing becomes socially acceptable in the name of good holiday fun during a white elephant gift exchange! Learn exactly how it works, including how to throw your own.

white elephant gift exchange

Photo by Fantabulosity

How it works:

  • Each participant brings one anonymously wrapped gift.
  • Everyone draws a number to determine the order in which they will select their gift.
  • Participant number one kicks off the game by selecting any gift from the pile and opening it.
  • Participant number two either selects a gift from the pile and opens it or steals the first player’s gift. If the first player’s gift is stolen, the first player can then pick a new gift and open it.
  • Gift opening and stealing continues down the line until each person has had the chance to either steal or open a gift. In most cases, gifts will exchange hands multiple times before the game is over.

Some hosts ask participants to label their gifts according to their target demographic such as male or female, adult or child. However, an uneven ratio of adults to children or males to females could potentially complicate the game. In most cases, simply asking each guest to bring a white elephant gift they find silly or entertaining works best. The spirit of the game is to have fun, and most people won’t mind if they’re left with a gift they won’t personally use—that’s what re-gifting is for, right?

Make Sure to Explain the Rules

Sending out standard invitations with the words “white elephant” thrown in could confuse your guests, and some may show up without a gift. Some people might not understand the term while others may have played a similar game using different rules in the past. Making sure to use clear wording on your invitations or having personal discussions with each guest can help prevent any confusion.

Points to clarify when inviting guests:

  • Each guest should bring one wrapped gift. Anyone who brings a “plus one” should also have their guest bring a gift if they wish to participate.
  • All gifts should cost less than a predetermined dollar amount or be second-hand items. Some hosts choose a second-hand theme because it adds to the challenge while eliminating cost.
  • Specify a theme, if you choose to have one. For instance, some people ask guests to wrap a copy of their favorite book, a fun ornament, or require that all gifts be a certain color or shape. Some people find themes fun while others find them restrictive, so be sure to cater to your guests’ preferences.

Prepare Ahead of Time

Wrap two or three extra presents to avoid having to ensure that each guest bring a gift. By counting the number of presents before starting the exchange, you can add extra gifts if necessary. The day of your party, set up seating in a circle or semi-circle so everyone can see the gifts as they’re being unwrapped. Guests should have enough room to place their gifts in front of them so that others can view their options when deciding if they want to steal. Before your guests arrive, write down a number for each person on small pieces of paper and place them in a bowl or hat. Prepare any food, drinks, music, and party favors since you’ll need other entertainment on top of the gift exchange.

Set Limits on Stealing

White elephant games can potentially go on for hours without set limits. Some common rules:

  • A gift can only be stolen three times. After the third steal, both the person and their gift are out of the game.
  • Guests cannot steal a gift back during the same turn. If someone steals your gift, you must either steal a different gift from another person or pick a new one to unwrap. This prevents two people from stealing the same gift back and forth endlessly.

You may also set rules for the end of the game, depending on how much time you want to spend on it. Here are the most common options:

  • Allow only the first player to steal a gift at the end since they don’t have the option of stealing when first opening their gift. After the first player makes a final steal, the game is over.
  • Allow all participants to continue stealing from one another until one person decides to keep their gift, ending the game.
  • Designate yourself as the first person to open a gift, then don’t allow yourself to steal anything at the end. The game concludes once the last gift is opened.

Consider a Blind Swap

A blind swap involves gifts being selected and stolen but remaining unopened until the end of the game when all participants unwrap their presents at the same time. No stealing is allowed until after the gifts are opened so guests have fun guessing what they could be stealing during the game.

One More Rule: Have Fun!

While it’s important to clearly spell out the rules before beginning the gift exchange, it’s also important to not get so caught up with enforcing them that you take the enjoyment out of the game. Most people will follow the rules so there’s no need to referee. Relax, have fun, and your guests are likely to do the same.

With cozy villas big enough to accommodate all your friends and their gifts, consider hosting your white elephant party at Welk Resorts this holiday season!

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