White elephant gift exchange

A white elephant gift exchange,[1] Yankee swap[2] or Dirty Santa[3][nb 1] is a party game where amusing and impractical gifts are exchanged during festivities. The goal of a white elephant gift exchange is to entertain party-goers rather than to gain a genuinely valuable or highly sought-after item.

A man "steals" a gift in a white elephant gift exchange, while its previous owner is reluctant to relinquish it.

The term white elephant refers to an extravagant, impractical gift that cannot be easily disposed of. The phrase is said to come from a perspective about the historic practice of the King of Siam (now Thailand) giving rare albino elephants to courtiers who had displeased him, so that they might be ruined by the animals' upkeep costs. However, there is no actual record of the King gifting a white elephant specifically to burden the recipients, and white elephants are considered to be highly valuable and sacred in Thai culture, so much that any white elephant that is found must immediately be brought to the King according to his legal ownership.[4] While the first use of this term remains a matter of contention among historians,[5] one theory suggests that Ezra Cornell brought the term into the popular lexicon through his frequent social gatherings as early as 1828.[6]


Each participant supplies one wrapped gift, usually of similar value.[3] The gifts are placed in a central location, and participants determine in which order (often by numbers randomly drawn prior to the start of the game) they will take turns selecting a gift. The first person opens a wrapped gift, and the turn ends.[3] On subsequent turns, each person has the choice to either unwrap a new present or to steal another's. When a person's gift is stolen, that person can either choose another wrapped gift to open or can steal from another player.[3] Each gift can only be stolen twice per game. The game is over when everyone has a present. At the end, the first player may, if desired, steal any gift – according to some rules, even a gift that is out of play.

See alsoEdit

Explanatory notesEdit

  1. ^ Other names include Shifty Santa, the Grinch Game, Thieving Elves, Snatchy Christmas Rat, Cutthroat Christmas, Redneck Santa, Machiavellian Christmas and Kamikaze Gift Exchange.[3]


  1. ^ Nunez, Kirsten (2016-12-13). "What Is A White Elephant Gift Exchange? Here's What You Need To Know About This Entertaining Party Game". Bustle.com. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  2. ^ Bologna, Caroline (2017-12-18). "Why Do We Call That Holiday Game Yankee Swap, White Elephant And Dirty Santa? Unpacking the history of the popular gift exchange game". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  3. ^ a b c d e McGough, Nellah Bailey (2017-12-07). "Dirty Santa Rules for Your Gift Exchange Party". Southern Living. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  4. ^ Pakditawan, Sirinya (2017-11-12). "White elephant in Thai culture, highly auspicious and symbols of royal power". The Phuket News. Retrieved 2022-12-12.
  5. ^ Larsen, Derek; Watson, John J. (September 2001). "A guide map to the terrain of gift value". Psychology and Marketing. 18 (8): 889–906. doi:10.1002/mar.1034.
  6. ^ Dots and Dashes: Interesting Stories of Progress in the Telegraph Industry, Volumes 3-20, Western Union Telegraph Company, 1927
    Ruth, Julie; Otnes, Cele C.; Brunel, Frédéric F. (March 1999). "Gift Receipt and the Reformulation of Interpersonal Relationships". Journal of Consumer Research. 25 (4): 385–402. doi:10.1086/209546.
    Dryland, Ann (October 1968). "Review". British Journal of Educational Studies. 16 (3): 336–7. doi:10.2307/3119303. JSTOR 3119303.