12 Days of Christmas: Look Mommy, a White Elephant!….

It cannot be overstated how much we at Abraham Thinkin’ love Christmas. Truly, any superlative to describe a person’s enthusiasm is applicable to our Christmas Spirit, and it probably still falls short of effectively capturing the level of our Holiday Cheer. As we all know by now, the best way to spread Christmas Cheer is to sing loud for all to hear. Fortunately for you all, we cannot sing Christmas Carols to you through the computer, so instead, we are going to do what we think is the next best thing. Every day between now and Christmas Day, we will post something related to Christmas, including Christmas Traditions, Stories of Christmas Lore; some of Abe’s Christmas Faves, and much much more.

It’s fun. It’s competitive. And everyone ends up with a great gift…well, almost everyone. What do I speak of, you ask? Why, only one of the finest holiday traditions around! So on this, the Sixth Day of Christmas, we would like to share some history, etiquette, and strategies behind the wonderful world of the White Elephant.

A What???

A white elephant! Also known as a Gift Swap, Yankee Swap, Black Santa, Chinese Gift Exchange, Dirty Santa, Greedy Punter, or Naughty Santa, these are the best ways to exchange gifts with those you normally may not, like acquaintances or co-workers, while not having to spend a ton of money – and having a bit of fun to boot. The difference between this and a normal gift exchange or “Secret Santa” is rooted in the meaning of the term itself…

“Oh, a white elephant! You shouldn’t have…really.”

According to Dictionary.com, a “white elephant” is an idiom for an unwanted gift that is difficult to get rid of. This is not a made up term though; there is a bit of history behind it. In Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, a white elephant was considered holy. It represented purity, and for a monarch of Southeast Asia, such as Burma or Siam (Thailand), owning one meant that they ruled their kingdom with justice, grace, and power. However, this is where the story takes a sinister turn…

The story goes that if a monarch became annoyed with a member of their court, they would give them the gift of a white elephant. Because it was revered, the recipient could not dispose of it. In fact, they had to give it special food, shelter, and care, as well as provide access to those that wanted to come worship it. This could all be enormously expensive, and could serve to send even a moderately well-off courtier into financial ruin. Thus, the term has been applied to these modern gift exchanges (although they are conducted with a slightly less malicious intention…usually).

So How Do They Work?

Honestly, there are probably as many versions of rules out there as there people desperately out hunting for ugly Christmas sweaters right now. However, they basically follow two traditional formats: “Old School Rules” and what I like to call “Craps for Crap”.

According to “Old School Rules”, everyone picks a number out of a hat – say, between one and ten. Number one starts by picking a gift out of the pile and unwrapping it. Number two can then steal number one’s gift, or pick a gift from the pile. If number one’s gift is indeed stolen, they have to pick a gift out of the pile. The process goes on until the last gift is unwrapped, then you are stuck with what you have! However, if you have your gift stolen (and you weren’t number one), you have the option of stealing someone else’s gift, and that person would have to get a new gift from the pile. Lastly, no gift can be stolen more than twice – once it reaches the third person, it’s a lock!

The other version – which I played with my co-workers today – is “Craps for Crap” (trademark pending). In this version, numbers are drawn, but everyone then picks a gift out of the pile in order, unwrapping it in sequence. Then, starting with whoever drew the last number, two dice are rolled; if that person rolls doubles, they can exchange gifts with whoever they want. If not, they pass the box to the person to their left. This process repeats for a certain amount of time (usually 10 – 15 minutes), after which whatever gift you are holding is yours!

Don’t Be that Person…

There are a couple of things you should always be sure to do and always be sure NOT to do. First of all, adhere to a price limit for gifts. If there are one or two gifts that are far better than the rest, they become the only ones being exchanged, especially in the second scenario. This can be circumvented though – one of my friends at work brought a ton of AWESOME stuff for his gift, and it was still under $10 because he had a special discount. It changed hands probably 10 times during our game…and while I *love* my Hello Kitty Bubble Bath and Hot Wheels combo, I’m still a little bitter I didn’t get it. Hook it up, Chris! Also, do NOT forget to wrap your gift, and then be late to the gift exchange because you were wrapping a gift in scrap paper, some of which is probably from a presentation you gave to your team within the last month. Oh, and did I mention that this is the PERFECT time to re-gift?
The Strategy
So, how do you get what you want? Well, there are several ways. If you are playing by Old School Rules, be patient if you see a gift you want; if you are able to wait, then be the second person to steal it. This will ensure that it cannot be stolen again. Second, prioritize your gifts, but don’t make it obvious. Being somewhat unexcited about stealing a gift you want will ensure that people don’t steal from you just to be a troll. It happens, people! In the Craps for Crap version, pick out your second favorite item; it is less risky than trying to steal and hold your favorite, but it ensures you don’t get stuck with something you completely don’t want. (© Nicole for this idea, I would’ve been way too greedy to think of it)
Lastly, there is the time-honored tradition of the “pre-gift”; that is, getting a gift that is basically for yourself. Some people feel a little guilty buying something for themselves, so do this…buy a gift for yourself that you are sure nobody would ever want. I mean “It’s not totally for me, someone else maybe might sorta think of taking it, right?”…no, it’s basically for you. Sit there, go through the motions, play the game, and act surprised when nobody takes the thing that you – and only you – wanted in the first place. Congratulations! You’re so lame.
No? Good! If you have any funny white elephant stories or gifts, give us a shout below. Otherwise, don’t forget to look out for tomorrow’s edition of the 12 Days of Christmas!

5 thoughts on “12 Days of Christmas: Look Mommy, a White Elephant!….

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