Tips for organizing white elephant gift giving

During the holidays, trying to find the "perfect" gifts for family and friends can be pretty perplexing, if not downright exhausting. It can be a lot simpler when you don't have to worry about things such as getting the right size, style or color...

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During the holidays, trying to find the "perfect" gifts for family and friends can be pretty perplexing, if not downright exhausting.

It can be a lot simpler when you don't have to worry about things such as getting the right size, style or color.

You can avoid such headaches altogether by hosting a white elephant gift exchange.

Look around your home and closets for stuff you no longer have any use for, or shop your local dollar store (or the Internet) for one of those rare items that are funny (pickle lip balm) or memorably embarrassing ("double the fun" underpants for two-not kidding).

Generally, at a white elephant gift exchange, each guest brings a wrapped item to contribute to a common pool. Before the event, the organizer may set limits as to type or cost of the gift.


Guests either draw names to determine the order of gift selection, or the organizer decides prior to the event.

Participants sit in a circle or line where they can see the gift pile-and, ideally, in the order they will take their turns.

Each person chooses a gift. Then the next person can either pick a wrapped gift from the pile or "steal" a gift that someone else has chosen and unwrapped. Anyone whose gift is "stolen" can do the same-choose a new gift or steal from someone else. (Various rules abound, including limiting how many times a gift can be "stolen.")

After all players have had a turn, the first player gets a chance to swap the gift he or she is holding for any other opened gift. Anyone whose gift is stolen may steal from someone else (as long as that person hasn't been stolen from yet). When someone declines to steal a gift, the game is over.

A few years ago, Karen Nygaard's family hosted a "cousin" Christmas party that drew about 100 guests.

"The highlight was the white elephant gift exchange," she said.

Nygaard had brought "horrible items from her closet (that were) apparently too lame to even remember."

She was tempted by a "beautiful powder blue Christmas tree" but couldn't bring herself "to steal from a little girl," she said.


One surprisingly popular item was an old-fashioned hair dryer, she said. "You know, the kind with a vacuum cleaner-type hose and a plastic bag-like thing to cover your hair? The little kids thought that was an exciting oddity."

For a while, Nygaard had a bottle of wine that one of her cousins made, but ended up with a autographable photo frame, titled "40 Years Old." She saved it and presented it, covered with relatives' autographs, to her nephew on his 40th birthday.

"It actually was a kind of a nice surprise for him," she said.

The family had so much fun they plan to repeat the event every few years, Nygaard said.


Here are few ideas for your next white elephant gift exchange, all available at Dollar Tree.

Charm the 'foodie' who has everything. Try the Cupcake Carrier, which allows you to securely transport nine cupcakes or muffins and has a clear, hinged lid with a handle on top.

Keep the family organized. Magnetic notepads come with a set of 60 sheets, each showing the days of the week, with room to record kids' or family events, or the evening menu.


Satisfy that sweet tooth. Pirouline Chocolate Hazelnut Artisan Rolled Wafers can be wrapped up like a Tootsie Roll before watch the chocolate-lover's eyes light up as the gift is unwrapped.

Delight "Frozen" fans. The Disney "Frozen" Color Paint Set comes with two coloring sheets, six water-based paints and a paintbrush.

Shine a light for your favorite bibliophile. The LED Foldable Book Light's small size makes it ideal for use in the home, camping, travel and car. The super-bright LED light is good for nighttime reading, with adjustable light angle.

Let a kid be a hero. A kid's imagination will run wild, protecting the world from the bad guys with a ninja action figure; it comes with accessories.

Dazzle the young creative type. The Ultimate Friendship Bracelet Maker Kit provides material for any kid to customize a bracelet for a special friend or family member; includes a foam loom, colors of string and instructions.

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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