How to Throw a White Elephant Gift Party

Array of novelty wine glasses

In ancient times, rare white elephants were considered burdensome gifts for their recipients, as they were too expensive to care for. Today’s White Elephant parties are an entirely different affair, with family and friends happily competing for weird (and sometimes wacky) treasures.


Before You Host

To throw a successful White Elephant Gift party, it’s good to set some gifting guidelines. Gifts around $20 are a great place to start. If your party has a theme (for example, pet-lover picks or ugly sweater-inspired items), be sure to communicate it clearly on your invite.

Before guests arrive, find a space that can accommodate everyone and do your best to arrange the seating in a circle. You’ll want presents in the middle where everyone can see them (and the unwrapping action!). Tip: Since White Elephant parties can get a little wild, consider pulling out some furniture covers to keep your seating crumb- and stain-free.

Set Your Rules

Woman in holiday outfit holding a white elephant gift party present

Classic White Elephants games go as follows: each player brings a gift and adds it to the gift pool. Then, each player draws a number. In order of the numbers drawn, players select a gift from the pool and open it in front of everyone. Players who follow can continue picking gifts or choose to steal gifts from those who have already chosen. Most versions place a limit on stealing — no more than three times per game.

While classic White Elephants are loads of fun, putting your own twist on the game can create a whole new tradition.

Time’s Up… Nothing adds to the excitement like a little urgency. Grab a stopwatch (the one on your phone works fine), and give guests a couple minutes to claim and swap packages. When time’s up, the game ends.

Wait & See… For a climactic twist, wait until all packages have been selected — then, at the count of three, everyone opens their presents and VOILA! The squeals and steals begin.

Dream a Little Theme… The easiest way to make a White Elephant your own? Pick a gifting theme!

Thinking Themes? Here are some suggestions

  • Does your friend group love to sip vino while binge-watching a favorite show? Ask guests to bring gifts around a drinking or leisure theme, and watch with glee as whimsical wine glasses, cheese boards and novelty slippers are unwrapped.
  • Does your family love to cook? They’ll delight in swapping kitschy kitchen gifts like sassy dish towels, dinosaur taco holders or whimsical fridge magnets. Bonus points if you provide hors d’oeuvres to munch on during the festivities!
  • For a budget-friendly twist, you can choose regifting for your theme. Just make sure you’re clear about what’s appropriate to regift — regifted items should be unused and something someone would genuinely enjoy, for instance. So that quirky garden gnome from your coworker? Totally fair game. Your own defective toaster or a years-old drying rack from your Aunt Lisa? Let’s make that a “no.”
novelty creamers including rooster, dog and elephant

Now you’ve got all the details on how to throw a white elephant gift party. So, get those goofy presents picked and wrapped, and you’re ready to enjoy elephanTONs of fun!