White elephant gift exchanges are some of the funniest celebrations during the holiday season. Groups of friends and family members gather to “fight” over gifts that everybody (or sometimes nobody) wants.
Traditionally, guests arrive with wrapped gifts. No one in the exchange is supposed to know who they’re from and they aren’t meant for any guest in particular.
As you can probably tell, some guests leave with gifts that they love, while others may feel stuck with something a little less ideal. That’s all part of what you sign up for when you participate.
In fact, many participants in white elephant gift exchanges pick out gifts that are funnier than they are useful. It can even become a bit of a contest to see whose gift is the most (or least) wanted.
If you’re heading to a white elephant gift exchange this holiday season, it might be difficult to find the perfect “not” present that will be the hit of the party.
We have a helpful guide to gifts that are hilarious and, just maybe, useful. But first, we have a few tips for participating in a white elephant gift exchange.
How a white elephant works
There are a few varieties of white elephant gift exchanges, but most of them follow this basic procedure:
- Everyone brings a wrapped gift.
- Participants draw numbers to see who picks a gift first. You can also pick an order based on age, birth month, height, etc.
- The first gift is opened so everyone can see it.
- The second participant has to choose whether to steal the already-opened gift or open a new one.
- The game progresses, usually with a limit to how many times a gift can be “stolen” before the participant locks the gift in for him or herself.
- The participant who picked the first gift also gets to go last, with a chance to steal any gift that’s left.
- After the final turn, you’re stuck with whatever gift you have.
Tips for hosting a white elephant gift exchange
While the procedures are fairly common, anyone hosting a white elephant gift exchange can create a few rules or guidelines for their particular event. If you’re hosting, here are some things to think about and tell all the guests:
- Price range: How much should everyone spend on gifts? Offer a range that is practical for all the guests, such as “twenty to twenty-five dollars” or “about fifty dollars.” Without a price range, some gifts might be worth much more than others.
- Off-limit gifts: You can also tell guests that certain types of gifts are off-limits, such as alcohol or lottery tickets.
- Theme: Some people prefer useful gifts instead of funny ones, so you might want to let participants know what to expect before they agree to join your exchange.
If you’re sticking with the traditional white elephant gift exchange with humorous gifts, here’s an amazing list of ideas:
1. Colorful, Themed Socks
You can find almost anything printed on socks: dinosaurs, coffee cups, video game characters, and even celebrity faces. If you’re participating in a white elephant gift exchange with open-minded adults, you can probably even find “not safe for work” images.
But ultimately, any themed socks are a humorous and even useful gift for wearing with long pants or while lounging around the house.
2. Giant Candy Bar
Bigger is better, right? This is absolutely true when it comes to sweets and hilarious white elephant gifts.
With a trip to a novelty candy store or a bit of online browsing, you’ll discover sweet treats in ridiculously large sizes, like a five-pound chocolate bar. Or, you can buy yummy candies in bulk.
The size makes this gift pretty funny, and who doesn’t want a lot of delicious candy?
3. Novelty Food
There are foods for every discerning palate. And then there are foods that are just… unique. Tickle some taste buds with a tin full of pickle-flavored popcorn. Or everyone’s favorite, a holiday fruitcake.
(In fact, fruitcake has such a bad reputation that we’ve already written about it at Giftster. Check out our fruitcake post to learn a little more about why it would be such a great white elephant gift.)
By the end of the exchange, you might even realize one of your friends or relatives really loves bacon-flavored candy canes (and, yes, those do exist).
4. Infomercial Products
Head to your favorite neighborhood box store, and pick out an infomercial or “as seen on TV” product or two for some truly “useful” and hilarious white elephant gifts.
These aren’t always cheap (that’s why companies offer easy payments of $19.99), so make sure to stick to the gift exchange budget.
Otherwise, a creative infomercial product is sure to lead to lots of laughs. And just maybe, it will be an item the recipient can actually use.
5. Elaborately Wrapped Gift Cards
Like most good jokes, this funny white elephant gift is all about the delivery.
Get creative with wrapping a gift card or group of gift cards. It’s an easy way to stay on budget and get some giggles out of the crowd.
Think wrapped boxes inside wrapped boxes, glitter, reused holiday gift bags, and lots and lots of tape. It’s the gift that keeps giving as they make a mess and finally reach the tiny gift card.
The most amusing part of this gift is probably for everyone else who gets to watch.
6. Questionable Artwork
Singing fish? Leg lamp? Framed printout of Michelangelo’s famous nude Renaissance sculpture, The David? Check, check, and check.
It’s always hilarious when someone opens an absurd decoration or piece of art that they’re supposed to display publicly in their home. Plus, questionable artwork can double as a conversation starter when guests are visiting.
If you’re really going for laughs, and the center of attention, why not give a beautiful canvas print of yourself?
7. Adulting Items
There’s just something about the term “Adulting” that raises a collective laugh of understanding. Adulting includes almost anything, from waking up early, paying bills, attending meetings, and just generally trying to be a responsible spouse, parent, or member of society.
So gather some Adulting checklists, stickers, magnets, or printed memes and add a little bit of humor to the world of being an adult. Here are some ideas:
It might surprise you how many guests at the white elephant get excited to collect little items about mortgages and dishwashers.
8. Bathroom Accessories
Who wouldn’t fight over a toilet night light? After all, it sounds like such a blast to have colored lights come from the toilet during a 3 am bathroom trip.
There’s nothing quite like a white elephant gift that belongs in the bathroom. From poop emoji trinkets to toilet timers to potty humor books, there’s almost no end to the hilarious white elephant gift ideas that are bathroom themed.
And since everyone has a bathroom, these are universally useful gifts, too.
9. Kitchen Gadgets
There are a lot of great, useful kitchen tools and appliances like toasters, waffle makers, and blenders. We aren’t talking about those.
The best kitchen gadgets for a white elephant gift exchange are useful…but only in very specific circumstances. Consider, for example, a microwavable s’more maker, a countertop popcorn popper, lightsaber chopsticks, or a singing pasta timer.
The right person at your exchange will really want one of these, and everyone else is sure to laugh.
10. Game Night Games
There are family game nights, and then there are adult games nights. If you’re participating in a gift exchange with a younger crowd, you can pick out some fun and random games from almost any store.
If your white elephant gift exchange is made up of more of an adult crowd, the options are nearly endless for games full of innuendo or downright inappropriate content.
This is the gift that keeps on giving because the games can be used again and again. Plus, it’s a perfect white elephant since many of the games you’ll find aren’t well-known classics. It will be a fun surprise for the recipient to play them for the first time.
11. Home Bar “Non” Essentials
This idea is another good one for an adult white elephant exchange. Everyone would love new bar essentials, like a nice shaker or set of whiskey glasses. But to up your white elephant game for humor, we recommend some “non” essentials.
For example, you can wrap a giant wine glass that fits an entire bottle of wine or pick out coasters with sayings related to drinking and bad decisions.
If someone at your white elephant gift exchange doesn’t drink, that’s ok. This gift can always be stolen by someone else.
12. Thrift Shop T-shirts
Maybe it’s the song “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore, but something about a collection of amazing T-shirts from a thrift store is just hilarious. Plus, they are fun to shop for.
Head to your local thrift shop and browse for donated T-shirts for bands, nostalgic TV shows and movies, and pop culture references. This gift isn’t about being cheap or lazy, it’s about finding a good number of fun and funky clothes.
We recommend buying a variety of sizes or sticking to the safety of size large. Even if the recipient doesn’t wear these shirts daily, they make good pajamas or clothes for lounging around the house.
13. Books of Questionable Helpfulness
Novelty books can be universally appealing for a white elephant gift exchange. Head to a local bookstore and browse for bestsellers by famous authors, cookbooks, and trivia books.
Ask an employee for help finding parody books. Or, check out this collection of humorous book options we’ve gathered:
- Are You My Uber?: A Parody by Sarah Dooley
- The Bob’s Burgers Cookbook: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers by Loren Bouchard
- That Was Awkward: The Art and Etiquette of the Awkward Hug by Emily Flake
- Dad Jokes: The Good, the Bad, the Terrible by Jimmy Niro
Many of these will end up on coffee tables or in guest bedrooms so others can enjoy their humor, too.
14. Holiday Decorations
White elephant gift exchanges tend to take place around the holiday season. What better gift than some holiday decorations?
There are a few funny options you can try for this category of gift. You can find a decoration that is so over the top that it’s hilarious to look at (but probably won’t ever get used), wrap up a silly giant inflatable outdoor decoration like a Christmas dinosaur, or just go straight to a collection of naughty Santas.
No matter what you choose, everyone is sure to have a giggle or two.
15. An Ugly Holiday Sweater
You might say that we’ve saved the best for last, and this gift idea almost speaks for itself. Somehow in the past few decades, the sweaters your grandmother used to wear for Christmas dinner became all the rage for parties.
If you want to learn more about this tradition, we’ve covered it in our post Where Did Ugly Sweater Parties Come From Anyway?
Prepare for some trips to the clothing store or on shopping sites to find the absolute best holiday sweater to hide in a gift bag for your white elephant gift exchange. We bet this one will be a winner.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with any of these hilarious and creative white elephant gifts that (almost) everyone will want.
Holiday Gift Exchanges with Giftster
If you are participating in any other holiday gift exchanges, such as Secret Santa, we can help you with that, too.
Giftster is an online wish list maker that has a Secret Santa generator. Participants can also build their wish lists on Giftster, and others can shop lists and anonymously mark items as purchased.
When it’s time for your next Secret Santa (or any gift exchange), draw names for your Secret Santa online at giftster.com and share wish lists between members.