White Elephant Gift Exchanges Rules, History, and Tradition

White Elephant Gift Exchanges Rules, History, and TraditionWhite Elephant gift exchange or Yankee Swap as it is popularly called a fun-filled holiday gift exchanging party game. People share fun gifts between friends and family and it is one of the most popular games for exchanging of gifts, making the whole idea of the traditional gift exchanging more exciting and fun. For those of you who are not aware of how the popular game is played and want to find it out here’s a quick look into the procedure, game rules and variations of rules that are applicable.

How to Play White Elephant Gift Exchange?

To begin with, the game starts by getting together all participants into their seats and finding the game leader- a part that is usually played by the party host. Each player gives a wrapped gift, all of which are kept in a central place. Following this, the players get to decide the order in which they will take turns choosing them. The first participant selects a wrapped gift and opens it following which each participant gets to open a new gift or has the option to ‘steal’ the unwrapped gift of another person. When the gift of a player is stolen, he or she gets to select another wrapped gift and open it. The game comes to an end when the last participant has got his chance. However, there are some variations in the rules here….so over to the variations now!

Variations in Game Rules

Variations in the gaming rules have risen because the stealing process can delay the game and can lead to various downsides to some places in the order of play. Here are few of the variations:

  • A specific gift may be predominantly desired, thus delaying the game duration to a great extent. Two variations have been implemented in order to overcome this prolongation. The first variation in rule is that a gift cannot be stolen more than once for a single turn. Though, this turns out to be a great benefit to the final player due to which a second variation is adopted. The second variation is that a gift cannot be stolen after it has been stolen for specific number of times (normally three) after which it is ‘dead’ (‘frozen’ or ‘safe’).
  • Because the first participant is the only player without the choice of unwrapped gifts, a rule variation lets this person to take a final chance after all the gifts have been unwrapped and exchange with any ‘dead’ gift.
  • One more variation in rules is to leave all the gifts covered till the last. Stealing is still permitted till a pre-fixed number of times, though it must be stolen even before the gifts are unwrapped. In such a scenario, gifts cannot be stolen after unwrapping them.
  • One variation is that each participant does not first unpack a gift. They can opt to open a covered gift or exchange for a gift that’s already opened.
  • Another popular variant indicates that gifts must not be bought, but rather should be items lying around the garage or house- items that are precious but not useful to the owner.
  • Another choice is to maintain the anonymity of the gifts, in which case boxes of standard size may be used. If not, gifts may be covered inside-out with the white side of the wrapper showing out so as to keep them anonymous.
  • In another variant, the party host gives many additional covered packages that have cards in place of gifts. Instructions can be found on the cards like: trade this card for the final wrapped gift or choose 2 covered gifts. For each card that leads a participant to keep 2 gifts, the party host gives an additional wrapped gift.

White Elephant Gift Exchange History

Most of you may be wondering about the history of this fun-filled game. Though it’s still a debated topic, the key principle is that Ezra Cornell, who was often at social gatherings and parties, started using the phrase ‘white elephant’ to depict the gifts at such get-togethers. Apparently, this term stuck and turned out to be used for gift swapping parties, which became all the rage across Canada and the United States.

The online dictionary of Merriam-Webster explains that a white elephant refers to a property that needs intense care and expenditure. It may not be valuable to the current owner, but it may be so for others. That precisely explains a gift at a Yankee Swap party.

The gifts that are exchanged in a White Elephant gift exchange party make the event all the more fun and it is always interesting to see the faces of people when they open their gifts!

Ultimately, the main objective of the party is to entertain the participants rather than to gain anything valuable!