White Elephant Gift Ideas Perfect for Any Holiday Party

At some point in the past, a wise, old sage figured out that the only thing nicer than sharing is taking. And thus the ancient custom of the “White Elephant” gift exchange was born.

friend gift exchange
Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Known by various names from “Dirty Santa” to “Yankee Swap,” the larcenous idea is that everybody in the group — office party, family gathering, bowling league, etc. — brings a gift of a pre-set value (let’s say $10). Unlike “Secret Santa,” this custom offers a bit more bloodsport: Gift Receiver No. 1  opens a present, then Gift Receiver No. 2 opens a present. Here’s where it gets interesting: if No. 2 likes No. 1’s present better, then No. 1 has to relinquish the gift. And so it goes, right down the line, where — depending on your group’s rules — the last person to open a present is allowed to choose from any previously opened gift for trade. Hilarity ensues. Hopefully. (Note: Get the exchange over with before too much eggnog is consumed. Wrestling at a holiday party is not a good look.)

As of there isn’t enough pressure on holiday gift-giving, the (usually) low price point and lack of a specific target may leave you momentarily baffled at the vast array of potential gifting choices. Our advice? Go funny. Go wide. Go selfish. You never know — play your cards right and, at the end of the round, you just might end up getting back your own gift.

White Elephant Gift Ideas

Pracitcal Gifts

best white elephant gift ideas practical gifts socks

Lottery Tickets

All it takes is a dollar and a dream, right? And the Powerball is up to how much again? Look, if it’s the winning ticket, you’ll never forgive yourself, but think how much fun you’ll have at the winner’s early retirement party.

Low-Denomination Gift Card

Because nothing says you care like a gift card that looks like you didn’t spend any time thinking about it, other than the five minutes while you were waiting in line at the grocery store?


Come on. It worked for your aunt every single year when you were a kid. How could it fail now?

Gag Gifts

best white elephant gift ideas stack of toilet paper getty images

36-Pack of Toilet Paper

Because what’s more practical than toilet paper? Pretty much everybody uses it, and the extra-large, gaily-wrapped package is sure to generate a lot of interest…and a lot of ribbing of both giver and receiver.

Dad Jokes Book

We’re relatively certain that there’s a toilet paper joke in here, somewhere. Given the current crop of interest in dads — from jeans to jokes to commercials — a dad joke book is sure to brighten things up around the holiday table.

Fake Poop and Other Gross Things (Within Reason)

We’re not quite sure how fake poop ever became … well, a thing, but let’s just go with it. Think of it as really colorful manure to help stimulate creative growth.

Homemade Gifts

holiday cookies
Foodcollection RF/Getty Images

A Mixtape

Because everyone needs to understand how friggin’ cool Mongolian throat singing, the pop stylings of Pavarotti, or the complete masterworks of DEVO truly are. Admittedly, this goes a little above and beyond in the dedication department, but it’s an awesome opportunity to really pour some of your own personality into creating a truly unique gift.

A Scarf

If you can knit, this one is where it’s at. (You could also just buy one.)

A Tin of Party Mix or Cookies

Why buy a bag of Chex Mix when you can make five times the amount at home for the same price? And then give it away. You can do the same with cookies or any other little treat you happen to know how to make.

Cheap Gifts

Grab a bucket. Fill it up. Tie a bow on it. Done. It could be auto car products, a bunch of coffee mugs, or a hodgepodge of useful little items every day. It won’t cost you much and it will probably end up being the most fought-over present. Enjoy the spirit of giving.

mug gifts
Michelle Patrick/EyeEm/Getty Images

Boozy Gifts

Make sure your gathering is age-appropriate, but this oldie but goodie offers a chance to show up with something that warms more than just the heart. Get bonus points by producing a hand-lettered label for the bottle.

For “real” gift ideas, head over to The Manual’s gift guide for the guy who has everything for a few ideas to get for the man who “needs nothing.”


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