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The Dreaded Holiday Gift Exchange Made Simple

It’s that time of year.  No, I don’t mean when you have to tough it out through the longer than usual TSA lines at the airport for holiday travel.  No, I don’t mean when you’re forced to clean every corner of the house frantically in anticipation of the in-laws arriving.  No, I don’t mean when your go-to line at every meal becomes “the diet starts on January 1”.  It’s the time of … wait for it … the holiday party.  Awkward?  Fun?  Mandatory?  All of the above?

You’re not alone.

Forbes recently took a survey and found that when it comes to office holiday parties, one-third of employees don’t like them, one-third are indifferent, and only one-third actually like them.  This year, the numbers are likely to change.  Less than half of all office holiday parties will serve alcohol at all, down from 62% last year.  Mistletoe is all but completely banned.  The only thing left really is the white elephant gift exchange.

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White Elephant … What?

So how exactly do white elephant gifts at holiday parties work?  Who came up with them anyway?  And why are more and more gatherings implementing white elephant-related gift exchanges?  Where do you go for white elephant gift ideas?

“White elephant” is believed to have been used at social gatherings dating as far back as 1828.  The practice has evolved over time, starting as an extravagant but burdensome gift swap used by royals to show displeasure in a subject’s performance, and now used as a socially entertaining gift exchange.

White Elephant Rules

While several variations exist on the exchange of white elephant gifts, the same general rules apply in all white elephant situations.  Everyone brings a basically neutral gift, usually wrapped and meeting a target price point.  The gifts are piled up, and you usually don’t know who brought what.  Participants are numbered and take turns choosing a gift.  Play starts with person one opening a gift of his/her choice.  Player two has the option to “steal” person one’s gift, or open a new gift.  If you steal, the victim gets to choose a new gift at random to open and keep.  If you open a new gift, that becomes your gift.  As play continues, there are more opened gifts to choose from, increasing the odds you will end up with something you actually like.

Obviously, “success” in the game becomes the luck of your number.  If you are a higher number picking later, you have more to choose from.  If you are near the beginning, it’s slimmer pickings.  But either way you leave with a gift that may or may not ever get taken out of the trunk of your car after your office holiday party.

White elephant gifts and office gift exchanges don’t have to be a burden.  They don’t have to be the annoying task on your to-do list that has you jogging the aisles of Target 30 minutes before your party begins.  Get into the spirit of giving, and be the giver of the gift that gets passed around and ends up the envy of the party.

Keep in mind here that white elephant gifts should be generally gender neutral, age neutral, and socially sensitive to the nature of party guests.  Of course, take these guidelines with a grain of salt as you know your guest list better than I do!  That said, here are some of this year’s top white elephant gifts.

  1. Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker


We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  And yet, over half of all American adults still skip breakfast every day.  Make it easier on your colleagues with the Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker.  This top seller is great because you can use fresh ingredients to make a quick meal.  For here or to go?  Whatever works for you!  The breakfast sandwich maker can fit English muffins, biscuits, small bagels and more!  The best part is that all the parts are removable AND dishwasher safe.  It doesn’t get much better than this!  It’s currently discounted on Amazon, snag it here!

  1. Water Bottles

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We’re all trying to drink those 8 cups of water per day, but it’s not that easy.  Water infusion bottles are becoming more and more popular.  They’re a healthy alternative to sugared juices and sodas that promote better hydration habits.  I’m sure most people at your holiday party have a New Year’s Resolution related to healthier lifestyles of some sort on their list.  One great infusion bottle comes from Savvy Infusion which makes a completely leak proof, shatterproof, dishwasher safe bottle that fits in cup holders.  Hydracy also makes a great leak proof bottle that is sweat proof, keeping your drink fresh 50% longer.

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If water infusion doesn’t ring your bell, but you still want something to promote healthier hydration habits and reduce annual landfill contributions, look at gifting a Hydro Flask.  These babies keep the drink of your choice cold up to 24 hours and hot up to 12 hours.  It’s a versatile product that appeals to the masses.  There’s no condensation and no heat transfer outside of the bottle either.  I wouldn’t mind getting one of these for my long work days.  They come in multiple colors, sizes, and have different cap and strap options.

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  1. Charging Solutions

Let’s face it.  Everyone has devices.  Everyone needs to charge those devices.  What greater Christmas Gift than the gift of power?  The Anker PowerCore is our pick for yet another great white elephant gift idea.  It’s practical, it’s convenient, it’s portable, and it’s almost necessary in this day and age.


The great thing about the Anker PowerCore is that it’s compact and efficient.  It is the size of a lipstick tube and it detects your device’s power needs to deliver the fastest charge speed up to 1 amp.  It’s compatible with a host of phones and portable devices, so it’s sure to work with whoever gets it.  The Anker is sold here.

Take charging a step further and give the gift of power AND home upgrade.  The Top Greener TU2154A is a high speed USB charger outlet.  Think of it as a DIY Christmas Gift.  This receptacle is easy to install and replaces any standard wall outlet utilizing existing wires, so there’s no need for an electrician.  Say good bye to adapters, and hello to faster, more efficient USB charging.  For friends or colleagues with young children, they’ll be happy to know the receptacles are tamper-resistant and long lasting.  Heck, buy them a two-pack so they can use one at work and one at home!


  1. Board Games

Believe it or not, people do still play board games!  It’s not just for kids anymore.  Tweens, teens, millennials and more are all still hyped about games, especially during the holiday season when there are lots of people around to play.  Gift the gift that adds color and entertainment to any social gathering.  Now you could go with the traditional classics people refer to as the best board games such as Life, Monopoly, and Trivial Pursuit.  The makers of these games have come out with modern makeovers of each of these games and they’re just as good as the classic versions.  There’s the next generation of board games that are crowd thrillers like Taboo, Settlers of Catan, and 5 Second Rule.  These are sure to provide hours of entertainment.  But on Black Friday this year, I was at Wal Mart and saw a really odd looking game.  I came across Watch Ya Mouth.


It looked really weird, and I immediately thought to myself, “O great, we’d have to wash those mouth things really good every time, or buy a bunch of disposable ones.”  Not interested in any extra cleaning, I walked away.  But at the check stand I noticed quite a few people had this game in their carts.  As Black Friday came to an end and I went out to do regular shopping, this game kept popping up.  Finally I looked it up.  I was intrigued in learning this game got its start on Kickstarter.  It was a successful campaign that went to market because of the 600 plus backers they got in their initial fundraising round.  I read more about the game and read the reviews and decided to buy one.  I got it here.  I missed out on the amazing Black Friday deal, but it was worth paying a few bucks more.   IT’S HILARIOUS!  My family played it just last night and it is side-splitting funny.  You look and sound so ridiculous doing it, but then so does everyone else, so you let your guard down and really get into it.

  1. Gift Cards

You really can’t go wrong with gift cards.  Sure a lot of people say it’s for people who are lazy or who procrastinated, it’s not really thoughtful or personal, etc.  That may be true, and yet people still are so happy to receive a gift card because it gives them a little bit of freedom to choose something they really need or would really enjoy.


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For holiday parties I like to do things one step above Target or Starbucks, as much as they are fun to receive.  Gift cards for entertainment like golf packages or movie theaters are a big hit, and that’s something people can do with their time off during the holidays.  Be careful with iTunes gift cards.  There are so many streaming services out there now that iTunes may not be as universally accepted as it once was.  If you want to go generic the best bet is Amazon.

  1. Sweets and Treats

Most people don’t start their diets until January 1, so if you’re going to a white elephant party before then, why not sweeten up your gift with sweets?  Sure everyone is giving chocolates and treats, why not join in on the fun?  You’ve got your classic See’s Candy boxes and the always loved Ferrero Rochero chocolates.  There’s also Lindt Chocolate Truffles and of course the classic jar of Hershey’s Kisses.  But you’re looking for something with a little extra kick, a little extra pizzaz, maybe even a wow factor.  Try this:  A hot chocolate gift basket.  Add a bag of marshmallows and a Red Box gift card and Voila!  People will be impressed with your creativity and you’ll be the talk of the party!


If putting it together yourself is asking just a little too much, get one already made from Harry and David.


I think it’s safe to say that there are a lot of holiday parties out there.  There are a lot of gift exchanges going on.  There are only so many hours in a day and there’s only so much brain power left this time of year to put into finding the perfect gifts.  What will you take to your white elephant gift exchange?