White elephant game ideas

When it comes to white elephant gifts, Goodwill is THE place to find the best ones!

We all know of a white elephant gift exchange as a party game where amusing and sometimes impractical gifts are exchanged during festivities, but where did the idea originate? According to The History Guy, it comes from Siam, now Thailand, where the king would gift a real white elephant to those he wished to ruin, hoping that the maintenance costs would financially ruin the new owners. In more recent history, P.T. Barnum of Barnum & Bailey Circus purchased a white elephant for his circus, which was highly anticipated by spectators. However, viewers were unimpressed as expectations were not met, and the white elephant became a symbol of a burdensome possession.

Today we celebrate white elephant exchange as a way to entertain. Here are four ideas on how to make a game out of your white elephant gift exchange. If you prefer to stick to the traditional concept, we’ve you covered, too.

Left-Right Stories

While everyone sits in a circle holding a gift, someone reads a Christmas-themed story that includes the words “left” and “right” several times each. The has a few story options. Every time the guests hear “left” in the story, they pass their gift to the left; every time they hear “right,” they pass it to the right. At the end of the story, everyone gets to unwrap the gift they are holding.

Dice Game

Everyone grabs a gift and sits in a circle. Choose someone to go first. That person gets a die. If you add more gifts, increase the number of dice — two gifts two dice, etc. Participants roll the die and take the action based on the corresponding number. The game ends when all gifts are opened. See the full list of rules at


You’ll need bingo cards for this one. If you need a reminder of the rules, find them here. Start by putting all the gifts on a table. Once a person calls “Bingo” they get to pick one of the gifts and open it. The next person to get bingo has two choices — choose an unwrapped gift or steal a gift from someone who opened one already. If a person gets bingo a second time, they have the option to steal a gift. Play continues until all gifts have been claimed.

Drawing Game

Everyone needs a piece of paper and something to draw with. Have guests close their eyes and draw what the host calls out. For example, instruct guests to draw Santa’s sleigh in the middle of the paper. Then to the left of the sleigh, draw a pine tree and so one. Check out this example from Once you are done with all the steps, calculate the points. The person with the most points gets to choose first. You then can use the traditional rules for the rest.

Thrift shopping is one of the best ways to search for a unique item while staying under budget and reducing your impact this holiday season. Find a local Goodwill and turn one person’s donation into the most prized white elephant treasure.

Whether you love thrifting for the thrill of the hunt, to feel good about helping others or to help keep items out of the landfills, you’ll find 1,000s of new items daily.

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