Most people love white elephant parties, but some people don't understand them. I think this is because the white elephant of the past and the white elephant of the present are different things. Everyone hears stories of the best gift ever that had the whole party laughing hysterically, so most people try to bring a gift that will produce the same effect. All too often these attempts are made by people who don't have a sense of humor. Or not a good sense of humor, at least.
I went to a party this year where someone brought a "Shave with me Barbie," which was a barbie doll in a package with hair glued to her legs and armpits and a pink razor. It was junk, but it was funny. This was an acceptable white elephant gift--because it was funny. And it got stolen twice.
Someone else brought a six pack of Henry Weinhard's root beer. Not a funny gift, but it was acceptable because it was desriable. And it got stolen twice.
Then another person brought a half used package of Pepto-Bismol. When it was opened, he and his wife were obliviously laughing in the corner while everyone else let out a collective "hmmmphsooooollllaaaammmmmeeeeemmmmmmhhhhmjhjasfd." This was not an acceptable gift because it WAS NOT FUNNY and WAS NOT DESIRABLE.
Last year I went to the ever-anticipated "Yankee Swap" party with my married friends. This is one of the few times each year that we all get together (because what married person wants to hang out with single guys?), and we bring awesome gifts. Because some of the guests have terrible gift track records, we don't even call it a white elephant anymore (even though it still kind of is). To the "Yankee Swap" you are supposed to bring the type of stuff that you want but never buy (like stuff on QVC, etc.) Some of the best gifts of years past have been: a Sega Genesis, some strands of our friend Jackson's chest hair*, and the deed to a square inch of land somewhere in Texas.
Even with "Yankee Swap" replacing the old "white elephant" title for at least two years now, some of the guests still fail to grasp the concept. Last year I brought a sweatshirt that said "That's what she said" on it and, Fearing that it would be not well received, I offered the recipient an alternate--they could take the sweatshirt or "mystery," which was movie tickets. Retail value of both gifts was around $20--which is toward the high end for this particular party. The person that ended up with the sweatshirt picked "mystery"--took the movie tickets and left me with a sweatshirt I could never bring myself to wear**.
When it was my turn, I decided to open a new gift (instead of stealing), and I got a cat book. An old, used cat book with pictures and descriptions of all the different varieties of domestic cats. Even if I liked cats, I still wouldn't have wanted it. It was received with a collective "ohhhhhhhdudethatsuckshmmmmmffffffffwhobroughtthatstupidgift?" from the crowd. After it was all over one of the marrieds came up to me and offered to trade me a lava lamp for the sweatshirt, which I did. Then, later that night at a different party, I gave the lava lamp and the cat book to a girl who I'd never met as a thanks for letting us come to her house. It was a total wash.
If you are still planning on going to a white elephant party this year, remember that if you don't have a sense of humor*** just bring something cool. I'd rather get one bottle of root beer that is worth $1 than a cat book or some half-used OTC's. It's not funny, it's just dumb and cheap. And not fair because you may end up leaving with Sonic the Hedgehog or owning land in the Lone Star State.
* Jackson's chest hair was in a small, clear box that could be hung from a Christmas tree. It worked because everyone admires Jackson for being the most manly human being alive. And I think it came with a gift certificate to a real restaurant or something like that.
**Not that I didn't like the sweatshirt--it was really funny, but I couldn't bring myself to wear it in public.
***Are you wondering if you have a sense of humor or not? I'll give you some tips for how you can tell. If you bring a "funny" gift to your white elephant party this year, pay attention to the reaction of the crowd when your gift is opened. Is anybody laughing? Do you hear things like "that is a great gift" or "classic"? Or is it kind of quiet and mumbley? Now, look at the face of the person who received the gift. Are they disappointed? Do they try (unsuccessfully) to pawn it off to someone else? If you get the mumbley, quiet, disappointed kind of reaction then you have no sense of humor. Give up and just bring cool stuff from now on or you may not be invited back in the future.
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