Archive for December, 2010


white elephant

December 25, 2010

I wanted to post this yesterday, but the activities of the day made that impossible. I was shopping and preparing for my family’s Christmas Eve party. Christmas Eve is probably my favorite day of the holiday season. Every year my family has a Christmas Eve party and it is so much fun. There’s good food, laughing, games and gifts. Each year a different family has the party at their house. The most anticipated part of the night is by far the white elephant gift exchange.

white elephant party invite

I’m sure most of you know what a white elephant gift exchange is, but if you don’t here’s how it works:

At a holiday party, each individual invited must bring a wrapped gift that’s usually less than $10. At the start of the game party member pulls a number. The number is the order in which you will choose a gift. All the gifts go in a pile in the middle. The person who pulled number one is the first to choose a gift from the pile. He unwraps it so everyone can see what he got. The second person can either choose a gift from the pile or steal the gift the first person chose. The cycle continues until everyone has a gift. A gift can only be stolen twice. After the gift is safe and no one else can steal it. The best thing about the game is that you can get a good gift or you can get a gag gift. My family likes the gag gifts too much, so there have been some funny times. It has even got to the point where we will save bad gifts for a whole year and bring them back to the next Christmas Eve party white elephant exchange.

That’s a lot of background, but I wanted this post to be an explanation of the term white elephant and how it started. From wikipedia a white elephant is  “a valuable possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth”. So basically it’s a gift that is more trouble than it’s worth.

In ancient times in Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia, albino elephants, which are white-ish in color, were considered sacred. Often an emperor would give an aristocrat he did not like a white elephant as a gift. Since white elephants were holy the recipient could not give it away or use it for labor. He would have to take care of it, expending all of his funds to keep the elephant alive. This would usually leave the aristocrat in a dire financial state.

worshiping the white elephant

worshiping the white elephant

The first recorded use of the term in the United States was in 1892 by G.E. Jewbury in Letters. He wrote:

“His services are like so many white elephants, of which nobody can make use, and yet that drain one’s gratitude, if indeed one does not feel bankrupt.”

albino (white) elephant

Next time you use the the term “white elephant” think back to its origins. You should even inform your friends about the history of the expression. It’ll make you seem knowledgeable! :)

Did you receive any white elephant gifts this Christmas season?



merry christmas!

December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed the day with friends and family!

If you want to get a head start and use this image on Christmas cards next year, go here!