Archive for the ‘History’ Category


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?



lucy the elephant

April 6, 2010

Today marks the opening day for guided tours of Lucy the Elephant in Margate, New Jersey. Lucy is a 129 year old, 90 ton, 65 foot tall wooden elephant. Born in 1881, she is considered America’s oldest roadside attraction. James Vincent de Paul Lafferty, Jr. is the creator of Miss Lucy. He wanted to attract visitors and buyers to South Atlantic City. I am not really sure why he thought a giant elephant would attract people to the area but it actually kind of worked. In 1976, Lucy became a National Historic Landmark. However, Lucy’s life has never been easy. In 1969, Lucy was almost destroyed but protests and fundraisers by the Save Lucy Committee saved her. They were able to renonvate and relocate Lucy, but the struggles remain. Maintaining Lucy is very costly and the Save Lucy Committee continues to work hard to raise money to keep Lucy from falling apart. I think this would be a great attraction to visit if you are in the Jersey area. Something different and fun!

Lucy the Elephant

Admission fee: Adults $4.00, Children $3.00
Address: 9200 Atlantic Avenue, Margate, NJ 08402
Phone: 609-823-6473
Send donations to: Save Lucy Committee, Inc., P.O. Box 3336, Margate, NJ 08402


elephant history: hanno

March 12, 2010

Think about getting an elephant as a gift… interesting gift right? I mean I would love to have an elephant but I dont expect to find an elephant with a bow on it, sitting on my front porch on my 23rd birthday. Although dreams do come true so you never know…

Anyway, Hanno, the white elephant, was a gift. King Manuel I of Portugal gave Pope Leo X the Asian elephant on the the Pope’s coronation. So I guess King Manuel thought to himself what would my good friend the Pope like as a gift and then he had an epiphany…an elephant!!! a white one! Most likely Hanno was albino. Albino elephants can be white or pink. (Interesting fact, i know)

Well, it turns out Pope Leo X loved Hanno dearly. Hanno became the Pope’s favorite pet and he spent tons of quality time with Hanno. Hanno often participated in processions as well.

The sad thing is Hanno died at the age of 6. Hanno lived from 1510 to June 8th 1516. It is said that Hanno had a bad case of constipation, and they tried to treat it. However, the treatment ended up killing the young elephant. Pope Leo X, a good master and friend, was at Hanno’s side at the time of his death. Hanno was buried in the Cortile del Belvedere, and the Pope wrote Hanno’s epitaph. It read:

Under this great hill I lie buried

Mighty elephant which the King Manuel
Having conquered the Orient
Sent as captive to Pope Leo X.
At which the Roman people marvelled, —
A beast not seen for a long time,
And in my brutish breast they perceived human feelings.
Fate envied me my residence in the blessed Latium
And had not the patience to let me serve my master a full three years.
But I wish, oh gods, that the time which Nature would have assigned to me,
and Destiny stole away,
You will add to the life of the great Leo.

He lived seven years
He died of angina
He measured twelve palms in height.
Giovanni Battista Branconio dell’Aquila
Privy chamberlain to the pope
And provost of the custody of the elephant,
Has erected this in 1516, the 8th of June,
In the fourth year of the pontificate of Leo X.

That which Nature has stolen away
Raphael of Urbino with his art has restored.

To learn more about Hanno, read The Pope’s Elephant by Silvio A. Bedini

sketch of Hanno