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White Elephant

Emily Dore | Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … an oven mitt? So goes the infamous “Office” episode in which Phyllis gives Michael an oven mitt as part of their annual Secret Santa Christmas exchange. He despises the present and decides to “salvage” his Christmas pile through a new game called White Elephant — a gift exchange ritual in which presents are passed around in often humiliating fashion. But don’t be fooled by the name; Pam was right when she called it by its other alias, Nasty Christmas.
The rules are as follows. With exchange gifts in tow, all eager participants sit in a circle, playground style. Not only does the sitting seem like the old days of duck-duck-goose, but friends may even turn into children with the grabbing and screaming that is to follow. Setting the gifts in the middle of the circle, everyone awaits their designated turn to pick a present. They are given the option to either pick a new wrapped gift or steal an unwrapped one from another person. If a gift is stolen, the victim can either choose to steal another gift (not the one taken from him) or a new gift. Gifts may only be stolen three times, before they are safely in someone’s hands. Tears and                                               shouting ensue, as it becomes ever clearer who has good taste in gift-giving.
In a game of such high stakes, it seems difficult to leave with a beautiful necklace instead of grandma’s traditional fruit cake. A prized gift already in hand can be snatched in no time and traded for everyone’s favorite Christmas sweater. But there are ways to guarantee success in this game.
First, ensure the gift bought for White Elephant is completely ridiculous. Drop the sentimentality, and remember the other name for this game: Nasty Christmas. SkyMall is highly suggested, as well as the always lovely Miley Cyrus blonde wig-Dora the Explorer sparkly gloves combination.  
Next, mark out the good gifts. This can be tricky with the wrapping paper, but usually it is easy to tell who has brought a classy gift by the facial expression. Small packages bring great rewards, and large cushy packages might mean a sweet new Snuggie.
Then, assume poker face.  As stated before, this is a high stakes game, and if another person recognizes someone else’s desperate desire for a gift, there might be some spite, instead of good cheer, spreading around the circle.
Finally, “thou shalt not steal” applies for one time only in this game, so use it wisely. The element of surprise is always advised to stir things up. However, make sure to tread lightly for friendships to be maintained post-game and into the New Year.
This advice is not given prematurely but from years of experience. How else could someone get stuck with an ugly yellow box rather than two beautiful green bracelets? The answer: White Elephant … and of course, a somewhat malicious friend.
 Christmas is a time to come together, when people gather around the Yule Log to share laughs, memories and good cheer with friends and family.  In the spirit of Christmas, a dose of gift-giving and receiving is necessary … but make sure to hold on tight to that gift.