White Elephant History

History of White Elephant Gift Exchange

We have all been invited to a white elephant party at one time or another, but where did the term “white elephant” come from for a gift-exchange party? What is the history of white elephant gift exchange?

To look at white elephant game history, we must start with the term white elephant. This term originated in Asian countries, where white elephants were considered holy but were very expensive to keep. When displeased with a subordinate, a king would give him a gift of a white elephant. The gift was so costly to keep that it would put the subordinate in financial ruin.

The term white elephant came to be known as a burdensome possession; creating more trouble than it is worth. 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.

White Elephant Game History

But how did this term come into use for a white elephant game? Some sources say that is still debated, but the main theory is that Ezra Cornell (as in Cornell University), who was often at parties and social gatherings, began using the term “white elephant” to describe the gifts at such parties. Obviously, the term stuck and became used for gift-exchange parties, which became popular across the United States and Canada.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary says that a white elephant is a property requiring much care and expense, and while it may not be of value to its present owner, the object may have value to others. That exactly describes a gift at a white elephant party.

For more fun, take a look at all the different white elephant party names and interesting tidbits about some of those names.

White Elephant Rules

Most people who frequent holiday office parties know the basic white elephant rules. The game is usually fun, but sometimes can take a turn for the worse if an undesirable gift gets opened early or if there is a misunderstanding about who picks first, who picks last, how many times a specific gift can be stolen, and so on. Wacky White Elephant gives you all the excitement and fun of a traditional white elephant gift exchange party and adds official rules and the added dimension of playing cards to take the game to the next level.

So purchase one (or more) today and enjoy all the excitement and fun that comes from your next Wacky White Elephant party.