10 Different Types of White Elephant Gifts

Navigating their categories and how to walk away the undisputed champion.

Thursday evening. The sound of scorch being uncorked echoes off the dog toys scattered about the living room floor. I’m breaking my rule about no alcohol on weeknights. It’s a slow Friday tomorrow and I don’t…. wait. There’s something I’m forgetting. The white elephant gift exchange.

Panic sets in. I lock eyes with the dog. She does not share my concern in the least. The scotch is still vibrating from being placed on a coaster as I grab my iPhone. To Amazon I go!

I’m reminded of the white elephant gift angle — this isn’t only for someone else. It could be for me as well. Where do I start?

There’s a good chance you’re getting roped into one of these gifting events as I type this sentence. It could be a white elephant gift exchange at work. Maybe at home with family or friends.

Regardless, you need to be ready and no simple gas station trinket will do. Otherwise, you could be the one going home with the bedazzled key ring that says “Karen” on it.

Before we get into the categories, let’s tackle a quick history of this sensational souvenir soirée.

The Gift of an Elephant

A brief digging through articles or exercise in Google-Fu results will give you a similar story:

Legend has it that the King of Siam (present-day Thailand) was known to give white elephants to those who displeased him. Given the cultural significance of these animals, regifting or putting them to work wasn’t an option. Furthermore, the upkeep would push many to financial ruin.

There are also opposing thoughts about this narrative, claiming that no such act ever happened.

The story continues as the legendary PT Barnum went out of his way to acquire such an elephant; being rare in color. Only to find that when delivered, it was gray with pink spots. Some say that the term “white” wasn’t translated properly and in reality, it only referenced strangely-colored or patterned elephants.

What everyone is sure about, however, is that the term (along with “Yankee Swap”) was adopted in the U.S. somewhere in the 1920s. Thanks, Jay Gatsby.

It has since become an enjoyable holiday ritual where everyone brings their most obnoxious, regifted items for a gift exchange amongst friends. But what does the minimalist with a good sense of humor do?

Let’s get to the gifting.

None of these are affiliate links, just an attempt at some holiday humor.

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Photo by Wesual Click on Unsplash

1. The Office-Appropriate Gift

Many of us need this one. It’s become a staple of American work-life and you'll need to navigate this one smoothly. Maybe a high heel tape dispenser? Or go safe with something like a desktop game set.

Remember, this is all about being funny yet forgettable, just in case HR doesn’t follow the same funny IG account as you do.

2. The Twisted Humor Gift

What do you mean Butt Face Soap isn’t appropriate for work? Clearly you don’t work with creatives who clock in at 10:00 and out at 4:00.

Go to Plan B and grab a Toilet Bowl Mug. You know, for coffee. That’s brown. Do I need to spell it out any further?

3. The Gift You Don’t Want to Claim (But you do)

It really comes down to how much you wish unicorns were real. If you fall somewhere in the Santa-to-Tooth-Ferry range, these unicorn farts are for you.

From my California home to yours, an Avocado Tree Growing Kit. Now instead of nearly slicing off your fingers while making brunch, you can put those extra parts to good use.

4. The NSFW Gift

Everyone loves stress balls. They calm you down after a long meeting with Bob from IT. Or after a long commute home. Here are some that are quite literally… well, you’ll see.

Coworkers love to joke about being chained to their desks. Now is your chance to help them get through it with style. Fuzzy handcuffs are the gift that keeps on giving, Clark.

5. The Gift of Pop Culture Excellence

From a Face-Off t-shirt to a pair of Pup Fiction socks, this is where you can really show off your pop culture knowledge. It’s alright if this gift is too obscure for your audience. That’s why you’re awesome—and so is your gift.

6. The Useful Yet Odd Gift

You’re on the couch. You have a drink. The coffee table is miles away. Problem solved—a coaster that fits on the corner of the couch. Whoever ends up with this will love you. Maybe.

Hot Dog and Bun Toaster. I just don’t have anything for this except… I want one now too.

7. The Soon-To-Be-Regifted Gift

Beards may be in style but you know what won’t be for long (arguably aren’t now either): knit hat-beard combos. I know, it was a struggle to type that.

Remember the Golden Girls? Yeah, likely not. But someone in nearly any circle of friends or coworkers will. And after you “ok boomer” them, everyone will be happy to have Golden Girls Shot Glasses in the mix.

8. The Safe-For-Parents Gift

Does Ms. Buttons love to cuddle with your parents since you left for college? Well here are some, and I quote, “handicrafts” they can do with the cat.

Do all parents love gardening? Maybe. Maybe Not. Maybe they simply think gnomes are funny. Regardless, a cat eating gnomes is something we can all get behind. Even Aunt Debbie who we all know has a twisted side.

9. The Gift for Siblings

There’s one thing you can always share with siblings; a love for junk food. Whether they’re crashing on your couch to get away from college dorms or simply visiting and complain about how cold your house is… a pizza blanket is going to be perfecto.

Or maybe they’re more party-minded. Test their skills with a Beer IQ game. Just be sure to read up before playing so you can properly school them, as only an older sibling can do.

10. The Gift You Actually Want For Yourself

Have you ever thought that growing your own mushrooms might be more cost-effective? If not, please move to San Francisco. You’ll see what I mean.

Coworkers, friends; whatever. Almost everyone can and will get on the wine train. One gift that will definitely be stolen back and forth will be a Wine Bottle Glass. For those weekdays when the meetings ran late and the emails keep on keepin’ on.

There you have it. Ideas. Zero judgment. And just a sprinkling of possible history for trivia night. Go forth and be merry, giving those gifts that people didn’t know they wanted, but you did.

Happy Space Cats is a humor publication here on Medium looking for new writers and followers!

Art director, tech geek, and house shoe enthusiast. ✖ I write about creativity, personal growth, and productivity, one existential crisis at a time.

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