Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The (White) Elephant in the Room

A friend of mine has been invited to a White Elephant Party, to which party-goers are asked to bring gifts that are "random, strange and under $10." To complicate matters further, it's a work party. And, of course, she doesn't know exactly who will receive her gift (so anything monogrammed is out). A tough task, to be sure, so it's time for SB Gift Girl to dust off the old blog and get back to work.

Think about it: gift exchanges (particularly the kind where people can swipe each other's gifts) are more about event entertainment than any mutual sharing of yearned-for loot. This is a time to give gifts that are a little wild...things that will stand out and get people talking (or better yet, laughing).

Here are some good ideas for low-budget holiday gift exchange parties:
  • Something that is very silly, holidayesque and can be immediately used or worn is great -- the goofier the better. There are some very offbeat Santa hats out there -- with lights, zebra stripes, unusual designs (a jester's hat done in Santa colors!) and/or sound effects. Light-up jewelry works here too.
  • True White Elephants can be hilarious at parties like this -- especially if they are tacky and/or bizarre. By definition, a "white elephant" is something of dubious or limited value. For a White Elephant gift exchange, it could be something you already own, or something horrid you received at another W.E. party, or an item picked up at a thrift store or garage sale. Think: garden gnomes, framed kitten art, a Bavarian tuba band's record album...it's amazing to see what people will fight over. Word of advice: if you're going to go over the top, go way over the top -- or people might not get the joke. If you're not sure, attach a real gift card to make your item even more exchange-worthy.
  • Candy can be dandy if it's BIG or weird: Cost Plus sells yard-long licorice and huge tubes of gumballs -- cheap, fun, and hard to miss. Or you can get an assortment of unusual candies (include some bacon chocolate or Tabasco-flavored sweets!).
  • Alcohol is a little risky (because not everyone partakes), and is only worth giving (in this situation) if it is something people can't buy for themselves. If you make your own limoncello or kahlua or bottle your own beer, that's a good gift -- especially if it's cleverly packaged and clearly labeled as your own. Yes, homemade jam is delicious, but it probably won't generate the excitement we're hoping for here. Unless you are a locally renowned blue-ribbon winner, preserve your preserves for a different party.
  • A hand-made gift can be OK, particularly if you made it (or know who did)...and if it's well done. A knit scarf is always a good bet (one size fits all). Objets d'art are a little riskier, but if it's something you love, go for it (and realize it might end up being re-gifted, so don't be offended if it doesn't appear in your co-worker's cubicle).
  • Consider what the party-goers/gift-exchangers all share in common. If a lot of folks at the party participate in the office football pool, maybe you could get a trinket from a beloved (or bedeviled) team. If this is a book club event, slip a book store gift card between the covers of a book you love -- or a bodice-ripper you all wouldn't be caught dead reading. Have fun with it!

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