I know adults who struggle to keep a good attitude with a White Elephant gift exchange. You know the game, right? The rules vary according to the hosts, but it involves drawing numbers, selecting an unmarked gift, opening a gift, and, for people with higher numbers, some form of gift swap/stealing if they don’t like the gift. The game gets competitive in a hurry-particularly if the gifts are either really nice OR really awful. When either end of the nice/awful spectrum is triggered, grown men and women suddenly lose their manners. Maybe you’ve seen some bad behavior like this:
- Arguing over the rules to avoid losing a gift
- Elaborate plotting to score the “best” gift
- Non-stop complaining upon losing a desired gift
- Guilting someone into returning a gift they “legally” stole
- Subtly hiding a gift hoping that no one will think to steal it (aside – does this tactic EVER work??)
This behavior is pervasive in almost every White Elephant exchange I’ve attended, but I didn’t know where it started…until this week. I’ve conducted an elaborate survey of exactly ONE party and I have the answer. (Drum roll, please)
Gift plotting starts in CHILDHOOD!
It’s true. Here’s the story. Our neighborhood “bus stop” group typically gets together around Christmas to eat and hang out without the backpacks and the hustle of the morning routine. In past years we’ve drawn names for the gift exchange, but this year was different. This year we decided it would be a fun idea to buy generic gifts and have a White Elephant gift exchange. No one thought to ask the obvious question…
What’s the proper age for kids to participate in this competitive form of gift exchanges?
Based on what I saw at our neighborhood party, I think it’s got to be sometime during college. It’s certainly not for your average elementary or middle school activity. All of the bad behaviors that I listed above were there plus there was the added pressure of one sweet child crying when his gift was stolen.
(It may or may not have been my kid who took the gift from the kid who cried.)