The game derives its name from the term white elephant as defined by something of dubious or limited value or an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others. Thus, in its basic form the game calls for people to bring “gag” gifts or gifts they received that they have no use for.
In a White Elephant gift exchange, each participant brings a wrapped, unmarked gift and places it in a designated area. Guests are given numbers as they arrive, or their names are randomly drawn, and they select gifts in that order — with a twist.
On the first turn, the person assigned with #1 picks out a gift and opens it so all can see what it is. On the second turn, the person assigned with #2 gets the choice of “stealing” #1’s unwrapped gift or choosing a wrapped one from the pile. If #2 steals #1’s gift, then #1 must choose and open a wrapped gift.
As subsequent players take their turns, they either select a new gift or take any already opened gift from any of the other players. Have any player who has a gift taken away either choose a new gift or take an already-opened gift from another player.
The game continues with the following rules:
- If someone steals your gift, you can steal someone else’s gift or choose and open a wrapped one.
- Continue until everyone has had a turn for a gift. A turn is ended when an unopened gift has been opened.
- A gift can only be “stolen” once during a turn. If a gift is taken from someone during one round, she cannot take it back during that same round. She can, however, take it back in a later round if she is in a position to select a gift.
- A gift cannot be immediately stolen back from the player who just stole it.
- Once a gift has 3 “owners,” the 3rd owner of a gift gets to keep it – it is retired and can’t be stolen again.
- The gift exchange ends when the last wrapped gift is chosen and opened.
After the last turn, the person who started (since she didn’t get a chance at the beginning) can put back the gift and “steal” a gift according to the rules. This starts the gift exchange again (following the above rules) and ends when someone chooses or is forced to take the gift given up by the person with #1.
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