Home » Traditional Games » White Elephant Game Rules and How to Play?

White Elephant Game Rules and How to Play?

White Elephant is a fun party game that you can play for almost any celebration. It also goes by the name Dirty/ Evil Santa and Yankee Swap. But like all party games, you’ll need to pay close attention to the White Elephant game rules if you want to ensure everything goes well. 

It might seem straightforward, but you’d be surprised just how easily people can make mistakes in this party game. So, to ensure your game goes smoothly, read on to find out everything you need to know about the White Elephant game rules.

What is The White Elephant Game?

What is The White Elephant Game

The White Elephant game is a party game often played around Christmas. In many ways, it is a more creative version of a Secret Santa. Under standard White Elephant game rules, everyone taking part should buy one gift. 

Traditionally the gifts in a White Elephant game should be unusual and impractical. There should be a set budget so everyone taking part spends a similar amount. Each gift is then wrapped and placed on a table. 

Then using alphabetical order, the first player should take a gift and unwrap it. The next player will then choose whether to take a gift from the table or steal one from a previously opened player. 

We’ll talk more about how the game is played below. But that gives you a general idea. White Elephant’s name comes from the belief that the King of Siam gave white albino elephants to people who displeased him. 

With the hope that paying for the animal’s upkeep would bankrupt them over time. It’s believed the White Elephant game became popular around the early 1800s in social gatherings. But over time, it’s become the go-to family/ work party game. 

What You’ll Need? 

Unlike many party games, you don’t need any equipment to play the White Elephant game. All you need to do is follow the rules set out and buy a gift for the exchange. Once you have the gift, you just need to wrap it up. 

When buying a gift, pay careful attention to the rules set out. If you’re playing White Elephant at work, you’ll want to make sure you don’t get anything too inappropriate. While if you’re playing with family, you will likely have some more leeway. 

Traditional White Elephant game rules were focused on flamboyant and unusual gifts. However, these days many people ignore this rule. They play it more like a traditional Secret Santa where you get gifts you think people will like. 

Also, make sure you stick to the budget. If you end up getting something much more expensive or cheap, it will be unfair to the rest of the players. Let’s now take a look at exactly how you play the White Elephant game.  

The White Elephant Rules and Gameplay

The White Elephant Rules and Gameplay

The Aim of The Game

The aim of the White Elephant game is a gift exchange with a twist! Everyone buys a gift, wraps them up, and then they’ll all be placed together. The first person takes a gift, and then the second person can opt to take a gift or steal the gift from the first person. 

On subsequent turns, the same thing happens till everyone’s got a gift. To ensure there isn’t an endless loop of people taking the same gift, a gift can only be swapped once or twice. White Elephant isn’t like Monopoly or card games; the aim is simply to have fun. And to try and finish the game with a gift you like. 

Setting Up 

The White Elephant game is a popular Christmas game. But it can be played for any reason, sometimes just for fun! It can also be played between friends, family, and workmates. When setting up a game, make a list of everyone who is taking part. 

Then set a budget and decide whether you are going with a theme or not. Are you going with the traditional White Elephant rules of unusual and gaudy gifts or not? Once that is decided, everyone should go out and buy their gift.  

How To Play? 

Once you have bought your gift, wrap it up and then bring it to the White Elephant when it’s ready. The organizer will have set a date for when people need to bring their gift in. 

When the game starts, the first person should go up and take a gift. Under traditional White Elephant game rules, the order in which people choose is done alphabetically. But it can also be done by age, or you can choose names out of a hat.  

The first person to choose should pick a wrapped gift and unwrap it. The next person who goes to choose can either take a wrapped gift or steal the gift from the person who chose first. This pattern continues till everyone has taken a gift. 

If your gift is stolen, you’ll need to take another wrapped gift. Most White Elephant games will have a set limit on the number of times a gift can be stolen as well. In most cases, a gift can only be stolen twice.  

While you might end up with a gift you don’t really like, it’s all in good fun. Remember, under traditional White Elephant game rules, the idea was to give unusual and weird gifts. So, go into the game with the right mindset. 

The White Elephant Game – The Fun, Frantic, Party Game 

So, that’s everything you need to know about this fun party game! White Elephant is an excellent twist on the traditional Secret Santa formula. It’s a great game to play at home or with friends and work. While it is usually played around Christmas, it can be played at almost any time for any celebratory event. 

About Bar Games 101

Bar Games 101 is a website devoted to helping you learn about the best games to play with your friends. We review the games, research the rules, and uncover helpful tips and strategies.

Get our free guide to the 50 Best Bar Games.