White elephant gifts people will actually LIKE (updated for 2019!)

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white elephant gifts people will actually like

In the next few weeks, thousands of White Elephant gift exchanges will unfold.

There will be variants of the white elephant games (Yankee Swap, Secret Santa, etc), but the general idea is this: everyone brings a wrapped gift, and it’s usually something silly. The gifts are gathered in one place, and everyone decides what order they’ll be selected. Whoever is going first opens the first gift gift, and their turn ends. As the turns go on, each person either gets to open an unwrapped and new present, or can swipe someone else’s already opened gift. If your gift is stolen, you can either choose another wrapped gift to open, or you can steal a present from someone else. The game is over when the last person goes.

The gifts are usually really silly or useless. They’re meant to be funny, right?

But if you’re going to do something, why not do it right? Here are tons of awesome white elephant gift ideas (most of them under $20 — we’re talking CHEAP!) that people will ACTUALLY WANT. With one of these puppies, folks are going to be fighting over your gift like crazy…

White elephant gift ideas | Yankee swap gift ideas | Secret Santa gift ideas
“Thank you” Insulated Lunch Bag
White elephant gift ideas | Yankee swap gift ideas | Secret Santa gift ideas
Star Wars R2-D2 Bowls
White elephant gift ideas | Yankee swap gift ideas | Secret Santa gift ideas
Cactus Pillow
White elephant gift ideas | Yankee swap gift ideas | Secret Santa gift ideas
Colour Change Folding Travel Umbrella
White elephant gift ideas | Yankee swap gift ideas | Secret Santa gift ideas
Elf Earbuds
White elephant gift ideas | Yankee swap gift ideas | Secret Santa gift ideas
Harry Potter Cauldron Soup Mug with Spoon
White elephant gift ideas | Yankee swap gift ideas | Secret Santa gift ideas
Skull Poly Candle
White elephant gift ideas | Yankee swap gift ideas | Secret Santa gift ideas
Unicorn cosmetic brushes
White elephant gift ideas | Yankee swap gift ideas | Secret Santa gift ideas
Jute Burlap and Cotton Shopping Tote Bag

The review of this Unicorn Wine Holder sums it up:

I bought this unicorn thinking it would bring luck, joy and rainbows into my home. Instead he just sits there, staring through my soul with his cold black eyes, just daring me to steal his bottle of sweet nectar. Then when I finally get the courage to take the wine all he does is throw judgement my way for days. Every time I pass I get the “oh hey, there goes that thieving wino again” look.

By the time I feel I am over the constant judging, he switches up and begins a massive guilt trip. “Why did you take my precious bottle, leaving me lonely here on my back? Now I’m just a poor, pale joke. All the other mystical hooved animals laugh at me.”

Eventually I give in and buy him another bottle so that I can literally put a cork in it, thus starting the cycle all over again. Want a review? Sure it holds the hell out of a bottle of wine. Just be aware of the mind games to come.

ALL THIS, and you can have it tomorrow? Perfect.

In keeping with a HORN theme, we’ve got this narwhal TWO FOR TEA infuser and mug set. There’s a cute Spiked Tea narwhal infuser, and then a custom-designed, coordinating mug. GET TO THE POINT. Get this mug and tea set… like, in 48 hours.

Tequila Mockingbird “Even if you don’t have a B.A. in English tonight you’re going to drink like you do.” Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist is really awesome for dudes and chicks.

cards against humanityCards Against Humanity is the “party game for horrible people” and the best time you’ll ever have.

mini donut makerYou know what’s better than drinks in the office? Doughnuts. The Babycakes Mini Doughnut Maker is only $14! And the bonus part of this gift… perhaps they’ll bring you some treats!

fireplace candleHoly crap, this fireside candle that smells like a fireplace and also crackles while it burns, just changed my entire stupid-apartment-with-no-fireplace Christmas!

You know what people actually (surprisingly) need more than coffee? Water. Here’s a water bottle with storage. So when they’re out and about, all they have to do is throw their ID, car key, and maybe some cash and they’re ready for adventure.

Ok, now if you’re not looking for SUPER last minute options…

Most of these guys are Amazon Prime eligible, which means you’ll have ’em within a few days…

wine to goTo go cups for wine? Yeah, those exist: Vino2Go portable wine glasses. So you can sip your favorite wine on picnics, or in the backyard (without fear of shattering wine glasses).

smore makerNo one doesn’t like s’mores. NO one wouldn’t like getting this Microwavable S’Mores Maker. It’s only $9 and has awesome reviews on Amazon. (Probably because NO ONE doesn’t like s’mores.)


Dudes, three words for you: HOT DOG TOASTER. It’s a toaster. For your hot dogs. And it’s only $18.

starburst wine trivetThe Starburst Wine Trivet (maybe include a bottle of wine to get it started?) is an easy win — peeps love wine, peeps need to a place to put hot stuff — hook ’em up.

cheap white elephant gift ideasNot the wine-drinking type and more the shot-taking type? I dare ANYONE not to fall in love with these animal head shot glasses.


OR WAIT! Maybe you hate unicorns. Like, REALLY HATE THEM. Well, in that case… there’s unicorn meat. Wait, that’s not useful at all. Sorry, sorry. Let’s get back on track here.

fifty shades of chickenOn the cooking tip, there’s always the very sexy(?) Fifty Shades of Chicken Cookbook.

Remember these? Yeah, Medieval weapons as push pins will make everyone smile.

t rex penWhat’s better than giving the gift of an awesome mini 3D Tyrannosaurus Rex? Giving the gift of an awesome mini 3D T-Rex that’s also a pen!

bacon-gifts-600x461It seems the only thing people love more than OMG MOAR BUTTER is bacon. I could go on for days about all the bacon-related gifts out there:


Nothing says “HAPPY HOLIDAYS” like a skull-shaped corkscrew. Added bonus? It’s $10.

Still nothing? Allow me to close this down with something everyone will love: the Unzipped-Bag-Shaped Hand-Blown Glass Bowl filled with candy. BOOM. Shopping done.

What do you think? I feel pretty good about this list. If you have a story about a white elephant gift that knocks it out of the park, share it in the comments!

Comments on White elephant gifts people will actually LIKE (updated for 2019!)

  1. I had a white elephant gift party with a bunch of my friends back when we were sophomores and freshmen in high school, so we definitely didn’t have much money to play with!
    The best gift of the whole night was an actual white elephant. Someone found a concrete elephant on the side of the road and spray painted it white. If it hadn’t been two feet tall and weighed thirty pounds, it would’ve been even better.

  2. We used to do this in Elementary school! A couple years ago I made a crocheted scarf, but never saw the response because the recipient had to leave early. I got a very large blue bird christmas ornament. The body of this thing is the size of a softball plus the head and tail feathers! I love it though 🙂

  3. We were just at a white elephant/tacky christmas sweater party this past weekend. Three of the gifts were dog toys, which would have been great as most of the people at the party had dogs. The problem was, the people who opened them didn’t own dogs. We ended up with four DVDs: Liberace Christmas, Vol. 1; Howdy Doody & Friends Christmas; Santa Claus Defeats The Aliens; and Fireside Reflections (which is just a looping video of a burning fireplace. Awesome!). I also somehow ended up with a raccoon hat.

  4. Our family started doing the white elephant/gift exchange thing just a few years ago, and it has turned out to be a lot of fun. We do the variation where you pick a number, and when it’s your turn, you cvan either choose a new gift, or steal one from someone who’s already had a turn. I usually try to pick something useful and/or nice, while my husband tries to come up with the silliest thing he can find! The brown snuggy was a big hit…haha.

    • My friends and I do the yankee swap as well. Our rule is that the gift has to be used, consumed, or worn the whole night (so, if we go out to bars after the party, the rule still stands). Makes it interesting, especially if someone ends up a baby bjorn (but no baby). Jenga was another favorite. We played at a bar after the party and had TONS of people want to play with our table.

  5. I have a group of friends that is doing a Yankee Swap / White Elephant and taking the “crappy unwanted gift” element to the extreme… and it’s going to be great! Our set up is this: Spending limit of $7, AND you can only buy your gifts at the gas station. I anticipate epic slimjim awesomeness! 😀

    • My family has been doing something similar to this for years. All of the presents are crazy junk (re-gifting is recommended), we add in the drawing numbers/stealing gifts part mentioned in the previous comment, AND we add that you can’t open your gift until everyone has one (then one by one you reveal your junk and maybe guess who brought it.) This leads to lots of playful snatching back and forth of creatively wrapped, jingly, strangely weighted presents. It sounds strange, but it’s the highlight of our Christmas Eve. Some of the gifts I’ve received in the past: rubber cockroaches, New Kids on the Block cassettes, a hideous clip-on tie, a sign for the door of a ladies restroom, a half empty can of wall spackle and an inflatable Oscar Meyer wiener mobile.

      We could never go back to a regular “nice” white elephant! 🙂

  6. PSA: Alcohol can be a problematic white elephant gift. If someone at the exchange has a problem with alcohol or may even be court-mandated to stay away from alcohol, they are in a really uncomfortable position if they end up with a bottle or wine or such. I’ve seen this happen a couple of times.

    • I never would have thought of that. Wine and beer was the most popular/most stolen gift at our office white elephant, so I was totally about to recommend that until I read this!

    • Ah, I never would have thought about this either. It’s definitely a “know your audience” sort of thing. If at least a few people in your group like it, it’s popular. If a few don’t or have problems, it’s definitely not a good choice!

      • Yes, the reason I won’t be buying it despite the audience is that it is the only gift I can think of where a certain person ending up with with gift is a more serious matter than just not wanting it, it could be really detrimental.

  7. I totally got the best present at the white elephant exchange i went to last year with my knitting group – one of them had cut out silhouettes and spray painted them onto some old vinyl records – i got a shepherdess and three 7″ single lambs for instant art 😀

  8. This is random, but always a hit at my family’s White Elephant exchange: an Armorall gift set to clean your car inside and out. Related: an emergency kit to put in a car trunk (blanket, flash light, etc.).

    Last year a friend’s family did a White Elephant where the only rule was every gift had to be “as seen on TV.” Epic.

    • OMG, so did my husband’s family – ever year there is an Xmas Eve Yankee Trader. Apparently, there used to be only a price limit. Shortly before I joined the family, a theme was given for each year since some people were just getting the same things every year. This year the theme is Broadway, last year it was Green-Christmas, the year before As-Seen-On-TV Christmas (someone forrealz for The Clapper) – so many hilarious possibilities!

  9. I have a hard office to peg, and this year’s white elephant theme is ‘family fun night’. Rather than stress about finding something people will LOVE, I decided to get socially responsible/fair trade stuff, so at least it supports a good cause. I ended up going with a snack basket of fair trade chocolate and tea, and dog biscuits from a local disability group.

  10. You know, somehow in all my 28 years of existence I have never been to a white elephant party, although I know what they are. Maybe I should throw one this year. Any tips on rules?

    • My husband and his family do a Yankee Trader, something he has helped to introduce to some groups of our friends. These are the rules we use:

      ~Price limit (we usually do $20 – $25, but you could go lower, or even say things be thrifted, re-used, etc)
      ~Some ones we do have a theme, but not all. This is more to inspire people for a jumping off point, and people can interpret this as oddly as they want. If you have creative friends/family, you probably don’t need a theme

      The way we do the gifting is this:
      ~Everyone puts their gift in The Pile
      ~Every person is given a playing card, Ace through (whatever number of people there are)
      ~The person who gets the Ace chooses first, 2 next, etc.
      ~From the 2 card onward, the person can either keep the gift s/he has opened or s/he can steal a gift that has already been opened. If stealing, s/he takes what s/he wants and gives the “victim” the gift s/he just opened and is rejecting.
      ~Since the person who got the Ace was not able to get a choice, s/he gets pick of any of the gifts once they are all open.
      ~Once this is settled, people are free to negotiate with others to swap, but this must be done mutually.

      This started as a tradition with my husband’s extended family Xmas Eve and now we do it with two different groups of friends. We even started a White Elephant Yankee Trader for after Xmas: We use the same rules as above, but we bring gifts that we received for the holidays that we absolutely don’t want – some of the gifts were actually nice but didn’t fit the original recipient, others were just ridonk. Every one we have done has been fun, and a great excuse for some nosh and general silliness.

      Hope this helps – and have fun!

      • My family does 2 cards, to encourage trading. Use 2 deck of cards, count out Ace- 2x amount of people you have, one from each deck. Keep 1 set, hand out the other, 2 to each person. Shuffle the other set and use them to call the next person.

        Same rules apply. When it’s your turn, you can pick out a gift or steal one. It never seems like it’s going to work, because some people will have 2 gifts for a little while, but I promise, it will even out.

  11. We just did this with friends, and we’re doing another this weekend! All the items are usually $10-$20, and the general rule is “don’t bring something you don’t want to take home”.

    If you know your group, something targeted is good. Like, our groups are comprised of nerds, so we got the Star Wars version of Operation, and it was the most stolen item.

    Lots of wine is always a good one. We go to Trader Joe’s and get a few bottles, depending on the price range ($15 can get at least 3 bottles, more if you get Two Buck Chuck). Also, mini liquor bottles. A fancy box filled with 15 little booze bottles is always fun.

  12. I went to one of these this year. One of the best gifts was a baby’s first Christmas card in which was written “Merry Christmas! You get 3 bottles of Boone’s.” I brought hot chocolate mix, a thermos, and a small bottle of Bailey’s. Booze is popular with 20-somethings…

  13. My boyfriend’s family does one of these every year. The rules this year are thrifted, regifted, or hand-made. I’m going with making stuff myself—I love to cook and bake, so I’ll be making up a box of goodies including homemade truffles, cookies, and squares. I’ve already made most of the cookies and things, and they’re in the freezer… I’m planning to make boxes to pack them in, and I’ve already folded some cute origami to put on top (because I’m creative and crafty like that). The best part: this approach works not only for the White Elephant exchange, but for any other exchange, and even gatherings without an exchange (just bring a plate of goodies!). Everyone loves home-made treats! Just watch out for food allergies (gluten, dairy, nuts, peanuts, food colouring, etc…).

  14. The worst thing I ever got was a pair of mice. One male and one female. It was the gift that kept on giving.

    The best thing was a mini eco-friendly (made of recycled plastic) yoda statue. That my dog later tried to eat so it’s kind of rough around the edges, but can now be used to prove that Sadie is, in fact, a Sith Lord.

  15. I just wanted to chime in to say that I’ve never heard this called ‘white elephant’ before. I don’t know whether it’s just we Aussies who have other names for it (Kris Kringle or Secret Santa), but you might be confusing a lot of people outside the US with the title… Or it could just be me. 🙂

    • Origin of the phrase “White Elephant” as it was told to me: In some culture in Asia (I was told India and Siam, so I am not sure which, if either, is correct), the gift of an elephant was supposed to be great because it could be used for transportation and labor – plus hey, you got an elephant. But apparently an albino elephant was supposedly a sacred animal and could not be worked – so you had to pay the huge amount to keep an elephant without any of the benefits a normal elephant could provide. Thus the idea that a white elephant was supposed to be something that was unwanted by one person, but you get rid of it as an honor to another person.

      This may not be 100% accurate, but this was the explanation given to this American in her youth. I hope it helps a bit!

      Fun fact: Some organization “rummage sales” are also called “white elephants.”

    • Nat, Kris Kringle and Secret Santa are slightly different from the White Elephant, in that for both KK and SS, one picks a particular name to buy the gift for, and the gifts are labeled with the recipient’s name and the recipient keeps the gift. In White Elephant, the gifts are not for any specific person, and can be “stolen” during play.

  16. I have avoided Yankee swaps (the local moniker for these exchanges) for quite some time. this year we are having one at the office with a $5-$10 limit and finding a good (read: the best-most-wanted-everyone-will-swipe) gender-free gift has been a challenge in this price range.
    some of the ideas:
    funky “Cali” bowls -or other cool bowl- and a jar of Trader Joe’s salsa, beer or wine – please be mindful of your audience, Christmas music, homemade flourless chocolate cake, hot sauces (my son’s favorite idea), lottery tickets, stocking filled with dollar-store snacks, a pound of good coffee, donut shop gift cards with travel mug, fancy chocolate, and holiday ornaments/deco.
    Last year, the big “get” was a Snugi, which may illustrate what kind of crowd I work with!
    may your days be merry and bright!
    Wishing everyone hearty and happy holidays

    • I would be MORE than happy to get a pound of good coffee – and it’s especially appropriate for an office party. Make sure to get ground coffee, as not everyone has a grinder. (Or gift a cheap grinder w/ the coffee.)

  17. I found a lot of great ideas so far on here. One idea I didn’t see was assorted lottery tickets/scratchers. These are always the most stolen items at any work or family get together. To make it even better, go to a store like Spencers and get the fake winning lotto tickets and mix one in amongst all the others…make sure your group has a good sense of humor!

  18. This year at work, instead of a white elephant gift exchange, we’re having an ugly Santa contest. Everyone who comes to the party has to bring the ugliest Santa they can find. The winner will get a trophy and bragging rights until next year’s party. I love this idea, since there isn’t the stress of finding a decent gift, and who doesn’t love looking for creepy Santa collectibles?

    • I love this idea.

      In my family we used to have an annual competition to see who could find the most hideously tacky Christmas decoration within a tight budget. We ended up with several boxes full of really, really horrible decorations while all our neighbours had on-trend, colour-co-ordinated bauble/tinsel/bow/lights sets like something from a show home. Yeah, in our neighbourhood we were *that* family. It explains what I’m doing on Offbeat Home and Life though I suppose.

  19. My mom once sent me out to buy a white elephant gift for her work, and I came back with a white, elephant-shaped piggy bank. She reported back that everyone LOVED it. So, piggy banks in fun shapes could be an idea.

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