Instead of scrambling to check off every family member, neighbour and co-worker off your Christmas shopping list, some people are opting for a more unusual approach to gift giving that ensures no one goes home empty handed.

"White elephant," also known as "Dirty Santa" or "Yankee Swap," is the gift-exchange game that brings added suspense to a holiday party where guests don't know what the gift is until the last minute, who they got a gift from and how long they have with the gift.


In order to play, all participants will be asked to bring a gift to their holiday gathering. Then everyone will need to draw numbers to determine the order of people choosing their gift. Once the first person chooses from the gift pile and opens the present in front of everyone, the following players will have the option to choose a new wrapped gift from the pile or steal a present from a previous person. If a gift is stolen, the person who it was stolen from can choose a new gift or steal from someone else. A present can only be stolen once per turn, and each turn ends after three steals or a person chooses a wrapped gift.

"It's really not about what the gift is. I think it's all about fun, it's about coming together, it's about poking fun at each other and surprising one another, which is the best part," TV host and lifestyle expert Brigitte Truong told in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Truong says this game can be played in any type of holiday gathering, whether it's with family, friends, co-workers; as long as it's a group larger than four people to extend the game for as long as possible.

"This is a great way to bond again and to break the ice or to meet new family members," Truong said. "The bigger the crowd the better but this is perfect for any type of reunion."


Real white elephants are pale coloured Asian elephants that are considered sacred in countries like India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, according to the Baanchang Elephant Park's website. But while the animal is highly revered, the term “white elephant” has come to mean something that is considered more trouble than it’s worth.

To avoid any similar let downs throughout the gift exchange, Truong recommends setting up rules beforehand.

"If we create a theme or a budget that everyone agrees upon, it eliminates any disappointment or jealousy," she said.

Truong says by creating a budget that every participant deems fair will avoid any awkward tension of someone getting a present of higher value or have everyone fighting over that one luxury gift.

As for the types of gifts to buy, Truong recommends generalized gifts that the majority of people would want or can use. Additionally, thrifting gifts can also help with having to worry about the costs of the gift as many Canadians look for more affordable ways to celebrate the holidays this year.

"Everyone's kind of watching their spending and understandably so. So, gifts like this, when you kind of set parameters in place and everyone agrees upon them, there's no confusion or competitions, it's more of a way to show up for each other and to have a good time," she said.  


The rules of the game have been corrected to say players can choose to steal or pick a wrapped gift, not an unwrapped gift.