I found a cute little volume in a second hand bookstore. It was published in the late 60′s and it does have that decade’s vibe. It’s entitled 12 Great Parties and it’s a really detailed how-to book on giving a different party every month of the year. It’s like something a wife from Mad Men would secretly have (secretly because I don’t think any of them want to have it publicized that they needed any help throwing a party).
So anyway one of the party ideas that caught my attention is the one for August — a white elephant party. I’ve never heard of this concept before, but a cursory search yielded several results, one of which is a Wikipedia entry, so I guess it isn’t that uncommon.
A white elephant is an expression that is used to refer to something in one’s possession doesn’t have any practical use yet is expensive to maintain, or more broadly, something that one doesn’t want but can’t get rid of. It originates from the practice of venerating albino elephants in some Asian countries by feeding them and taking care of them, and not allowing them to be used as beasts of burden.
So white elephant parties are those in which guests wrap up white elephants in their possession (usually something tacky or outrageous) and bring them to the gathering, where some sort of game is played to facilitate an exchange.
The above motto is the guideline for choosing a gift for exchanging. Buying is discouraged. Don’t create any more white elephants, just use your own. For sure you’ve been gifted with items you don’t want or need, like a garden sculpture when you have no garden, or stuff you may already own too much of, like handmade soaps or towels.
Here are the exchange mechanics suggested by 12 Great Parties book.
- Each gift is tagged with a funny rhyme to give a clue as to what it is.
- The gifts are displayed in the middle of the room, to be scrutinized and discussed by the guests.
- The guests are asked to sit in a circle and take turns rolling dice.
- In the first round, if a 6 or a combination totaling 6 is rolled, the player selects a gift. If two sixes are rolled, two gifts are selected.
- When the gifts run out, round two begins. Players who roll sixes on their turns get to steal a gift from any player. Game proceeds in this way until the allotted time is consumed, after which ownership of all the gifts become fixed.
I foresee a lot of fun squabbling and clamoring in the final minutes of the game. This is one party I’d like to throw, would’t you? Doesn’t an old adage say “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? At best you get to take home treasure, or at worst just another kind of useless junk — at least it’s a different junk from one you had.
Finally, here are a couple of white elephants that are too cute not to keep.