White elephant gift exchanges encourage inclusive holiday celebration

Evelina Gaivoronskaia | The Chronicle

The holiday season is all about the appreciation of loved ones, regardless of their culture or religion.

As Mason High School students gather for holiday parties with their friends and families, they think about diverse ways to show love and gratitude while remaining as inclusive as possible. Many students found that the tradition of white elephant makes gift-giving not only fun but also accessible.

White elephant abides by a few simple rules. Everyone must contribute a gift and each person gets one turn to either pick a gift or steal somebody else’s gift. At the end of the game, everyone has a present that they are happy with.

This popular tradition has peculiar origins. According to History Extra, albino elephants in the early 1900s were not allowed to be worked and required expensive housing. The King of Siam, Solomon, took advantage of the expensive animals by sending them to any country that displeased him so that his recipients would spend fortunes on upkeeping the gift.

Although today presents will not cause financial ruin to their recipients, they are usually not meant to serve as anything but a funny, useless gift. Senior Megan Callow usually does white elephant parties in December. While it may be difficult to navigate through all of December’s cultural holidays, Callow is easily able to pick a date as white elephant is not tied to a religion. The flexibility of this tradition allows her friend group to “put their schedules aside for one day and celebrate how grateful they are for one another.”

In white elephant, anyone can pick any gift they want, so Callow uses this opportunity to express her creativity and sense of humor. One of her favorite gifts she has gifted was a can of corn. Another good gift she brought was a game of Monopoly because it reminded her of the days she spent playing it with her friends. Through this event, Callow was able to create another way for her friend group to bond.

“[White elephant] created this event that felt so united. We all played it together every year and it has become one of our traditions,” Callow said.

Callow knows the way white elephant brings people together because her family has a long-standing tradition of playing the game during holiday gatherings. Callow always wanted to “feel more connected to big kids” in her family. Because each person was able to bring a gift that represented them, she felt she was able to get to know her family better. Instead of going out of their houses to purchase gifts, Callow’s family contributes meaningful items they have found in their homes. “[Callow] would get something from 20 years ago like a build your own radio channel” which helped her connect with her family history.

For senior Shreya Doshi, white elephant is an excellent way to avoid stress when picking gifts. Doshi said she can just go to Marshalls or Target to pick a cheap and funny gift. She feels it makes her less stressed about her friends liking their gifts because “if they don’t like it, it’s their fault for picking it”.

“My friends are going to give a lot of weird gifts, so it’ll be a lot of fun to see what it will be,” Doshi said.
Doshi is not the only one experiencing stress over gifts. While preparing to do the gift exchange with his friends, Senior Vansh Patel knows that people can be unhappy when they do not get the gift they wanted, so he ensures that all the gifts are “joke” gifts.

Besides eliminating disappointment over gifts, gag-gift exchanges like white elephant help friends celebrate the season of giving without alienating anyone. For Patel, white elephant is an excellent way to include everybody.

“All across the different religions and beliefs, everyone likes a good gift,” Patel said. “It’s a good way to bring people together since everybody can get involved.”

Graphic by Nishka Mishra