Last Christmas, my family decided to have a “white elephant” gift exchange. It wasn’t about saving money, although we did save money. My siblings and I have simply grown less particular over the years. We have reached a point in our lives where we no longer need or desire a bunch of new “stuff.” We still enjoy giving each other gifts on Christmas day but we don’t require that every gift be returnable or accompanied by a gift receipt.
We use the “white elephant” term loosely. Traditionally, a white elephant gift is one that few people would want and a white elephant exchange allows recipients to trade or steal a more desirable gift from someone else. None of that applied to our family gift exchange.
Our rules were simple — recycle, reuse, re-gift. Gifts were to be some thing that we already had around the house. Gifts could be re-gifted or purchased secondhand at a thrift store or flea market. We might buy something non-returnable from a clearance rack or give something that we have hand made. Our gifts were “white elephants” only because they were things we no longer wanted. There was no drawing of names and no trading or “stealing” of gifts. Our gift giving was done in the traditional manner with everyone giving white elephants that they felt the recipient would like.
It turned out to be one of the best Christmas day gift exchanges we have ever had. It was great fun to see the many ideas that everyone came up with. When this year rolled around we all quickly agreed to do it again.
The white elephant exchange did not apply to kids. Santa still came and he brought their asked for toys and gifts. The kids, nevertheless, gained an important lesson as they watched the adult exchange — the joy and fun of Christmas is not dependent on spending stacks of cash. As an added bonus, not spending on gifts for each other allowed us to give that money to charity where it is needed so much more.