White Elephant? Yankee Swap? Say What?
That was pretty much my reaction when my boss introduced a White Elephant gift exchange for our holiday party several years ago.
It can go by many names (Yankee Swap, White Elephant, Dirty Santa) but the idea is the same: everyone purchases a gift within a certain price range (for my work, it’s usually $20-25). Each person wraps their gift and places it in a designated location without others seeing.
When it’s time for the gift exchange, all of the gifts are brought out and everyone draws a number. There should be one number for each person participating.
Whomever draws one picks the first gift to unwrap. The person who draws two can choose to steal the gift the first person unwrapped or unwrap a new gift. If she opts to steal, the first person gets to choose another gift to unwrap.
You work through all of the numbers with each new person being able to decide whether to steal a previously unwrapped gift, or open a new one.
Before starting your swap, you should decide your rules on steal backs. Our rule is that you can’t steal back a gift that was just stolen from you in the same round. Next round, it’s fair game!
When you’ve gone through all of the numbers, the first person gets to decide if they want to keep their gift or steal a new one. If she decides to keep the gift, the game is over.
If she decides to steal, she swaps gifts with whomever she is stealing from. That person can then steal from another, who can steal from another, etc. The exchange is done when the last person wants to keep the gift they have.
Picking Out the Perfect White Elephant Gift for Work
I did a lot of research while preparing for this post, and I was horrified by some of the white elephant gift ideas. Maybe I’m a prude, but I don’t want to open anything around coworkers that has anything to do with bodily functions!
For this list of White Elephant gift ideas for work, I only chose things I would be comfortable opening in front of my boss. No potty humor or NSFW items here! From practical to just plain fun, these gift ideas will keep everyone around the table comfortable!
May contain affiliate links. See my disclosure page for more information.
Practical White Elephant Gift Ideas
I’m a pretty low-maintenance, practical person, so gifts that I can use always appeal to me. Especially in groups of mixed ages, gender, and cultures, sometimes practical is the safest bet.
Who hasn’t been caught at the office when an unexpected rainstorm hits? Help you coworkers stay dry with a mini umbrella they can stash away in a desk drawer.
I don’t think it would be possible for me to have too many travel mugs. No matter how many I have, I never seem to have one when I need one. They get lost in my car or my husband’s car. They get left at work. Or they’re sitting in the dishwasher waiting to be washed.
I know I can’t be the only one, so I’m certain a new travel mug would be welcome by some of your coworkers. I like a stainless steel option, and one that comes in fun colors!
You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about the no straw movement. Fact is, they’re pretty rotten for the environment and there are billions of them in our landfills and oceans.
Make your contribution to a better environment by gifting metal straws for your White Elephant exchange! Pair it with a tote bag or metal water bottle for an ecofriendly gift. The Earth, and your coworker, will thank you!
Car safety items
If most of your teammates drive to the office, car safety items like a window breaker/seat belt cutter combo makes a nice, practical gift. You can pair it with a small first aid kit to round out the gift.
While we hope we never have need for these items, we’ll be thankful we have them if we do need them!
I love going to the movies, but I HATE spending more than $20 just for tickets, let alone the candy or popcorn!
Movie tickets would be a welcome addition to any White Elephant exchange. For an extra treat, add a movie sized box of candy!
Small desk fan
If your office has trouble with temperature control (like mine!) a small desk fan is a nice practical gift for a colleague.
A few years ago I received the softest, snuggliest blanket during a Yankee swap. It became one of my kids’ favorites.
Gifting a blanket is perfect for the season, and depending on your office temperature, it might not even make it home!
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving a gift card for a work gift exchange. Get one to your team’s favorite lunch spot or the corner coffee shop.
White Elephant Gifts for the Kitchen
Gifts for the kitchen have historically been pretty popular in my office White Elephant exchanges. It can be fun to splurge on an item you wouldn’t normally buy for yourself, but would like to have.
Mini waffle maker
Without a doubt a mini waffle maker was the must-have item at my company’s White Elephant exchange last year. It got stolen several times and I ended up losing it in one of the last rounds. I’m still not sure I am completely over the loss! (j/k!)
And it’s more versatile than just waffles. You can also make paninis or hash browns!
Mini donut maker
Similarly, you can gift a mini donut maker! Imagine: fresh, hot donuts whenever you want!
I think this is going to be my gift for my team’s white elephant exchange this year. And I might get a second one for myself!
Shot glass set
These cute mason jar shot glasses were so popular one year we had two sets! If your work culture doesn’t frown upon drinking, a shot glass set is a fun gift.
A word of advice though: if you decide to go this route, stick with glass instead of plastic. We’re all grown ups now and no one wants to drink from a plastic cup!
Food always seems to go well for White Elephant/Yankee Swaps. Here are some ideas to get you started!
Winter beverage combo
I did this one year and it was a hit! I found some spiced wine, hot chocolate, and holiday-themed coffee.
The person who ended up with said he would give the hot chocolate to his kids, drink the wine with his wife, and serve the coffee on Christmas morning. Everyone in his house was going to be happy!
Breakfast in bed
Who doesn’t want to stay in bed all day long during the winter months?
Cookies, Candy, and other Sweet treats
Boxed candies, cookies, and other treats seem to be everywhere around Christmas time. It’s a bit generic, but goodies always go well for our White Elephant exchanges.
Or, put a holiday spin on it and gift a gingerbread house kit!
Soup mug with soup and crackers
When the temperatures dip, I want a hot lunch. But because I’m a frugal person, I don’t want to spend money to go out and get lunch.
Get some fancy soups from a local specialty store and you’ve gifted a colleague a warm, satisfying meal!
If your colleagues tend to drink tea more than coffee, a tea basket makes a lovely gift. You can either buy a pre-made basket, or you can make your own!
Hot chocolate on a stick
I just discovered these and I love them! You warm up some milk and then swirl your hot chocolate stick in it to make hot chocolate. They come in a variety of flavors from dark chocolate and vanilla, to caramel and peppermint. It’s an indulgent, fun gift that will be welcome at any White Elephant exchange.
Hot Sauce Sampler
Do your coworkers like things spicy? Get a hot sauce sampler set! You can make your own or buy one pre-made.
For the coffee lovers
Many offices run on coffee. If that’s yours, check out my under $25 gift guide for coffee lovers!
Shopping at local stores is a wonderful way to support small businesses while doing your Yankee swap.
Look for decadent treats from the local bakery or purchase coffee or tea from the corner coffee shop.
If you have a winery or brewery near you, buy some tasty beverages and introduce your coworkers to the best of what’s in their own backyard!
Just for Fun
Some of the most coveted gifts for my work Yankee swap have been completely ridiculous, or just fun.
I had no idea how big of a thing pez sets were! Think of a popular movie or TV series and you can probably find a pez set for it. And some of them can get pretty pricey (I’m looking at you, Harry Potter.)!
But there are plenty of sets that will fall within your White Elephant budget. My boss proudly displays in her office the presidential pez set that she won a few years ago!
Who doesn’t like revisiting toys from their youth?
Tired of drab office decor? Let your co-workers spruce things up with a set of fun novelty lights!
Add a blast to the past with a lava lamp. It may not make the cut for a coworker’s home decor, but it certainly adds some color to a bland office!
Party games are great White Elephant gift ideas for work. Here are a few fun ones to get your started:
- Apples to Apples
- Cards Against Humanity
- Exploding Kittens
- Killer Bunnies
- Unstable Unicorns
- Pun Intended
- Goat Lords
- Table Topics
Coloring book set
Keeping the Cringe Out of the Holidays
These white elephant gift ideas for work will guarantee everyone at the party has a nice time, and doesn’t want to melt under the table by opening an embarrassing gift.
If gag gifts are your thing, keep it appropriate for work, or save it for your friends or family. Imagine the poor introverted new person on your team opening a kama sutra book in front of the boss. Or any gift that references “poop” in the name.
Would you want to be that person? Probably not.
Use this list of White Elephant gift ideas for work and everyone will have a good time at the office party.