Stalking the Great White Elephant

White Elephant OfferingLike too many others, our extended family on both sides has given up on the ancient tradition of buying gifts for everyone they love. Few of us can afford to buy that many gifts, and it’s likely that the affluent minority wouldn’t have a clue about our interests, hobbies, or character traits. Heck, I don’t even know what some of them do for a living.

Some years we’ve agreed to buy gifts only for the kids, who were easier to treat as interchangeable when they were younger. As they’ve aged, they’ve become just as finicky and inscrutable as their parents. The process might be simpler if we lived near each other and/or spent time together. I hear that works well for some families. It’s not that we hate each other — if that were the case, Christmas gatherings wouldn’t be scheduled in the first place. But we seem to be a bit more fractured and preoccupied with our own doings than those families you see in movies or TV shows that do everything together. We can glean minutiae about each other from Facebook, but in most cases it’s not enough to influence our major Christmas purchasing decisions.

For the last few years, some factions in our families have livened up Christmas gatherings with a white elephant gift exchange. You chip in for a gift; you receive a random gift in return. It’s a way to say “I acknowledge you as part of the family” without designating a specific person as the recipient of the sentiment. More succinctly put: “Dear whoever: you technically matter.”

My results in these toss-ups have varied. Treasures I’ve received in the past have included a Back to the Future Hill Valley class ring replica (I gather this was mass-produced and not a pricey jewelry-store artifact), a pair of Johnny Depp DVDs (Benny and Joon and The Ninth Gate — like night and day), Hickory Farms summer sausage (always useful), and a practically disposable digital mini-camera of the kind you find on the cheapie-electronics rack at Toys R Us (I handed that over to my young niece and considered the exchange a wash).

My wife’s side is trying it once again this year. To level the playing field and minimize the damage done, the spending threshold has been lowered to a maximum of ten bucks. That’s not much to work with and guarantees I’ll receive nothing awesome. I’m well aware gifts aren’t the Reason for the Season, but it’s a bit of a pick-me-up to know that we’re doing anything for each other at all. If nothing else, it gives the grabby little Christmas-loving boy inside me something to look forward to.

Today I prepared for playing my part in the proceedings, after buying my ten-dollar gift yesterday. For the curious, or for relatives who are reading this and are therefore entitled to a free sneak peek (HA! As if. Yeah, I’m bluffing), I bought a curious-looking game. The above photo shows the result of today’s Christmas labors, which I performed as follows:

1. Wrap my gift. Add gift tag — “TO: you. FROM: not you.”

2. Place the item in a very small gift bag.

3. Place the gift bag inside another box.

4. Wrap that box. Add gift tag — “TO: a special someone. FROM: a ‘special’ someone else.”

5. Place that box inside an even bigger box, the one that contained our new toaster. Add several wads of newspaper as packing material and/or as ammunition they can throw at others if they’re unhappy with the results. Seal the box shut with wide, durable mailing tape that’s harder to puncture than normal Scotch Tape.

6. Wrap that box. Add gift tag — “TO: white elephant contestant. FROM: People for the Ethical Treatment of White Elephants.”

7. Add shiny bows and superfluous ribbon. More eye-catching bait for the trap, as it were.

8. Pace back and forth until the big day arrives.

If I’m not gonna get anything really cool out of this, then I expect a few extra minutes of entertainment should help balance the imaginary scales. Hopefully they’ll keep in mind that I drive them nuts because I love them, whoever my victim should happen to be.


4 responses

  1. My wife and I lament each year the mindlessness of our gift buying exercise. Many times we buy for those who either have everything they want or the ability to buy it at any time. But the social construct of our lives and traditions cause us to perpetuate the pain.


    • We’ve deleted a lot of adults from our annual list, but there’re a few elders and peers we still feel compelled to buy for, even though it’s getting harder to think of new things to buy them every year. We expend a lot of time and energy on this, and we pretty much receive equal results back from them, if anything at all. I miss the years when this wasn’t such a struggle…


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