What's A White Elephant, Anyway?

December 19 2006, 2:56 PM

I've been invited to a dinner party and White Elephant gift exchange on Thursday. The hostess sent out a casual e-mail invite last week, and I ran out and found the tackiest, cheesiest piece of home decor I've seen in ages. I was quite proud of my White Elephant. That is, until our hostess sent a follow-up e-mail explaining that she thought a White Elephant was a nice gift. Not a tacky, cheesy, hysterically hideous embarassment. Which led to a flurry of group e-mails back and forth discussing the origin, meaning, and method of a White Elephant gift exchange. Phrases were googled, links were forwarded, mass confusion ensued, and two main theories emerged. Theory #1: "White Elephant" is the method of the exchange, not the type of gift. This theory asserts that one person picks a random gift, and the next person can either steal said gift or pick a new one to open. This continues around the group, except that no one gift can be swiped more than three times. Theory #2: "White Elephant" is the type of gift exchanged. The theory is that the white elephant is a horrid gift you have received from Great Aunt Mildred and must display during her annual visit, and will happily re-gift as soon as the opportunity arises. (Apparently the origin of the phrase lies in the sacred white elephants of Thailand and Burma, where to be given a white elephant is both a privilege and a burden.) Or, in the absence of a horrid Great Aunt Mildred item, one simply purchases the most hideous or hysterically horrid gift one can find. ("Winged Piggies" musical snowglobe, anyone?) We seem to have left the discussion open, since both sides appear to have correct, if slightly conflicting, information. But now the question remains, what do I do with my gloriously cheesy bit of home decor? I'd hate to be the only one who brings a tacky tidbit for the exchange.