When I lived in Seattle, a group of friends and I participated in an annual white elephant gift exchange.
For the uninitiated, the term “white elephant” was originally and literally a white elephant. White elephants were seen as rare, enviable and precious gifts, but they were also a financial burden to feed, house, and clean. Only the wealthiest kings and sultans could afford to keep them, so if a person were given one as a gift, it was essentially meant to drive the owner to financial ruin. In modern usage, it means a gift that isn’t really a gift. Or at our party, it was a gag gift.
Basically, everyone wrapped their gifts and people drew numbers out of a hat. One had the first pick. Two could then steal one’s gift or pick from below the tree. If a gift was stolen three times, it was no longer available to steal.
Some of the most memorable were: The Clapper*, Bootleg DVDs from Taiwan and a beer in a sock. Good times.
But as we got older, we wanted to be classy. So we decided to change the game to be a CD and DVD exchange**, but still keep the same structure. One person, however, didn’t get the memo. And it so happened that I picked old number 1 for the first time ever.
So there I was in my Christmas sweater, all eager and full of Holiday Cheer***, surrounded by friends when I unwrapped the first gift. It was neither CD nor DVD. It was a Strokin’ Santa wind-up doll. Without going into too much detail, Santa had one arm raised over his head**** and the other on his “north pole”. And when you wound up the doll, Santa “jingled his bells”. Again, I’m thankful that this was not a DVD. Needless to say, no one wanted to steal this gift.
But, fortunately, my roommate’s girlfriend was going to another white elephant gift exchange and traded me a Snoopy Snowcone Machine for Jolly Old St. Nick. Classy indeed.
*My roommates and I first used it with the TV, but it would shut off if there were any loud noises ON the TV
**Throw this one in the time capsule, right?
***How is this not a brand of cheap moonshine?
****A detail that has always befuddled me. Was he looking for a high five? Was he waving to someone?