Hosting a Meaningful White Elephant Gift Exchange

I always ask myself the same question after a white elephant gift exchange: “Can I regift this, or should I just throw it away?” I can’t think of a single one where I thought, “I totally scored!”

A white elephant gift exchange is an opportunity to get together with friends and loved ones, share a few laughs, and make some memories. The exchange adds the Christmas gift component, as well as an element of fun.

But maybe there are other exchange ideas that can be just as enjoyable while providing genuine service to everyone involved—and you don’t have to go home with anyone else’s junk!

Reimagining the Coupon

Many parents have experienced the coupon book—the wonderful do-it-yourself gift from children on a budget. Each one full of promises like breakfast in bed or one whine-free bedtime pass. Couples have put the coupon-book idea to good use with a more sophisticated understanding of chores and services that would be appreciated.

The coupon is still full of untapped potential as a gift idea. It can be used to pour some energy and love into the lives of the people around you. If used correctly, it can be a great opportunity to get to know your friends better, share your talents, and do good long after the white elephant party is over.

How to Run a Coupon Gift Exchange

1. Give everyone a 5×7 card and a pen, and have them write down two things they’d like.

One should be a service they’d like help with:

  • Some wood stacked
  • Sheetrocking
  • Budgeting advice
  • Investment advice
  • Housecleaning
  • Painting
  • Babysitting
  • etc.

The service can be specific, but you don’t want it to be more than a few hours. Remember, the more specialized you make the service, the less of a chance there will be someone there who can help you with it.

The second one should be more of a social opportunity:

  • A walking partner for a week
  • A movie night
  • A Bible study partner
  • A coffee date

Don’t let anyone put their names on their cards at this time, and put them in a large bowl.

2. Mix the bowl and have everyone draw one of the cards.

If they draw their own, they can put it back and draw again. When all the cards have been drawn, go around the circle and have everyone read the two items on their card.

3. While people are reading their cards, everyone should be listening for services or tasks they are specifically gifted for.

For instance, if you have a background as a CPA or financial advisor, you might focus in on a budgeting help request.

Once the cards are read, you go round the circle again and everyone has an opportunity to take someone else’s card—just like the “stealing” portion of a white elephant exchange. Except in this instance, you aren’t taking what you like best, you’re taking the card you feel you could best accommodate.

Each card can only be stolen once.

4. By now, it’s gone around the circle and everyone’s had a chance to steal a new card.

Each person is now responsible for one (or both) of the two tasks in their hand. If they don’t have the ability to do the service request, they can still do the social one.

It now goes one more time around the circle and each person identifies the card they put into the bowl.

Generosity in Action

The beauty of this kind of a party is how it encourages more social interaction beyond the holiday gathering, and it gives people the opportunity to take part in some service-oriented generosity. Don’t be afraid to change up elements of the service exchange yourself, or come up with something completely different!

White elephant gift exchanges are fun, but, let’s be honest, giving out of our surplus (or just giving away old stuff we don’t want anymore) isn’t really generosity. Generosity comes from an investment or sacrifice—the kind of sacrifice you experience when you put aside a Saturday to help someone clean out their basement or mow their lawn.

The Bible is packed with encouragements to be generous. (Here are 20 examples to get you started!) It only takes a few experiences like this for people to get a taste for serving others, and learning to recognize the occasions all around them to help others.

So, give it a shot! Plan your own service exchange party, and see what fruit comes from it. I think everyone will be surprised at how serving others can penetrate and transform our relationships.

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