White Elephant in the Room | Urban Living
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White Elephant in the Room



It's that time of the year when most of us have to participate in the mandatory office party or a holiday party with a social group we belong to ... whether we like it or not. Most likely it will be a white elephant event. The premise is that everyone participating brings a wrapped present which is placed in a pile of other presents, and the goal is not to get a really great gift but to entertain the party-goers. One by one, each participant picks a present, unwraps it and hopes it's not too awful. The next person can pick what the last guy unwrapped or chose a new one. If it's done right, the party can be hilarious by limiting the amount of money that can be spent and picking a theme for the prizes (i.e. naughty or re-gift). I remember I worked for one company that had an annual white elephant holiday party and a certain really bad lamp got passed along year after year until finally someone just threw it in the trash.

The idea of the gift exchange is based on a legend. Long, long ago the King of Siam (now Thailand) was known as a generous man. He would gift rare albino elephants to courtiers who displeased him. One might think that an elephant would be a mighty fine gift indeed. However, the upkeep would exceed the usefulness of the beast and force the recipient into poverty. Elephants eat a ton (literally) and white elephants in Buddhist mythology are sacred and forbidden from performing any kind of manual labor. So they will just suck you dry while giving you nothing in return except their beauty. Being that they are sacred creatures, they must only be fed the best provisions, live in the most luxurious elephant housing, and wear robes and jewels.

If you get roped into having to go to a white elephant party this year, here are some hints for potential contributions to the present pile. First, lots of folks would love to walk away with a nice bottle of wine from the office party. Get a good-looking wine bag or flask, but instead of wine, put in a bottle of some crazy sauce you find at a local ethnic grocery store. Second, intricate wrapping is a great enticement. Take that toner cartridge you used up last week in the office for the blue color and cover it in fine paper and ribbon. Look around the office—there could be something you borrow to wrap up, like last year's office calendar or the creepy plastic frog the receptionist has at her desk. The hit of one party I went to last year was a brand new set of anal beads.