Suggestions for a white elephant gift exchange

My family is doing Christmas giving differently this year for everyone but our parents.

At recent Christmases everyone received what they asked for, which ensured presents were wanted but lacked surprise and imagination. This year, instead of buying what the person whose name we drew asked for, each of us will be challenged to think of a $25 gift that will appeal to a boy, girl, man, or woman between 12 and 71.

Opening the gifts should be entertaining because we’ll make a white elephant game of it. (White elephant doesn't have to mean used.) After we draw numbers, person #1 will start us off by choosing and opening a package from the pile of wrapped gifts. We’ll continue in order, with numbers 2 through 14 either opening a gift or stealing an opened gift. A person whose gift is snatched can take another’s or open a wrapped gift. After the last gift is opened, person #1 will have a chance to steal a gift and force someone to accept his or her unwanted gift.

I must be excited about the change because I’ve been researching gift possibilities for a while. Here are some of my favorite ideas, not including cellphone accessories, which are numerous enough for another post. Specific sources of gifts for the most part aren’t recommended; you can Google to find options. (Note to any of my family members reading this: Don’t assume my gift is listed.)

• A piggy bank or money jar, with coins if needed to reach the spending target: This could encourage kids to save and give adults somewhere to stash loose change until taking it to the bank. Digital coin banks count the contents. Money jars with save/spend/share compartments promote conscientious money management for all ages. Piggy banks are decorative enough to come off the bedroom dresser top.

• A collapsible cup and reusable straws for environmentalists (but maybe not exciting for a 12-year-old): I am ashamed of how many McDonald’s soft drink cups and straws I’ve collected. A collapsible cup and reusable straws fit into backpacks and larger purses. Starbucks will allow cups to be brought in; the recipient will have to check about other businesses. If you haven’t reached the spending target, add a reusable shopping bag that folds down to envelope size. An environmentalist likely has one, but it will need replacing eventually.

• A vacuum-insulated stainless steel water bottle: A water bottle is essential for staying hydrated on the go. A vacuum-insulated stainless steel bottle will keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot for hours. You can find ones that have straps, that fit into standard container holders, that are designed for various activities, etc.

• One-size-fits-all slipper socks: It’s the rare person who wants to go barefoot indoors in winter, especially on hard floors. Slipper socks not only keep feet warm, but their no-skid soles also guard against falling. They’re also more wearable in bed than slippers. With a $25 budget, you can buy several colors and lengths from ankle to knee.

• Continuing the warmth indoors theme, a one-size-fits-all blanket hoodie: A wearable blanket keeps head, neck, and torso warm while leaving hands free. Google shows one on sale now for under $25.

• Unisex lip balm: Unscented and unflavored lip balms with SPF 30 are good for everyone; men don’t need a “masculine” product for chapped lips. Since you can find them for a few dollars, the practical among us might scoff at spending more. On the other hand, some editors at Health, Prevention, and other magazines swear by higher-priced brands; you can find recommendations on the magazine websites.

• A water and stain repellent: It protects shoes made of leather, canvas, suede, nylon, or synthetics from water stains. It can be used on handbags and gloves, too.

• Something with a family photo: If you’ve taken a group photo recently, why not put it on a pillow, a blanket, a mug, or whatever? Or maybe you have an ancestor’s photo that would stimulate conversation if displayed on a pillow or in a frame. (Admittedly, your nondescendant in-laws might not care to get the photo.)

• A novelty beach towel, blanket, or throw: Funny throws and blankets range from a mermaid tail blanket to a throw with an image of a $1 million bill. Food themes — pizza slices, a gigantic strawberry, a pineapple, etc. — abound on beach towels and blankets, but it may be best to avoid a hot dog theme if you have vegetarians in the group.

• Sponsoring an animal: For a $25 donation, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary lets you choose a specific dog, cat, horse, pig, goat, or bird to sponsor and supplies a card describing the animal.

• Movie passes: My relatives still go to the movies.

• Games: You know — don’t you? — what your relatives might enjoy.

• Shares of stock: The website sells fractions of stocks for as low as $5, giving kids and risk-averse adults a cautious way to experience the ups and downs of the market. Givers can present a card redeemable for stocks the recipient picks.

I still need to ask my family members whether we’ll own up to what we brought. As I understand white elephant rules, the packages are anonymous. Note to my sister-in-law: A bow will be a giveaway.

Coming next: cellphone accessories




“But even if, for the sake of argument, censure rather than impeachment might normally be appropriate and sufficient punishment, it would be pointless given this president. Censure is a form of shaming, but this president cannot be shamed. That would require an ability for honest self-appraisal.”
Chicago Sun-Times editorial, December 1

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