The Best Ridiculous But Useful Gifts I’ve Discovered From Doing White Elephant for Years
Chip-shaped bag clips, a checkered cowboy boot bottle opener, and more.
Updated Dec 1, 2022 4:15 PM
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Of all the holiday traditions, I look forward to my family’s white elephant gift exchange the most. Every year, no matter who offers to host—my grandparents, aunt and uncle, even cousins—each of us arrives at the Christmas gathering with a wrapped box in hand. Optical illusions are often employed; nearly all of us trick each other with boxes too big for their contents. The rule is that it doesn’t matter how you package something as small as a gift card or as big as a coffeepot, as long as it doesn’t cost more than the budget given (for us, that’s typically to the tune of $25).
But that gift card isn’t always what’s fought over the most—instead, it’s the quirky yet useful items that are often stolen. In past games, I’ve personally waited to pounce on an electric face massager, an essential oils kit, and a pocket-size Saber card (it’s a ruler, screwdriver, and bottle opener in one, in case you were wondering). So if you’re also looking for a present that fits that criteria this year, we rounded up a few of the best white elephant gift ideas, below.
Our Favorite White Elephant Gift Ideas
- Stmxsonaiel Chip Bag Clip Set
- DII Lakehouse Fish Oven Mitts
- W&P Craft Cocktail Kit
- Stewart & Claire Cocktail Lip Balm Trio
- The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America
- The Landmark Project 2023 National Parks Calendar
- Games Room Celebrity Trivia
- DS & Durga Portable Fireplace
- Vacation Classic Whip Sunscreen
- Material Forever Peeler
- Fleur Marche Variety CBD Wellness Patches
- Urban Outfitters Bootle Opener
- Red Clay Conserve Duo
- Ourry Whale Light
- Kodak 35mm Film Camera
- Baggu Go Pouch Set
- Image3D Retro Viewer
- Fredericks & Mae Multicolor Cheese Knife Set
Best White Elephant Gifts Under $20
At my parents’ house, there’s never enough chip clips, and I can see them getting a kick out of this six-pack. Super-affordable and funny-cute, these to-be-destined pantry staples can be tapped to preserve more than the triangle or rippled potato snack they’re shaped after.
With more than one angler in my family tree, this salmon and trout oven mitt pair would definitely be coveted (we can’t resist a good fish motif). These might skew on the novelty side but would definitely be a delight to see them hung up next to the stove—especially one in a cottage, cabin, or lake house.
If in your family (like mine) the youngest isn’t yet 21 (a few more years!), skip wrapping up booze and bring this cocktail kit instead. It includes all the ingredients and tiny tools needed to make a tasty hot toddy, sans spirits, of course. It also happens to be TSA approved and includes a linen coaster.
While we’re on the topic of pocket-size cocktails, this trio is made in the U.S. with organic, plant-based ingredients and essential oils that will inspire delight in any cocktail fanatic (including my cousin, who loves shaking up everything from margaritas to martinis).
Bird-watcher or no, this satirical guide to 50 different North American species (including the White-Breasted Butt Nugget) is filled with lovely illustrations and hilarious commentary that’s sure to make your dad laugh. I’m considering wrapping it up for my own family exchange this year (here’s hoping they’re not reading this—though it would be best suited for my grandfather, who always has his binoculars nearby).
I can think of more than one family member who’d benefit from a wall calendar to remember important dates—birthdays, football games, anniversaries. This one is printed on FSC-certified recycled paper, spans 14 months (November 2022 to December 2023), and offers colorful illustrations of national parks.
Pop-culture fanatics will make plans to steal this one. This simple trivia card game is packed in a chic, Art Deco–like box and comes with 140 question cards about all sorts of celebrities, from Elvis Presley to Lady Gaga. It’ll transform future family dinners into game night in a flash.
For myself, my brother, and a few cousins, traveling home for the holidays means being able to sit by a real working fireplace. If that’s true for your family, too, toss this DS & Durga air freshener into the white elephant mix. It can hang on someone’s rearview mirror, like a chicer Little Tree, emitting the scent of pine, cedar, and birch.
Best White Elephant Gifts Under $30
A borderline gag gift, this SPF-30 sunscreen is cheekily bottled up like a can of whipped cream (and comes out looking like it, too). Our style editor, Julia Stevens, is all about Vacation’s branding, but it’s not just for looks: The sunscreen is reef-friendly, applies transparently, and feels lightweight instead of heavy. Whomever it ends up with, I expect it to become an inside joke on our family vacation.
Most vegetable peelers are flimsy and made of plastic, or their blades are quick to rust and dull. This major upgrade in a smart U-shaped design—it’s easier to grip and covers more surface area—comes in luxe colors like bronze, gold, and silvery meteorite. People will be peeling (har-har) it out of your hands.
These peel-and-stick sampler patches from Fleur Marche provide a boost for nearly every facet of your life, whether you need to relax and recharge or power up beyond that daily dose of caffeine. We see this being a draw among the natural-remedy members of your party, as well as others who’ve always wanted to partake.
Urban Outfitters truly is a gold mine for kitschy gifts and quirky decor items, iWhile the disco ball bottle opener is no longer in stock, this checkered cowboy boot still fits the novelty bill as a cute addition to your giftee’s bar cart, plus past purchasers confirm it actually works. Get ready to pass this one around at the holiday party to get into that six-pack of Christmas ale.
It will be difficult to resist opening up these jars before getting to the party. This set of spreads—a hot pepper and spicy peach jelly—can also be used as a marinade, glaze, dipping sauce, and more. I’d include a note that reads “Be prepared to share.”
If your white elephant gift exchange involves more kids than adults, check out this touch-controlled nightlight (though it’d also be fitting for expectant parents furnishing a nursery). BPA-free, washable silicone comes in the form of a little white whale (Baby Beluga, anyone?) that’s sure to spark joy.
Get ready to say “cheese!” This point-and-shoot will quickly have its recipient prepping other partygoers for their Kodak moment (and it’s cheap enough to throw in a roll of film). The compact camera comes in eight bright colors, though I’ve always found the brand’s iconic yellow to be a crowd-pleaser.
Best White Elephant Gifts Under $40
Whoever scores these eco-friendly, expandable travel bags will soon never leave home without them. Cheerful smiley face prints decorate three recycled nylon pouches that are the perfect containers to corral makeup, toiletries, and more.
Give the gift of nostalgia with this retro-inspired gadget that can be assembled with personal photos instead of ’80s comic strips. Though if anyone participating in the white elephant gift exchange was born after the ’90s, you may have to explain to them just what a View Master is.