Mariah Carey asked a journalist to explain what a white elephant gift party is

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d say: Mariah Carey and I have something in common. Unfortunately, it’s not the Hot 100 No. 1 oops I mean No. 2 Christmas song of the season. It’s that neither of us knew about White Elephant Gift Parties. These gift exchanging parties — sometimes called Dirty Santa or Yankee Swap — date back to the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries (according to the New York Times) and can have extensive rules and variations. The main gist is that the gifts exchanged are wacky, unnecessary, unwanted, or burdensome. Sounds like a party to me. In a recent interview with People Magazine, a reporter asked Mariah if she liked white elephant parties, to which Ms. Carey responded, “Say what now?”

Sure, Mariah Carey is the Queen of Christmas, but there’s one seasonal pastime she’s clueless about.

The “All I Want For Christmas Is You” singer was unaware of “white elephant parties” until a reporter for People explained them to her during an interview about her thoughts on various Christmas traditions.

Carey drew a blank when asked about “white elephant parties,” which, for the uninitiated, are parties where people trade bizarre, tacky or unwanted gifts with each other.

However, her response was sort of a gift in itself.

“I don’t know of said White Elephant Gift Party. Can you tell me about it?” Carey asked.

Once the reporter explained the concept, Carey admitted she had never participated in one, but added, “I’m always looking for a new game. Something’s fun, it’s good.”

However, she didn’t seem to be a fan of “secret Santa” gift exchanges.

“It’s just like, why? I don’t know,” she said.

Perhaps she just has other things to focus on in December. Her holiday hit “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is currently the No. 2 song in the country, after Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.”

[From HuffPost]

Of course Mariah has other things to focus on right now. She’s the “Queen of Christmas” and her holiday anthem is only at No. 2 — that might as well be No. Nothing!!! Don’t pester the Queen with peasant party trivia when there’s a crisis afoot! No, I jest (kind of) about Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” being dethroned (for the time being) by a 65-year-old classic. And like I said, in this instance I totally relate to Ms. Carey. If someone had asked me before reading this news item what a White Elephant Gift Party was, my pithy reply would’ve been “a soiree for those who are unable to see Pink Elephants On Parade. Personally, I think mine sounds like more fun. Of course, as soon as I finished writing this post I got an email from Etsy with the subject line “White elephant gifts that wow.”

photos credit: BauerGriffin/INSTARimages and via Instagram

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21 Responses to “Mariah Carey asked a journalist to explain what a white elephant gift party is”

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  1. Missskitttin says:

    In her defense I have to say I don’t know clearly what a white elephant gift is. Like a secret santa?

    • Concern Fae says:

      Basically it’s a Christmas gift exchange designed to be low cost. The ones I’ve gone to all have price limits in the $10-20 range. It’s also always OK to bring something you already own. All the gifts are placed on a table and people draw numbers and pick a gift in that order.

      The rules can vary, but one usual variation is the Yankee Swap, where you are allowed to demand that anyone who has already gotten a gift swap with you for whatever you picked.

      They can be very decorous. One cookie swap I used to go to had a Yankee swap where the gifts had to be kitchen related and it was expected that you have an excuse if you wanted to swap (aka allergic or already owned). Others can be ruder or more raucous. Some families bring back the same stuff to a swap every year. I heard of one where you were supposed to bring a wedding gift you never used. In others the swapping can get very nasty. Other times it really is about a gift swap where you don’t have to spend a lot (or anything).

  2. Amy Bee says:

    Yeah, I don’t know what a white elephant gift party is either. Does only a certain demographic do these parties? And I’m with Mariah, I don’t like secret santa gift exchanges either.

    • pottymouth pup says:

      I have a group of friends who do a pot luck every 8 weeks (we rotate houses, the host picks the theme and entree then assigns courses to the rest of us) and we do a Dirty Santa for our annual Xmas dinner. I think the person who suggested it heard about it at work and thought it would be the perfect thing for this group of friends. We cap the gift at $25 and there’s a mix of funny stuff and nice gift stuff (last year the gift I put together was a Snoop on a Stoop and some edibles)

  3. Plums says:

    I think I only learned about white elephant gift exchanges from that episode of The Office where Michael ruined Chistmas by turning a secret santa, where people had gotten small, thoughtful gifts for specific recipients, into a white elephant exchange because he way overspent on his generic luxury gift and was embarrassed because everyone else adhered to the 20 bucks for something personal and considerate.

  4. Pinkosaurus says:

    We do a white elephant exchange at work every year and it is hilarious. No one is allowed to buy anything at all. AT ALL. You must select something you already own that you do not want, wrap it up, and bring it in. Everyone picks a number to get the selection order. The first person picks and opens a gift. The second person can steal that gift in which case the first person has to pick and open another, or pick a different wrapped gift. There’s always one thing that is not as bad as the others that gets stolen constantly. Last year, we had three different screaming goat figures because apparently that’s being recommended as a fun gift. I highly recommend trying it as it’s nice to have one fun thing not resulting in buying more crap.

    • Libra says:

      This is exactly the definition of a white elephant gift exchange!! One year someone brought a box of shoulder pads kept in her laundry room that she had cut out of clothing that fit better without the pads. Another was a box of mismatched sox. An opened bottle of strongly scented and cheap hand lotion. Used taper candles with a shmaltzy design, truly ugly. Clean out your junk drawer and linen closets for other ideas. Don’t spend a cent. Just wrap them all fancy.

      • Coriolis says:

        The mismatched socks you mention reminded me of the year my colleague wrapped some old T-shirts for his White Elephant gift. My interpretation is it should be [weird] stuff that you already own [and are trying to get rid of], no new purchases required.

    • MissMarirose says:

      I went to a 20 person white elephant exchange once where all but two gifts were off-brand scented candles. The other two were a bottle of tequila (from someone who didn’t drink) and a knitted Kleenex cover (like a tea cozy for tissues). Until the tequila was unwrapped, it was a really boring party. Then that liquor was getting stolen like crazy.

    • Jen says:

      Yes, this is how we do it in one of my friend groups. We get together after Christmas and bring gifts we got for Christmas that we don’t want, and then draw numbers and play a game like you describe (choose a gift or steal, but with some limits on stealing) and get something someone else didn’t want with mixed results. So Etsy advertising “White Elephant Gifts That Wow” is word salad to me. You’re not supposed to buy anything for it.

  5. Bumblebee says:

    White elephant gifts are so much fun for holiday parties. You definitely need a price limit. And you can’t do it for kids. But since your useless junk is some else’s treasure, why not thoughtfully give it away in a gift bag, amirite? Hehehehe

  6. Elizabeth says:

    We have one every year at our office and it’s pretty hilarious. It’s usually a mix of terrible/gag gifts and a few good gifts, as well as objects re-done with the owner’s design aesthetic (like a Rubik’s cube painted all white.) The swap after is a process of getting rid of the bad gifts, swapping for the good gifts, and the owner trying to bribe his way into getting “his” gift. Last year the most popular one was a brown paper bag filled with airline mini-bottles, the worst was a talking fish.

  7. North of Boston says:

    The way I’ve always understood it, in a Venn Diagram of Christmas gift exchanges White Elephant and Yankee Swap would have some overlap, in that an exchange could be both. But they are different things.

    White Elephant has to do with the nature of the gifts (quirky, undesirable and / regifted … like what can you do with an oddball white elephant?)

    Yankee Swap has to do with the serial opening of gifts, and the way that people can swap what they just opened for a previously opened gift.

    Either one can have price limits, themes, guidelines on what kinds of things get gifted.

  8. Chantal1 says:

    I had not heard of this before but a white elephant gift party sounds like an office Secret Santa gift exchange with a price cap and a holiday party thrown in, and where the common practice of “regifting” terrible presents was exposed. Would “regifting” be considered “recycling” today?

    • Concern Fae says:

      But in a Secret Santa you have the name of a recipient and buy the present for that specific person. In a White Elephant or Yankee Swap, you bring a gift which could be for anyone. Who gets what gift is determined by a drawing and then the rules of that swap.

      My knitting group would do a Yankee Swap where you’d bring in a skein of yarn you didn’t want. Had to be enough to make a hat. Ferocious stealing all around.

  9. Surly Gale says:

    My understanding of a White Elephant party is different from this explanation. When you re-gift something that’s been a gift to you but isn’t something you need/want/like/have room for, etc (the elephant in the room is white because of the white lies one tells when receiving said gift) one throws a White Elephant Party. It could be called a re-gifting party, I guess, but White Elephant sounds more fun. And because they are unwanted/needed gifts they can rotate throughout the room (as in, keep or trade). I’m unclear of the ‘rules’…I guess the host could make up their own to decide final distribution. Eg: I was given a cozy pair of slipper socks but I’m a person who needs her slippers to have a base strong enough to withstand me stepping outside for the dog, the garden, the garbage, whatever. Socks, no matter how strong the non-slip treads, just won’t cut it for me. So these gorgeous, non-slip socks are just sitting around, not benefitting anyone. My way of handling these kinds of things are to have a big “give-away” bin that is taken to a charity 3 or 4 times a year. Mostly because I don’t throw parties. Last one was decades ago…only one or two out of dozens of invites actually came. It was humiliating and sad. In truth, I know I don’t have the gift of hospitality. My older sister does though, in spades. I’m sure I’m good at other things. I lean towards lifting folks up individually and spontaneously. But I’m not good around lots of people. One, the different conversations over heat my ADHD brain to unbearable levels. Sensory overload is a real thing for me. So I’m not good at parties and gatherings of many. I’m best when there’s just a few people and we’re all having the same conversation. ADHD is the elephant I carry into every busy room; they fill me w/dread unless I have a specific job to do at a specific time and I can focus on the job, not the participants. For the record, I have never been to a White Elephant party (I must have read the descriptive somewhere..). Bless Mimi and her abundance of Christmas Spirit!

  10. daveW says:

    FWIW I think what it’s called is regional. I grew up in the Northeast and it was Yankee Swap; moved to the south and first time someone talked about a White Elephant Christmas party I was clueless.

    The season 2 Christmas episode of The Office (aka the teapot episode) is a good example of Yankee Swap/White Elephant in action.

    • lucy2 says:

      In that episode they even all talk about the various names it is called.
      I can’t see the words Yankee Swap without hearing Michael Scott’s Yaaaaaaankee Swap!

    • FancyPants says:

      I’m from a southeastern state and we always called it “Dirty Santa.”

  11. Lucky Charm says:

    We used to have white elephant gift exchanges at work. $15 limit, everyone draws a number and gifts opened in that order. The next person could either steal a previously opened gift, or open a new one, until everyone had a gift. If the one you opened got stolen then you could either open a new one or steal from someone else, before the next person in line went. After the last person got their gift, the first person had the option of keeping the the one they had or exchanging with someone else. However, each gift could only be stolen three times, then whomever had it got to keep it. It was quite hilarious and there was always one “popular” gift each year that everybody wanted.

    Now we just do a Secret Santa, and it’s not nearly as exciting or as much fun.

  12. Amiee Christine Mulder says:

    Sounds a bit like Stealing Santa which we do in the office most years in australia.