Courier-Post columnist Danny Henley wonders how he's going to give a "white elephant" gift when he doesn't know what one is.
What is a “white elephant?”
And please don’t tell me it’s an albino pachyderm.
I really need to know considering I’m supposed to give one this year when Nancy, my wife, meets for Christmas with her parents, siblings and their children and grandchildren.
As in many families, Christmas gift purchases have traditionally extended beyond our immediate family. Normally it has meant also buying a gift(s) for a member of my wife Nancy’s family. The identity of the designated present recipient has typically been determined through the drawing of names at a point in the year when shorts and T-shirts are the appropriate fashion.
The name drawing was always followed with inquiries of “What does so and so like?” “What does so and so want this year?” Coming up with ideas for oneself that were not outlandish was almost as much of a challenge as finding an item for someone else that didn’t bust the Christmas budget.
Tradition has it that a $15 cap was placed on the price of gifts being given. However, while Nancy and I always tried to adhere to the stated limit for the family gift exchange, the rule was frequently ignored by those with both bigger hearts and budgets.
In addition to purchasing gifts for a select family member, there were also presents to buy for every niece and nephew under the age of 18 in the family, plus their children as well. As the family has grown over time, it’s meant more and more presents to purchase.
At this point, let me stop and apologize for being so Scrooge-like on Christmas Eve, but the whole process was proving taxing to an already tight family budget.
Recognizing that while the family was growing, the net income of many family members hasn’t been keeping pace, my mother-in-law, Glenda, sought to alter the guidelines of this year’s family gift exchange.
Nixed was the purchase of a specific gift(s) for a designated individual. Taking its place this year will be the swapping of “white elephant” gifts.
The only problem that’s arisen for me is that no definition of a “white elephant” was ever provided, leading me to wonder what qualifies as a “white elephant” gift?
I’ve always thought of a “white elephant” present as a gag item of some sort, like a box of fruitcake that two families I knew were always passing back and forth during the holiday season.
But my definition is not shared by everyone.
At least one member of Nancy’s family has told her that they plan to give something that they have been given as a friendship gift, but in fact have no real use for and is essentially just taking up space.
Nancy is planning on baking some cookies as her contribution to the gift exchange. But there’s already been rumblings that tasty treats are not considered an appropriate “white elephant.” Plus, there’s no guarantee that whoever receives her goodies won’t have started a diet three days before. There’s also the chance that if she makes chocolate chip cookies, whoever receives them won’t like chocolate.
To cover herself, Nancy is also taking a pot holder to give.
Not knowing what to give, I considered opting out of the “white elephant” exchange. However, I was told that was not an option as some might feel uncomfortable opening their “elephants” in front of me.
Faced with the prospect of coming up with a “white elephant” gift without know what one is, I turned to the Oxford Dictionaries which provided this definition: a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.
A gift that’s useless or troublesome? Ah, I can hear the “bah, humburgs” already.