Geek Trivia

The White Elephant Gift Exchange Tradition Owes Its Name To?

Ernest Hemingway
Al Capone
The King of Siam
Queen Victoria
What Is The Most Popular Successor To The Ubiquitous Bar Code?

Answer: The King of Siam

A popular holiday tradition in countries like the United States is a party game known as a “white elephant gift exchange.” The basic premise is that each participant brings a gift, typically inexpensive, humorous, and not something the recipient would normally want as a gift, and the gifts are exchanged by unwrapping them in sequence wherein each new recipient can swap out their gift for a previously opened gift. The goal of the game is to swap out your “white elephant” for a gift you really want.

While the modern incarnation of the white elephant exchange is a harmless way to make light of how seriously some people take gift giving and playfully vie for the “worst” gifts, the origin of the game’s name has a darker history. In the ancient kingdom of Siam (now Thailand), white elephants were revered as sacred and kept by the royal family. If a member of the royal court displeased the royal family, they would gift a white elephant to them. While, on the surface, this seems contradictory because the king would gift a sacred animal to a person he did not care for, it was actually an extremely clever way to punish the courtier. The cost of upkeep for any elephant, let alone a sacred white elephant, was astronomical and the gift was essentially a promise of bankruptcy.