I Was Wrong: A Story of a White Elephant Gift

In case you don’t know, a White Elephant Party is one where every guest brings a wrapped gift, with no particular recipient in mind, then using some sort of game the gifts are exchanged until everyone has a random gift from a random person. I think a lot of kids are introduced to this type of party in elementary school. That’s how I was introduced to them, in any case.

A sliding puzzle game, a typical cheap White Elephant gift.

The most common version of the game is where all the gifts are put in a pot, and every player gets exactly one turn. The order in which you get your turn is selected at random, by any means, such as alphabetical. On a player’s turn they have two options: They may take a random gift from the pot and open it as their own. Or they may take a random gift from the pot and exchange it with someone else that already has an opened gift. At that point the person they exchanged gifts work with opens the new present to reveal what it is. As you can imagine early on in the game a few select presents will be revealed and they will bounce around a lot. On the other hands duds show up more frequently and once you have a dud it’s pretty much game over. In elementary school you can expect presents such as water pistols, Hot Wheels cars, or  sliding tile puzzles.

The first time I played the game in the 2nd grade one of the top choices ended up being a package that included a notepad, trapper keeper folder, and pen. There were a few other popular items that were bouncing around as well. I remember that gift being a top choice because I lucked out, and was the last person to go, so I had the whole gamut to choose from and I chose the stationary.

The next time I played the game, I wasn’t so lucky. We played a drastically different version of the game in the 3rd grade. This time around, before the day of the party itself there was talk and rumors going around. This girl named Michelle really liked this one guy, Eric I think, but it may have been someone else, I’m not for certain, and rumor had it that she was going to bring a special gift that she was hoping he’d get, and also he had bought a special gift that he was hoping she would get. That was the rumor anyway. In this particular game we all sat in a circle with our own gift in front of us, and the teacher read us a story. As we listened to the story, any time the word “right” or “left” was said, we would pass all of our gifts to the person to that side of us. Then when the story was over, we got what was in front of us. Admittedly this game isn’t nearly as interesting as the other one because there really isn’t any strategy about what you might get, you just sort of get what you get.

Well it just so happened that everyone was kind of guessing at what the best presents might be based upon their weight, and also everyone sort of knew which present Michelle had brought and which Eric had brought (if that really is the guy Michelle had a crush on), so everyone was sort of watching out for those, including me. Well as the story went on, Michelle’s present was in my general vicinity and it was in my hands quite a bit, in fact it was just a little bit to my right near the end of the story:

He sprang ”’RIGHT”’ to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
and away they all ”’LEFT”’ like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he ”’LEFT”’ out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

At that moment Michelle’s gift was in the hands of the person next to me, this girl named Kendra. ”Come on, just say ”left” one more time, just for the heck of it,” I thought. Sure the story was over, but I was so close. To this day I can still imagine how great would have been had the teacher just decided to blurt out, Left.

I opened my gift, it was one of those sliding tile puzzles. Really lame, in my opinion, but anything was lame compared to what Kendra got. She opened her present. Everyone knew it was Michelle’s and everyone watched intently. It was this really cool, really nice Christmas decoration of Santa and his reindeer. And I don’t mean some child’s toy. This was a porcelain decoration that you would expect your parents to put on the mantle. Had I won that, I can guarantee you I’d still have it on display every Christmas. Eric’s present that had been intended for Michelle was also okay, it turned out to be one of those disposable point and click cameras, really not that great by today’s standards, but keep in mind that was during a time when cell phones didn’t really exist.

The lame present that I brought.

I don’t remember much of what I brought to these White Elephant parties. Mostly I don’t think I brought anything at all, since it was almost guaranteed that someone would forget so the teacher would just bring extra gifts. At this particular party I had brought a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy. A Bugs Bunny in a sport’s car/stretch limo. While I don’t know who brought the sliding puzzle that I got, I do know who got my Bugs Bunny toy, it was this girl named Brianna. I saw the expression on her face when she opened it, and I must admit I was a little heartbroken because the look of disappointment was unmistakeable. Basically it was a hard thing for me to give up a McDonald’s toy. I was collecting them, and the Bugs Bunny car was acceptable because I had two of them. I actually felt bad that I brought a gift she was unhappy with, because I knew it was going straight into the trash, much like my sliding puzzle was going to go swiftly into the trash. In retrospect what I feel worst about is the fact that I was kind of angry that I got such a lame present when I myself had brought a dud. I also now realize that I could have brought a better present if I had just asked my mom to get something.

With all this back-story it’s time I explained how all this White Elephant stuff ties into me admitting that I was wrong about something. For that I must tell you about the last time I played a White Elephant game. It was in 10th grade, in one of my classes. We played the traditional exchange game where you pick a random present out of the pot. I wasn’t lucky enough to go last, but also not unfortunate enough to go first. I went somewhere in the middle. There were already a few select gifts out there, so I could have gone for something moderate and then hope that everyone after me would go for higher profile items, but I wanted to live on the edge. I wanted to take a chance, so I decided to grab a present at random and open it. It was a pretty plain looking package. Almost a perfect cube. Not too big to stand out, but not so small that there was no chance it was something interesting. I opened it, and to my dismay it was a denture cleaning kit. ”A denture cleaning kit!” If anything was a dud, this was the dud among duds. It wasn’t even useful. Not one person in that group had dentures. I mean, we were in high school. There was no way anyone in that group would need dentures. I was flat out angry that this was my present. Once you have a dud present you don’t really get to play anymore, because no one is going to exchange that gift with you. I was out of the game, and I had a bitter attitude through the rest of the party. I wanted to drop swear words, I wanted to storm out of the room. I wanted to pout, I wanted to cry, I wanted too… Okay well maybe not that extreme, but basically the rest of the game was pretty boring for me, and I was at least somewhat bitter.

I left the present there, sitting on my desk. I didn’t even bother throwing it away. I wanted the next person to sit in that desk to see the denture cleaning kit and wonder why it was there.

I was wrong, though. And surprisingly, it wasn’t just my negative attitude that made me wrong, though that was part of it. This was one of those White Elephants where I didn’t bring anything. I counted on the extra gifts to cover the fact that I didn’t bring one. Certainly Karma frowned on me for that reason alone. I mean seriously, I didn’t even bring anything, and I expected to have as much fun as the next man? I was begging for a denture cleaning kit. Now that might be enough reason for most people to admit that they were wrong, but it’s actually more extreme than that. That reason is that the denture cleaning kit would have been a good present for me, had I actually ”kept it”. You see, while the product name was Denture Cleaning Kit, amongst the other uses for the product was retainer cleaning and it just so happened that I had a retainer at the time. It was probably in my mouth even I was telling my friend Casey about how disappointed I was. Out of the spite that I gotten a dud present, I didn’t even put two and two together.

A denture cleaning kit. Also good for retainers.

Now, anyone who has had a retainer knows just how nasty those things are. They are in your mouth then they come out of your mouth. Over time they just get nastier and nastier. Eventually a layer of residue just sort of forms over them. Even those that don’t have retainers know how gross it is to see one sitting on someone’s lunch tray. The only method I ever used for cleaning my retainer was brushing it with a tooth brush and toothpaste. How much greater it would have been to actually have the thing sitting in a little tub designed for cleaning objects that go in your mouth. This could have been a great present that would have made my retainer just a little less nasty, and I, out of pride or selfishness or whatever other negative attitude you can associate with my decision, threw away that opportunity. I was wrong, and I know it.

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