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What’s the Difference Between Dirty Santa and White Elephant?

A group of friends sit on a couch in front of a Christmas tree and exchange gifts.
DC Studio/Shutterstock.com

You’ve gotten invitation upon invitation to holiday parties for friends, for work, and for loved ones, but some are for Dirty Santa gift exchanges and others are for White Elephant parties. But is there a difference?

Dirty Santa and White Elephant are almost the same things when it comes to the set-up, but the difference lies in just how, well, dirty the game gets.

For both Dirty Santa and White Elephant, guests—you typically need at least four to six people—will bring a gift within a certain price range. Gifts are then placed in a single location and guests draw numbers.

The person who draws the number one chooses a gift and opens it. Then, the person who drew the number two can open a new gift or take the first person’s gift. The process continues until the final person can choose between any of the opened gifts or the final unopened option.

So, what’s the difference?

Typically, it’s the type of gift. White Elephant exchanges are meant to feature silly, joking, or useless gifts. Essentially, it’s a good-natured and funny exchange. The idea allegedly comes from the King of Siam who would gift courtiers he disliked with rare albino elephants. Eventually, the care and upkeep of the elephants would bankrupt the courtiers.

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Need a weird White Elephant gift? Try a tortilla blanket.

As for Dirty Santa, you’re meant to bring a useful or fun gift that people will, well, fight over. The more people want the gift, the better as it ensures multiple fun rounds of stealing presents—hence the name. It’s essentially a “dirtier” exchange.

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Everyone could use a portable charger.

If you’ve got a White Elephant or Dirty Santa party on the horizon, you now know exactly what to expect when you arrive.

Shea Simmons Shea Simmons
Shea Simmons is the Assignments Editor at LifeSavvy. Previously, she worked as a freelance writer with a focus on beauty and lifestyle content. Her work has appeared in Bustle, Allure, and Hello Giggles. Read Full Bio »
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