White elephant is a gift game, most often played during the winter holiday season, with the power to irrevocably bond people in blood pacts or to tear relationships apart forever. It all begins with every person bringing a gift—usually, a cheap, re-gifted item (in my case, the succulent I killed), or a gag gift—and being assigned a number. In that order, participants can choose to swap their gifts until all the presents have been unwrapped. Then, the chaos begins. With every item now revealed, this friendly tradition becomes the Holiday Hunger Games: according to their numbers, participants can choose to swap their item with another person’s. The more rounds there are, the less merry and the more malicious the game becomes–as the item you want is pulled further and further from your desperate grasp. Here, I offer you one rule: Trust no one. Below, I offer you ten GIFs that may prepare you for your feelings at every stage of White Elephant:
You’re excited at the start of the game: you can’t wait for your present to be unwrapped, and you can’t wait to get your hands on something good. As the presents are unwrapped one by one, you begin to realize, with dawning horror, that each gift being revealed is as terrible and unusable as the gift you brought (the dead plant, remember?).
Finally, there it is! The one good gift you’ve been waiting for. It’s the one thing in all of these other presents that you might actually use–you need it.
There’s something predatory in the air–you can sense it. Is it coming from you? From your friends and family members? They all want that gift, too. You can’t trust them.
You keep one eye on the present, and one eye on your friends. You decide to make your intent clear: you will have what’s yours, and anyone who gets in the way will suffer the consequences.
Your number has been called, and your time has come. You swap your item for the one you want–it’s yours now!
You can take this time to familiarize yourself with the gift. You can memorize the shape of it, and imagine where you’ll put it in a place of honor at home. There’s a whole life ahead for you together, you and this gift.
Someone you called a friend, once, tears the present from your clawing, clutching hands. Your dream died the moment they shrugged and said, “It’s only fair!”
You make plans to take back what’s yours–but it doesn’t happen. Everyone wants this gift, and every time you get it, it gets taken. You begin to think that, maybe, no one wants you to have it–maybe they’re in league together.
You may feel that you have lost your will to do anything for the rest of the holiday season. You may feel empty inside. Sit with your grief for a moment.
You look around, and listen to your friends laughing over equally terrible gifts. Watch the person with your dead plant pour water into the soil, hoping against hope to resurrect it. Be grateful for loved ones that outlast the harrows of White Elephant.
Rebecca Ryder is a senior studying English and creative writing. She can usually be found with a pen or paintbrush in her hand, dabbling in painting, calligraphy, and photographing her sisters for the blog they dream of running together. Follow her on Instagram at @rebwriter