In theory, white elephant gift exchanges are a good idea. It’s the solution to the age-old problem of attending a party with people you don’t know well enough to actually find an appropriate gift. But white elephant exchanges have never been more than holiday hijinks. Unlike a Secret Santa, this kind of gifting game doesn’t call for personalized items that show someone just how much you love them. In fact, the origin of the tradition was born centuries ago when kings would give literal white elephants — incredibly large, costly, and futile creatures — to folks they weren’t so fond of. The elephant was a punishment, not a gift. Eventually that transformed into the tradition we all know and kind of love today — in which novelty and tacky gifts reign supreme.
For as silly as the game is, the impractical gag gifts are never that fun to receive. They get a big laugh from the group, but they’re virtually useless beyond the momentary joke. This year, we’re unsubscribing from that expectation. If we’re going to give — and get — something, we want it to be good — maybe even something the rest of the group will fight over. We’re looking for gifts that have universal appeal but also satisfy a range of personality types. Thankfully, we found plenty to choose from.
For the Friend Who Actually Owns a Car
Car fresheners get a bad rap, but this chic option smells luxurious. These tiny fragrance ornaments can be just as effective hung in someone’s closet or placed in a drawer.
If the Salon Is Their Second Home
Everyone needs a hair mask in their lives. Whether they get regular blowouts or monthly root touch-ups, an acidic bonding mask can offer deep hydration and repair in five minutes. It’s the kind of gift anyone who’s ever used a flatiron will argue over keeping. No takesies-backsies!
For the Insomniac
One in three adults are insomniacs, so odds are, someone in the group will benefit from a sleep mask. The consuming darkness may actually help them go to sleep before the witching hour. Cotton masks are fine, but silk is best — the material doesn’t create as much friction around the eye area, so you won’t be exacerbating anyone’s deepening fine lines.
If They’re Allergic to Small Talk
It’s not just the introverts of the group — even some extroverts dislike talking about the weather or what they do for a living. This question game offers three different levels of closeness, depending on how intimate someone is looking to get with party guests. It’s basically small talk repellent.
For the Non-Coffee Drinker
At least one person in the group will give up coffee in 2024. This hot chocolate mix offers them something to drink that’s not caffeine-free tea. The hot cocoa trio will also please anyone who requires a sweet treat every time they’re met with a minor inconvenience. Even we understand the need for regular indulgence.
For the Friend Who’s Always Cold
Not everyone owns a winter hat, but they should own gloves. And if you’re going to own gloves, they might as well be cashmere — Mongolian cashmere, to be exact, which is apparently three times warmer than wool.
If They Always Have a Stocked Bar Cart
A wine bottle stopper is one of those things you don’t know you need until you’re desperate for it. This one just happens to be cooler than your standard cork.
If They Keep Ordering the Same Salad for Lunch
Lunch bags are a necessary evil for those back in the office, but it’s hard to come by options that weren’t made for a second grader. This Puebco Grocery Bag gives a whole new meaning to “brown bagging it” for 30-somethings.
For the Friend Considering Under-Eye Filler
“Should I get under-eye filler?” has been the million-dollar question in your group chat all year. Save your friend thousands of dollars with reusable gel eye pads instead. They won’t permanently cure dark circles, but the instant, albeit temporary, results will be appreciated. Even those who are willing to live with their hollows will enjoy the mask’s plumping effect.
For the Homeowner with a Guest Bath
Fancy soap always gets a compliment — even from a petulant mother-in-law. An added bonus? This particular set was created in partnership with the New York Botanical Garden. Each purchase supports the park’s work in plant research and conservation.
If They’re Still Using Their Lanyard from College
Lanyards are for college students and TikTok teens who spent all year shadowboxing their teachers. This elegant keychain was made for a grownup. The Italian acetate is supposed to be more durable than plastic, so it’ll hold up even when tossed from bag to bag.
For the Sober Mixologist
A nonalcoholic spirit is something everyone, including the sober and sober curious, can get with. This can be enjoyed over ice with soda water or used as a sweet base to a cocktail — it’s dealer’s choice.
For the Mug Collector
A mug is the kind of gift everyone can benefit from. Drink coffee in it. Brew tea. Slurp soup. It doesn’t really matter how it’s used, just that the one you give is cute enough to add to someone’s growing collection.
For the Tarot Reader That Never Leaves Their Deck at Home
You’re not sure when it happened, but one day you woke up, and you had a friend who reads tarot. Whether they picked it up while in quarantine or they’ve been doing it for years, this sweet-smelling homage to their spiritual skill will be cherished. Those unfamiliar with tarot shouldn’t be intimidated — each candle sleeve comes with a reading, no deck shuffling required.
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