Monday, December 3, 2012

Wishing You a White (Elephant) Christmas

About fifteen years ago I was invited to my first white elephant gift exchange party. The first rule was that we had to bring something from home—we couldn’t spend any money. The second rule was that our gift had to be awful as possible. I can’t remember now what I took, but I do remember that what one person thought of as “trash,” another person saw as a “treasure.”

The party was a blast. We had so much fun competing over gifts that at first glance wouldn’t seem that valuable. For instance, one woman brought a broken sewing machine. Another woman fought to get it because she wanted a sewing machine and knew her dad could fix anything.

I “won” this kitchen utensil. Can you guess what it is?

I couldn’t either.
Turns out, it’s a tomato slicer, a quintessential white elephant gift.

I wasn’t writing books at the time, but knew I wanted to attempt to write a mystery someday, so lots of my everyday experiences went in my mental “that’s interesting” file. The white elephant gift exchange party went in that file.

Fast forward thirteen years or so. I had written six Ellie Avery mystery series by then and was planning to write a Christmas book. I had several ideas, but the one that I was most excited to use was the white elephant gift exchange idea. Several of the gifts that I use in MISTLETOE, MERRIMENT, AND MURDER came from that first white elephant party.  

The white elephant gift exchange provided all sorts of interesting plot possibilities as well.  What if one of the gifts was a hidden treasure? What if one of the gifts was used as a murder weapon? What if several of the gifts were red herrings? That one party provided a great jumping off point for brainstorming.

I’m a huge fan of white elephant parties now. In fact, it’s about time to start thinking about what would make a great white elephant gift this year. It might be time to regift that tomato slicer… 


P.S. Check this website for White Elephant party tips or ideas.

Sara writes mystery (Ellie Avery series) and intrigue (On the Run series). As a military spouse Sara has moved around the country (frequently!) and traveled internationally, which inspired her latest travel thrillers. Publishers Weekly called Sara’s books, "satisfying," "well-executed," and "sparkling."

Sara loves all things bookish, considers dark chocolate a daily requirement, and is on a quest for the best bruschetta. Connect with Sara at www.SaraRosett.comor sign up for her newsletter list here. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or Goodreads.


  1. Love the idea of a white elephant party. And I love that it inspired you in your work!

  2. Thanks, Brenda! Everything seems to go into the "Inspiration" folder. :)

  3. That sounds like such a fun book!!!! Some of my family members do white elephant exchanges as well; once I ended up with a rubber duckie-themed toilet brush.

    My coworkers and I used to do the WE exchange, but now we do a wine exchange, and everybody's happy!

  4. Sounds fun, Jess! Another gift that most people like is the large tin of popcorn...or chocolate. Can't go wrong with those!

  5. A tomato slicer? I thought it was a golf club!

  6. It could be used as a sand wedge...for putt-putt golf.

  7. Sara,
    Your great story and fun gift exchange memories help to make our holidays merry!

    We wish everyone a happy holidays, a fun white elephant gift experience and successful new year.

    Sarah and Bruce Christensen - White Elephant Fans

  8. I love White Elephant parties. The book sounds like so much fun.

  9. I had an interesting experience my first time in one of the venue New York office had booked. I couldn’t decide what to take so I took a hanger and it turned out everyone else had managed to bring in something better. I just pretended it wasn’t mine. It was pretty funny at the time.