The Tale of the White Elephant

Are you familiar with the term ‘White Elephant’? Generally speaking, white elephant represents something you have in your possession that you would like to toss in the trash; however, for some reason, you feel a sense of obligation and you hold on to the item you do not want.

White Elephant gift exchanges are gatherings where you are encouraged to bring the above described item and (with the absence of guilt) pass it along to someone else. Even better, you return home with an item someone else deemed worth tossing but you deemed worth keeping.

This past December, a week after Christmas, I was invited to take part in a white elephant gift exchange. Honestly, for several years, I waited for this kind of opportunity to arrive. Because, I had two gifts I was more than ready to toss.

Two years in a row, my Mom gave Rob and me a box of smoked salmon. The first year, she gave us a large box. The second year she gave us a small box. Large or small, we were not going to eat the smoke salmon. So, both boxes were put in a cabinet, and both boxes remained in the cabinet for several years.

When I received the invitation, I immediately pulled out the big box of smoked salmon. To my surprise, the big box of smoke salmon expired in September 2010. “Woo hoo!” I said to myself. “I can safely toss this large box of smoked salmon in the trash without guilt. And now, I am down to just one box of smoked salmon!”

I pulled down the smaller box. “Still good!” I said, as I checked the expiration date.

The night of the gift exchange, I grew nervous. What if no one wanted the salmon? What if I was forced to return home with the box of smoked salmon in tow? Thankfully, I would never find out the answer to those questions, because someone DID want the salmon. In fact, she said her husband was going to be thrilled to receive the salmon. Again, to myself I said, “Woo hoo!”

Plus, I scored an awesome aardvark armadillo; his name is Andy.

Oh, wait. My story does not end here. See, the next morning, while checking my email, I noticed I had an email from the gal that got the salmon. “Oh crap!” I thought. “She wants to return her white elephant gift! No!!”

I opened the email wincing and squinting my eyes, bracing myself for the bad news. My friend wrote, “Ben was really excited for the salmon…. until he opened it found t-shirts!!”

My eyes widened. WHAT?! What shirts? Dang, what did I give away last night? Shoot. It was in the salmon box. Who put t-shirts in the salmon box? That box has remained unopened and in the cabinet for the past two years – at least! You mean to tell me it wasn’t smoked salmon? I kept t-shirts in the cabinet for years, thinking the box contained smoked salmon?! 

After going back and forth with myself about the turn of events, I replied back to my friend, begging her to describe the shirts. She informed me that the shirts were from Cows, a creamery in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The front of the shirts had cows dancing and the following words printed: “Dancing with the Steers”. [Get it? Dancing with the Steers? Steers instead of Stars.]

“My Mom bought those shirts in Canada! Holy smokes.”

I laughed hysterically with the news my friend shared. Then I cried. I love Dancing with the Stars!!

Channeling Veruca Salt I heard myself say, “I want those two Dancing with the Steers t-shirts; and, I want them now!”

I asked my friend if she wanted a lovable aardvark armadillo in exchange for the shirts. Surprisingly, she said neither she nor her husband wanted my aardvark armadillo, but, thankfully, she said I could have the shirts.

Later that day, I called my Mom and told her the story. She laughed until she cried, and then she said, “I wondered what had happened to those shirts.”

Wait, now. You’d like this long story to be over – but it isn’t. Not just yet.

Our friends invited us to their house for a New Year’s Eve party. Wanting to make up for the missed salmon, I made a point to buy smoked salmon for Ben for New Year’s Eve. When I handed the salmon to Ben, we had another great laugh about the mix-up. The story was repeated to the guests, and everyone laughed.

Nope. Still not done with the story.

This past Saturday, we had family come to our house and celebrate our son’s 7th birthday. When my Mom walked in the door, she handed me a gift to take to my friend’s house.

The gift? Yep, you guessed it – a small box of smoked salmon. And this time, the box actually contains smoked salmon.

I’m seeing my friend later this week. It will be fun to relive the laugh – again.

The next time you get invited to a white elephant gift exchange make sure you accept the invitation. One never knows what fun can be had with a white elephant gift.


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72 thoughts on “The Tale of the White Elephant

  1. My office has a white elephant exchange every year and I have never gotten one thing that I remotely wanted. Good for you!
    On a side note, I went to a similar party hosted by friends where instead of white elephant, they called it “dirty santa.” Hmm…

    1. I really did do well by snagging Andy. Sure, there were other gifts some considered better – but Andy … his eyes told me he wanted to come home with me.
      The ‘Dirty Santa’ exchange – I know that one, too. I prefer white elephants. (smile)

  2. Why am I the only one to wonder what was in the first box that you threw away? Maybe it was pajamas or pants or a pair of boots or CASH. What it if was filled with CASH and your mom is wondering why her ungrateful daughter never thanked her for the 40k?

    1. Anyone have any questions?!
      Um – you – yes, you in the back drinking wine out of the bottle. Oh – Hi, Kim! I didn’t recognize you.
      What’s your question? Oh, how do I know I threw away expired salmon and not my Mom’s 401K savings?
      Well, that particular Christmas everyone got the same thing – a large box of smoked salmon. I remember asking what I was supposed to do with it, and my siblings said it made a great dip. I’ll never know.
      I feel it necessary to share – the large box had a wrapper around it – as did the box my Mom brought to our house over the weekend. Interestingly enough, the small box I had ‘in storage’ did not. I suppose that should have been a giveaway that the box was not ‘sealed’. Whatever … next question….

  3. Hi,
    What a great story, and something that can be looked back on to have laugh at again.
    I have never even heard of a white elephant exchange, I have learned something new again today. 🙂

    1. Hello Mags. I am glad you liked the story. I’m also glad I could teach you something new today. (smile) Now that you are ‘in the know’, you should have your own White Elephant party.

  4. Kim, I also wondered what was tossed into the trash in that first package…

    That armadillo is very cute. Perhaps he could be a traveling correspondent for your blog – you know, you mail him off to say, perhaps, a friend in Florida who snaps photos of Andy at the beach, at the Armadillo races in LaBelle in February, or say at the pool. Just a thought.

    1. Hmmm …. what a wonderful thought, K8. If only I knew someone who lived in Florida … someone who knows the place – LaBelle … someone who has access to a pool. But goodness, who might that person be?

      Andy doesn’t travel as neatly as Jolie, but I do like the idea of him exploring the world. Hey. You’re not trying to steal my Andy are you? Cuz, I won him fair and square.

      1. As a matter of fact, I have been looking for an armadillo for just such a purpose, only I was going to name mine Armando (sounds more romatic, no?) and have him travel all over. Adventures of Armando the Armadillo. Or some such nonsense.

        Anyway, I would be happy to host Andy and even take him to see his relatives in Labelle for the armadillo races, in February. I would return him to you, or forward him to his next assignment, your choice. Please let me know and I will provide my address.

        1. You are very kind to off your place to Andy. I’ll have to think about it, and consult with Andy. I’m not sure if he is ready to leave home, just yet. After all, he is still getting adjusted to his new digs. (smile) Stay tuned!

      2. Hey, you could have him travel only to places that start with the letter “A” and tell about his travels. You’ve struck bloggy gold right thar!

        1. That’s funny, Peg! Who knew Andy had the potential to be so popular?
          You and K8 refer to Andy as an Armadillo, but I’ve been calling him an Aardvark. I guess his back does have more of armadillo qualities. Hmm…

      3. Oh, my Lenore, I hope I have not offended you (or Andy) for that matter. I see now that you have referred to him as an aardvark. I guess he looked like an armadillo to me (he seems to have a shell on his back). Please accept my apologies for presuming to know his species and for not carefully reading your post. But, perhaps Andy REALLY is Armando….in which case I would be happy to host him. (I’d host Andy as well, but do not know of any aardvark races in my area.)

        1. You most certainly did NOT offend me, K8. My fear is whether or not I have offended Andy. (smile) I think you are right – I think he is an Armadillo. I like that better, because aardvark is awkward to spell. Now, I am thinking he wants to attend the Armadillo races – to be among his peeps. He’s not light weight, so mailing him will not be as easy as Jolie. Email me your address, and we can talk about it more. Thanks, K8!

  5. Now that’s a story that begged to be told 🙂

    The only White Elephant Exchange we ever had I ended up with a leopard print toilet seat cover. I’d rather have had Andy, that’s for sure!!!


    1. MJ, this story rattled in my head, and I flip-flopped on whether or not to share it. When my Mom walked in the house with a small box of smoked salmon on Saturday, I knew the story needed to be told.

      A leopard print toilet seat cover, eh? Hmmm… not your best night. (smile)
      Thank you, MJ!

  6. I’m glad Kim finally asked the question about the big box! Our small group did a white elephant exchange for Christmas–now we have a different white elephant!

    1. I like salmon, and I may even like smoked salmon; but I don’t cook, bake or make things. I eat. Ice cream. Mainly.
      Are you sick of Eagle River salmon yet? (Glad you liked the story, Bridget.)

  7. I’m also glad Kim asked the question about what was in the first box. But I would have been THRILLED with the smoked salmon. Sounds like your mom is an awfully good sport.

    When you see your friend, I trust you’ll be wearing your new t-shirt and carrying your aardvark pal.

    1. The gathering is at my house. I suppose I should be wearing the new t-shirt. Good call! I had already planned on making sure Andy was placed prominently in the room.

  8. This post was hysterical! That is something that would happen to me. Jim’s parents are known for wrapping gifts up in misleading boxes–on purpose to mess with me. They have a weird sense of humor. So I never assume what is on the outside is what’s on the inside. Sometimes I am really disappointed. Once, the box had a DVD player on the outside and the inside? A book on quilting. I don’t quilt.

    And I love the idea of Andy the Awesome Aardvark traveling the world. You can make it a whole blog feature! “Where the Bleep is Andy?!”

    1. Seriously, Darla? Your in-laws gave you a book on quilting and you don’t quilt? Was it a joke? Um – did it inspire you to take up quilting? (The DVD box was a cruel joke. Unintentional, I hope.)
      I want to check with Oma, regarding Andy. I don’t want to step on Jolie’s toes. We’ll see what happens. I love that there is a demand for him to be seen. He really is cute. He gives hope to all the other White Elephants in the world!! (HEY – I like THAT spin!)

      1. First he’s an aardvark, then he’s an armadillo, now he’s an elephant – take the damn thing down to the zoo or ask some 2nd grader with a good picture book for a proper ID for pity’s sake!

  9. Ha! Lenore this post is going to be one among my favorite posts in your blog. You asked, if we’d like this long story to be over. But it was so funny that, i did not want it to over. So many funny twists & turns. I never heard about white elephant gift exchange before. But it must be a great event to experience.
    But, Who put t-shirts in the salmon box? It’s You or your mom!

    1. It is a funny story, eh, Arindam? I had to share it. I am glad you liked it. And, I’m glad you didn’t think the story was too long. I do tend to babble at times. Thanks for visiting!

  10. This is a great story. I am glad that you were asked about the first box of salmon. Now as to not cooking…smoked salmon is already cooked. All you have to do is open the box and eat it. We like it on water crackers with cream cheese. It’s delicious. Maybe not as delicious as ice cream, but woman does not live on ice cream alone.

  11. Great story! I had to read every comment to find out what happened to the big box. Whew! I’m kinda sad, though, for the tossed box of salmon. Some bear went hungry last night somewhere. Probably.

    Thanks for linking up with yeah write! We loves us some yeah write virgins.

    1. Thank you for giving us the opportunity, Erica. It’s nice to be a virgin again.

      I know, I know – I feel badly about the stolen salmon. I hope the bears found other things.

    1. Thank you for coming to the neighborhood, Andrea. The gift exchange is quite fun. I hope you’ll give it a go in the future. Though I warn you – you’ll probably return home with some ‘junk’. 🙂

    1. Oooh, if I tossed a pair of matching pj bottoms I would be sad, Trish! Fortunately, I know for certain the contents of box was salmon. Sha’woo.
      Glad you liked the story. I appreciate you stopping by for a visit. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for coming to my neighborhood, Dude! Trust me when I say, it was not a winning lottery ticket. Can you imagine? Wow. That would be awful. Glad you liked the story.

  12. That is awesome! But wait. You’re supposed to give away something you already own at a White Elephant exchange? Because I’ve been buying my White Elephant gifts, and I’m starting to think I’m ripping myself off.

    1. Welcome to the neighborhood, Laura. Thank you for visiting. I hate to tell you … you have been ripping yourself off all these years. Next time you get an invite to a White Elephant party do not go to the store. I repeat – do not go to the store. Instead, invade your junk drawer (or closet, perhaps) and snag something from there. Glad I could be of service.

    1. Welcome, Shannon. I am glad you enjoyed the read. I appreciate you stopping by and paying me a visit. Why not plan a Valentine’s Day White Elephant party? I am certain loads of fun would be had. My friends and I are still laughing about our gathering. Good times. Thanks again for visiting.

  13. Wow Lenore – really a FLOOD of responses to a great story. But I see that you caved too – accepting an award!
    Would your Andy like a visit to the southern hemisphere? We have a great zoo in Wellington and many exciting places for a small Tibetan Spaniel to take a new friend. And we have never had an armadillo for a pet in our house.

    1. Judith, I’d love to send Andy to the southern hemisphere. He wants to see if is true what they say about the direction of water when the toilet flushes. (smile) I’ll send you an email to get your mailing address and give you more details. Glad you liked this story.

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