What the HAYnes? White Elephants and firemen

Fireman John Reed | Image composite by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

HUMOR – I had an emergency this week. Unfortunately, it was not the kind of emergency where a fire truck full of handsome men arrives and they hose my house down with water. It was nothing that awesome. It was the kind of emergency where I had a Christmas party in three days and had not found a hilarious white elephant gift to exchange.

A lot of people do not know this – I did not know this until five minutes ago when I read it on the Internet – but, the phrase “white elephant” is a reference to Asian history. And, just like “Gangnam Style,” countless Americans have latched onto it despite the fact that they do not fully understand it.

Apparently, long ago some Asian cultures considered white elephants sacred. White elephants were not forced to work, but instead lived lavish, extravagant lifestyles – think Paris Hilton or any number of the Kardashian sisters – and the financial burden placed upon the owners of these revered white elephants far outweighed any bragging rights that might have accompanied owning them.

You can see how that translates into receiving a toilet plunger with a box of Ho Hos taped to it at your company Christmas party.

That is the thing about a white elephant gift exchange – unless explicit rules have been established beforehand, almost anything goes. That is what makes finding an adequate gift such a challenge.

You certainly do not want to be the person who takes the white elephant exchange too far. You know the person I am referring to. They are the people who bring the incredibly embarrassing gift to the exchange – the kind of gift that, if I attempted to describe it here, it would be censored to oblivion. They are the people who think that they are the funniest person in the whole office and everyone else needs to loosen up. Truthfully, they most likely ARE the funniest person in the office, they just take things one awkward step too far. It is important to note that these people are typically unaware that they are this type of gift giver.

And then there are the people who do not realize that the gifts are supposed to be humorous gag gifts, not an expensive digital camcorder that makes everyone else feel tacky when they get into fisticuffs over it. These people must think that the world hates them. Can you imagine bringing a nice set of iPod speakers to a gift exchange and receiving a box of Emergency Underpants in return? It must be so confusing for them.

Finally, there are the people like me. We are the last minute shoppers. We are the people who panic and make an emergency trip to Petco on the way to the party and show up with a betta fish named Chairman Mao that has a big red bow on its bowl. We are the procrastinators that everyone secretly despises because WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH A FISH?!

These white elephant gift exchanges can be so stressful. I started to think it might be more fun to set my kitchen ablaze and wait for the firemen to show up. By now, you may have received your white elephants and you may, like I, wish it had been a fireman.

Elise Haynes chronicles family life in her blog Haynes Family Yard Sale. Any opinions stated in this column are her own and not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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  • deborah December 24, 2012 at 8:35 am

    I never knew that was why they were called “white elephant” gifts… thanks for sharing! I started to pass the article up and thought..hmm i bet this tells you where white elephant gifts come from.. anyways.. the best white elephant gift i ever gave was a “laughing machine” and it had so many different types of laughs on it when you pushed the button and it made everyone laugh.. and everyone fought over that gift.. oh and someone gave homemade fudge once to the white elephant gift exchange.. and there was almost a brawl over it.. people got serious quick over that fudge..
    Hope you all have a merry christmas! ps.. did you know “holidays” was actually “holydays” until Webster started his own dictionary and changed the spelling of bunch of things… the orginal dictionary written by An Elementary Dictionary of the English Language By Joseph E. Worcester, LL.D. 1860 was a favored dictionary by famous authors.. but webster got a big money backer and pretty much took over the assigning of our language and he limited the “holyness” of our langquage..j just thought i’d share that since everyone is a fuss about the word “holidays” i was passing those sayings along too..

  • Peter Wainsworth December 24, 2012 at 10:38 am

    When you say: “Unfortunately, it was not the kind of emergency where a fire truck full of handsome men arrives and they hose my house down with water. It was nothing that awesome.” Are you referring to being ‘hosed down’ by firefighters?

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