SURVEY SAYS: What is Your Most Unusual Workplace Gift Exchange?

December 10, 2009 ( - As long as we were on the topic of gift-giving this week, I also asked readers what was the most unusual gift they ever received as part of a workplace gift exchange?  

If nothing else, you’ll find some interesting ideas for this year’s “White Elephant” exchange: 

I received a toilet seat at my office white elephant welcoming (hazing) party along with a broken desk lamp and the ugliest plastic plant in the building, among other things. I kept the toilet seat though as it was needed to replace the one in my new apartment. Silver lining or one man’s trash, who’s to say.

A large (10 inch diameter) peppermint-scented candle shaped like a snowball which rests on a bed of silk holly leaves. My reaction, as a 20-something young professional, was “oh…how nice!” (accompanied by an appropriately fixed smile). Yet 20 years later, as a woman of a certain age, it’s a decoration I proudly display on my coffee table each Christmas.

The ugliest homemade Christmas ornament of what I think was supposed to be an angel.   Ask me the most unusual I gave…..A couple of paper toilet seat covers to a woman in our dept who had to desperately ‘go’ during a 3 hr business trip we were taking – but refused to use a gas station’s bathroom because of its condition.

Smoke detector, with batterys included….

An expired old Texas license plate.  It was one of those ‘white elephant’ gift exchanges.

I roll of toilet paper with Santa’s face on it with him holding his nose.  It was a White Elephant gift exchange.  The nice thing about it is that it was actually a USEFUL gift!

Chocolates with seriously bizarre flavors.

I’m sure there was something even more unusual, but the one that I can remember just this moment is a shovel.  It’s a decorative shovel with candy cane stripes painted on the handle (which curves at the end) and the blade has a winter scene painted on it.  There is a metal bow with bells attached to the handle.

Your timing is incredible. This morning in our office “Secret Santa” I received a coffee mug in the likeness of Michael Jordan’s head ( a promotion from the movie Space Jam). The irony is that at a golf outing this summer a co-worker gave me his door prize raffle tickets because he had to leave. At the end of the raffle, I picked out the mug for him from the scant prizes that remained. What goes around, comes around! wasn't at work, but when I was in high school, we did a classroom gift exchange, and I actually received an issue of Playgirl magazine.  My girlfriends and I (and even the teacher and my mom) thought it was hysterical!  If that happened today, the kids involved would be whisked off to counseling, and probably charged with sexual harassment!  Ah, for those less sensitive times when people could just give a good gag gift and not worry about offending people.

None worth mentioning

Edible panties.

The most unusual gift I've received was from my Secret Santa.  A 2 1/2 foot tall glass snowman - you know the ones with the very shiny, metallic paint? While I'm sure it was all the fashion, it reminded me a bit of the scary clown that lived under a bridge in a best-selling novel, so I brought it to a party for the gift exchange game.  The snowman was the hottest gift under the tree and was snatched multiple times.  I don't know who ended up taking it home, but that snowman made the rounds for years, showing up on different people's porches for a memorable birthday, or some other event.

Nothing unusual.  The best gift that I received was alcohol.

By far the most original and unusual "white elephant" gift was a belly button light (our beloved VP of HR, a heavy set Santa Claus looking man, was the lucky recipient).

"At one company I used to work at we always had two yankee swaps .. both a good gift ($10 limit) and a junk gift.  One year on the day of the dept. party & swap the admin in my dept. came in and said that someone had broken into her car the night before and stole her gifts and could she participate without a gift.  Our manager said no, but that she would give her time to run up the street (we worked downtown) to get a gift and even gave her some ideas.  At the good gift swap time, I ended up picking her gift (unknowingly).  When I opened it (in front of the entire dept.) it was a little 4 inch stocking with three candy bars from the machine in the lunch room in it.  All sound stopped in the room when everyone saw what it was.  And I had to act excited about it.

Then at another year we decided to give very small gifts within our group.  The same admin gave me two plastic snowmen figurines (flat on one side & round on the other) that were ... uh, brown.  They looked like potatoes that had been cut in half and were rotting."

Sausage gift basket - not terribly out of the ordinary, unless like me, you don't eat red meat.

Condoms - this was back in the 80's

An angry beaver stuffed animal.  I received it from a Secret think my Secret Santa was trying to tell me something?  🙂

8 rolls of toilet paper

I didn't receive it, the Human Resources Manager received a zebra pint flask for her Secret Santa gift two years ago...

A replica of the leg lamp from "A Christmas Story."  Thankfully it was at least smaller than the one in the movie!

a revolving Ferris wheel that you could put pictures in 

But my personal favorite – and this bonus survey’s Editor’s Choice – goes to the reader who noted, “My department has a white elephant gift exchange; there is always at least a few joke gifts.  One year I received a plunger.  I found it oddly appropriate as I work in Benefits” 

Thanks to everyone who participated in our Bonus Survey!