White elephant and Secret Santa gift exchanges are some of the most popular traditions among friends, co-workers and family during the holiday season — and they can also be relatively low-pressure gift events compared to the rest of your shopping list. Whether you’re shopping for a generic one-size-fits-all gift for your white elephant exchange or looking to give something special to a specific Secret Santa recipient, there are plenty of unique gift options under $50 to consider.
To help you determine the best white elephant and Secret Santa gifts this holiday season, we looked through Select shopping guides with an eye toward reader favorites and compiled gifts that we think are worth considering.
What is a white elephant gift exchange?
A white elephant gift exchange — sometimes referred to as a Yankee swap — is a fun holiday activity in which everyone brings one wrapped gift and leaves with a different one. To help even the odds, most white elephant gift exchanges work best when all the gifts align in cost — typically within the $30-to-$75 range. (We're assuming you're taking part in the kinder, gentler version of a white elephant exchange, and not the original, where you're expected to give gag gifts or intentionally awful presents.)
Here’s how it works:
- All of the gifts go into a pile.
- Players draw numbers to figure out when it will be their turn to choose a gift.
- During each player’s turn, they can either choose an unwrapped gift from the pile or steal a previously opened gift from another player.
- Anyone whose gift is stolen then has the opportunity to either open a new present or steal another gift (though they cannot steal the same gift back).
What is a Secret Santa gift exchange?
Secret Santa involves the same kind of mystery as a white elephant exchange, but each person in the group is assigned and aware of a designated person they’ll be gifting to. However, you’re not allowed to reveal whose Secret Santa you are until it’s time to open the gifts. One of the most appealing parts of this tradition is that you can participate in it from anywhere in the world — you can simply send a gift by mail and reveal your identity when it’s received (which removes the pressures of traveling and physically gathering).
The rules are simple:
- All of the participants’ names are placed into a hat, box or similar container.
- Each person chooses a name from the box but can’t reveal their selection to anyone in the group.
- Each person is responsible for buying a gift for their selected person.
- When the Secret Santa wraps their gift, they should label it with the recipient’s name but cannot indicate who provided the gift.
- All gifts are placed in a general area. At gift-giving time, each recipient must find their gift and guess who their Secret Santa is. If they can’t guess, the Secret Santa confesses.
The best white elephant and Secret Santa gift ideas
To help you find the right gift for your white elephant and Secret Santa gift exchanges, we rounded up gift ideas based on our previous coverage and reader interest, all under $50.
A portable speaker is a great gift that virtually anyone can enjoy, especially during the holiday entertaining season. And according to tech expert Whitson Gordon, Tribit makes “some of the best budget Bluetooth speakers in the business.” In our guide to portable speakers, he recommended the XSound Go, which has up to 24 hours of nonstop battery life and a water-resistance rating of IPX7.
This 20-ounce tumbler from Yeti is made of durable stainless steel and has double-wall insulation that can preserve your drink’s temperature — both hot and cold — for hours, according to the brand. It also comes with a MagSlider lid that allows you to close the top to keep your drink contained.
This tea infuser comes in the shape of the brand’s popular “Baby Nessie.” It has a removable bottom that lets you place your loose leaf tea inside the infuser, and its four legs at the bottom to keep it upright inside your cup. The brand says the infuser is made of dishwasher-safe silicone, and it’s available in three vibrant colors: Turquoise, Purple and Green.
If you know that most of your friends or your designated Secret Santa giftees are coffee drinkers, they may prefer this cold-brew coffee maker from Takeya, which comes with a fine mesh filter and a 2-quart carafe to brew up to four servings of coffee, according to the brand. In our guide to making cold brew, Graham Peeples, director of beverage at Methodical Coffee, explained that this coffee maker is ideal for “a grab-and-go scenario where you only need enough cold brew to last you a few days.”
If your white elephant or Secret Santa gift exchange involves individuals with longer hair, the best-selling Revlon One-Step — one of our favorite hair dryers — is definitely worth considering. It combines tufted and nylon bristles to help smooth and straighten your hair, while the oval shape can get close to the roots, which helps create volume, according to the brand. This blow dryer also sports three heat and speed settings, including a cooling feature.
Does your white elephant gift exchange involve a lot of fitness enthusiasts? These popular wrist and ankle weights can upgrade both at-home workouts and sweat sessions at the gym. They come in vibrant colors and patterns, and Select writer Zoe Malin previously said they’re the best wrist weights she’s ever used.
Wrapped neatly in a wooden box, this assortment of chocolates comes in four sizes: Petite (approximately 11 pieces), Small (18 pieces), Medium (36 pieces) and Large (60 pieces). Each of the boxes come with a selection of L.A. Burdick’s square chocolates, as well as one or two of the brand’s signature chocolate mice. L.A. Burdick also offers a variety of seasonal offerings, including chocolate snowmen and penguins.
Studies show that expressing gratitude just a few times a week can help you feel happier and more optimistic. The 5-Minute Gratitude Journal includes daily mindfulness-based prompts and insightful questions that only take a few minutes to complete, along with quotes and positive affirmations to start your day.
Numerous experts have told us that breathable silk bedding is less irritating for the skin. This sleep mask from Slip is made of machine-washable mulberry silk and is designed to block out light while you sleep, creating an environment fit for slumber, according to the brand.
A bathtub caddy can be a good way to relax and unwind, as it offers a station for your phone or tablet, a good book, your favorite drink and more. This durable bamboo option has a protective waterproof coating so you can use it worry-free in the bath. The handles can extend from about 28 inches when closed to approximately 41 inches, says the brand, and the non-slip silicone grips also keep the tray from sliding.
Capri Blue — which makes some of our favorite candles — not only smells great, but the brand’s designs are also pleasing to look at: The 5-ounce candle includes a glass jar design that can even be used once the candle is long gone. Capri Blue says this option has a burn time of up to 25 hours and features the brand’s popular Volcano scent, which is a mix of tropical fruits, sugared oranges, lemons, limes and mountain greens.
In our report on teas for better mental and physical health, experts told us that matcha green tea is rich in L-theanine, which purportedly has de-stressing and anxiety-reducing effects. The powdered tea needs to be whisked properly in order to be enjoyed, though, so anyone who is serious about their matcha drinks (or wants to be) will likely appreciate this gift set. In addition to a bamboo whisk and ceremonial matcha bowl, the set includes a stoneware whisk holder, a bamboo scoop, a stainless steel tea sifter and a step-by-step preparation guide.
Carhartt’s Knit Cuffed Beanie is made from an acrylic rib-knit fabric that the brand says has some stretch and allows for a one-size-fits-all style. It comes in 24 different colors and has a fold-up cuff, as well as a Carhartt patch in the center.
Whether they’re always sore from working out or have an achy back from slouching at their desk all day, whoever receives this gift will likely get a lot of use out of this massage gun from Wahl. Certified strength and conditioning specialist Allen Conrad previously recommended this compact massage gun, which comes with four attachment heads and has two speeds and two vibration settings.
Olaplex makes some of our favorite products for bleached hair. This gift set from the brand includes full sizes of the No. 6 Bond Smoother and No. 7 Bonding Oil, as well as a travel size of the No. 9 Bond Protector Nourishing Hair Serum. Olaplex says these products are good for all hair types and textures and can help address hair concerns like dryness, split ends and breakage.
For those who like to travel, the Vintage National Park Puzzle displays retro-style images of national parks across the country, including the Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. The puzzle comes with 1,000 puzzle pieces and a muslin bag to store them.
This Mochi Ice Cream Kit comes with everything to make delicious ice cream wrapped in a soft, chewy rice cake. It includes a dough cutter, a silicone mochi mold, sweet rice flour and potato starch, as well as matcha green tea powder and cocoa powder to add flavor and color, according to the seller. The kit can make up to 32 pieces of mochi and comes with step-by-step instructions to help you get started.
The Jack Black Intense Therapy lip balm is one of the best SPF lip balms you can buy. This pack comes with three lip balms that offer SPF 25 sun protection, according to the brand. The hydrating formula contains avobenzone, an expert-recommended chemical ingredient that protects from UV rays, and emollients like shea butter and petrolatum to protect and soften your lips, the brand says.
This moon-shaped lamp can light up in your choice of 16 colors; you can adjust the color and its brightness using the included remote from up to 30 feet away, the brand says. The lamp is available in eight sizes ranging from a 4.8-inch diameter to a 9.6-inch diameter, and comes with a wooden stand to place it anywhere around your home, according to the brand.