Popular Yankee swap gifts include gift cards, wine, cell phone accessories, board games and inexpensive gag gifts. A Yankee swap is sometimes called a white elephant exchange. It is typically held during an office holiday party.
Yankee swap gifts tend to be inexpensive, with prices under $30, as of 2015. The goal of the Yankee swap is to have fun rather than receive expensive items. In some offices, participants may choose to bring gag gifts. The rules for the exchange are generally established ahead of time so everyone understands them as well as price limits.
The basic premise of a Yankee swap is to "steal" each other's gifts. Each participant brings in a wrapped gift that is placed in the center of a circle. The first person opens a gift from the pile. Each subsequent person has the option to open a gift or take an unwrapped gift from someone else. If a gift is "stolen," that person has another opportunity to open a gift. The exchange ends when the last person has a gift.
It is unknown when the term "white elephant" was first used in reference to the exchange, but one theory is that it was used in the 1800s by Ezra Cornell. A "white elephant" represents a gift that may be extravagant but cannot be easily given away.