A white elephant is an item that is useless or burdensome, a possession that is more trouble than it’s worth.
According to tradition, an albino white elephant was considered holy in Asian countries. To maintain a holy white elephant would cause the owner to incur great expense, as the albino white elephant needed special care. The story goes that Thai kings would gift white elephants to courtiers they didn’t like, in order to force the recipients to spend great amounts on the maintenance of the special animal.
A White Elephant Sale is a sale of unwanted household goods, such as a garage sale or jumble sale.
A popular Christmas party game is the White Elephant Gift Exchange, in which each attendee brings a wrapped gift. Usually, there is a spending limit. Some gifts are desirable, some are strange or “gag” gifts. The gifts are opened one by one, each person may choose to open a wrapped gift or “steal” a desirable gift that another guest has opened. (Each gift may only be “stolen” twice.) If a person’s gift is stolen, then that person chooses another wrapped gift. (Or “steals” a gift.) Another term for a White Elephant Gift Exchange is a Yankee Swap.
To many the programme is increasingly resembling a white elephant, with the Major Projects Authority revealing last week that lifetime costs have escalated by £3bn to £15.8bn. (The Register)
It is clear that King Yin Lei Mansion is a commercial white elephant. (The South China Morning Post)
The 79th White Elephant sale at the First Congregational Church, 2 Ferry Road, Old Lyme, is Friday and Saturday and features thousands of items including clothing, sports gear, antiques, art, toys, furniture and other treasures. (The Hartford Courant)If your employees have a good sense of humor, a white elephant gift exchange (sometimes also known as a Yankee Swap) may be just the thing you need to spread some holiday cheer. (Business News Daily)