12 December 2010
White Elephants on Parade
I have participated in a white elephant gift exchange thrice in the last 48 hours. Which begs the questions, why do we call it that?
Apparently, the night before the Buddha was born, his mother dreamed that a white elephant presented her with a lotus flower. Consequently, albino elephants became symbolic of power and good fortune, and were kept by royalty across southeast Asia (which required a good fortune itself- providing room and board for a religious icon comes at no small expense).
Now the tricky part of the story came later, when the royals became displeased with some underling and "gifted" them the white elephant. The sheer expense of such an "honor" would inevitably ruin the recipient, and has left us with a holiday tradition where friends exchange junk while hoping for treasure.