We’re feeling the holiday spirit here at Global Sanctuary for Elephants. Today’s EleFACT Friday is about a fun holiday tradition with an interesting origin. Many of you may be familiar with the holiday party game where silly, unique gifts get passed around with an opportunity to steal from or trade with your loved ones. This game has the popular name of ‘White Elephant,’ but where does that come from?
There is a historic legend about Siam, or what we know as modern Thailand, where the Siamese king would gift an actual white elephant to anyone who he was displeased with. You would assume that this would be a gift of honor, as white elephants are a rare and revered symbol in both Thai and Buddhist cultures. White (or, more likely, very pale ) elephants were so highly prized that, when one was discovered, it immediately became the possession of the king. White elephants were actually featured on the Siamese flag until 1917. However, these rare, white elephants were very expensive to keep and care for. Knowing what we know about elephants, the large animals can eat quite a bit of food in a day, racking up quite a grocery bill. This financial burden was apparently a vengeful way for the king to sneakily burden his enemies, disguised as a gift.
This legend, although a bit silly, does prove to have some historical significance and has led to some lasting traditions that many families have today. On behalf of all of us at GSE and the elephants that we hold very close to our hearts, we wish you a happy and fun holiday with your loved ones – and may your white elephant gifts be only lighthearted!
Photo of Rana, who is not white, but still very treasured by us all