The holiday season is well upon us, and with it the practice of giving and receiving is in full swing. It’s not all Jane Seymour Open Hearts collection pendants, engagement rings from Jared, and big Mercedes-Benzes wrapped in bows; Lord knows in this time of recession it’s the little gifts that bring the biggest grins and –in some cases– the most pronounced, poorly-hidden frowns. Nowhere is this more apparent than the time-honored holiday party tradition of the Yankee/White Elephant gift swap. This convivial contemporary custom mixes the magic of the Secret Santa with the scarring occurrence of being present for a home burglary.
For those not familiar with the White Elephant gift exchange tradition, it entails that guests of a holiday party all bring a gift within a specified price range, placing it upon arrival within the previously designated area– usually by a Christmas tree or Hannukah bush.The participating guests are then asked to pick numbers out of a hat (or similar receptacle) to determine the order in which they claim their gift. While it may seem those with the earliest numbers get the advantage this is not so. Though they may have the most gifts to choose from initially, they also have the better chance of having their gift stolen, for each subsequent gift getter has the option to steal a previous gift or open something new for their very own– that may eventually get ripped from their admiring grasp before all of the gifts are exchanged.
The most exciting aspect of this event is the potential for a rather rigorous volley of exchanges. Though some such gatherings are marred by less risky participants, the fun is amped up by those with a penchant for brazenly coveting the unwrapped prizes of others, who don’t mind crushing newfound materialistic attachments for their own selfish gain. These are the people that turn an exchange of both the crappy and cherished into a soul-crushing, rip-roaring good time.
Having been to two of these events in the past two weeks, I’ve mostly won out in my dealings, both times being bestowed with the number 5 pick. As you could well surmise, getting a good item at such a juncture would ultimately prove unfruitful, because whatever you would pick would subsequently be stolen. But even with the #5 pick, I generally managed to skirt the heartbreak of having precious items robbed from my person, mostly because I’ve not managed to secure any precious cargo despite having a vast array of shiny packaging to pick from on each occasion.
The first gift swap, which had a price limit of $5, saw me unwrap the gift of delicious foreign candy bars. While I find candy to be utterly delicious, it is entirely untrade-able as an entity of holiday cheer. With each successive pick, I attempted to entice the contestant with deliciously sweet treats to no avail. I can’t complain, I don’t think my own gift, a DVD of Roadhouse 2 starring not Patrick Swayze, was not being clamored for either.
Frankly, for such a cheap price point, the gift I picked may end up providing maximum utility, as it’s not more junk to keep around in my room that I forget I have for a year before I decide to throw it out. Rather, it gets eaten, and then it’s gone. That being said, I would’ve liked to have been involved in the trading fun.
My 2nd gift swap, which occurred this past weekend, had a slightly more substantial price point, boasting a limit of $20. I was almost assured a somewhat enjoyable gift, as the accent was placed on a “sillier the better” theme. I think my gift of a DVD boasting Police Academy movies 1-4 fit the bill rather well and would be enjoyed for the silliness by whoever wound up with it. When pick #5 came up this time around, I was fairly confident I’d wind up with the best gift that everyone would immediately be clamoring for. Despite going one pick after a well-thought out zombie survival kit, some of the contents which were not suitable for the one child in the room who eventually traded for it, I decided to roll the dice that my unwrapping skills would reveal something highly-coveted.
While my gift was a good one, it was severely lacking in humor. I enjoyed the film The Dark Knight, but was pretty sure I’d never watch it on DVD. The Batman figure that accompanied it, complete with masturbation hand movement, would just be another thing sitting in my room.
Again I desperately lobbied for a gift exchange, though I figured most of my friends already owned this movie or were in the market for something better. There was a skull and crossbones snuggie, a color-changing umbrella, and a children’s racecar driving game that all freely exchanged hands while I sadly displayed my more practical gift.
Then it happened. With one more pick left to made there was an endless gift exchange flurry. Save for all of the presents that had reached their exchange limit, it was a free for all as contestant after contestant decided to swap for already existing gifts rather than open that last wrapped enigma. The turn was in the hands of a ten-year-old and the crowd eager for the game to go on urged him to swap for something. I held out my Superhero-themed present, but made sure not to be naggy about it. Just like that, The Dark Knight disappeared from my grasp and I had a somewhat limited choice of things that had exchanged hands less than three times. That being said, I knew what I wanted.
Our host had been sadly trying to pass off what I thought were the best gifts of the evening. He sat there throughout the proceedings trying to coax each person to snag his newly acquired reading materials and in one fell swoop from my hands, that was achieved. I was now the proud owner of George W. Bush’s Decision Points and Sarah Palin‘s America By Heart, both “signed” by the “author.”
The final gift was gone a few minutes later and while mostly everyone was pleased with their takeaway, my bounty was quite the unexpected treat. Now, I’m not sure if or when I’ll get around to reading these shining beacons of American literature, but I suspect a conservative book club night at a local bar is in order. Chapter 1: Quitting.
- The Art of Gift Giving: How to Find the Perfect Christmas Present (chicagonow.com)
- Holiday Gift Guide 2010: The Foodie and the Health and Wellness Guru (Video) (treehugger.com)
- How Christmas Gift Giving Mirrors the Ideal Sales Process (customerthink.com)
- Green Holidays: Gift Wrap (wholefoodsmarket.com)
- Project Management Etiquette During the Holiday Season (brighthub.com)