Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holidays Past: Yankee Swap (That's What Makes It Fun)

Ever since I was a kid, my extended family has gotten together for a gift swap at Christmastime, and every year, the adults are required to bring a gag gift for a White Elephant* gift exchange. Some people go all-out, hitting up gag-gift shops and buying ridiculous items, while others just go through their Goodwill donation bags and try to get rid of some piece of junk they've been holding onto for the past year. Sometimes all the gifts are awful, and sometimes people fight over the one or two really good gifts that somehow managed to find their way into the pile.

Last year we got this 1000-piece puzzle of toothpicks. We actually did try to put it together; it it was next to impossible, and by the end of January we still weren't very far and wanted our coffee table back, so we quit.

I was probably around seven or eight years old when I figured out how White Elephant worked. My sister Rachel, my cousins and I had just gotten new dolls in the normal gift exchange, and as the adults settled in to start drawing numbers for the White Elephant swap, I asked my grandmother if I could play too. She scared me off asking again for several years: "You can play, but you'd have to give up your doll to have something to swap for." Noooo thank you! I will just go play with my cousins and leave you grown-ups to your lame sad doll-less game.

It's definitely more fun now that we're all adults.

Because a lot of the gag gifts aren't seriously things that people want to keep, Rachel and one of my cousins came up with a second game, post-White Elephant. It's called, "Whoever hosts Christmas gets to keep all the gag gifts that people leave behind," and it involves the two of them tearing through the host's house, and putting silly gifts in the freezer, in the closets, under bedroom pillows, on top of the TV — anywhere to give the host (usually my aunt) some "fun" (for us) surprises over the next month.

So after Christmas is over — sometimes later that night, sometimes later in the week — my aunt calls us and basically yell-asks WHO stuck a Barbie with a tiny axe through its head on top of her TV. And WHY is there a battery-powered hand in her freezer. And WHERE did the tiny white lace-covered boot go because she KNOWS it's somewhere in the house and can't find it but she is sooooo getting her revenge next year (despite the fact that she will inevitably host again).

They're ridiculous Christmas traditions, but they're the kind of thing that make my somewhat-dysfunctional family enjoy being together.

Does your family do gag gift swaps?

*It's also called Yankee Swap or Dirty Santa, depending on where you live.

8 comments

  1. Too funny! Our family does a white elephant with items from the $1 store. Last year I got stuck with shoe polish.

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    1. Ooh, dollar store stuff is an awesome idea!

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  2. I Love white elephant gift exchanges, but I prefer to do them with friends so we can be a little more funny/inappropriate. We did one for our law school graduation and my roommate ended up with female wash and I with a potty training book from Sesame Street characters (I still have it).

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    1. That's true, I never thought about it but very few of the gifts are ever risqué.

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  3. Oh my gosh how funny is that?!? We did a white elephant this year with our friends and everyone ended up getting pretty nice things--wasn't the same.

    And in response to your question about the toffee sticking: Believe it or not, you don't need anything between the toffee and the cookie sheet! It blew my mind the first time, but when you stick it in the fridge it contracts a little bit and pulls up off the sheet. I've done it on really nice cookie sheets and the Uber-crappy kind I had in my first college apartment, so I can vouch for it happening in all cases. Let me know if you give it a try!

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  4. I love the idea of a gag gift white elephant! My family does a regular one, but it's usually super difficult for everyone to find gifts that people actually WANT to swap. Gag gifts would at least be entertaining to open!

    Unrelated: I'm so impressed that you're able to do puzzles with a kitty in the house! S and I love puzzles but haven't attempted one since Layla moved in because we don't think she can be trusted... This post gives me hope!

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    1. Elliott is pretty lazy. The most trouble we had with her was that she wanted to lay on the puzzle while we were working on it. :) You should give it a try, maybe Layla won't be too troublesome!

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