During this season of giving, people everywhere are transformed. The Spirit of Christmas inspires generosity, compassion and joy in us all. But sometimes, in the midst of all this merriment, mania causes our personalities to swing wildly in the other direction, resulting in violence, theft, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
What, pray tell, could cause such extreme behavior, you say? Why would any decent person want to hurt others at Christmas time? What could ignite cruelty during a spiritual season such as this?
The answer is simple: The White Elephant Gift Exchange.
Otherwise known as a “Yankee Swap,” “Parcel Pass,” or “Dirty Santa,” this apparently innocent holiday game rouses merciless thievery and selfish materialism in even the most virtuous of participants.
Case in point: Last week, my bunco group got together for our monthly game and a white elephant ornament exchange. Most members shopped beforehand, picking out something unique, handmade or artistic.
The class clown in me always goes for the laugh, so I couldn’t resist when I saw glass blown German ornaments shaped like acorns and walnuts. I bought one of each, envisioning the hysterical laughter that would erupt when, as the recipient opened my ornaments, I would blurt out, “Who doesn’t like a nice pair of nuts at Christmas?”
We arrived at the hostess’ apartment at the designated hour and placed our tiny packages under her sparkling tree. Wine glasses filled, chit chat ensued, and we were all enjoying the friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
An hour into the night, we were filling up on hot dip and red and green M&Ms, when the hostess called us into the living room to start the ornament exchange. Light laughter and conversation continued as we casually plopped onto couches and chairs.
We had no idea of the carnage that was about to befall our group.
After some flimsy debate over who should pick first, our hostess announced, “Ok, ladies, why don’t we go in alphabetical order, according to the first letter of our middle names.”
Three women claiming some derivation of the name “Ann” went first, and they each picked from the wrapped gifts under the tree.
One by one, they gently unraveled the tissue paper from around their chosen ornament. Eyes darted around the room and lips muttered as brains calculated. Just seconds before, we were more interested in idle chit chat and cranberry cream cheese spread, but now that merchandise was being revealed, we began to silently strategize.
Suddenly, our casual attitude toward the parameters of the game changed, and questions arose.
“Hey, by middle name, are we talking about God-given names or what we use now?” I asked when I realized that it would be better to use my original middle name, Lynne. Why didn’t I consider gift exchange strategy when I decided to keep my maiden name after getting married? Stupid, I thought.
“No, it has to be the name you are using now,” another wife interjected, adamantly.
With some grumbling, the game continued. After four or five women selected from under the tree, the rest of us considered our options: a plastic reindeer standing on an ice cube, two adorable hand-made wooden ornaments, a tiny cuckoo clock replica, an intricately painted German ornament, or one of the unwrapped gifts under the tree.
Suddenly someone cried “Steal!” and our mouths began to water. “Yea, it’s no fun if we all just pick from the wrapped gifts, you’ve got to steal!” I added, wiping the spittle from my chin.
A chant ensued, “Steal! Steal! Steal!” as the designated woman rose from her seat. A tiny grin could be seen on her face as she lunged toward a wooden ornament, snatching it from her victim. We all erupted in hoots and applause, as if the living room had just turned into a Roman Coliseum.
Seething with vengeance, the victim of the ruthless theft plotted her revenge.
The scene quickly turned from one of holiday merriment to hectic mayhem, as my bunco group turned into an unruly mob.
As the snarling women snatched ornaments, our host tried to maintain order. “Now, remember ladies, the gift is dead after it is stolen three times.”
But the mere mention of “death” only seemed to ignite more savagery.
The last woman to steal shouted, “It’s DEAD, it’s DEAD!” in a murderous rage, and we all gnashed our teeth as if she was carrying a bloody carcass back to the den.
The final victim had no choice; she had to pick the lone gift left under the tree. It was the acorn and walnut ornaments I had brought, and as she revealed them, I weakly offered my “pair of nuts” joke. The women, still wounded from battle, could only force a few bogus chuckles.
As we said goodnight, I realized that we had just had an epic war over silly stuff that we could purchase for less than $10 in any local store. But what fun would that be, without the thrill of theft, murder and mayhem in the midst of delicious cookies and twinkle lights?
So remember folks: steal the gift you want before it dies, avoid the duds, mercilessly exact your revenge, and have a very Merry Christmas!