The Holiday Games

Milspouse Dec

My December column in Military Spouse Magazine!

Ah, the holidays — that wonderful time of year, when selfish materialism and greed are banished as we ring in The Season of Giving.

Right? . . . Well, not quite.

While it’s true that even Scrooge himself can’t resist gift giving during this time of year, there’s a persistent evil lurking at holiday get-togethers and office parties. It tempts us, taunts us, and threatens to turn us all into ruthless criminals.

What, pray tell, is this wicked presence which endangers our merriment?


Otherwise known as a “Yankee Swap,” “Parcel Pass,” or “Dirty Santa,” this apparently innocent holiday game rouses merciless thievery and coldblooded materialism in even the most virtuous of participants. But do not fear! It is possible to keep from getting sucked into the criminal maelstrom, as long as you keep your wits about you.

As you walk into the holiday gathering, you will most certainly be drawn in by sparkly decorations and twinkling lights. Remember — you are a human being, not a ferret. Do not get distracted by shiny objects and lose all sense of morality!

Before the competition begins, you will engage in enjoyable chitchat with your fellow attendees. It will seem like loads of fun, and you might even chuckle. Get a hold of yourself! Never lose sight of the fact that the people you are nattering away with are about to rob you blind.

As you mingle, you will be enticed by celebratory cocktails, tasty finger foods, fancy-schmancy cookies, and the Holiday Party Staple – red and green M&Ms. Go ahead and feast – you will need your strength, after all – but beware of overindulgence which might cloud your thinking.

At some point, the host will ask you to gather around for the gift exchange. As the first few people open their chosen gifts, others will utter friendly “oohs” and “ahhs,” and everyone will undoubtedly remain civil at this early stage of the game.

Don’t be fooled by the jovial ambiance! As more merchandise is revealed, eyes will dart, mouths will water, and brains will calculate odds as the participants begin to silently strategize.

During the fourth or fifth turn, someone will nervously propose “stealing” an already opened gift. This timid suggestion is all it will take to shatter the courteous atmosphere, giving way to what will soon become a bloodthirsty battle. Participants, who have been repressing their competitive fervor, will soon burst into sputtering chants of “STEAL! STEAL!” Holiday merriment will turn into hectic mayhem as the scene becomes reminiscent of a Roman Coliseum.

The partygoer-turned-thief will rise to her feet and lunge at the desired gift, seizing it from her prey as the crowd erupts in hoots and applause. The victim of the theft will seethe with vengeance and plot her revenge.

As the snarling guests mercilessly snatch gifts from each other, the host, in an effort to maintain some semblance of order, might offer, “Now, remember everyone, a gift is dead after it’s stolen three times.” But the mere mention of “death” will only ignite more savagery in an already depraved scene. Contestants may murderously shout, “It’s DEAD!” and the crowd will gnash their teeth as if a bloody carcass has been dragged back to the den.

When all the gifts have been killed, reality will dawn upon the guests. They will realize that they just jeopardized friendships, offended co-workers, and engaged in quasi-criminal behavior for a boysenberry scented candle, snowman ornament, or reindeer chip-n-dip platter that could be purchased for $10-20 at any Exchange.

Still, what fun would a holiday gift exchange be without the thrill of theft, murder and mayhem? So, remember folks: steal the gift you want before it dies, mercilessly exact your revenge, and have a very Happy Holiday!


TIPS for making a White Elephant Gift Exchange even more fun:

  • Propose a theme. Rather than leaving the field wide open to anything from auto parts to lip gloss, narrow the choices to items such as holiday ornaments, holiday entertaining, kitchen items, books, or (my all time favorite) fashion accessories!
  • Bring a “Hidden Treasure” gift. Wrap up some old thing that no one would want, such as an ugly hat or outdated DVD, and keep quiet as the guests avoid your gift. At the end, tell the seemingly unlucky recipient that something is hidden inside, and watch guests’ reactions as she unveils a gift card or trendy jewelry!
  • Be specific about the cost of the gifts. If you set vague parameters such as “around 20 bucks” or “at least $10” guests might worry that they haven’t spent as much as everyone else. It’s better to tell everyone up front to spend, for example, $15 – no more, no less.
  • Throw in a “dud” gift. The poor slob who ends up with the 8-track tape of KC and the Sunshine Band, the hideous embroidered holiday sweater vest, or the old fruitcake will feel like a loser for sure. But add an ironic twist by awarding the loser a special bonus prize at the end like a bottle of wine or centerpiece!
  • The Annual Lazarus gift – if your group has a white elephant exchange every year, it is fun to have a recurring nonsense gift. The one who ends up with the Lazarus will have the honor of keeping it until next year’s party, so it is fun to make this gift a bizarre display piece such as a singing trout plaque, a scary clown figurine, or velvet Elvis painting.


Merry Christmas and may 2013 bring a heaping helping of Meat and Potatoes to all!


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Comments: 2

  1. Musings of a Marine's Mate December 18, 2012 at 3:51 pm Reply

    Love your sense of humor, and I like the “hidden treasure” concept!

  2. Amy O'H. December 16, 2012 at 7:58 am Reply

    But I love shiny things! Funny how the perceived value of an item is directly related to how many times it was stolen. Love your take on it!

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