Enjoying a little Christmas party gift fight
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Hesitantly, I chose a tissue-topped paper bag from below the tree, and pulled out … a cornflower-blue Hawaiian shirt covered in gamboling Santas. But wait, there was something else: a DVD showing how to make a bear using a stump and a chainsaw in “40 easy to follow” steps.
It was the annual office holiday party, graciously hosted by Quent and Kara. On the invitation Kara had written, “Yankee Swap reminder: bring a wrapped item $20 or under. We’ll swap gifts until someone cries.”
Kara may not know that someone did cry once. Really.
I have been going to this party, with some of the same people and a changing cast of others, for many years. The constant is the gift swap, a frenzy in seizing each others’ presents.
In an idea bequeathed to us by a cheery former business manager named Byron, everyone gives a wrapped gift and takes a number. The first person opens a present from under the tree. The next person, and everyone after, can either pick up a wrapped gift, or impound an open one from its possibly protesting recipient. Gifts can be swiped three times, then are retired.
The game is fun and raucous, and I have zealously raided certain prize items. Yet there is a concurrent theme to which I have been an amused but detached witness, and that is fighting over certain gag gifts.
I must be real Yankee in my bones. I give practical gifts. Warm socks. Gloves, several times. (One pair actually supplied quite a bit of humor when a guy took them from his own girlfriend.) I have at times been booed for choosing my own gifts back.
And so I gaze entertained but untempted as people battle over, say, a pair of red rubber luge pants. Yes, adult-size rubber pants with a black plastic tray molded in the seat, to be worn on a sledding hill. Or the furry Viking hat with horns, which a reveler would then wear. Or the “singing trout,” a replica of a mounted fish, warbling, “Take me to the river.”
The crying jag, long ago, was by someone’s spouse, when hijacked of a pair of snowshoes. The bewildered taker, girlfriend of another employee, then uncertainly returned them, as everyone clapped weakly.
Some gifts sank. The boyish Byron’s face fell when he received a cassette of “A Perry Como Christmas.” “That’s it,” he said. “I’m out of the game.” And he was.
I first met Heather, now one of my good friends, when a co-worker, Dave, brought her to the party. Heather had wrapped a case of auto wiper fluid, and then I don’t think anyone laughed, which made her uneasy. But either Mike or I ended up with it, and it turned out to be a great present all winter long.
One year Jen, girlfriend of my co-worker Andrew, handed in her gift, and then worried about it. It was a framed photo of Andrew, at a toga party, shirtless and wearing a turban and a swaddled sheet, sort of diaper-style. Opening it, I laughed hard, and then at home, for a trick, swapped it with a photo in our front bathroom. The next day our younger son, Roy, then perhaps 11, came out livid.
“Why is a naked picture of Andrew on our wall?” he asked severely. “Where is the picture of our father?”
The pic actually came in a nice frame, so then I hung something else in it.
This year I brought a really good gift, if I do say so myself: four passes to movies at our beloved Crystal Theatre. I came away with … Santas playing the ukulele.
The next day, when I said I was taking the dreadful shirt to Miser’s Mercantile, three male voices in my house shouted, “What?”
The older teenager, Teddy, protested, “I’m going to wear it to school!”
“You’re not throwing that away,” Mike yelled up the stairs.
“It’s sweet,” piped in Roy.
One man’s trash is another’s treasure.
– Alison Osius lives in Carbondale.
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