Friday, December 17, 2010

Dirty Santa

Last night I had the privilege of hanging out with my coworkers for our annual branch Christmas party.  It is always a lot of fun, and there is more bad food (which is actually good food that does bad things to your arteries) and a great deal of Christmas cheer to be had by all.  The host home was decorated beautifully, and it was a very festive atmosphere.  Never mind that I left my spinach dip I'd prepared in the refrigerator at work and had to fly into Publix at the last minute to get some of theirs and doll it up with some water chestnuts while apologizing profusely for being tardy. 

Such is my life sometimes.  At least I had the Fritos in the car.  (And why is it that we call them Fritos?  Because of the name of the company?  That has always freaked me out.)

After eating until we had surpassed healthy levels, we all started that game that I love and hate simultaneously..."Dirty Santa."  This game is aptly named because you think you're going to get something nice (Santa!  Yay!)...and then someone will inevitably snatch it out from under you at the last minute...(thus the "Dirty.")  For those of you who have never endured, played this particular game, well, let's just say that it can easily get off of the rails. 

The rules generally involve setting a dollar limit ahead of time, and then drawing numbers for the order in which to choose a gift.  The person with a "1" goes to the pile of gifts, chooses one, and unwraps it.  The person with "2" and then subsequent numbers have the choice of getting a gift or "stealing" the gift that another person has unwrapped.  This goes on until all of the numbers are exhausted and often the person who drew first has the option to choose among all of the "unretired" available gifts.  A gift is typically retired after three "steals."  This "limited steals" policy is to prevent fistfights, bad blood, or the involvement of law enforcement over a $10 Applebee's gift card or a blue velvet pillow with silver tassels. 

Been there.  Seen that.  Not really.  But almost. 

Some people tend to do very well with this game.  They see it for what it opportunity to get something cool, fun, or useful...but something that they could actually afford to go out and purchase for themselves.   If they end up with the "gift that keeps on being regifted" they honestly do not care.  In fact, Big Dave thrives off of the gifts that make you go "WHAT?"  They're his favorite.  Hardly surprising from a man that wears Christmas tee shirts around that house that are truly hideous while watching "Elf" three thousand times between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Others see it as a competitive sport replete with manuvering, late hits, and a "winner takes all" mentality.  Never mind that we have to actually work, attend church, or live with the people we are supposed to be "in fellowship" with...the truly competitive have no qualms about going for the jugular over a $15 WalMart gift card.

Or...ahem...a silver Hallmark reindeer.

Yes, many moons ago, I was attending a Sunday School party with about thirty five couples, and we were playing "Dirty Santa" with ornaments.  I thought that my chances of getting something I liked were pretty good as I had a late number, and most of the ornaments were lovely.  So, I watched and waited patiently as about twenty-five couples unwrapped theirs and stole them back and forth.  Sadly, we were about to run out of time, and just as our number came up, they changed the rules to disallow any "steals" beyond two.  Well, the reindeer that I had my eye on had been stolen twice, but I had apparently missed one or the other.  As I went to steal my beautiful reindeer...I was told that I needed to unwrap one of the ornaments instead.  I did...and got possibly the only ornament that I didn't like. 

To say that I didn't handle this well would be an understatement.  It was too much for my poor little competitive nature to stand. 

I did mention that this was at a Sunday School Christmas party, didn't I? 

Needless to say, it was not a good experience.  I was, however, able to locate the reindeer at the local Hallmark store the next day and he is currently on my tree.  He's a little tarnished from his bright silver lustre through these past 22 or so years, but he is a reminder that people can change...for the better.

And, of course, that "Dirty Santa" needs to be avoided by the hyper-competitive.

Another year, I had a beautiful blanket taken from me at the last minute and I had no choice but to unwrap a gift.  I got a skating pig toy.  I'm so serious.  I didn't handle that one particularly well either.  I left it on the table and had someone bring it to me because they didn't realize I left it there so that I wouldn't smash it into a million pieces in front of everyone and stomp on it like some adult Veruka from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

Yes, I have been known to channel my "inner Veruka."  She's a real treat (not).

Those, of course, trumped by my first experience with a $2 gift limit during my Girl Scout days.  I got a pair of No Nonsense pantyhose.  I was so not impressed.

Oh, I've had a couple of good years where I've brought something home that I've enjoyed, and one specific time that people thought I was getting something not so great (a mini iron skillet).  What they didn't know was that the skillet had a $25 gift certificate to a restaurant taped to it.  I didn't know it either until after the game was over because I left it in the gift bag. 

Boy, was that awesome.

And then there was last night.  I got a gift that was fine, but was not what I wanted.  Out of nine people, there were five gift cards.  I managed to not get any of them.  I had several of them for awhile, but as usual...I got stuck unwrapping the last gift under the tree and nobody wanted to swap with me.

Dang.  But I'm happy to report that we didn't have to call the po-po, and everyone was still speaking this morning.  So there's that.  Plus, I came home, wrapped it up, and will be giving it to one of my kids for Christmas. 

Rock on.  Oh, don't judge me...they have a gazillion other presents anyway.

Anyway, I think that this game is a little like a microcosm of real life.  We are all given an equal chance when we start out in life...and then we get a number.  We're in the "blue" group or the "red" group...and then we keep moving along.  We unwrap what is ours, and we look around to see if there is anything else that is better than what we have.  Sometimes we want to "steal" it and then other times we are told that it is not possible...just like a retired gift.  So, we keep playing the game...hoping for the best...and enjoying the process.  The end result, though, may or may not be to our liking.  How we handle that, though, honestly says a whole lot about us. 

I suppose that after spending years of avoiding this game because it brought out the worst in me, I do have a few rules that might be helpful to keeping people from mauling each other over a Ho! Ho! Ho! doormat.  I mean, with all of that emotion...I suppose it could happen.

1. If you participate, please buy a gift that is valued at whatever the agreed upon amount is.  It makes me mad when the limit is $10 and someone tries to do a Scrooge and get something that is clearly worth less.  The reason I care is because I will be the person who ends up with it, and I'd at least like to recoup my investment.  It will also keep me from secretly hating your guts.

2. Try to remember that when someone is whining...they are emotionally attached to the gift.  If you take may draw back a nub.  They may also remember it for the rest of their natural lives...and this is not good.

3.  Just some advice...get excited about the one gift that nobody will like.  That way...when they take won't care. If you focus on something that you could actually use...they will inevitably take it and you will end up wanting to go all redneck on somebody.

4. It's just a game...not a contact sport.  This is particularly important if you are everybody's "b-word" in this game and they take great joy in taking your stuff at every available opportunity.

Anyway, here's hoping that you enjoy your experience with this game immensely.  Even though I hate it with every fiber of my being doesn't necessarily mean that you have to...and I hope that you don't.  After all, it IS supposed to be fun. 

Or so I've heard...

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