“Dirty Santa” Game

by admin on December 1, 2011

I am continually stunned that some people who are usually so normal can lack manners and plain common sense.

I am from a fairly large extended family. During the holidays my mother, her siblings, and their immediate families all get together. One of our Christmas activities is to play a game called “Dirty Santa”. Everyone brings a wrapped gift — not a “white elephant” gift, but a nice, new gift — under $25. The idea is that you don’t know what the other gifts are. All of the packages are put into the center of the room and everyone who brought one gets to draw a number. The players then take turns in their drawn order. The first person chooses a gift to unwrap. The second person can either “steal” that gift or go for an unknown box. This continues with each person getting a choice of any of the unwrapped gifts or a new package. Then the first person gets to trade their gift with anyone they wish, if they want.

Last Christmas I brought a very attractive set of glasses. I was recently engaged, and my fiance and I were secretly hoping to end up with them at the end of the game. One of my cousins was recently married and he and his wife also brought a dirty santa gift (which turned out to be a nice multi-purpose pan). The players were *supposed to be* myself (and my fiance as a team), my uncle, 4 aunts, my mother, and my cousin’s wife (and my cousin as a team, though he was busy with something else). In other words, the people who had brought items. There was a total of 8 gifts.

One of my aunts volunteered to be in charge. Please let me say, she is usually gracious, intelligent and thoughtful. Anyway, she wrote the numbers 1-8 on scraps of paper and tossed them in a bowl. She then started walking around and allowing people to choose numbers. Imagine my surprise when she purposely passed over both myself and my cousin’s wife (the wife of her nephew) and allowed two other cousins — her own daughters — to choose numbers. Now, I must state some points of clarification:

My aunts and mother are mostly retired now and “homemaker types”. Even my uncle is a fantastic and exuberant cook and loves to keep a nice home. For this reason, the gifts are generally home goods like glasses, pans, towels, etc. Absolutely nothing that would interest a 20-year-old and 21-year-old living in their college dorms.

My aunt’s children are said 20- and 21-year-olds, not children who would be upset and have a tantrum at being left out of the game, and would perfectly understand the “bring a gift to participate” rule.

My cousin’s wife and I looked at each other with obvious shock and surprise. I knew this was especially upsetting for her, as their finances had been tight and she had scrimped to purchase a gift because she wanted to participate so much (our family had showered them with wedding presents, and in no way made her feel obligated; she had said the year before that it looked like so much fun she “just had” to play next time.) Needless to say, the rest of the family was quite miffed that my aunt allowed her children to select items that they had no use for (the 20-year-old ended up with our stemless wine glasses and the 21-year-old with a deep-fat fryer…fire in the dorm, anyone?) and left people out of the game who had a right to play. People began leaving the festivities soon after, much earlier than usual. To this day, my aunt is clueless, as my family are the type to let things roll off of our shoulders and move on.

I did joke with my fiance that perhaps we should write a thank-you note to one of her daughters (from whom we did not receive anything, nor did we expect to) for the engagement gift my aunt bought us to get the point across. But neither I nor my wonderful fiance could or would ever bring ourselves to that level of tackiness. We sent her a personal, hand-written thank-you (fiance even wrote in his own expression of gratitude himself…yes, I am exceedingly fortunate) within a week of receiving her gift (a lovely vase). 0511-11

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

lkb December 5, 2011 at 7:58 am

As it happens, I was on a retreat this weekend and there was a white elephant game included as kind of an ice breaker. It was fun, but I had one issue, sort of.

The way this one worked, presents were heaped on the tables we were sitting at. Each table had a pair of dice. We took turns rolling the dice and whoever rolled doubles (two sixes, two fives etc.) got a gift.

The next round, we got to open whatever gift we got and from then on got to “steal” a present we liked if we got doubles, first our table, then our extended table, then the entire room. It was fun and there were no gifts I wanted. However at the end of the “whole room up for grabs” round, I came away with nothing (along with many other people in the same boat) while others got several.

Again, it’s not all that big a deal. I had contributed a gift I thought was nice but didn’t invest a lot of time/effort/money in it. Other gifts were a bit more. It does seem a shame that probably out of 160 participants (or so), someone probably got shafted and went away unhappy.

Fortunately, I was at the retreat for other reasons, which were fulfilled.


Margaret December 5, 2011 at 11:35 am

I’m with the previous poster who wants to know exactly how you know that the aunt did this on purpose. How was it absolutely clear that the aunt knew 100% that OP and OP’s cousin had brought gifts?

AS — you were definitely not wrong to expect the kid to trade the knife for the toy. That is what “exchange” means. Wonder if the mom wanted the knife for herself?


Softly Spoken December 27, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I had a interesting experience at a “white elephant” gift exchange. I don’t think it was an example of rudeness as much as an example of general appropriate-gift-cluelessness. My dance class was having a Christmas party – it was all females of various ages. The gifts that were opened, gushed over, and traded around were: a pair of earrings, a cool exercise tank top, a bag of assorted nail polish, two different but equally lovely scarves, a musical sno globe, perfume, a bag of bath soap and lotion, a box of assorted body mists, cheap wine in a funny yarn santa holder, a beautiful jewel metal book mark, two handmade purses and…drumroll please: a water bottle *with an enema attachment*. Let me say that again – a hot water bottle (okay *sigh* fine), with. an. enema. attachment. (wth?!?). I was the one “lucky” enough to get the water bottle. I tried to play it up since you open it in front of everyone (“Oh good, this will keep my feet warm after they are tired from dancing haha.” and never mind that I already have like 3 hot water bottles at home…), but I could see other people were confused to say the least (not as much oohing and aahing as the other stuff got obviously). Needless to say no one was waiting to pounce on my present and take it from me – and I couldn’t bring myself to inflict it on anyone else (I really wanted the bookmark but my classmate had her little daughter pick it and you just don’t take presents from kids even if it is part of the game – especially if you’d be making them take a freaking enema in exchange O_O).

The lesson learned about White Elephant/Dirty Santa: always try to bring a fun gift – but never expect to go home with one. 😛


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