“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

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs Goldfish December 1, 2011 at 5:02 am

And why didn’t you simply speak up the moment it happened? “Excuse me, it seems you skipped us, could we please draw a number?” And see where it goes from there.
Why did any of the people involved in the game still participate and not speak up? I find this very strange.


Kathryn December 1, 2011 at 5:25 am

I can’t believe that this is a game people play! But anyway.

You say she’s typically gracious so I’ll put this down to accident. I don’t think there’d be anything wrong in saying “hey Aunt! You missed us!” As a way to call attention to her blunder. Or perhaps to speak with her quietly once the game was under way so as host, she could have rectified the problem. Or the other cousins who were not meant to play should have said something, or passed their numbers on to you. A third party could have said something, “Aunt, I don’t think Sarah and Ann are meant to be playing. Jane and Mary brought gifts and they didn’t get a number.”

There were so many ways to fix this in the moment, but no one did. Seriously, why didn’t ANYONE say anything??


Katie December 1, 2011 at 5:29 am

Why on earth didn’t you say something at the time?? I would have done: “Oh Aunt, I believe the only participants in this game are those who also purchased a gift – that’s People 1 – 8”. Surely it wouldn’t have been rude to point this out.
There is rather a smug tone to this post which grates with me somewhat.


Margaret December 1, 2011 at 5:44 am

Why wouldn’t you just say, “Excuse me, we brought one of the gifts, we need a turn.” If she had already give out the 8 slips, then she would just have to take them back and redistribute them to the 8 people who were supposed to participate. Or, if that was ignored, “Oh, are we not supposed to participate this year?” and then take your gift and put it in your vehicle.

Do your cousins not know the rules of the game? Did they think their mother had put in gifts for them so they could participate? Or did the mother think that her daughters had put in gifts? If they are all adults, they might not have travelled together. I just can’t see how a normally gracious person would do that without some kind of misunderstanding.


jess December 1, 2011 at 5:46 am

And you did not say anything? SERIOUSLY? wow, I would have said ‘Oh I AM sorry, I did not know they had contributed to the game, we must need to write down two more numbers as otherwise myself and “cousins wife” will miss out on our turn!” If you family is the type that would not say anything then this is why the Aunt felt she could get away with it. Sometimes you do need to speak up or people will keep taking advantage of the silence.


Jai December 1, 2011 at 5:55 am

I think I’d have had to say something. Not in a rude way, but a kind of ‘Oh, I think you forgot us Auntie! Maybe you made a mistake, that’s the gift we bought right there. And that’s X’s gift, I think you missed her out too!’ It would give her the chance to say ‘Whoops, sorry’ or if not, it would put her on the spot and she’d know that everyone recognised what she’d done. Otherwise that would bug me for ages.

Easy to be wise after the event though, I’m usually so floored when stuff like this happens that I don’t think of it at the time.


MeganAmy December 1, 2011 at 5:56 am

Shocking! And no one spoke up? Were you too stunned to say anything like “hey, wait, we contributed, we should get a number”? That’s pretty crazy. I’d be prepared to say something in the future if she does something like this again. At least a “Wait. What?” if you can’t form other words.


claire December 1, 2011 at 7:07 am

This really happened? I have only two words……Polite spine……..


josie December 1, 2011 at 7:45 am

My thoughts exactly, just speak up! Perhaps auntie did not see you and your cousin carry in gifts? Perhaps she thought there was 2 extra? (Altho auntie should of clarified that one before handing out numbers) If she said you couldn’t play, I wouldn’t have any problem at all with removing my gift from the pile.


Kimberly December 1, 2011 at 7:55 am

Sorry, if this is a game that is done annually, your aunt skipped you and your cousin on purpose and included her two daughters. It is not like your aunt and her family did not know the rules of the game.

And why didn’t you speak up? I would have said, “excuse me, you missed us. We purchased gifts to be included in the dirty Santa game. Where are our numbers?”.

Me thinks your aunt knew exactly what she was doing and knew you would not say anything, nor would anyone else in the family. She took charge for a reason.

This year, if you have not participated, you are in charge of nothing.


Margo December 1, 2011 at 8:01 am

I agree, it would not have been rude at all to speak up at the time, to point out that she’d made a mistake. As you say she is normally a graious person it seems most likely that it was a genuine mistake and that she would have been happy to rectify it. If not, you would have had the option of taking back your gift and explaining politely that as the rules had changed, you no longer wished to participate.

Having stayed silent, I don’t think you can bring it up so long after the event. If it it suggseted that people play again this year, why not volunteer to organise it yourself? that way, you can make sure that the mistake isn’t repeated. If aunt wants to organise it, just speak up if she offers the bowl of numbers to someone who didn’t contribute. it doesn’t have to be rude or snarky, just, “oops, I think you made a mistake, Cousin Ethelbert isn’t playing – unless – did you bring a gift for the game, Ethelbert?” That way, if it turns out Ethelbert did mean to play, but just forgot to bring the package in from the car, he can fetch it and the game goes on, if not, you’ve flaged up the issue and Aunt will probably back down.

If you think it is likely to be an issue, you can always offer in advance to organise it, which gives you the opportunity to ring round everyone including the cousins who didn’t contribute, ask them specifically if they want to play, and if they say, ‘remind’ them of the arrangements – this can be on the basis of telling them waht the price limit for spending is, or of any other foibles (e.g. don’t buy anything alcoholic, becasue Auntie Flo always joins in and she is teetotal) rather than having to say outright ‘you do know you have to buy a gift in order to play?’)


Margo December 1, 2011 at 8:02 am

PS – I don’t understand what the relevance of the wedding and engagement gifts is? What does that have to do with the game?


MellowedOne December 1, 2011 at 8:28 am

OP it doesn’t sound like neither you nor your family are the type to let things ‘roll off your shoulders’, as you say you are. If anything, you are nursing this grudge.

You had two options on the scene:
1. Accept the incident in good humor, showing everyone it was no big deal, and all of you move on to enjoy the day. Dissipate any angry feelings then and there. (“Let it slide”)
2. If it upset you and everyone a great deal, tell the aunt about it right then. Resolve the matter, and enjoy the day.

And a 3rd one afterwards:
3. Bring it up tactfully with the aunt. Resolve the matter. Strained relationship mended.

You chose to do none of them. You write, “I am continually stunned that some people who are usually so normal can lack manners and plain common sense.” OP, perhaps you should revisit the definition of “common sense”.


Jones December 1, 2011 at 8:40 am

And you all let her give gifts to people who didn’t participate in the gift bringing? I’ve played this game before, and always, ALWAYS only people who brought items were allowed to pick items. I cannot believe none of you said anything, ranging from “Umm, Auntie? Where’s my number?” to “Wait, there’s 10 participants and 8 items; should we all grab what we brought to see who’s sneaking in (lightheartedly, of course)” or whatever other phrase might have felt appropriate. But definitely say Something. “Evil flourishes when good people do nothing”, same with grabby and tacky behaviour. It’s always people who know they can get away with it.


Harley Granny December 1, 2011 at 8:57 am

We also play this game on DH’s side and it’s a blast.

I agree with the others…..you should have spoken up. While it could have been an honest mistake on the Aunt’s part it surely wan’t on the cousin’s.


Ramey December 1, 2011 at 9:03 am

I hate the Dirty Santa game. There’s a mean-spiritedness about it that doesn’t exactly reflect the intended mood of the holiday season. And I agree with everyone else — someone should have spoken up immediately.


Threepenny December 1, 2011 at 9:06 am

I’m sorry, but, to me, “tacky” is buying a gift you want in the hope you would get it back, with no thought that someone else might want it. Secondly, “tacky” is assuming that a college student in a dorm would not want cookware, as well as the assumption that said college student would cause a fire by using same. A lot of dorms have kitchens. I know my college friends and I managed to not burn the dorm down by using them all those years ago.

Yes, your aunt was exceedingly numbskulled. No denying that. I also wonder why no one spoke up.

Oh, and having a husband who will actually write in a thank you note is not “exceedingly fortunate”. It is the mark of a well-brought up individual. I also find that little comment to be a bit smug (as though most men cannot fathom writing a thank you card).


Edhla December 1, 2011 at 9:08 am

I will dead-set NEVER understand why people play these novelty games at Christmas- or any other time- it can only ever end in tears or, if not tears, some seriously hurt feelings. Christmas is (in my opinion) meant to be a holiday of goodwill, sharing, generosity and love, not an opportunity for gift-grabbing of any kind, even the guise of a game.

And I agree with others- sometimes you gotta speak up. Especially when it’s family.


MyFamily December 1, 2011 at 9:14 am

I hate these stories when a room full of people allow someone else to be rude. Somebody should have said something – being polite doesnt mean being a doormat.


Molly December 1, 2011 at 9:48 am

I’m confused. If the game works by randomly drawing numbers that will determine the order in which you choose gifts, how would the cousins drawing numbers before other people have an effect? Whether you draw first or last, isn’t the number you get still random?

Also, if you wanted a gift that you thought the cousins would be just as happy to give up (e.g. deep fryer) why not steal it? Or is the problem that the cousins didn’t contribute gifts but they still took gifts? If that is the case, why wouldn’t you just say “Oh! I brought a gift but I didn’t get a number. Aunt, could you give me my number?”

I must be missing something!


Rebecca December 1, 2011 at 9:48 am

I’m with the others here… why didn’t you guys say anything?


Jay December 1, 2011 at 10:04 am

My b-i-l’s family plays that.. so now I do too. It’s a fun game if you don’t take it too seriously.

However, this was easily fixable right at the moment the numbers were picked. I can’t imagine not speaking up for a game where the whole POINT is that everyone brings a gift and everyone goes home with a gift. You ask for a slip. If the aunt somehow argues about it, and is somehow completely clueless about the basic rules of a game that her family plays every single year, then you say, “I’m sorry, I misunderstood,” and you pick up your gift and walk away and find something else to do for the next hour.


Xtina December 1, 2011 at 10:20 am

I won’t be telling you anything new, OP, but you or the other missed person really should have spoken up right then and there, in front of everyone. I suspect Aunt knew what she was doing and although I have no idea why she would do such a thing, by not being called out on it, she got away with it. How would she have explained herself had someone put her on the spot about it? It was obvious that those who contributed a gift should have played; that’s the rule!

And shame on the 20- and 21-year-olds for taking part when they knew they shouldn’t have. Something smells of “conspiracy” to me!


KTB December 1, 2011 at 10:27 am

Very strange! I would have said something to Aunt, either joking or gently reminding that we should have been in the game, depending on what she’s like.

But…did you have to be so harsh on the cousins? Most people don’t live in dorms after their sophomore year. Once I got off campus, I started kitting out my kitchen (to the detriment of the rest of the house, actually. I love the kitchen!) with pans and a toaster, crock pot, etc, with an eye towards moving out of my parents’ house and having a place of my own in a couple years. I would have enjoyed getting wine glasses at a Christmas exchange. Not every 20 or 21 year old is a complete barbarian.


Nestholder December 1, 2011 at 10:28 am

I have to agree with everyone—why on earth didn’t someone speak up at the time? Ridiculous.


alex December 1, 2011 at 10:29 am

Why did you not say something?? I would have definitely spoken up. That should not have happened at all!!


SV December 1, 2011 at 10:31 am

“Wait, Auntie! You missed Cousin and myself!” Smiles, laughter. Perhaps the daughters thought their Mom had put a gift in for them, or perhaps your Aunt did not see you place a gift in the pile. This sounds like a true misunderstanding and I can’t imagine why you didn’t speak up and make light of the mistake!


Hemi Halliwell December 1, 2011 at 10:52 am

Agree with everyone; you or cousin’s wife should have spoken up.


MaryFran December 1, 2011 at 10:53 am

I agree with Katie — there’s something not right about this post. Why wouldn’t the LW have said something to her aunt when she passed over her with the bowl? Didn’t it occur to her her aunt had made a mistake? Or that her cousins had perhaps misunderstood the game? I like to assume ignorance/negligence/confusion before malice. No wonder her aunt is still clueless — she may not have ever realized her mistake and not one person in the room said anything at all!


Duni December 1, 2011 at 10:55 am

I have to agree with the other comments. I am the most non-confrontational milquetoast I know, and even I wouldn’t have had trouble speaking up in that instance.


LovleAnjel December 1, 2011 at 10:56 am

Like the previous posters said, you should just have said, “Hey, I didn’t get a number.” And if you don’t get one, then you’re not playing and fully within your rights to remove your gift from the pile. My husband’s family plays this game, and they wouldn’t let someone get away with this.


gramma dishes December 1, 2011 at 11:04 am

Previous posters have expressed shock that no one said anything and I, of course, agree with them.

However, I also remember what it was like to be young and just engaged or newly married. Keeping in mind that this was a family gathering, at Christmas, I honestly can see how this happened. You would be in such a state of total shock and so certain that the “mistake” would be immediately rectified that you might not say anything simply because you were so dumbfounded by the turn of events and also because you wouldn’t want to make a scene at the Christmas family gathering.

I do think someone should have told the aunt, if not that day, then at least afterward. And I certainly would refuse to play the game again this year!!


Wink-n-Smile December 1, 2011 at 11:14 am

Polite spine – “Excuse me, but I think you are confused. Cousin and I are participating. Your daughters are not. Please give those numbers to us.”

Loving family – “Excuse me, but I think you are confused. Cousin and OP are participating. Your daughters are not. Please give those numbers to Cousin and OP.”

Loving daughters – “Sorry, Mama, I think you are confused. Sister and I didn’t bring gifts to participate. Please give these numbers to Cousin and OP. They are participating.”

Why did NO ONE say anything? Don’t put all the blame on the aunt. She’s older and may very well have simply been confused, especially if she is normally gracious. Not one person there spoke up! All are culpable.

You’ll just have to suck it up and make it a learning experience. Next time, speak up. And tell your family that you’d appreciate it if they spoke up, next time one of the family gets confused. After all, there’s no reason for her to want to hurt you, so it must have been an accident.

In groups where I have played this game, we didn’t do numbers. We just sat in a circle, and moved around by order. That way, it was obvious who was in, who was out, and whose turn it was. I highly recommend this for next time. There can be no confusion, no passing over or inviting others, without it being blatantly obvious (which a woman with a reputation does not want), and it saves on paper, too.


AMC December 1, 2011 at 11:24 am

I agree with other commentors; I would have spoken up and pointed out that I had brought a gift to participate.

I have a very large extended family on my dad’s side and every year we play this game. Everyone competes to bring the “gift everyone wants” and then we all do our best to win that item. Mind you, even though we “play to win”, it is always in good fun and is one of my favorite parts of Christmas. I can tell you that if something like what happened to OP happened in my family, you can be sure everyone would have spoken up and made sure those who brought gifts got to participate. It’s only fair.


Goldie December 1, 2011 at 11:42 am

I’ve been playing this game for years with a group of friends. Hasn’t ended in tears once. But we stay under $10. $25 may be too much.

The aunt is clueless to this day and the rest of the family is still talking about it behind her back? sounds a tad passive-aggressive to me. Say something to the aunt already and move on, better late than never. Yeah she was wrong, as were the cousins for participating in the game that they hadn’t contributed a gift for. But, agree with all other commenters, the rest of the family should’ve said something, instead of sweeping it under the rug and leaving the party earlier than usual.


Amp2140 December 1, 2011 at 11:54 am

Though I don’t agree that this was nice by the host, if it was deliberate, I also wonder if the OP was invited to actually play the game.


Chocobo December 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm

It’s really easy to say “you should have said something!” in hindsight, but when faced with a problem head-on, sometimes one is taken by surprise and doesn’t know what to do. In the future, yes, it would be good to be prepared to politely remind auntie about the mistake, but sometimes we just don’t know what to do in the moment and find ourselves dumbstruck. Certainly I do. Let’s remember that the OP and the OP’s cousin’s wife were also polite and gracious to not say anything at all. I find it much more baffling that the rest of the family who are closer to the auntie — her siblings, for example — did not say anything, rather than the victims themselves.

It’s true that this game can lead to hard feelings sometimes, but there are ways to avoid it:

1. We do play “Dirty Santa” (which here we call “Yankee Swap”) with my family on Christmas Eve, but ground rules have been laid to prevent hard feelings. No making fun of gifts, no squabbling, only positive comments. Household goods are always popular and easy. Everyone follows the rules and then it actually becomes fun.

2. My work also plays Yankee Swap, but we take care of it the opposite way — everyone brings something hideous from their home’s attic or basement that they don’t want anymore, and then we all have a good time giggling at the atrocious Justin Beiber cookie jar, or what have you. It’s actually pretty fun to see what kinds of terrible kitsch people come up with: giant hats from the 80’s, unworn ugly sweaters, A Christmas Story-like lamps, way-too-specific kitchen tools (it cooks hot dogs — that’s it!), an unintentionally creepy doll, etc. People go out of their way to find something in hilariously poor taste. Sometimes you even end up with something you actually would like even though no one else wants it, and it works well since no one is taking the gifts seriously.


Magicdomino December 1, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I run the office Dirty Santa, and if I did this by accident, I’d want someone to speak up right then. We often have someone who participates without bringing a gift, but they are acting for a giver who is stuck on the phone or in a meeting. So far, the proxies have always announced their intentions.


Lily G December 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Ok, I’ve read this 3 times and I still can’t figure out why it would be ok to buy a present but not be included. If the people participating end up with 2 extra gifts, wouldn’t that be a clue? It sunds like the aunt knew very well what she was doing.
My family plays Dirty Santa all 22 people plus whatever guests are attending the party participate. In fact, I’m off to buy an ‘ingredients for a cookie swap’ present for ours right now!


OP December 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Your comments have given my a humorous start to my morning! Think what you want about my lack of spine, I am simply not the type to start an argument with my family over something that, in the end, doesn’t matter. Though, I must reiterate that it was no mistake on my aunt’s part; our family has been playing this game for 10+ years, and she knew the rules. It is not vicious at all, we always (with the exception of cousin’s wife and I last year) end up laughing. But then, it probably would not be a successful game in a family where there is already any contention and other motives for “stealing” a gift. And, excuse me, “tacky” for hoping we would end up with a gift we liked so much? That’s sort of the point…everyone buys something they (or anyone else) would like to have, in case they get the chance to end up with it.

Oh, and to the person who said I am rude for assuming that my cousins could not use cookware: their dorms do not have kitchens (I attended a top 10 university that also did not have dorm kitchens and I have NEVER heard of this) and there are no electrical cooking appliances allowed. These are in addition to the fact that neither young woman cooks. I know my cousins better than a stranger, “methinks.”

And the comment about nursing a grudge is hilarious…I sent this email nearly a year ago, just after it happened. I completely forgot about the whole thing until I saw it posted this morning.

Perhaps there is some misunderstanding about our family dynamic. I see my aunts, uncles and cousins almost daily. We are not a group of people who see each other 2 or 3 times a year. We know each other — and the motives of each person — extremely well. And it has already been planned this year that my uncle will take over the drawing of numbers.


KarenK December 1, 2011 at 12:50 pm

To Amp2140:

You aren’t invited to participate. You indicate your participation by bringing a gift. If you don’t bring a gift, you don’t get to play. It’s that simple.

We do a yankee swap here at work as well. I hate them, so I don’t bring a gift and therefore I don’t play.

I realized by now it’s dogpiling on the OP, but I cannot imagine staying quiet in this situation. Whether it was by accident or on purpose (and I do think it was on purpose), it was wrong and it should have been stopped right then and there. I doubt aunt would have put up much of a fuss about it.


JennJenn68 December 1, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Oboy. I am not at all a fan of this game; I played it once the first Christmas I spent with my dad and his new wife. The rules, by the way, were that the gifts had to be a minimum of $75 and, again, numbers were drawn and “stealing” was allowed. Not wanting to cause a fuss, I went along with this. (There’s lots of back story there that I won’t get into; suffice it to say that it was a marriage that had been a little hasty after my mother’s death from cancer, which is why I didn’t feel that I should make any demur.) Alas that my stepmother’s daughters decided as soon as their numbers were drawn (numbers eleven and twelve, the last two numbers) that the rules were going to be changed and that the numbers would go in reverse order with no “stealing” permitted, only “trading” and only if everyone involved agreed. I tried to speak up and was verbally squashed by my stepmother, who was only interested in what her daughters had decided. Since I was under my father’s roof and this was his wife, the gracious thing was simply to “shut up and soldier”. Needless to say, my husband and I were out $150 because by the time we got our “gifts” (our numbers were low, you see…) there was nothing left except a gift basket of dog supplies (and we don’t have a dog) and a toaster oven (which we already own). These two “gifts”, I fancy, didn’t cost anywhere near the supposed minimum. Coincidentally, these were also the two brought by the aforementioned daughters…

This was five years ago. They tried it on once more, the following year, but this time I made it known ahead of time that we would not be participating. My father agreed with me privately but admitted that he didn’t want to contradict his wife in public. Sensible–he has to live with her, after all. And since that time when I grew a spine, I’ve gotten along beautifully well with my stepmother. Go figure.

(For the record, my stepmother’s daughters are both older than me–mid to late forties. So they can’t use immaturity as an excuse.)

I spoke up, and it got me nowhere. But still, I spoke up. The OP has no real valid complaint if she didn’t speak up, I’m afraid. Hopefully she has learned her lesson by now.


Ashley December 1, 2011 at 12:53 pm

I’m with the crowd here, surely one of the two of you who got skipped could have spoken up and said “Oh, Auntie, I thought we would get to play because we brought a gift….”


Enna December 1, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Give aunty the benefit of the doubt this time – yes you could have said something at the time but just chalk this down to experince and be prepared for next year whether aunty is in charge or someone else: if it happens again speak up whether you are missed out or someone else is. It is easy to be wise after the event but if people make a habbit of abusing the game then that’s not fair on the other participants.


Ann December 1, 2011 at 1:27 pm

In my world, people who are “gracious, intelligent and thoughtful” wouldn’t even consider that game. One of my aunts introduced it at the family xmas party when it was her turn to host, and believe me it hasn’t happened since. That’s because, people spoke up about how inappropriate they thought it was… on a timely basis… for pete’s sake.


Aunty Em December 1, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I also do not like this game on several levels but I guess the point of this submission is the question of whether you should speak up and point out Aunt’s error or not. The game doesn’t make sense unless the people participating are the ones who brought the presents.


Lucy December 1, 2011 at 1:42 pm

We do this at my office Christmas party, but with a $10 limit, an open invitation to white elephant gifts, and a rule that a gift can only be stolen twice. There is a set of hideous snowman salt and pepper shakers that I swear has been circulating since 1987. It’s hilarious.

That said: OP, stop whining. The reason people get away with stuff like this is because other people are too wimpy to stop them. Why on Earth didn’t you say anything at the time? People who are “too nice” to stand up for themselves are just as annoying as people who take advantage of people who are too nice, so next time, speak up.


Calli Arcale December 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm

This game is often played in my family, as the annual Christmas party has gotten quite large. It’s a good way of handling the “do we bring gifts or don’t we, and who are we obligated to gift to when we don’t know all of them that well” sort of situation. Last year, I had scored a great deal on an R/C submarine that brought it *juuuuust* under the $25 limit. A friendly war developed between my uncle and his youngest daughter over it, which was cute. She won. 😉 If someone chooses to steal your gift, you are free to steal any other gift or pick another from the pile. This continues until everyone has a gift. They ended up with multiple opportunities to steal the sub, usually from one another. It was awesome.

Situation like this? Yeah, it’s wrong, because it breaks the rules. But you have to say something about it right away. Put the error out into the open, and put the ball into their court to either fix the problem or deliberately keep it wrong and leave no doubt as to their intentions. But the first time something like this happens, one may be shocked into silence. It happens. Consider it a learning experience for next time.

However, I’m surprised nobody commented on the fact that you wanted to get the gift you brought, and that the inability to get this gift contributed to your disappointment with the game. That *is* rude, in my opinion. While there’s no harm in going home with the gift you brought (I did one year, when I realized nobody really wanted it — I stole it back from my very obviously disappointed cousin early on, freeing her to get something she actually did want), it shouldn’t be your specific intent, and it seems wrong to team up for the purpose. Teaming up is actually forbidden in my family; everyone’s on their own, which means nobody’s at a disadvantage just because they’re single. Using the Dirty Santa game in this fashion is a way of shopping for yourself while giving the false impression of generosity.

Also, how do you know a 21-year-old wouldn’t be delighted with stemware or a fryer? At that age, you’re pretty close to being able to start your own home, and while you probably won’t want to take it to the dorm with you, it’s the sort of thing that can easily be kept boxed up at your parents’ house until you graduate. They should certainly have brought gifts if they intended to participate, but it’s rather odd to suggest that a 21-year-old is too young to appreciate grown-up gifts. Heck, my four and eight year old daughters participate, and while yes, sometimes they end up unwrapping bottle openers, there are always toys among the gifts as well. Last year, my youngest actually wound up with a spa set (moisturizer, body soap, travel bag) and was immensely proud of it. 😀 So proud, in fact, that nobody dared steal it away! It was too cute, and anyway, there were two other sets like it. Everybody went home happy, including the young children.


Kaiti December 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm

@Molly – There are only as many numbers as there are gifts (8 gifts, 8 numbers). Since the cousins who didn’t bring gifts got to pick numbers, there were no numbers left in the hat for the OP and cousin’s wife, who did bring gifts. Hence, they brought gifts, but were left out of the exchange, getting nothing. The cousins who didn’t bring gifts, however, DID get to participate, and took home things that, in at least one case, they couldn’t likely have used. (I’m willing to bet that most dorms have a ban on deep fryers!)


Abby December 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I want to think this was an accident, but I just can’t see how. Plus, I am very suspicious that one of the left out players was the cousin’s wife- ie a person hanging out with her new husband’s family without the husband- who was therefore probably the participant least likely to speak up about being excluded (who wants to make waves with the in laws over a $25 gift?). That kind of leads me to believe the aunt’s actions were deliberate, and OP and the other woman were chosen because Aunt didn’t think either would stand up for herself, and she was right.

Perhaps Aunt didn’t know who all was playing, but then she should have asked. Unless her daughters blatantly lied to her and told her they had brought gifts, I don’t see how this could have been a misunderstanding.

Agree with all other posters that something should have been said at the time. I get not wanting to make a scene and ruin the get together, but a simple Hey, I didn’t get a number! before the game started would be completely non confrontational. I don’t see how the game could have proceeded without OP if that simple sentence had been uttered. Certainly, if the other participants were aware of the exclusion and were upset enough to leave early, they could have spoken up when there was still a chance of actually fixing the situation. I am amazed no one spoke up at all. I’ll give the OP’s cousin’s wife a pass, but no one else in this story.


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