The first time I played, I went in cocky. Everyone had to bring a gag gift. I picked up a can of peanuts and decided that whomever opened it would think it was a classic snake in a nut can joke, but it would be an actual can of peanuts. Get it? The poor soul who opened it didn’t either. No one did. A co-worker told me it probably wouldn’t have been so sad – exact word – if I didn’t build it up so much. All that “you guys are going to love this” just made everyone uncomfortable.
The next three Dirty Santa parties I attended weren’t any better. I tried to think outside the box. I tried practical. I even tried giving a gift card wrapped in a big box. And every time, my gift always got the lukewarm reception, and what’s even more humiliating is that no one ever tried to steal my gift. It was a flattering gesture from the Dirty Santa playbook.
By the time I was invited to a White Elephant party a few years ago, I knew the drill. I was prepared. I bought the coolest gift ever. I would dominate. No more explaining. No more nervous laughter. No more “oh, it’s a practical gift.”
When a close friend used her turn to grab my beautifully wrapped gift. Probably growing tired of listening to me. “I don’t mean to brag, but the box with the large orange bow is the best one. Whoever picks it is going to be so happy.”
She opened it. Silence. Maybe she’s so overcome; she doesn’t know what to say. The seconds ticked by, and still nothing. Finally, holding the gold-leaf, hardbound personal journal, she looked up and said, “It’s a book…with no words.” Everyone laughed, even me. It was funny. Not everyone is a journaler. I took my gift home after it was exchanged by everyone for a better prize.
Last Christmas, my hairdresser was talking about a Dirty Santa party she was going to attend. Another friend told her to make sure if it’s a party where you give fun gifts or serious gifts. She then shared a story of the time she went to a similar party where someone brought “a journal.” Only she said “journal” with a question inflection like “journal?” Before she could go on, I piped up, “That was me.” Without missing a beat, she said, “What kind of gift is that?”And again, we laughed.
This, once again, made me realize, I am not good at this game. I vowed then and there, this game, this thing, would not beat me. I don’t care if I bring the best gift or best-wrapped gift. I just don’t want to give the worst gift of the evening. People don’t remember the best or best wrapped. They only remember the lamest. I want to bring the gift that no one remembers – the gift that someone picks, one where the appropriate amount of “ohs and ahs” are said, but not the one where awkward silence follows the unwrapping.
I tried again last year. I wrapped a bluetooth key finder key chain. Who couldn’t use that? I’ll tell you who. The person who picked my gift that evening. Only this time, there’s no silence. Instead, my sweet friend politely asked, “What is this?” When I told her, after the guffaws from my other friends in attendance, she looked a little confused, so I said, “Your son will probably love it.”
I am still confident that one day I’ll figure out this whole Dirty Santa-White Elephant thing. Of course, by that time a new game or holiday activity will gain popularity. A new game that I will, no doubt, secure the title of the lamest competitor.
Comments? You can email Becky Andrews at email@example.com. Andrews and Angel Kane are the brains behind Telling Tales, a weekly column in The Democrat.