Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Let's Talk: Yankee Swaps and White Elephants

People, we need to talk.  I know people like having fun around the holidays, I really do.  I like having fun as well.  But we, as a collective species, need to stop the horror that is the Yankee Swap.  I, personally, have a theory that there is alien life watching us, and every year they see people start to celebrate togetherness and caring, whether it's from Christmas, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, or those random people who are just really, really into Boxing Day.

They debate whether or not to invite us into their galaxy-wide community, thinking that maybe, maybe we're emotionally and intellectually ready as a people to accept life beyond our little blue marble, one of the aliens on the review board will state, "well, at least they don't have any events around the holidays that encourage people to be mean-spirited to those they care about and act out of spite and selfishness during what's supposed to be a moment of giving."

Then the aliens who suggested Earth be included in their society get really awkward looks on their faces and shuffle their feet a bit, and the review board alien states "Oh, krazlop (it's a real alien swear term, look it up), they still do that Yankee Swap thing, don't they?"

And thus, once again, our place among the stars is denied us.

I used to work for a company that did a Yankee Swap (or something similar) every year, and every year most of the people involved walked away upset.  The first year, one person I worked with who is a friend of mine managed to get something he could actually use: a candle stand that fits in a fireplace or on a table.  He actually said out loud to the other people there how his wife was just commenting how nice it would be to have one, but that he knew nothing about where to buy one.  It was a real happy moment in an event where, so far, few people had anything they actually liked.

And then the next person, without missing a beat, took it from him.  No "sorry," or "well, maybe you'll get something better" or anything encouraging, just flat-out no-selling his appreciation (and, based on the expressions of some of the rest of us taking part, our feeling that while the event was cheesy, it wasn't negative in any real way) and taking it from him.  He next wound up with, I believe, a weird plate or something that was supposed to hang on a wall.

I was third from the end, and I knew that the people who went last had other things they had their eye on, and the person who went first was eager to snag something else, so when my turn came around, despite the fact I had no need for it, I stole the candle stand, and then after the event gave it back to my friend with a "merry Christmas."

I didn't take the hanging plate, there wasn't really anything there I wanted, anyway.

In following years the office would try strange variations of the Yankee Swap, and it would get worse and worse each year.  Everybody picks out a wrapped gift and then passes it to the left or right as a holiday story is read and key words are said was one that I feel too much thought went into considering how confusing it became in practice.

But I've never heard one pleasant story of a Yankee swap.  People either tell me stories of how family fought over something everybody wanted, how coworkers became hostile to each other because of having something they liked stolen, or just the fact that people would get something that was absolute garbage in everybody's eyes.

Here's a list of things people I knew at my old office got from Yankee swaps.  Tell me if any of this sounds like "fun."

A person who hated seafood got a plate shaped like a fish.
Someone who never cooks got a lobster claw-shaped oven mitt.
A man in his 40s got a boy band wall calendar.
A woman who hates camping got a tool to hang tools from tents.
Someone who rode their bicycle into work got a set of car air fresheners.
Someone who did not believe at all in anything "new agey" got a cheap desk fountain.  It was never seen again.

The best, however, was the holiday someone (the same guy from the candle stand story, actually) got a cheap wind-up Christmas mouse toy.  It was obnoxious, it was terrible, and it was oh-so cheap.  I don't remember if it actually came from a Yankee swap or if it was one of the terrible off-shoots, but here's what I do remember.

Another coworker friend of ours just happened to have a good, heavy sword on hand in the trunk of his car.  So, a bunch of us smuggled the mouse out of the office to a picnic table back behind the building.  The sword owner retrieved his weapon, and my friend obliterated that mouse in front of an audience who, in hindsight, was nowhere near prepared for any possible shrapnel sprays.

There's video of it somewhere.  That thing exploded.  You could hear its little voice chip give out one last pathetic chirp as the sword hit.

But seriously, I'm yet to hear a single happy story about how everything was just in "good fun" or that everybody managed to walk away with something they wanted or could use.  The only way that would be possible would be if everybody got the exact same gift, and it was something everybody could use in their life.  Like a roll of paper towels.  Or toothpaste.

Yankee Swaps are the absolute worst, and I would sooner sit out a holiday event and look like a Scrooge than take part in one.

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