Nothing brings me more social anxiety around the holidays than a white elephant gift exchange. I know that it's supposed to be a funny and low-stress holiday tradition that allows the spirit of giving/humor/cheer to pervade through parties with minimal effort and money. But there is so much pressure to be clever. It's like playing Apples to Apples (which I also hate): you have to guess what a certain group of people will happen to think is funny (which somehow seems much more difficult than trying to come up with something that is intrinsically funny). And, even if you come up with a genius gift, the reception of your gift is then left at the mercy of the opener who then interprets the gift for the rest of the gathering. Even an excellent gift can't fully recover if the opener is unamused. It's so hit or miss.
Yet, every year I find myself participating in a white elephant gift exchange. And I go through the same process each time: I glance through my books and DVDs, completely uninspired because I don't own things that I don't want. Then I look through my one box of odds and ends and try to imagine different scenarios where someone could possibly think that this Rubiks Cube is hilarious or that stapler is somehow ironic because it's so mundane but by unexpectedly taking it from its normal on-the-desk setting is just bizarre enough to slay the crowds. (I think it's pretty clear that I'm an awful white elephant gift giver.) This year I thought I'd pander to the crowd's sense of nostalgia: I made some bead geckos. Best-case scenario someone in the crowd remembers making them as a child and offers a modest giggle at the memory. Worst-case scenario no one gets it and we awkwardly move on.
I always wrap my measly offering in beautiful wrapping, so at least people know I didn't fish it out of my glovebox right before entering the party. And so I arrive. Beautifully wrapped present in hand. And as I make small talk in a corner of the room while holding a plate with mozzarella cheese sticks and cucumber slices, the white elephant exchange is looming. At least five times throughout the evening I regret bringing a gift at all and consider slipping my present into my purse, mumbling something, and leaving with haste.
But I stay. I stay because part of me has always wanted to be the hit of a white elephant party. For my present to be completely perfect for the audience, for the opener to deliver the perfect combination of glee and gasping laughter, and for everyone to want to steal my gift.
Not only does that never (ever) happen, but the person who is the hit of the white elephant party always seems to end up with my gift. And they are always disappointed. This year was no different. The absolute hit of the party was a guy who brought a hardcore bow and arrow wrapped in a huge 3'x3' cardboard exterior. Everyone laughed, everyone gawked, everyone was jealous of the girl who unwrapped the bow and arrow. And this young hit-of-the-party fellow got my bead geckos.
Death to the white elephant.
Afterthought: I hate people that show up looking hot to an ugly sweater party. It's like they know everyone is going to look their homeliest and they conveniently "forget about the ugly sweater part" of the ugly sweater party and show up looking dazzling so that, by comparison, they're stunning beauties. Those rascals. I wore my ugly sweater proud.