By Megan Canning
Every group has a different approach to a white elephant gift exchange. During the Christmas season of 2013, I had recently moved to a new town and gathered with a group of new friends for a festive get-together. Upon being informed that we would be having a white elephant gift exchange that evening, I looked up the tradition online. From what I read, I interpreted that I was supposed to wrap up a funny, useless item that I already owned and did not want.
I arrived at the party with my gift bag in hand. I placed it under the tree along with other beautifully wrapped gifts. After some socializing and snacks, the gift exchange began. The first gift was opened and it was a lovely Christmas mug filled with candy. I looked around to see if anyone else was as surprised as I was that such a nice gift was found under the tree. The girl next to me also looked a little puzzled. The next gift that was opened was a new Christmas CD that would provide its new owner with hours of listening pleasure.
“Did you bring a nice gift?” the girl next to me whispered. “No! Did you?” I asked. “Not at all,” she replied, looking horrified.
After several nice gifts had been opened, one unfortunate individual chose my gift bag from under the tree. He removed the tissue paper and discovered an old workout DVD titled The Firm, which had a dated cover image of a toned lady in a sports bra using a stepper. Upon closer inspection, he snickered, realizing the DVD was old and used. I felt my face redden as the recipient asked, “Who brought this?” I slowly raised my hand and lowered my eyes as laughter erupted around me.
The girl next to me whispered, “Don’t worry. Mine is way worse.” “I don’t see how that’s possible,” I replied, still embarrassed. But sure enough, the final gift to be opened was a small gift bag containing one item. It was a miniature rotten banana. Everyone burst into laughter. “You’re right, that is worse!” I chuckled.
The next year, we decided to hold another white elephant gift exchange. Having learned my lesson the previous year, I bought a nice box of chocolates to wrap up for the party. As we began the exchange, one of the first gifts opened made us all crack up. The Firm had returned. The lucky recipient of the workout DVD the previous year felt it appropriate to bring it back for someone new to enjoy.
We have continued with our white elephant gift exchange for six years now. Every year, we anticipate the opening of one gift in particular. When the workout DVD appears, everyone cheers, “The Firm!” I may have been embarrassed about the gift I chose to bring to our first exchange, but that same item has become a reminder every year of what is really important during the holidays: spending time with friends and family, laughing together and enjoying each other’s company.
Honourable mention: The purpose of Christmas
By Rachel Martin
It seems sometimes as though Christmas has lost its purpose. What was once a celebration of life has become a celebration of materials. Of course, there are those who can still recall the true meaning of Christmas, but there are many who can’t. It’s not that we have forgotten; we just need to be reminded.
For as long as I can recall, our family had our traditions, from finding the perfect tree to attending the evening mass. All these little details were our definition of Christmas. Mom and I would spend hours in the kitchen preparing an elaborate Christmas dinner, while the others sang and played gaily around the fire. The merriment of the carols and festivities filled the air for miles, infecting all who came across it. As the years passed, the traditions seldom changed, but our perspectives did.
Whereas our concerns had once been about the dinner or reunion, we were focusing more on having these superficial items for the children. It was easy to get whisked away in the glamour of technology and new invention. It was fascinating to be part of a changing world. We had grown so preoccupied with the sales and toys that we hadn’t made the time for an evening mass in years. It had become something of the past.
I can remember this particular Tip’s Eve very vividly. It was typically the morning which my father ventured into the woods to cut down the perfect tree. I was surprised when I woke to see my father still sitting in the den with his feet propped up by the fire. He most often would have gone by now.
I glanced out the window and the howling wind was thrashing about, carrying mounds of snow in whirlwinds of icy white. “All the roads are blocked,” my father explained glumly. “We aren’t getting anywhere today.”
I began to worry. There were gifts to buy, a tree to cut and dinner preparations, none of which could be done without a trip to town. Opening the front door was even an issue. A colossal snowdrift had built up, leaving us entirely snowed in. “Well, we will just have to wait till tomorrow then,” I sighed. “Not without a plow, we won’t,” he replied. “There isn’t a soul able to get through.”
Before I could speak again, the children had come down the stairs with boxes of trimmings for the tree. It broke my heart to tell them about the blizzard. Looking back on it makes it seem so silly, but at the time I was convinced Christmas was ruined.
I assured them there were plenty of other things to do while we waited out the storm, so we set to work baking cookies with the few ingredients we had. I stared longingly out the window for hours that day, watching the few people who weren’t snowed in dig out the other houses. They were slowly making their way up the street. The number of people increased as more were freed from their homes. Just before they could reach us, the sun set and I watched discouraged as they trekked home for the night.
That night, the few of the relatives who had arrived before the storm sat around the fire, sharing the remainder of the groceries between them. The holiday spirit had been soured by the blizzard, so nobody stayed awake for carols.
Our Christmas had fallen apart. No tree, no dinner and no gifts. We didn’t even have our whole family. We salvaged whatever we could from the pantry to make a Christmas dinner. It seemed so pathetic. The children had barely even left their rooms!
By nightfall, the neighbours still hadn’t come. After dark, we did, however, hear a knock on the kitchen window. Startled, I swung it open to see our neighbours standing there. They invited us to the local mass. It was a shock, for we hadn’t gone in years.
It was mere minutes before we had all climbed from the window into the drift below. We all trudged through the snow together and took the only seats available in the crowded church. Standing there in that room I felt so ashamed. I had completely neglected what the season was about. This was what it was about: Jesus, family and love.
There wasn’t a gift beneath the tree that morning, but we had all the joy we needed right there. You see, we hadn’t forgotten the meaning of Christmas. We just needed to be reminded.
This content originally appeared in YULETIDE PREPARATIONS, a SaltWire custom publishing title.