I am a part of a huge family — my mother has 23 first cousins — and when we all get together at Christmas it can be overwhelming.
Food is not a problem in an Italian family like mine, and there’s plenty of space for us to hang out at my uncle’s house in New Jersey. The real issue would come when it was time to exchange gifts.
For years we had been drawing names from a hat, so that each adult bought one gift to the party and received one in turn. Everybody liked to give toys to the kids, so they were covered.
But the kids are older now, less prone to be showered with gifts. And the gift exchange was starting to take so long that the older relatives were falling asleep bythe end of it. So last year we switched over to Dirty Santa, a Christmas game in which each person brings an inexpensive gift —we settled on $20 — without a specific recipient in mind. Each person gets to open one gift, but if she doesn’t like it, she gets to swipe a better gift that’s already been opened by someone else.
Last year the hot item was a Bluetooth speaker that swapped hands several times before landing in my lap and was then promptly swiped by my son. The crop of gifts was stocked with local art from the various cities we live in and curious items that revealed more about the giver than the receiver, like the set of Chinese puzzles my father brought to the table and ultimately took home, reclaiming the gift at the last minute from a cousin who he felt didn’t fully appreciate it.
The fun, of course, is in the game — the scheming, the plotting, the bargaining. It takes less time than the traditional opening of the gifts, and it’s more fun because everyone is an active participant rather than just sitting around watching the kids open toys. It also gives us a chance to interact in a meaningful way with the people we only see a time or two a year. The gifts, though not personalized, are definitely fun.
And let’s face it: Nobody needs another sweater.