It’s that time of year again…the reason for the season…The Dirty Santa Game.
In some regions it’s called the White Elephant Gift Exchange, Parcel Pass or Yankee Swap (appropriately named by Southerners because the rest of the country is not to be trusted). No matter what the name, it’s the crux of all good holiday parties. Eats, drinks and merriment cannot exist without fights, steals and piece of shit pawn-offs from the back of your closet.
I know you’re wondering where this ritual came from. You’re in luck! I’m naturally didactic!! White elephants are sacred in Southeast Asia. Because of this, laws protect them from being used as work animals. Thus receiving one as a gift is simultaneously both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because the animal is sacred and a sign of the monarch’s favor, and a curse because the animal has to be retained and can’t be put to much practical use, at least to offset the cost of maintaining it.
As far as how it became a party game, nobody really knows. Many attribute it to rich socialite Ezra Cornell (co-founder of Western Union and Cornell Univ)…which is why I should NOT be looked upon with disgust when reflecting aloud “I wonder what the poor people are doing…” while shoving Peppermint Bark down my piehole this year.
I admit. It’s no longer 1842. The game has changed. What was once, I assume, an intimate-friends-only trading tournament of exotic birds and trunks full of spirit photographs is now a humdrum social obligation of school coupon books and free credit card enrollment t-shirts.
So in honor of this calendared giving month and to help you endure another holiday party procedure, I have put together a Dirty Santa Survival Guide. Print it, store it, live it, re-gift it! You may just go home with that Darth Vader voice-changing mask this year after all!
There are only two types of parties where this game will take place: The Friend Party and The I-Hardly-Know-These-People Party
The Friend Party is easy. You know the other guests well enough to know they’ll either all be fighting over those hilarious fake teeth ice trays or selling the crap out of the Morris Day & The Time CD to everyone else. It’s fun. It’s lively. It’s the way Ezra intended.
The I-Hardly-Know-These-People Party, on the other hand, takes a little more Machiavellian reservation. Your festivity foes here are people you work with/for, people your significant other works with/for, people you go to church with or people with whom you share some sort of self-righteous interest. All that is to say, these are the people you don’t want to know “the real you.”
Of course you don’t want Betty Boop salt and pepper shakers. Nobody does! But you can’t go all Classic Die Hard Christmas about it. You have to control yourself to get what you want, and the best way to do that is to know the move of every Hans Gruber in the room.
#1) The Fake-Out Wrapping:
You think this is a no-brainer, but hold up, yo. This shit’ll trip yo’ ass.
Yes, there’s at least one scrapbook supply seller at every party in America who can turn that disgustingly smelling votive into a Tiffany’s wrapped dream, so it is wise to beware of pretty packages. BUT, remember SALAD! : “Scan, Assess, Listen and Deceive” Single men can’t wrap for shit. Don’t try to argue that you’re going to a theatre company’s party and they’ll be lots of single gay men. Hear me! Single men don’t wrap! However, when going to I-Hardly-Know-These-People Parties, they like to impress, so be on the lookout for store wrap jobs. What do those look like? It’s all in the bow. Fake fruit or glitter bobbles attached = dead giveaway.
Let’s recap: Scan incoming guests for single men (if you’re a single woman, you’ve already done this). Assess their package (not that one…stay focused!). Listen for clues (if he b-lines to greet the boss, gold is in them their hills!). And Deceive everyone in the room by going right for his present when your number is called.
#2) The Present Placement Pickle:
Going for SALAD gifts could prove difficult depending on when he arrives. If the party is being dictated by a hostess, the SALAD schmuck was doted on the second he got there and his present was whisked away to safe keeping. Basically, I suggest staking out a spot near the gifts with your jacket, purse or stadium chair, getting your food as soon as it’s uncovered and let the party come to you! This way you see each gift as it’s brought in.
This is also good if you brought something you really want picked. Some of you losers may have gotten your Dirty Santa gift months ago and have been checking Facebook every day for a holiday party invite. If you’re early to the party (which, if you’re that into this fucking game, you probably will be), your present will be buried by cooler guests’ gifts. You may want to continuously move your gift to the top of the pile. No one will care if you do because no one ever pays any attention to you anyway.
#3) The Extra Gifter
You know who they are. They’re every party’s camp counselor. They’re the person who comes early to help in the kitchen. They’re the person who greets people even though it’s not their house. They’re the secretary…be it at the office or of the club. But when it comes right down to it, they know they’re better than you. They know you are an idiot and will not remember to bring a Dirty Santa gift for every person in your family and then they can sweep in as the hero when your 3 year old daughter is crying because she doesn’t have a present to open. Don’t be fooled. The Extra Gifter is not there for you and your kid. She/He is there for personal glory.
Problem is, The Extra Gifter brings the shittiest, cheapest gifts of all because they had to spread the wealth. They bring items like LED Pig-Shaped Keychains, Hello Kitty Magnet Notepads and Plastic Faux-M&M Filled Candy Canes. They NEVER taste like M&Ms!
#4) The Nonchalant Gamer
This person rolls their eyes throughout most of the game. (No, this is not you and I – we roll our eyes internally – never show your hatred! Just smile and drink more.) No, this person is outwardly against the trivialities of this game and the consumerism of the season in general. But wait until he/she gets that Over-The-Maximum-Spending-Limit-Amount Starbucks Gift Card. Suddenly they’re not so loud. In fact, they may even try to escape the room altogether by going to get more food. It won’t work. Everyone wants what he/she’s got. Your job is to be patient, Danielsan, and hold off taking it from him/her until the second dope has. In the words of Ezra Cornell, “Don’t be deterred, be the third.”
#5) The Punk Kid
If the I-Hardly-Know-These-People Party that you’re attending is open to families, this might be the end of you. There will be at least two families there with terrible little spawn and you CANNOT hurt them…no matter how badly you want to.
You will be in particular trouble if these human-like creatures are between 8 and 11 years old and are the boss’ kid. You will have no choice but to graciously accept the fact that you will not be able to choose the gift you want from the pile. This self-appointed gift-dispensing brat will give you what he/she thinks you should have. And if you’re not good-looking, you’re probably screwed. (Don’t scoff…kids like good-looking people better. That’s science.) You will want to knock them to the ground when they bring you the “gift bag” gift (we all know what gift bags mean: lazy gift givers), but take it in stride because when that kid gets the iTunes gift card, you’re going to walk right over, pat him/her on the head and take it out of their elf-like hand while loudly proclaiming, “You’ve just made my Sponsored Chilean Orphan’s* Christmas wish come true.” The kid will cry, but even your boss will not feel bad at that point. Who knows, you might even get a bigger year-end bonus! (*Note: Always have a picture of a clothed Chilean kid in your wallet, should you need to prove it.)
I’m sure I’ve overlooked something in this Dirty Santa Survival Guide, so, in the spirit of giving, please comment below if you have other tips, tricks or trivialities regarding this ritual. It can only help us all. Perhaps one day, Ezra’s vision will be reclaimed…or we’ll all get so savvy about this game that people won’t want to play it anymore.
And finally, I wish you luck. Luck in competition. Luck in gifts. Luck in life.
For, the better you do, the better chance I get to take it from you! Happy Holidays!!
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