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December 6, 2019

The Gift Game; A Game of Envy and Stealing for Large Families (that can save you money)


My kids were small and my budget was smaller the year I rolled out the Gift Game. 


Once upon a time, every Christmas, I felt compelled to dream up, find or make the perfect gift—or even something vaguely useful—for seventeen members of my family and fourteen members of my husband’s family. But one particular year, I realized that my joyous Yule-tide season had turned into “the Nightmare before Christmas”. Tim Burton stole my title idea. 


Seriously, that year I had about $3 to spend per person, including tax. Ummm, gumballs anyone? A lotto ticket? A four-roll pack of generic TP? 


Worse than the money situation, was the situation in my brain. If you’ve ever parented toddlers you know that by child #2, your brain cells throw their little hands up and go on vacation, like “we’ll be back when your life becomes sane again”. 

See ya later amygdalater.


I ask you, who can possibly come up with something creative without your brain cells? And who has time to spend more than the 10.3 minutes necessary to grab bananas, cereal, milk and peanut butter in any store, with toddlers? 


This was light years before online shopping. 


So I proposed the gift game to my side of the family first; testing the waters with people I’m comfortable fighting with. You know what I mean. 

It was circa Thanksgiving dinner and it went like this.


“So, I’m not getting gifts for everybody, their stepkids and boyfriends this year. I can’t afford it. Also it makes me miserable. Also also, as most of you know, I’m a recovering people-pleaser and giving gifts to this many people requires at least 3 months of PPA meetings to process. How about we try something *new*?” 


In my family, new is preferable. We’re categorically allergic to dust, rules, and traditions-for-traditions-sake. 


I’ll skip to the part where they all admitted being equally annoyed spending vast amounts of money on crap that may or may not be liked, used, or re-gifted. Being spiritually superior, we devoted a few vehement moments to verbally protesting the evils of consumerism. Then we plunged headfirst into this new territory of The Gift Game.


It goes like so;

Pick a theme. Laugh and make fun of each other’s ideas until everybody agrees on one.

Each person who participates brings a gift on theme, within whatever dollar amounts is decided. We do $20-$25.

Play the white elephant game with the gifts. 


The White Elephant Game

Everybody draws a number that determines what order to go in. 

Each person picks a gift to open—or if they covet something already opened, they can pick that, instead of an unopened gift. (Really, this is a game of envy, discontent, and stealing. 

It’s a little Christmas bonus to play it with family where we all know best how to push each other’s buttons, and nobody ever fights fair. But it’s fun, I promise.)

We set a three-owner rule so no item can be perpetually stolen. No direct steal-backs. 

And the person who draws number one, gets a bonus round at the end, to steal any still-eligible gift.  


That first year our theme was “Something to do on a cold winter’s night”. 

It sounds so romantic and nostalgic, doesn’t it? 

Here’s the reality of that theme. 


We opened several board games, some movies/popcorn/cocoa gift baskets. There was a super soft, snuggly blanket and book, a huge gorgeous puzzle, a winter sleigh ride gift certificate. (This was also light years before gift cards.) The fancy dried fruits, sausages, and cheese gift basket was the most-coveted gift. We’re a food-motivated family. 


And then… a pack of condoms; extra-ribbed for her pleasure and glow-in-the-dark. This accompanied a bottle of whip cream and a c*** ring, which sent us scurrying to shield the innocent’s eyes. Let us all be thankful that Google wasn’t invented yet because a certain maiden aunt may have looked up what that even was. Pretty sure I saw her thumbing through the “C” Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Later in the game, a rather lovely purple vibrator was unwrapped. 


I mean, we’re from the Colorado mountains so things of this nature certainly aren’t at odds with a cold winter’s night. The theme was brilliantly adhered to.


Besides a 6-month-long fight over what was wildly, “sinfully”, inappropriate from the religious sector of the family, and what was hysterically funny from the jokesters, the real problem with these gifts is who’s going to outwardly admit they really really want them? 


It was enough of a win (money-saving, inappropriate, nontraditional) that first year, we’ve been playing the gift game ever since. My husband’s family embraced it soon after and by then we had most of the kinks worked out. They also added a “creativity gift pot” to incentivize putting thought into the gifts. 


The Creativity Gift Pot

Everybody puts $2 cash into the hat.

After the Gift Game is complete, we all cast a vote for which gift is most unique, creative, or on-theme. You’re not supposed to vote for your own but I suspect certain family members do. The votes are tallied and whoever brought the winning gift gets the pot. With the number of players, our pot can be around $50.


Here are some of our other successful themes;

-Something that begins with the letter “S”.

-A consumable gift (think candles, fancy lotions, or food/chocolate/wine)

-Something handmade. (We have a metal artist, painters, crafters, and excellent bakers.)

-A gift of “The Element’s; Earth, Fire, Water, Air”, (wood, metal, and crystals could also be included. We had everything from salt rock lamps to plants, fans, and fountains.)

-Something soft.

-Dimensions of 24 inches or more. (This could be length, diameter, height. We had camping chairs, umbrellas, fancy kites, rugs, yoga ball with mats.)

-Something that begins with the first letter of your first name.

-An activity. (Paint-by-numbers, group games, bocce ball sets, jump ropes and sidewalk chalk, ice-skating tickets, aquatic center memberships)

-Something blue. (In a family of Broncos fans, guess what the unofficial theme was?)

-Media. (DVD’s, music downloads, Netflix subscription, magazine subscriptions, movie theatre tickets)

-Something that brings joy.

-A gift to Charities. (Wrap up the brochure or information about the charity chosen. Local animal shelters, organizations that fight human trafficking, or dig wells, or clean the oceans. Talk about why each person chose a particular charitable organization.) 

-Gifts from Walgreens. (Or Home Depot, or any other interesting store. We fought most over the mini Fry-Daddy and the Hot-Air Popper.)


This year I proposed we gift an experience that the Receiver does with the Giver. Like museum, baseball, train ride, or cave tour tickets. A painting class. Concerts, fondue, zip lining, or brunch. The idea might lead to spending time with someone in the family we normally don’t. Or trying something we usually won’t. 


Additional guidelines to consider.

-No animals.

-Try to be age-appropriate for anybody, especially if you have teens and grandparents playing.

-Gender-neutral gifts are key.

-We had to ban gift cards—after two straight years of exchanging mostly gift cards.

-Bring something you want. That way, if it’s not popular, at least you’ll be happy to get it.

-Start early. We often plan the theme for next year, after we’re done playing the game.


Whether you gift or whether you don’t, may you have very lovely winter nights. May you invite new things. And may your Holiday Season glow bright with the beauty and warmth of purest Joy.  


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