Friday, December 12, 2014

Family Gift Exchange

The very first year of my family’s annual Christmas gift exchange, I received a pair of Bubba teeth…and I literally started crying.

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For 2 consecutive years after that, I got silver travel coffee mugs.  

I love coffee.  I really do.  In fact, I list it as one of my passions.  “What is your passion?” people will ask, and I’ll say, “Oh, I’m lucky.  I don’t just have one passion.  I have several:  writing, working out, reading, traveling, and coffee.”

But a silver travel mug?  Again?  I mean, come on, fam, at least be a little bit creative.  Get a cute Starbucks travel mug with all of those sparkly Christmas designs or something.  A silver travel mug just sucks the fun right out of taking your coffee anywhere with you.  If there’s one thing I thought my family couldn’t do, it was ruin my coffee-drinking experience with something like a shitty mug.  But they sure as hell have tried.

Then one year, I got a coffee mug warmer.  A fcking coffee mug warmer.  You know what I’m talking about—one of those little hot plates the exact size of a coffee mug that you take to work with you and plug in.

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Yes.  As if I’m going to haul that motherfcker to work, grab an extension cord, and risk blowing a fuse or starting a fire in the name of keeping my coffee warm…instead of just pouring another cup.

Holy shit.

I finally became convinced that my family had gotten a kick out of the year I cried over the Bubba teeth and began a competition to see who could make me cry the hardest by giving me the shittiest gift.  And you know what?  Homey don’t play that shit.

So last year, I finally sent my older sister a text that went a little something like this:

Your gift exchange sucks balls.  We’re out.

When my mom heard about my text, she got all sappy.  “But Shay,” she said, her eyes misting up.  “You’re like a little kid with your presents.  You love opening them, and watching you is part of the fun of Christmas for me.  I thought you loved gift exchanges…?”

“Not with the shit you guys give,” I responded.

On Christmas Eve last year, the night of our gift exchange, all of the adults let the kids play with the toys from their own gift exchange (that I kept my kids a part of—I wouldn’t punish them for my shitty gift-receiving experiences) while the adults sat around, drinks in hand, to begin theirs.

My husband and I sat on the couch exchanging smug looks.

The first gift was opened.  It was a rhinestone-encrusted pimp cup.

You have to understand:  Ten years ago, a pimp cup would have been a sought-after gift in our Dirty Santa-type exchange.  But we’re now all in our mid- to late-30’s with young kids and jobs.  There’s not a whole lot of time to go out drinking, and when we do make the time, getting up the next day with those young kids is a bitch.

So we usually pass on the idea of rum and coke-fueled pub crawls anymore, especially the kind where we’d have to order our drink, thrust a bedazzled pimp cup across the bar, and say, “Oh, and could you put it into this, please?”

My older sister started squealing and jumping up and down, clapping her hands together.  “Isn’t it great?” she exclaimed.  “And I found it for right at $25!”

Everyone else looked at each other, unsure.  My sister-in-law, the poor bastard who had received the cup, held it up for everyone to see.  She turned it this way and that, and I had the feeling that she was trying to showcase it in hopes that somebody—anybody—would steal it.

The poor thing doesn’t even drink.  What the hell would she do with a pimp cup?

My husband and I nudged each other and giggled.

The next person to go—not surprisingly—didn’t attempt to steal the pimp cup. Instead, my brother-in-law reached for the biggest box on the table.  He opened it, and the anticipation was excruciating—at least for him.  My husband and I relished every second of it.

“Oh, look,” my brother-in-law said.  I don’t know if he did it on purpose to show how unexcited he was or not, but his voice had gone completely flat.  “It’s a collapsible cooler.  And it’s pink.”

Everyone exchanged glances, and you could see the fear in their eyes.  What poor fcker would be forced to take that home?  And look how small it was—did somebody really spend $25 on that thing, or were they trying to save a little cash this Christmas season by going chintzy on the gift?

My husband and I hunkered down a little farther into the couch cushions.  We didn’t want to disturb the gift exchange with our laughter; it was too much damn fun to watch.

My older sister, the only person who was actually enjoying the gift exchange, was beaming, trying to keep the excitement alive.  Ooooh, I could use that for…well…something.  You guys better hope I don’t steal it!”  She looked around at everyone with bright, challenging eyes.

I could tell my brother-in-law found my sister’s comment encouraging, so I watched as he slid the cooler nonchalantly across the table in her direction.  As he did so, he looked at her.  “It is a really nice cooler,” he lied smoothly.  “I really hope you don’t take it from me.”

I watched my sister-in-law make a face at her pimp cup and then at the collapsible cooler as if trying to decide which would be less of a punishment to take home.  But she could have saved herself the trouble:  Nobody was jumping to steal the pink collapsible cooler, either, so there weren’t going to be any moves on her pimp cup, thus no chance for her to get a new gift.

The gift exchange was becoming stagnant.

Next was my younger brother.  He has repeatedly told us that without a wife or, sometimes, a steady girlfriend at Christmas time, he doesn’t get many gifts.  Every single year, then, that poor little fcker spends his hard-earned $25, hoping to get a really awesome gift in return.

His hopeful face landed on a medium-sized box wrapped in a manly-looking green with a larger, flat box tied to it.  He snatched it from the table and ripped open the wrapping paper.

“Oh,” he said as his face fell all the way down to the floor.  “A travel coffee mug.  Again.”  He opened the second box.  “And some chocolates.”

I knew what he was talking about; I, too, had at least 2 travel coffee mugs (see above)—all silver—in my cupboard from gift exchanges past.  And the only time I’d ever used the alcohol-infused chocolate I had received one year in an exchange just like this one was when the hubs and I had lived in a dry county and were desperate for a drink one night.  We ate the whole damned box and didn’t even catch a buzz.

Stupid chocolates.

When everything was opened and not one thing “stolen,” my older sister shot me a smug look of her own.  “Aren’t you sad you didn’t participate this year?” she asked.

I took a swig of my beer.  “Are you fcking nuts?” I replied.  I swept my arm around the room.  “All of that useless shit that you guys have to pack up in your cars just to drop off at the Goodwill only affirms my decision.  Bah-HUMBUG!”

My brother-in-law was standing right behind my sister, wearing his stupid pink cooler (that had conveniently come with a long, thick strap) across his body and nodding in agreement with me.  When my sister turned around, however, he quickly stopped nodding (because everyone’s afraid of her) and held up the cooler.

“Oh, I don’t know, Shay…this cooler’s pretty cool…”

Later, he tried to give it to me.  I wouldn’t accept it, but I took pity on him and filled it with a few specialty beers that I had bought for myself with the $25 I had saved by not participating in the gift exchange.

I got an e-mail from my older sister a few days ago.  The gift exchange is cancelled this year due to low participation.

I felt kind of bad that I had set the precedent that ruined the all the fun, especially when I realized last year that my family hadn’t been picking on me all of those previous years, trying to make me cry with awful gifts as I had suspected.  They simply sucked at picking out gifts.

What I felt even worse about, however, was that my husband and I weren’t going to get to watch anymore as faces—and even a few tears—fell as my family members unwrapped their awful gifts and realized that they were stuck with them.

What will the hubs and I have to revel smugly in this year?


  1. This post reminds me of when my Gramma still bought us all gifts. I'd wind up with sweaters that had fade lines from hanging on the discount rack, girls small panties that were never going to fit my ladies large ass, and other such treasures. If Grampa picked the gift things got even more hilarious because the man was the king of tacky. He knew I liked penguins so one year he was all excited to give me this plastic penguin with a huge ridge from the mold seam that looked like it had been painted by a toddler. My brother got a hammer that was supposed to spit out and a nail the first time you swung it and then hold the nail for you to hammer it in. Every time I see a commercial or ad for any gimmicky thing I miss the man.

  2. Hot plate for your coffee???! Seriously!?!? WHY?!?

  3. I'm sure you'll find something to revel in, Shay:) My mother-in-law used to dig crap out of her mother's bedroom and wrap it for white elephant exchanges. I'd leave mine hidden under the sofa when I left.