My holiday rant

Yes, it’s that time of year. When we celebrate the joys of giving and receiving and express thanks for all we have. Unless of course you’re at a party where a reprehensible game called ‘Dirty Santa’ is played.

If you’re fortunate enough to have missed this display of ingratitude, it is a variation on the basic Secret Santa game. While the ‘dirty’ part may conjure up unpleasant images of grubby beards and inappropriate trouser bulges, it is essentially thievery. Each person anonymously brings a wrapped Christmas gift of a pre-determined amount. You then take turns to open one of the gifts and display it to the group. The dirty part comes in when, if  you do not like your present, you may take one that someone else has selected, regardless of whether they want to keep it or not. And when I say take, the word used is ‘steal’. There’s no asking if the other person would like to swap, you just go and rudely grab their gift. Apparently this makes it ‘fun’.

There are so many appalling elements to this it’s hard to know where to begin my griping. But first I should point out that Secret Santa is played in England. I’ve therefore had my fair share of rubbish gifts – squatting gnomes, bowls of pot pourri, Yardley’s Lavender talc circa 1972. I have discreetly left my gifts on the tube ride home or in a rubbish bin and bitched about them later in the pub. What I have not done, is poutily announce that I do not like my gift and then flounce around the room and take someone elses. At least not since I was about 3 years old.

I unwittingly participated in this hideous game at the Christmas party for my Activity Director’s association.  We were asked to bring a gift of up to $20.  I will freely admit that my gift – Starbucks coffee and chocolates – was not the most original, but selected on the basis of being something harmless that I myself would enjoy.  As no-one actually saw me bring the gift, I could have easily selected my own but this seemed rather churlish and not in the spirit of the game.

My first issue is having to open my present in front of people. I have written about this before and know it is my foible, but this was not done in my childhood. We all opened our presents in varying degrees of fervour and once done, showed off our bounty to the rest of the family. As there were only 4 of us, this went by nice and swiftly, leaving plenty of time for my brother to break all my gifts before we ate. Unfortunately, my husband grew up with the one person-one present policy. As in, you unwrap your gift, show it off and then you all discuss it. This is terribly awkward for me. It feels too much like the ‘giving of the peace’ in church where the service stops and you have to turn around and shake hands with all the people around you and mumble peace be with you. This is not a good addition to the Church of England. It will only lead to drumsets and clapping.

The Secret Santa gift I selected was a card-making kit.  ‘Card-Making by the Number, with the subtitle ‘Everything you need to create 50 cards’.  Unfortunately it did not contain any sort of dissuasive technique to stop me going to Target and buying my own cards, but for women of a certain age and disposition I can see that it might wile away a few lonely hours while you wait for the glue to dry on your cat’s bedazzled holiday vest.

Did I say any of this? No. I stood in front of a group that was smiling at their own good fortune and mentally crossing Card Making for Idiots off their steal list and said “oh look, it’s card making by the numbers,  but unfortunately I’m no good at maths, haha” A disparaging remark against myself and not the gift.

To be fair, there was some fun to be had. One woman received a large carved wooden cockerel which led to much smut-talking at my table for reasons that hopefully don’t require explanation. And the woman who selected the envelope containing a Christmas card with a $20 bill inside was very happy. She then informed the group that she was the one who had brought it. Delightful. She probably also brings out a bag of lovely marshmallows when serving hot chocolate to her nursing home residents and then stands and eats them in front of them all. Sadly though, the $20 bill was the most popular gift in the room and was stolen 3 times before being declared out of play. Surely if a $20 bill is the most popular gift, then the whole game is rather pointless.

As the game progressed, there was a lot of eye rolling and sighing whenever someone unwrapped a gift they didn’t much fancy. And then outright displays of rudeness. At one point, this rude cow walked up to the table, picked a bag containing lots of candy and said, “oh no I don’t want that, I could buy that for myself.” She then walked around the room and stole the $20 bill, presumably so she could go and do exactly that.

And while I’m on the subject of manners, I was recently chatting with a friend who was purchasing food for a dinner party. She mentioned how difficult it was to know what to cook with everyone’s dietary restrictions. I thought she meant things like dairy or nut allergies, or even vegetarianism, but no, these were simply her guests unsolicited likes and dislikes. As in, I don’t really like mushrooms, or broccoli or berries. Well the simple answer is shut your mouth and don’t bloody eat it then.

There seems to be an expectation these days (and yes, I did say ‘these days’, it’s the peril of turning 47 in less than a month) that we should all be catered to and get exactly what we want, with little consideration for others. I have decided it’s the return mentality. In the majority of stores here you can return anything you want, without question. You don’t have to make up a reason, you can simply say ‘I changed my mind’ or ‘I didn’t like it’. In England, I always planned ahead for a return and would concoct an elaborate story about why I couldn’t keep the item. The sales assistant would then carefully examine the item and possibly call over an assistant before agreeing to the return and I would leave the store feeling appropriately scolded for my stupidity.

Having ranted about it at the time, I was not going to write about this ridiculous game.  But then this morning my Lean Lifting coach mentioned that we would be playing it at our holiday party and that set me off again. Erik fears that I am turning into my mother, on account of my regular use of the words ‘ridiculous’, ‘disgraceful, and ‘in my day’. Given that she is now in her ‘home for the confused’ (replacing my old term of endearment, the ‘crazy house’ which not everyone seems to appreciate) this does not bode well for my future.

I no longer have the Card Making by the Number set as I have regifted it to my nursing home Activity Department. I suspect I may well see it again this time next year.