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“Latins are tenderly enthusiastic. In Brazil, they throw flowers at you. In Argentina, they throw themselves." -- Marlene Dietrich

The hurtful ramifications of White Elephant (AKA Dirty Santa or Yankee Swap)

You can call this barbaric game of unwanted gift exchange anything you want. But if you’re going to play it – either with your family or your office – just know that you may end up hurting someone’s feelings.

During my office’s holiday luncheon yesterday in Alexandria, we played a popular game that would have made Jesus himself weep: White Elephant. This game takes the very opposite elements you want to foster in a productive workplace -- deviousness, thieving, and mocking – and makes them crucial to the game’s “fun”.

And by “fun”, I mean hurting a co-worker’s feelings.

A white elephant, for those wondering, is usually something lying around the house that you no longer want and would rather pawn off to unsuspecting fools who are supposed to appreciate it.

This game is evil. It almost caused a family feud last Christmas at The Princess’ aunt’s house. It can turn brother on brother, cousin on cousin, and, as nearly happened today, co-worker on co-worker.

Our office set a limit of $10 per present. This penny-pinching standard resulted in a selection of the crappiest presents this side of the Potomac. Purple socks, candles, and coffee mugs were just some of the examples. The most sought-after gifts, by contrast, were a teddy bear, Starbucks gift cards, and a model airplane.

Not exactly what a 6-year-old would like under the tree on Christmas morning.

I selected sixth (out of 29), which turned out to be disadvantageous. Being the egoist that I am, I decided to pick the largest gift available. I unwrapped the heavy box only to find something so grotesque it would have made an angel’s head explode.

A large, ceramic Reindeer Pulling Sleigh from some crazy outfit called Living Quarters.

I was speechless. But since I use humor as a defense mechanism, I mocked it. To big laughs. As my co-workers continued to pick presents and avoid stealing mine, I continued to ridicule it.

“Hey, Fellow Co-Worker,” I shouted, “you sure you want that cool, electronic Sudoku gadget? Wouldn’t you rather like a large, ceramic Reindeer Pulling Sleigh? No? You’re good? Ok.”

When the Satan-spawned “game” was finished, I started to wonder if anyone would notice if I “accidentally” left the present at the restaurant, when Mr. Ceramic Reindeer Pulling Sleigh himself came up to me and told me it was his present.

“My wife bought it, she was very proud of it,” he told me.

“Oh really?” I replied.

“The picture on the box really doesn’t do it justice.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s very nice,” I said.

“You know how much that’s worth?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do,” I said. “Ten bucks.”

“It’s worth $60,” he retorted. “My wife got it on sale.”

“I can tell.”

At this point, Mr. Ceramic Reindeer Pulling Sleigh was visibly hurt. I tried to make him feel better, as if I really were part of the ceramic Reindeer Pulling Sleigh demographic.

“I’m just kidding, it really looks great. I’m sure my girlfriend will like it, too.”

Maybe she WOULD like it. Maybe it would be kitschy. Maybe it would be one of those cool conversation pieces we could have in our living room.

When I came home last night, I showed The Princess the gift.

“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?” she said, horrified.

“I won it,” I said. “At the office holiday luncheon. Want to keep it?”

“I think you know the answer to that one.”

Well, maybe not. I’ll just hang on to it until next year’s office party.
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