Tuesday, January 5, 2010

like a charm

Last night Mr. G, Mr. B and I snuggled up for some bedtime reading on the floor. Mr. G jumped up and ran across the room to grab a blanket--and he returned with a blue one. "Don't you want that nice new pink one over there?" I asked. He rewarded me with a look of pure disdain and scorned the huge pile of Pepto-Bismo-pinkness saying, "I like blue." Mr. B nodded vigorously. Score one blanket for Green Girl on merit of color. Snuggie satisfaction achieved.

And speaking of things that work like a charm, let me explain the Pirate Game (AKA "Dirty Santa", Blarney, get your mind out of the gutter!). For years and years Mr. D's family exchanged gifts with everyone, for everyone. This involved 8 adults and 7 grandchildren during the height of our consumerism--one year the gift opening lasted over four hours. For some families, the expense of buying that many gifts was overwhelming. For others, the sheer effort of shopping for that many people was a chore of Herculean proportions. (Okay, that was mostly my issue, but come on! We don't live near my in-laws, so finding gifts that they'd each like was no easy trick. Not liking to shop didn't help much--and mind you, younguns, this was in the days before Internet shopping.) The annual Christmas celebration had become Mostly Obligatory and Not Much Fun, certainly not the holiday God had in mind for us.

We didn't quit this tradition cold turkey. First we weaned things down to a gift exchange where we drew names. But now the kids (cousins) draw names and the adults play the Pirate Game (AKA "Dirty Santa"). Here's how it works:

1. We set a price limit--in our case $25 (in the past people have brought Godiva chocolates, liquor, games, golf balls, home goods, steaks, and Hawkeye/Badger gear)--and each person brings to Christmas one wrapped gift.
2. After the meal, the kids open their gifts and we get a lull in the football games on TV, the adults pile their "Pirate" gifts in the middle of the room.
3. Numbers are drawn (we use playing cards) to assign 1st, 2nd, and so forth to insure a random game.
4. The first person picks a gift from the pile and opens it.
5. The second person may steal the first person's gift or pick a new gift from the pile.
6. Each subsequent person may steal an already-opened gift or select a new gift from the pile. When a gift is stolen, the giftless person may then steal a gift from another player OR choose an unwrapped gift.
7. The last player has the choice of opening the remaining present and leaving it there to steal another already-opened gift.
8. The game continues until there is no gift remaining in the center.
9. You may not "steal back" a gift someone steals from you. (This does not preclude your spouse stealing a gift from you in order to free you up to steal back a coveted gift. Couples in our family totally team up against each other.)

I've heard of families who play this game using White Elephant gifts, only edible gifts, or only homemade gifts. This game worked like a charm in making our Christmas more fun and less tedious/expensive/work. Everyone looks forward to the game--some years people bring really funny gifts, other years (like this last year) all the gifts get swapped and stolen and the game lasts a long time. We laugh, rib each other about gifts from years past, and the older kids in the family look forward to when they can play with us because it's that much fun. And I, personally, remember a single gift won in a game more than I can recall who gave me what when I return home with a huge pile of stuff from everyone. In a weird way, the Pirate Game has made Christmas more meaningful and memorable.

Spill it, reader, do you play the Pirate Game at your Christmas? Does it work like a charm? If you don't, will you suggest it to your clan? No one in ours has ever regretted starting this tradition.


  1. That sounds like fun! We might try that next year when my sister comes to visit for Christmas. Usually it's just us and Dad so the gift exchange is minimal.

  2. Our extended clan unfortunately lacks the humor to appreciate the Pirate Game. On the other hand,the girlfriends have been playing for years. We either play with oddball items (Socks. That's entertainment. There is truly an endless variety of this seemingly ordinary item.) or with a price limit.
    We do cap the stealing of each item at three so the third person to steal a particularly coveted goody is the proud winner/recipient of that gift.

  3. Sounds like an excellent idea as there are a lot of us too, so i will definetly be suggesting it!
    Happy new year.

  4. We play this at our neighborhood Christmas party, and after a few drinks...well, it's pretty dang funny! You know, I never thought about doing it with the family, but it might be really fun!

    My mom does it with her brothers and sisters and there is always one white elephant gift stuck in (for some reason it's a pair of red patent leather hooker heels in size 10, if you knew all these 60+ low key siblings you would be shocked).

    I might suggest this to my mother in law rather than the boring gift process we have. Thanks!

  5. we used to do this at a quilting quild i belonged too -- once a quarter, with fabric -- total blast.

  6. I've only done this at parties--I will definitely suggest this once all the kids are grown up and married.

  7. I wish I'd known about this game before this Christmas! It would have been so much fun with my family...and would have relieved everyone of much gift-buying.

    ("Hawkeye/Badger gear"... *shudder*)

  8. Ww called it a Yankee Swap. Some years, we did it with gift cards. Everyone brought a few gift cards in plain white envelopes.

    One year my Mom put the gifts in a big bag and you had to earn your gift with a Christmas trivia question.

  9. A few years back, I introduced this to both family christmas celebrations we have, and everyone LOVES it. It's fun to shop for during the year, and the game aspect makes it a blast. We include everyone who wants to (this year, ranging from ages 3 to 96), so sometimes it's funny who gets what, but everyone (usually) ends up happy. It's great to see what is the hot gift (this year - a "fanny" bank - drop some loot and hear a toot) and what is a dud (this year? MY gift contribution -- the new cookbook from Coolio, which I thought would be funny but wasn't so much).

  10. What a great idea! This sounds fun, and would really work with my Mum's family here in the UK.

  11. We do this too! My mother and step-father have a party every Christmas Eve and it includes family and various friends. For a while we all tried to get everyone gifts, but it just became unwieldy and you would inevitably accidentally leave someone out.

    So now we do Silly Santa - only our addition to the rules is that a few weeks out we draw a letter from the bag of Scrabble tiles and your gift has to correspond to that letter in some way. Some of us get very competitive to see who can be the most creative with their $20 limit, so that adds to the fun as well.

  12. I'd like to do something like this. Even better, I'd like to dispense with gifts altogether. Unfortunately, no one else will give up the Annual Gift Orgy.

  13. Yes I'm the only pink blanky girl over here. No we've never played that one but we'll have to try it! xoxo


  14. We do this where I work now at our Christmas party and we did this where I use to work as well. It can be quit fun, but it can also drag on forever if rules aren't set in advance. Fun idea for the family!

  15. White Elephants it is! At our annual work party, that is.

  16. We don't play this at all, but I think it's a great idea. If we got together in a huge crowd, I'd vote for it indeed. Mostly, we do a food gift for all the neighbors and adults in our life (with extra gifts for parents and siblings). This year, everyone got a mason jar of hot fudge and a box of chocolate shortbread cookies. As well, we burned CDs of our favorite music in the Itunes.

  17. We do this with my Altar and Rosary circle. For a bunch of Christian women things do get UGLY! ;)

  18. Thank you for the idea! I have been looking for something else to suggest to the families, but since the creative part of my brain isn't my strong suit I had come up with nothing.


Spill it, reader.