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The Work Gift Exchange: A Love/Dread Relationship

My friend Jen is back again! She told me she had some suggestions for plotting out the dreaded highly amusing work event: the holiday gift exchange. I figured, anything to save us all from the risks of a fourth copy of Jessica Simpson’s debut album.

So you’ve been invited to an office holiday party. Merry holiday to you! May the conversation not be awkward and the potato salad at the potluck not be of questionable safety!

Different workplaces approach the gift-giving aspect of the holiday party differently, but every place I’ve ever worked asked attendees to bring something. Some places do a secret Santa, where you pick a name out of a hat and get a specific person to buy for, but my current workplace does what they call a Yankee Trader gift swap. I’ve seen the same idea described as a White Elephant gift exchange. Everyone brings a wrapped gift and puts it on the table (ideally in secret so nobody sees who brought which gift) and then when the party starts everyone picks a number out of a hat. First person picks a gift, and opens it in front of everyone. The second person can either open another gift off the table, or steal the first gift away – at which point the now-giftless person opens another one. It goes on like that until everyone has a gift, and then the first person who started the whole game gets one last swap1.

It’s fun to watch the great gifts get stolen – chocolate is usually a winner, as is fancy coffee. But what’s even better is when the gifts are ridiculous. The person who’s stuck with something crazy then spends the whole swap trying to talk everyone else into stealing the gift away. And sometimes what you think is a nutty gift is something a colleague will find useful or hilarious!

Last year’s big hit with my group was the Mr. T talking keychain. The guy who opened it didn’t want it stolen, because he loves the idea of muting conference calls with the corporate office, and hitting the “Quit your jibber-jabber” button over and over as a self-soothing mechanism.

A phone off the hook with a 'Mr. T in your pocket' keychain positioned at the mouthpiece.

The “Snapjack” pancake cutter didn’t go over quite as well, but listening to my boss come up with other uses for it was like the world’s best infomercial. You could use it for regular pancakes, but it’s tough enough to get through blueberry pancakes! Banana pancakes! Buckwheat pancakes! The possibilities are endless! And you could probably also slice waffles with it! Maybe drip wax on letters, stamp them with the Snapjack and call it your new formal seal!

Sleeved blankets show up at these exchanges a lot, and I don’t know why they get such a bad rap. You look a little dorky, maybe, but as a person who’s always cold, I see the utility. Also, they come in superhero prints now. Why be cold when you can be dorky Superman?

There’s really no good reason for the existence of a plastic banana protector with a carabiner clip, but I just love that someone looked at our hectic, wonderful world and thought “hey, you know what’s missing here? A PLASTIC BANANA PROTECTOR WITH A CARABINER CLIP.” You keep doing you, humanity.

Of course, you may want to get something nice for your coworkers. Maybe you like them and want them to leave the party with a smile. I love magnetic poetry kits in general, but an office-themed one full of buzzwords is especially fun if you work in a place that values synergizing potential user-driven collaborative endeavors to maximize productive end-game reliability. And this passive-aggressive notepad is probably encouraging a bad attitude in the workplace, but filling it out for irritating infractions, even if you never send them to the perpetrator, is oddly satisfying.

Or you could buy a gift card, but then you’d be boring. Don’t be boring.

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1 Natasha here: I have never played this variant. Usually being the first to pick is just the worst position.

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