Damn Yankee swap

Our department holiday party/lunch is tomorrow, and I’m dreading it even more than usual. Not only is it tiresome to make chitchat with people you barely know (”So, what are your holiday plans?”), it’s being held at a churrascaria (and I’m not that big a fan of meat, let alone bacon-wrapped chicken hearts on swords). And, as usual, there’s going to be a Yankee swap.

Is the Yankee swap concept a common thing outside of New England? I’d never heard of it until I moved to greater Boston. I hate the venality and spitefulness. (”Haw haw! I just grabbed your giant chocolate bar and stuck you with this set of NASCAR decals!”)

My first one was at the editorial agency I temped at when I first moved here, and I wound up with a craft project gone horribly wrong: a tissue box cover shaped like a bed, all ginghamy and edged with lace, with a stuffed doll lying beneath the covers. You pulled the tissues through an incision in the girl’s torso. Just hideous.

We got an email this week specifying what was and wasn’t appropriate Yankee swap giftery:

We will be having a no purchase necessary Yankee Swap. The gift should be wrapped and anonymous. Please do not spend any money on the swap. Your gift could be a re-gift, joke, baked good or something that you have been just dying to pawn off on someone.

Please refrain from bringing in anything from the office. The “gift” should potentially be something someone may want. Items like office supplies, [my company’s products], and office furniture should be excluded from gift giving.

There goes my hopes of pawning off a fax machine on some intern.

7 Responses to “Damn Yankee swap”

  1. Terri says:

    Visit Terri

    There is something of the evil puritan (if that makes sense) in the Yankee Swap, I agree. I’m sure those emailed guidelines are supposed to simplify the gift giving, but it sounds to me like they unnecessarily complicate things. Why not just tell people that they need not spend money, and should just do whatever is easiest and most comfortable for them? And anyway, who’s going to give someone a filing cabinet in a Yankee Swap? Was that intentionally funny?

  2. LLA says:

    Visit LLA

    Growing up - I remember hearing these called “Chinese Gift Exchanges“, but I am pleased to report that a modicum of senstivity and Political Correctness has come to the South, and I now hear these referred to a “Dirty Santa” exhanges… (I also think that sometimes they are called “White Elephant” exchanges, but suspect that is when you have one at a random time of the year, like in July, or something… whatevs.)

    Since I never participated in one as a child, I don’t know if the “no purchase” thing was the norm, but as an adult I can tell you that you are expected to *buy* a gift. I am sure that a lot of regifting does occur, but it’s supposed to be something new and something someone would want…

    Bubba’s workplace does one every year, and they may be the exception to the “it needs to be something someone would want” rule - or maybe it’s a boy v. girl thing (since most Dirty Santa parties are hosted by/for women, it seems.) For his, it is expected to be a new gift, but they try to find the weirdest, tackiest, kitschiest thing one can find. (I suspect that a lot of gifts are purchased during the lunch hour at the novelty aisle of Walgreen’s shortly before the party begins. Lots of BigMouthBillyBasses, singing Hamsters, and the like.)

    Anyhoo - I’ll wind up the dissertation, and just empathize. I hate office parties (woohoo! one of the nice things about being unemployed is I don’t have to go to one!) and I hate being told what to do, so your scenario sounds ghastly to me….

    Of course, a churrascaria should have, if nothing else, really good caipirinhas…. that could help immensely…

  3. Ezra says:

    Visit Ezra

    The degree of evil really depends on the group of people doing it. My department’s Yankee Swap is usually fun, but you can buy gifts, and everyone tries to bring good gifts for the most part. Of course, that probably does make it worse for the people whose gifts end up getting treated like the crappy gifts. (That happened to the little persistence-of-vision LED sign I brought last year, but being me, I wasn’t hurt so much as I just thought “what the fuck is wrong with you people?! It’s an LED sign, for christ’s sake! LED signs rule!”

    My boss, though? Hates them. Hates them. Gets furious every time people talk about them. Always has a doctor’s appointment that day. I think you should come work for my boss. :)

  4. Flasshe says:

    Visit Flasshe

    We do the Yankee Swap at our project holiday party every year, though I’ve never heard it referred to by that name before (”White Elephant” is I think more common). We’re supposed to spend $10 or less, but some people spend more. Generally the gifts are not too bad or jokey (gift certificates are popular), but some always are. We had our party yesterday and I ended up with a USB light (for illuminating your laptop keyboard when on a dark plane, I suppose), which I really have no use for. But the snakey flexible neck of it is fun to play with. The worst gift someone got was a DVD with a demo of our application on it.

  5. 2fs says:

    Visit 2fs

    Never heard of this tradition, under any of the names mentioned. Yet more proof that I live beneath a well-secluded rock and was secretly brought to Earth having been brainwashed concerning my childhood on Mars.

  6. Paula says:

    Visit Paula

    I have participated in a so-called “Chinese Auction” (I like “Yankee Swap” better!) and it’s so much fun, it’s quite convivial and jolly, and sort of takes the pressure off having to make small talk.

    But of course, the most brilliant example of how this can go wrong is detailed in an episode of the US version of THE OFFICE…one of the best, most incisive episodes, in fact…like a Pinter play…

  7. amy says:

    Visit amy

    You know, I grew up in New England, and have worked in the same place for 10(!) years now, and I had never heard of a Yankee Swap etc. before 5 years ago, when my very small group joined forces with another small group to have holiday lunches.

    Sorry, they can kind of suck - I HATE getting crappy presents that I don’t want, but feel bad throwing away. Thank goodness for Freecycle.

  8. Alejandro says:

    Visit Alejandro

    This story is hilarious. I think getting the torso tissue box is priceless if only for the story you get to tell! I can just imagine you putting it over your kleenex box (”it was the damn gift I got, I might as well use it!”), then you and anyone else using it being so disturbed everytime you grab a kleenex! I love it! Thank you for sharing!

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