Every year since I can remember, my mom has hosted a Christmas party for her lady friends at our house. They come over, there’s food and drink and uproarious laughter and chatting throughout the evening, and the centerpiece of the whole affair is the cut-throat Yankee Swap. Some people know these as “white elephants,” though I think that name is weird, lame, and makes no sense, and everyone has their own variation of the rules. So here are the real rules. Take note!
- Everyone brings a gift, worth up to a previously agreed upon amount, wrapped and anonymously placed in a pile.
- Everyone draws a number from a hat at random, going from 1 up to the number of guests participating. Let’s say 10 for this example.
- Number 1 starts by selecting a gift and opening it.
- Number 2 does the same; after opening, Number 2 can steal Number 1’s gift, replacing it with their own. Or not.
- This goes on for the rest of the people there, up through Number 10, allowing anyone to swap gifts with someone who went before them.
- You can choose to have another round of stealing and swapping if you choose. I recommend it!
- Poor Number 1, you say, they never have had a chance? Not so! Number 1 gets the final pick of the game.
- Swap post-game as well if you’d like–but no bitching about what you ended up with in front of everyone else!
(Also of note, my friend Kim aka Domestocrat wrote up a great guide to Yankee Swaps recently. You should read it! Great suggestions, lotto tickets aside. 😉 )
As long as my mom has hosted this party, I’ve been not-so-subtlely interested in poking my head and being part of the fun. When I was younger, this included literally poking my head into the room, getting to sit with my mom during the swap and essentially dictate which gift we took that year, and my dad occasionally retrieving me so the ladies could have their fun kid-free. In retrospect, my mom earns her status as Awesome Mom yet again for being so very patient with me for all of that!
The ladies could get quite carried away–none of us will forget the off-c0lor comment made one year about creative uses for a Christmas-themed shower curtain!–and in high school my friend Nicole always wanted us to be at my house when the party was going on because of how ridiculous and loud they got!
Another tradition since forever in my family at this time of year is my dad’s village. This actually started with my Nana, dad’s mom. She had these small cardboard houses with big holes cut in the back, through which big colored light bulbs would be placed. The front windows the little houses were colored tissue paper, and she would set these up on a bed of fake sparkly snow around their tree. My dad inherited this lovely little collection of probable fire hazards and began setting it up across the mantle in our living room, where we have our tree. Over the years, the little houses gained a ceramic population, cars, additional buildings, and eventually began to be replaced by larger ceramic buildings, increasing in size every year until there was a grocery store, a bank (Hallahan Trust!), Santa’s Workshop, an Inn, a Bakery and Cafe, the Old North Church, a greenhouse, a covered bridge, homes with families, a newsstand, a baseball park, even a snack booth! The 70’s tastic glitter-spattered snow was replaced by softer fluffs of cotton, the tiny trees had taller replacements, the light bulbs in the houses were white and it was overall less likely to cause an immolation that could swallow our home, and there are even working streetlamps.
As a child, I would take the little people and their cars and pets and play with them. As both the village and I grew, I just loved seeing it on the mantle every year, loved finding something new to add to it as a Christmas gift for my dad. It presented the image of this kind of Hallmark card, warm-fuzzy movie view of everything Christmas should be, without being corny or cheesy, but just being lovely and simple.
These are some of the things that signify Christmas to me, and I wish I had more pictures of both to share in this post.
This year, I dropped by the house a few Sundays ago to bring back some borrowed items, and also to mark a turning point to seasonal adulthood. With my nephew being ten months old and suddenly mobile, my dad can’t put the ceramic and very breakable houses down at prime pulling-things-off-shelves-cause-I-can height, so he asked if I would like to borrow some of the houses to make my own village this year. I think I said “Yes, absolutely!” before he was even done asking. To my delight he had five buildings to offer that he couldn’t use, along with a few people to populate the new hamlet. The exchange happened to occur on the same Sunday afternoon that my mom was having her Christmas party–great! I thought. Perfect timing to grab some good food and a glass of wine while I’m there. A winner of a Sunday if ever there was one!
Saying hi to my mom’s friends, who have known me my whole life, they were asking questions about what I was doing, my job, my game, my boyfriend, etc and so on, and when time for the lunch came, swiftly asked me to join them at the table. Happily doing so, my quick visit turned into spending the whole afternoon at the house, sitting in on the Yankee Swap to see what was brought and what the hot item to swap for was this year, and was told next year I had to bring a gift so I could actually take part in it!
At the end of the day, I took home leftovers and ceramic houses, and after 30 years of being the daughter of the woman who hosted the party and the man who set up the village, I was suddenly setting up my own village and being asked into the room to join the conversation and the laughter instead of sneaking in and wondering what the adults were discussing. To top it all off, this year will be my first time of having my boyfriend share Christmas Day with me and my family.
Suddenly this year, it’s Christmas and I’m a grown-up.