The Rules of Engagement: Surviving Your Next Yankee Swap

The Rules of Engagement:

Surviving your next Yankee Swap

I am usually not an extremist; that is to say that I am aware that there are many different points of view, opinions, and methods in the world, and maybe I am not perfectly right about everything. However…
When it comes to the Yankee Swap Christmas Party, there are only two kinds of people: Those who want to have an enjoyable time with their friends, family, and neighbors, and those who would rather bring about the end of the world. If Yankee Swap parties and bloodshed between friends and family are of any interest to you, allow me to elaborate.

Do you know that in one early form of 19th Century baseball, the runners could run the bases in either direction? Yes, clockwise as well as counterclockwise. Think of the confusion, trying to get a double play…The point is, we humans tend to improve things through the process of reiteration, and not all new ideas withstand the test of time. Having said that let me explain, for the benefit of you Yankee Swap Virgins, what the heck we’re talking about.
At a Yankee Swap party, each guest brings a wrapped gift to be placed under the tree (or Chanukah Bush, as the case may be). Many Yankee Swap parties have a gift theme, such as White Elephants, Under $20, Homemade Things, or the hugely popular Regifts From Last Year. When everyone has arrived, each guest pulls a number from a hat, from one to X (number of guests/presents). #1 begins, and takes a gift from under the tree. She unwraps it in front of everyone, so they can all see what it is, and decide how much they should covet it.
Here, Dear Reader, there is a fork in the road. At this fork, you can go Right, or you can go Straight to Hell in a Handbasket. This choice is surprisingly difficult to make for many holiday revelers, and I’m hoping that after reading this, one of you can explain to me why that is.
If you want to go Right, the person holding #2 will either take (steal) the gift that #1 unwrapped, or choose their own gift from under the tree, and unwrap it in front of everyone else, who by now may be sharpening axes and knives. If you steal someone’s gift, that person then gets to pick and unwrap another present (They do not have the choice to trade this one).
If you want your party to go Straight to Hell in a Handbasket, #2 will instead pick a gift from under the tree, open it, and decide whether or not they like it, or would rather give it (stick the ugly, piece of shit homemade vase) to #1, and steal their gift. (Let’s face it, either way; it sucks to be #2. You only have one other gift to steal from, and if you happen to pick a really good gift, there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell you’re going to keep it through to the end.) Then, everyone goes in turn, either keeping the gift they opened, or stealing a previously opened one from a friend or loved one.
So what, you say, what could possibly go wrong? If you have been to as many Yankee Swap parties as I have (both kinds), you will know that there is a very tense interplay of dynamics during the gift selection. Take for example, this year, when my wife brought a small painting she had made. She, more than anyone else there, was very hopeful that the recipient would appreciate her painting. More than that, she might dare to hope that her painting would win the coveted “most-stolen gift” award, or even incite bloodshed or a long-lasting feud. (Yankee Swap experts take great pride in selecting a gift you will either hate or love; the middle ground of ‘safe’ or ‘family-friendly’ is for beginners. That’s why I usually bring a jar of cannabis, either it is greatly loved or causes discomfort and offense.)
Anyway, had we been at a Right party, someone choosing her painting would hopefully either love it or loathe it, and if they chose to spare her feelings, they would lie about loving it, and pray someone else might steal it. At a HH party, the person unwrapping my wife’s painting would have to reject it in front of everyone, and stick it to poor #1, who would then have to pretend to love it, as my wife is now in tears.
Do you see some of the subtle differences between doing it Right and going Straight to Hell in a Handbasket? At a Right party, no one’s gift is rejected after being opened. And, if your gift has been stolen, instead of being stuck with the reject, you get to choose your own replacement. Trust me, the emotional rollercoaster of the Yankee Swap party can very quickly devolve a well-dressed group of holiday revelers into barbarous, baby-eating cannibals.
Did I mention that it is a bad idea to throw a Yankee Swap party for your extended family? Come on, unless you’re the Cosbys (of yore, obviously), your family is probably not up to it. Don’t families have a hard enough time pretending to love each other during the Holidays? Aren’t things with Aunt Mavis hard enough without having to reject her hand-knitted mittens in front of Mother? I mean, the knitting is not bad for an ex-convict, but you never know if Mavis is packing or sticking to the terms of her parole.
The last thing you should know about a Yankee Swap party is that it is personal, political, or both. When someone steals your new Wahl wand with the extended attachment kit, you have two choices; you can hang your head and cry, hoping they will be shamed (weakling), or you can go into full-blown warrior mode and disparage her husband’s bedroom skills. By this time, everybody should be well-liquored-up, so the joke should be taken in the right light. Regardless of which kind of party you attend this holiday season, please remember that no friendship is more important than that Wahl wand.

Comments (4)

  1. Karin

    You are hereby elected umpire for our next Yankee Swap

  2. mary swersey

    I once won the most stolen gift award with my contribution of a pair of warm slippers in the shape of bear feet, complete with claws. I think they went through 17 owners that evening and went home with a thoroughly detested individual who couldn’t even fit into them. He claimed they were going to be a gift for his nephew. I think he just wanted to go home with them.

  3. mary swersey

    What is a wahl wand? I now avoid Yankee Swap parties like the plague.

    1. Bowen Swersey (Post author)

      Wahl wand is a personal massage device…


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