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  • Kate Forest

Gift Exchange and other trials of a Jew at a holiday party

Yankee trader, Pollyanna, Secret Santa. Growing up in the middle of New York City, I had never been exposed to gift exchanges. Chanukah came with its candles, latkes, and gifts for the kids. I had friends that celebrated Christmas and when going to their house, I enjoyed the trees and decorations but was never involved in any of their family gift traditions.

It wasn’t until my first job after graduate school that I was invited to a co-worker’s “Holiday Party.” Let me take a moment to comment on the term “Holiday Party.” It’s a Christmas party, can we all accept that? I do. I accept that no one else at a Holiday party in the middle of white-bread Sacramento is celebrating anything other than Christmas. I appreciate the lip service, but let’s move on.

She mentioned that it would be a Yankee Trader party. I explained that I was a Mets fan and trades didn’t usually occur until closer to spring training. She informed me that I should bring a $10 gift wrapped and I’ll learn what to do when I got there. The first part of the party was great because there were Christmas cookies and Christmas music. And if there are two things Jews love, it’s Christmas cookies and Christmas music. (We also love Easter candy.) I met many lovely people, mingled and had a nice time.

Then the gift exchange was announced. When I had placed my gift in the pile with the others, I noticed that although I had purchased red and green wrapping, the other gifts had bows, glitter, ribbon, and little dangly bells. Mine already looked like a Jew had wrapped it.

Confusion reigned as numbers were chosen, gifts opened and stolen. And the pile dwindled as mine sat there, unloved for its plain appearance. My turn came to open a gift. It was an angel tree ornament. Everyone Oohed and Ahhed. I pasted on a very happy face as if to say, “I’m so excited for a tree ornament in the figure of a little angel complete with halo and hands held in prayer.” Yet, I hoped I didn’t look too excited because I was banking on someone grabbing mine and I could walk home with what I brought.

Eventually, someone opened my gift. It was a Far Side page-a-day calendar. Because Far Side was big back then, and who doesn’t love a one-a-day calendar? But alas, the swapping continued for a few more times and the little angel sat at my feet hoping a nice Christian person would bring it home, and some uninvolved/drunk person gave up and settled for my calendar.

Since this disaster, I’ve taken part in (and even facilitated for a group of writers) many gift exchanges. There are always different rules and elaborate wrapping. But two things remain constant: I’d rather go home with what I brought in with me and my gifts always look they were wrapped by a Jew.

And that angel ornament? I dropped it in a donation basket somewhere on the way home.

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