Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas - my present to you

I hated Secret Santa at school. It's hardly any better at work. I can never seem to get the right balance in the group. Someone always is disappointed, someone invariably gives a too-expensive gift while someone else forgets or just doesn't bother. Tensions run high when it should be a good time. Then, you have the difficulty of getting a present for someone you don't know well. Everyone has trouble with this. The "funny" gift is received with a whince or a stone faced, "Thanks" and winds up in the trash can later.

We've solved that problem up here in the frozen north. Here is my present to everyone who needs a better way to get happy, have fun and give a gift to coworkers. It also works great when you have some folks who are less well off than others. You make a $15 limit. Since you are not buying for a specific person, this is MUCH easier.

Everyone buys a single gift for "themselves". Couples bring two. Surreptitiously, everyone places their wrapped gift in the middle of the circle.  The goal is to disassociate the giver from the gift.

Fortified with an appropriate libation, it's time for ...

A Yankee Swap

Numbered cards are picked from a basket to decide order of play. The players then arrange themselves in order around the circle. The Number cards should be kept visible near the player since they will be part of the game later.  You can use these or make your own.

In order, each chooses a gift from the pile.

Then, in order, each unwraps the gift. This gives everyone a first chance to see them and think about which they want to "play" for.

Three of the playing cards are dealt to each person. (These are seen on the next page.) The remainder are placed in a pile in the center.

In numerical order, players place a card face-up in the middle of the circle and picks up a replacement from the pile of extra tickets. The instructions on the face-up card are followed.

Swap cards, do-nothing cards and pass cards are played in turn.
Protection cards and EndGame cards are played at any time, in turn or out-of-turn.

  • We had a couple gifts that were double-wrapped so people played for them "blind." You may want to add a "unwrap any presents" card to the group below.
  • Some Yankee swaps say the swapping should happen once and BEFORE the gifts are opened. We felt that this made the whole exercise boring – how do you know if you want it if you don't know what it is?
  • Additional tickets available by answering trivia instead of having a pick-up pile in the center. This can be difficult if someone gets too many tickets and others have none.
  • All tickets can be dealt out at the beginning. I like it better when you play a card and get a replacement. It feels more like a game.
  • The "Swap with a birthday in January" cards were included because we happened to have a bunch of January birthdays in the group.
Fire up your word processor, make a table with cellspacing and borders or use these to the right:

PLAYING CARDS: (x2 indicates the number of copies of this card.)

The Swap Cards:
These cards are person-to-person swaps. Some are specific (person to the right or left) while others allow a choice on the card-holder's part (e.g., swap with an odd number – the choice is in which odd number of course)

  • Swap with Birthday not in January
  • Swap with Birthday in January
  • Swap with anyone wearing sneakers
  • Swap with anyone wearing socks without shoes
  • Swap with a prime number (x2)
  • Swap with a composite number (x2)
  • Swap with an odd number(x2)
  • Swap with an even number (x2)
  • Swap with anyone older than you (x2)
  • Swap with anyone younger than you (x2)
  • Swap with the person 2 to the right (x2)
  • Swap with the person to your right (x2)
  • Swap with the person to your left (x2)
  • Swap with the person 2 to the left (x2)

The Do-nothing Cards:
These cards keep the status quo ante. Play them to keep everything as it is.

  • Keep-sake ! swap with no one (x3)
  • This card was intentionally left blank. (x3)

The Passing Cards:
Everyone in the circle passes to the right or left.

  • All Pass - everyone pass to the left (x2)
  • All Pass - everyone pass to the right (x2)

The Protection Cards:
Unlike the other cards, which are played in turn, Protection cards are played out-of-turn when the holder wishes to undo or alter a swap or pass.

  • Safe! use this card to block someone from swapping with you. (x4) "Safe!" is played to block a swap that another player has called on you. The other player loses the swap and cannot choose another swap.
  • Skip me! any pass, left or right, skips over you. (x2) "Skip Me!" is played in response to another player's pass card. The pass "skips" to the next person around the circle.
  • Chocolate! temporarily leave the game to get chocolate.(x2) The Chocolate card allows the player to withdraw from the game and therefore not be subject to any swaps or passes. Return at any time. This game is supposed to be fun so the time of return is left up to the player.
  • Not So Fast ! This card will undo the last swap. Use at any time. (x2) "Not so Fast!" is played at any time to stop any swap or pass, whether it affects the holder personally or not. Typically, this is thrown when the player realizes that someone has become attached to a particular present and is forced to exchange. A player can even play a card in turn and then immediately follow it with "Not So Fast!" to undo it.

EndGame Cards:
  • Stop! (x4) These can be played at any time, in-turn or out-of-turn. When the four "Stop!" cards have been played, the game is over. Use these cards to end the game when the presents are "right" and further play would result in hurt feelings. Additionally, the last "Stop!" card can be played in such a way as to block an undesired card. For example, if the card being played is "Pass Left" then the final "Stop!" card can instantly end the game before the pass takes place or it can be held until just afterwards.

Please, enjoy the holidays. Have a Merry Christmas. Have a Happy Hannukah. Have a Happy New Year in 2010, 1432, the Year of the Tiger or a belated Rosh Hashanah 5771.

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