A few years ago, my family started a tradition at our annual Christmas Eve party. Instead of the awkward gift-giving ceremony, in which members of the extended family exchange unwanted gifts, we decided to do a Yankee Swamp.
I was totally against the idea at first. I'd seen The Office, and basically my only real "experience" with this weird gift-stealing game was watching poor, Pam-smitten Jim realize defeat as the Dunder Mifflin Secret Santa had turned into a greedy version of Yankee Swap. As a result, I associated the game with selfishness and show offs (i.e. Michael Scott buying an iPod, despite the $50 limit). But it turns out, (and savor this moment because I'm Irish, and I rarely admit this) I was wrong. This game rules. And if your friends/family are planning on doing one this Christmas, you're going to have fun, as long as you do it right.
First, I'm going to point out a few "rules." And don't be a jerk and tell me rules are made to be broken. They aren't. That's what little potty-mouthed teenagers say because they don't know anything yet.
1. In my family, YS gifts are generally in the $10-$20 range. Either we're cheap, or we're respectful of the rules, but so far, no one has been the asshole to show up with a $100 gift. This is a big DON'T. The game is supposed to be fun. Period. Show offs are for the birds. Don't be one.
2. Do NOT regift. I'm all for reduce, reuse, recycle. But I don't want the potpourri you were given by the old lady in your book club. If you don't want it in your home, chances are I don't want it in mine. Bring that useless stuff to Good Will, and start from scratch, because everyone can tell when they've been regifted, and no one is impressed.
3. Don't take it too seriously. It's a game. If someone opens your present, and then gladly exchanges it for something they wanted more, smile and keep playing. You didn't buy it specifically for anyone, anyway. It's a game. As long as everyone leaves happy (either from the gifts their wound up with, or just from the general experience) then who cares? If you're a sensitive little guy/gal and can't handle that your 50 year-old uncle would rather have a nice bottle of wine than the lame gift-certificate you bought, then maybe you should go to a different Christmas party. Much like baseball, there's no crying in Yankee Swap.
So here are my top 3 favorite Yankee Swap gifts from years past. They're all pretty obvious choices, however, the key to my Christmas shopping this year has been to buy local, so I've taken my top 3 faves, and given them the Maine treatment. Here goes:
iTunes card - The first year we did a Yankee Swap, the iTunes card was maybe the most popular gift (it even beat booze, and we're Irish). It was snatched a few times, lots of laughs were had at the expense of one particularly disappointed music lover as he found himself dispossessed of the gift card, and in all the years since, it remains a popular gift at our party. Personally, I love a good iTunes card because I'm almost always broke and I definitely always love music. So this is a great and easy idea. However, here's my Maine alternative: buy a Bull Moose gift card instead. It's a local establishment, with plenty of locations throughout Maine and New Hampshire, and they sell vinyl, tapes (if you're a shithead hipster that thinks listening to a tape player is somehow more "real"), and CDs, among other things. Plus, they're a big supporter of local music, so that's awesome. If you're family isn't all from Maine, don't sweat. You can redeem their gift cards online, too. It's a Christmas miracle. Oh wait, no, it's just not 1998.
Manicure gift card - The men reading this might roll their eyes, but wait just a minute. The whole point of this game is the SWAP. If a dude doesn't want a manicure, he can exchange it for whatever testosterone-filled gift he has his heart set on. But in all the years we've played the game at my house, the manicure is a hot commodity. You can pretty much see the fire in each female's eyes as one rips the gift card from the other's unrelenting hands. It's awesome, and everyone gets a good laugh. My cousin owns Rejuvenations so I'm plugging the crap out of it. It's local (Falmouth, ME) and they do a beautiful job. So buy your gift cards there. If you absolutely can't get your buns out to Falmouth, there's about five million salons in the Old Port you can support with your patronage.
Wine - Now, I know not everyone drinks. But again, the key to this game is the swap, so who cares? Plenty of people do drink, and those who do, probably like wine. Every year, someone brings a kickass bottle to our party, and every year, whoever originally opens it does not end up with it. This means it's a popular gift, so I say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Except, I don't really say that, because this whole post takes these ideas, and Maine-ifies them. So here's how to "fix" it: buy local. While Maine is certainly known for it's microbreweries, it's wines aren't quite as mainstream. Though there are some Maine wineries (Vintners, Cellardoor, Winterport Winery, etc.), you don't technically have to buy a Maine-product to keep things local. Just go to a Maine business. City Beverage, Old Port Wine And Cigar, Downeast Beverage Co., Maine Beer & Beverage Co. are among many options.
Alright. Obviously, there are tons of fun things to bring to a Yankee Swap party that aren't in my top 3. So if you're thinking of something else, that's cool. But as a big supporter of Buy Local, I plead you to do just that: there are so many business in the Pine Tree state--give them some business! Maine is an awesome place. Let's celebrate the holidays by giving back to the community we love so much.
Until next time, Happy Holidays!