Friday, December 28, 2012

Family Feud

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I love finding just the right gifts for people. I love seeing the surprise on their faces when they open that gift and absolutely love it. I love the Christmas carols. I love when it snows at Christmas (yeah to a white Christmas this year!). I love Christmas parties. And I love a good swap.

Now, my family has an adult swap that we started a few years ago. But, traditionally it has been a bummer because no one swaps. They just open the gifts they pick and keep them....even if they want another gift...they won't do it to each other. Two years ago I took something my mother said she loved. I don't think she talked to me for a week. Could she have swapped for it in the end....sure...but did she...no. Makes no sense to me. This year, Tim and I had to again, explain the rules and tell everyone that we weren't going to put up with everyone being polite. I will say, almost everyone did swap this year, and I ended up with my own gift,. Which leads me to one of the key rules in a swap: Don't buy anything you don't want to end up with. Although, in all honesty, we typically buy one funny gift and one that I wouldn't mind ending up with.

I was first introduced to a "real" swap when I got serious with Tim and was invited to the family Christmas party. Back then, there were about 20-25 people in the swap. Although they say there are no rules, the "guidelines" are simple. First, number 1 is the best number to get because you go first and then again, last after all the gifts are opened. Number 2 then selects & opens their gift and then can choose to keep it or swap with #1...and it continues that way until the end. There have been some "enhancements" to the rules since I began going....such as, you can shake but you can't put your hand in and feel the gift inside a gift bag. I can neither confirm nor deny that this rule was created because of me. I am known to be a shaker...and I openly admit that I man-handle all the gifts before I make my initial selection. Buyer beware, right?

Apparently my first swap was ground breaking for several reasons. First, I guess that people generally approached the swap like my family. There wasn't a ton of swapping and everyone was polite. If you showed a lot of interest in a gift, no one would take it from you. It was the right thing to do. Well, no one had explained that nuance to me. Instead they said one of the "guidelines" was to take whatever you wanted. I apparently missed the unspoken rule of "except if that person is your future mother in law"....who, by the way, was a bit of a swap aficiando. No one explained this to me either. I honestly don't think it had ever come up before so there was no need to discuss that. That was when things changed in the swap.

I don't even remember what the gift was, but I remember that I wanted it, and my mother in law had it. I had a higher number from her...so I swapped with her. She shrieked and yelled "No!". The entire family applauded. It all seemed like fun. Little did I know I was 1) taking something that someone loved which really wasn't done in the past, 2) it was from my future mother in law and that was a no-no and 3) she is known as Mean Jeanne....that should have been enough of a warning for me....but it all seemed like good fun at the time. Especially when I got applause...who doesn't think things are going well when people applaud them??

This year, the swap was started by Uncle Johnny reviewing the rules, of which #1 is "there are no rules". Throughout the swap people break into song, have hysterical side conversations with their neighbors, engage in "after hours" swapping when all is said and done, and occasionally share their favorite swap memories. Twice this year, people mentioned their favorite swap memory was the year I had the "balls" to take Mean Jeanne's gift and forever change the course of the swap. I wouldn't say it was balls...just naivity and stupidity. Little did I know that for years people had wanted to take her gift away but hadn't dared. I had NO idea what I was doing. Although I'm always happy to advance a good cause

Turns out this year was payback, Baby. I have had the extreme pleasure of having been #1 twice throughout the lifetime of my Nealon swap history. It is a HUGE deal when you get #1. Especially this year when we had a record breaking 54 people participating in the swap. This, however, was my WORST year ever. Well, technically the worst number to get is #2. This year I was #3. It might as well have been #2. It felt that bad.

I love this swap. I love so much about it. I love this big family that is full of loud, singing, loving, hugging people. I love getting together at Uncle Tommy & Auntie Anne's house, inevitably ending up in the Foul Line, their downstairs pub, looking for nothing but trouble. I love that every time you go, you have such great conversation with so many different people. I love how the relationships change over the years. I remember when Dave's fiancee first came as a shy, quiet, non gift taking lady and ended up doing a somersault into the gift pile last year...with a skirt on. Yep, she is going to do just fine in this family. I remember when Andy was just a quiet college kid and now we are usually separated because we cause too much trouble together. I love the hugs you get from Uncle Tommy all night long and I love my life lesson conversations with Auntie Lo. I love the digs people give each other - from their hair gel choices to their clothing picks. It's all in good fun and only based on the love we have for each other. I am truly blessed to be a part of this family.

Except for maybe this year. First, I'm number 3. Second, number 1 is a relative newbie. If it were a veteran I would have been more accepting but the fact that I had a crappy number AND number 1 went to a newbie didn't sit well with me. Then, we are asked to speed things up because we had so many people, which meant, no man handling for excessive periods of time. So, I gave into pressure and went for the big gift. And here is where everything just went horribly wrong. Are you sitting?? I ended up with a handicap toilet seat. Yep, someone bought that. And yep, I picked it. I love this G. D. swap and this is how things roll for me?! It was not my best year by a long shot. Well, actually ever. Oh, and did I mention that the gift was from my partner in crime, Andy? Earlier in the night he said "Wait until you see what I got! Some sucker is going to be very unhappy!" Insert picture of my face with the word sucker on my forehead.

Was I a sore loser? A little bit. I did pout, I'll admit it.  But I know it's all part of the fun. Will the toilet seat come back in a future year? Oh yes, it will. And one day someone will be shaking their head, trying to comprehend how they ended up with a handicap toilet seat, just like I am this year.

But more than anything, I take away the same things I do each year, regardless of the swap number I get. Great memories. I wouldn't trade them for the amount of love, fun, and camradarie that is had this night each year for anything...not even a toilet seat.

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