Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dirty Santa Is Fraught with Faux Pas-sibilities

            I for one am NOT a fan of Dirty Santa, that activity where, right under your nose, people exchange a gift you gave them for one they like better. Anyone with even a modicum of manners knows that such behavior is just plain tacky. It is my fervent Christmas wish that eventually Dirty Santa will go the way of friendship bread and fruitcake. But just in case you're planning to attend an event involving this onslaught to your holiday cheer and your ego, here are a few hints for surviving it.
One-stop shopping for all your Naughty Santa needs!
 1.  Dirty Santa does not mean Naughty Santa. My friends “Nola” and “Nick” learned this the hard way. They were invited to a church party for which they were to bring a Dirty Santa gift. They’d never heard of Dirty Santa and quite understandably interpreted dirty as naughty. They thought it a bit strange that a church would be doing this, but, hey, it was a progressive church. The pastor wore jeans and the “choir” was basically a rock band. So snickering and elbowing each other like a couple of teenagers, they searched the aisles of a marital aids store and selected an appropriately inappropriate gift. Imagine their horror at the party when the first couple of gifts were unwrapped, and Lola and Nick realized their social gaffe. This unfortunate incident does, however, have a happy ending. This was indeed a progressive church, and their gift proved to be the most popular. Which leads to my next survival hint...
2a. It’s all about the gift. If you remember nothing else, remember this: Dirty Santa involves cut-throat competition and is best left to seasoned gift-giving professionals. Unlike a White Elephant exchange, the ultimate goal of Dirty Santa is to bring the gift everyone will covet and the one that will be stolen the maximum number of times. If the gift you bring isn’t stolen at all, you brought a dud. I brought a perfectly lovely scented candle to my first Dirty Santa exchange. The first hint of my rookie status was that my gift was chosen last. I’d made the mistake of not"staging" it properly, not placing the candle in a sparkly gift bag with a huge bow and enough tissue paper to stuff a mattress. The second hint that my gift was a loser was the stiff half-smile and unenthusiastic “Well, isn’t this nice” from the recipient. She knew, and at that point I knew, no one would be stealing that candle.
Half the battle of Dirty Santa success
is in the presentation.
2b. The $10 maximum is only a suggestion. Like most interstate drivers, no one takes the limit seriously. If you properly stage your gift, that alone can cost ten bucks. And bear in mind you’re up against the pros here—those people who Christmas shop in January or who can snag a 42" smart TV on Deal Dash for about the same price as a ... well, a scented candle. 
Apparently, scented candles aren't coveted
gifts among Dirty Santa participants.
2c. The pain is acute, and recovery will take time. Sadly, my first Dirty Santa experience didn’t end as happily as Nick and Lola’s did. It was March when the recipient of my gift informed me she’d finally lit the candle (another indication of her excitement over it). I stood there with an expectant smile, waiting for her to tell me how it calmed her frazzled nerves or reminded her of a walk in a garden. Instead, I got, “My son came home and said, ‘Something stinks.’”
I guess it could’ve been worse. My friend Norma, another Dirty Santa victim, once told me she couldn’t attend a party, so she sent a crystal salad bowl with the instructions to just bring her whatever gift was left. She got her salad bowl back. 
The painful humiliation inflicted by Dirty Santa is a long, drawn-out affair. You must wait an entire year to redeem yourself because, hello, there is no Dirty Cupid, Dirty Easter Bunny, or Dirty Turkey.
2c. Only slightly less mortifying than bringing the loser gift is receiving the loser gift. (As in poor Norma’s case, these events can sometimes occur at the same party and to the same person, although it is rare.) From the moment you unwrap that gold, spray-painted Christmas tree made out of coat hangers, you know there’s not a snowball’s chance it’s going to be stolen. When that happens, Dirty Santa can become character building. There’s not a dang thing you can do but force a smile and mutter, “Well, isn’t this nice.”
3. There is no such thing as “getting into the spirit” of Dirty Santa. I can hear you saying, “Aw, Dee Dee, lighten up.That candle incident happened over fifteen years ago, and you're still whinging about it.” There may be some truth to your accusation, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing—and I mean nothing—zaps the joy from gift-giving faster than this activity. Whoever came up with the whole idea surely must’ve been a cohort of Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch...before their miraculous transformations.
          I haven’t heard a lot about Dirty Santa lately. I think the trend is being replaced by Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties, those activities where Generation X-ers and Millenials make fun of the beautiful sweaters I wore until they started having Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties. Please excuse me, I feel another post coming on.          
I believe that eventually Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties
will become passe' and I can again wear my festive sweater collection
to all my holiday events.



  1. I'm with you on this -- Dirty Santa is very stressful!

  2. I was in a civic organization for several years and every Christmas a handful of us tried desperately to come up with an alternative to Dirty Santa for the holiday party. One year the host read a story with the word "right" and "left" throughout and everybody in the circle passed the gift they were holding in the direction that was called out. It was kind of a stupid story - then following year the new host reverted to Dirty Santa. Sigh.


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