Monday, December 24, 2012

A season of stealing

Last week I stole a Christmas present from my mother-in-law. I grabbed it right out of her hands. But she started it — she stole one from me first.
No, our family hasn’t turned into a band of grifting shoplifters. I’m talking about our annual Christmas gift exchange.
It’s the kind of party where people bring gifts, everyone draws numbers and then takes turns picking from the pile. But there’s a twist. You can either open a wrapped gift or steal one that’s already been opened.
There’s nothing like a gift exchange to bring out your inner competitor. Three hundred and sixty-four days of the year your favorite aunt is a sweet, law-abiding woman who rescues kittens and volunteers to feed the homeless. But during the gift exchange, watch out. She’ll steal the shirt off your back if it’s up for grabs. Especially if it has a snowman embroidered on it.
Choosing the gift to bring is a big decision. My goal? The more people who fight over my gift, the better. So the present has to be cute, but not so cute that I want to keep it. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to steal your own gift back. Instead of taking home the pretty holiday serving dish you brought to the party, you’re more likely to end up with a stuffed animal that sings “I Farted on Santa’s Lap,” complete with sound effects.
There are always two or three gifts that everyone fights over. This year the stealing fun began when I opened a set of faux wood skating penguins. Nothing against skating penguins, but I wasn’t dying to take them home. I didn’t have to worry for long. When it was my mother-in-law’s turn, she headed straight toward me. And she took them. She took my penguins. What a stealer, that grandma.
Grandma’s penguins turned out to be quite popular. No sooner had she sat down than her own sister-in-law swiped them from right under her nose.
Grandma’s next gift would prove to be just as popular — a glass beverage container with spigot dispenser, perfect for serving lemonade at parties.
When one of my nieces stole my next pick, I got to choose again. And I knew just what I was going for. Sorry Grandma. The drink cooler was mine ... for about 10 minutes, until a cousin promptly stole it from me.
Two stuffed white cats that sang “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and a dancing Snoopy that wiggled to that Snoopy Christmas song were also stolen back and forth. I am proud to report that the colorful wreath that I brought to the party was swapped three times.
One cousin contingent had perfected their Christmas gift-stealing strategy. Once a gift has been pilfered three times, it’s officially retired. This family teamed up and between themselves, “stole” the drink dispenser two more times so they could end up with the coveted item. It was a move worthy of “Survivor: Christmas All Stars.”
Next year, I’m planning my alliances early.

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