Joco Diversions

Emily Parnell — Family isn’t always a perfect fit, but it’s still the best gift, and ‘you get what you get’

Ahhh, the annual dirty Santa gift exchanges are upon us. It goes by all kinds of names — Kris Kringle, Christmas Rob-a-Thon, the Grinch Game, but the rules are pretty much the same. Everyone brings a wrapped gift, numbers are drawn, when it’s your turn, you can pick a gift from the pile and open it, or steal an already open gift from someone who went before you.

So every Christmas, at several different gatherings, gifts are piled high under the tree. Friends and family shop for a generic gift that hopefully suits the masses. Gift cards, mugs, flashlights, tools, batteries, ornaments, pillows … any of these are pretty good options. There’s always a smattering of gifts that aren’t just for anyone. The Victoria’s Secret gift cards, dolls with scary black button eyes or rainbow-colored toe socks all fall into the “too quirky for some” category.

The exchange ensues. We spar and spat, swap and smuggle, tag team with spouses, clamor and beg, all to get our hands on a particularly favorable bauble. It’s a melodrama of greed, gleeful thievery and dramatic disappointment when something awesome gets swiped, then we turn around and heartlessly steal from someone else. It’s all in good fun, and the time we spend together is much more valuable than whatever is wrapped up in the gifts.

The very young children do not participate, although this year my son will join the madness. My daughter said she’s not ready yet, as she’s still disheartened by the memory of someone swiping a gift from me. I don’t remember the gift, or who took it, but she does.

I’ve been preparing my gifts and created some special tags with a saying my kids learned in kindergarten. The tags double as ornaments showing Santa and Rudolph with a speech bubble that says, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” It’s a good lesson, don’t you think? And quite apropos for the season.

My exchange gifts this year are likely to be well-received. It was a craft involving fun, vintage family photos of family members who are/were special to all of us. Some in the photos will be there, and we’ll remember the loved ones who have passed on. I doubt whoever gets my gifts will throw a fit about them, and they may even be popular enough to be stolen.

But the “suck it up and just enjoy what you receive” thought was rattling around in my head as I worked on the photo gifts. I sifted through photos of people, musing that family is really the best gift of all, but family is also a “get what you get” lesson handed straight to us from God.

Family can be quirky, they can be nuts, and for some, they can be downright hard to swallow sometimes. We have the choice, do we accept? Do we love unconditionally? Or do we throw a fit? Sometimes we do both — we play out the melodrama, then keep ’em around anyway. It can be like a big round of dirty Santa — not everyone is a perfect fit, but when you get everyone together, it’s a barrel of laughs and wonderful memories.

I hope your holidays are fun and that you can embrace those you love, quirks and all. Enjoy the fun, and appreciate each of them for the unique flavor they add to your festivities.