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Survivor: The Christmas Ornament Exchange     798 Words

The other day, I went to an ornament exchange party. I didn’t know anyone there other than the hostess and this seemed like a harmless enough activity. I envisioned we girls would have some wine, nibble on chocolate, diss our husbands and commiserate about the trials and tribulations of raising children. I wouldn’t have to model lingerie, listen to the virtues of candles or make an enormous purchase of kitchen utensils to ensure the harmonious sanctity of my home.


Everyone brings a wrapped ornament, between $5-15, a reasonable amount. This being my first year, I decided to spring for the maximum lest I be publicly humiliated in front of my fellow female exchangers.


Once at the party, everyone draws a number. You select your wrapped ornament in the order of the number you drew. Clearly, it would appear that the person selecting first has the best choice while the person who’s last simply has to take what’s left.


But, oh no! This is no ORDINARY ornament exchange. They’ve made it interesting. This is “Survivor: The Ornament Exchange”. If you thought watching people compete for immunity is cutthroat, you’ve seen nothing until you’ve watched 15 inebriated women fight over a pair of reindeer ornaments from the Pottery Barn.


See, the person who draws first has to pick and unwrap an ornament. Now they’re stuck with it. The person selecting second has a choice: they can choose to unwrap another ornament or, if they really like the first person’s ornament, they can steal that ornament, forcing the first person to select from the unwrapped pile again.


Just to make sure there’s a bitter end to this ornament snatching, an ornament may only have three owners. Owner number one opens the ornament; owner two is the person who steals if from owner number one. The final owner, number three, is the person who, of course, steals it from owner number two.


As you can see, if you’re owner number three of, oh, let’s say the Pottery Barn reindeer, you’re done. You can pretty much bask in the glory of having gotten exactly what you want. I’m thinking this is like being the first lion at the kill. Everyone waits while he, or in this case, SHE, gets exactly what she wants. When she’s done, all the rest of us hyenas get to fight for the leftovers. It’s pretty much exactly like that.


Don’t even THINK about stashing your ornament out of site behind your purse. My particular group of roller derby gals had no problem knocking over my purse to see what I was trying to hide.


I found myself in the unenviable position of opening ornament after ornament only to have it snatched from me almost immediately. Every time I boldly took an ornament from owner number one, soon-to-be owner number three would steal it from me. Clearly these ladies had played this game before and I was woefully unprepared and without a strategy.


At one point, I opened a rather plainly wrapped box and whoa, Nelly! Someone had brought a Christopher Radko ornament! Clearly she’d either violated the rules or this was a knockoff purchased in an alley from a guy in a trench coat. But it was as if someone had thrown chum in a school of sharks. I swear I lost the sleeve of my shirt as that ornament was ripped from my shaking hands. I’m telling you, these women must have had basic boot camp training at a Barney’s end-of-season warehouse sale.


Well, it came to pass that I had the job of opening the final ornament or dashing the dreams of one of my fellow hyenas. Not wanting to prolong the agony, I chose to open the last ornament. While everyone gave a sigh of relief, I gingerly removed the delicate tissue wrapping from what I was sure would be the most prized ornament of the night but, instead, turned out to be—cheese spreaders.


As I pondered where on the invitation it said “cheese spreader exchange”, the woman on my right said “So, I’m Jewish. I like spreaders.”


At that moment I realized that this woman would be about as familiar with ornaments as I am with gefilte fish. She also couldn’t possible know that it would be a very cold day before I’d put something else on my table that my kids could use as weapons.


And so, as we continued to drink wine and show off our ornaments or, in my case, cheese spreaders, I began to think I might have played a pretty good hand for my first year; a little meek, a little kind, mostly like a patsy.


They won’t be expecting it when, next year, without an ounce of pity, remorse or compassion, I finesse my way into NEXT year’s “must have” ornament!

2004 Nancy Franklin. All rights reserved