Make the Most of your Holiday Get-Togethers!

By: Jennifer Jackson


I don’t know about you, but Christmas time is one of my favorite times of year. Pretty much once Thanksgiving is over, I am busting out the Christmas decorations to plaster all over my house. My responsibility is to decorate indoors, while I have my husband hang up as many white and colorful lights outside the house. When we bought our house a few years ago, we started expanding our outdoor decorations to include Christmas and winter-themed inflatables. Each year we have been adding bigger and better inflatables to make our house the best decorated house in the neighborhood.


Another awesome part of the Christmas and holiday season are the parties! Getting together with friends and family really make the holiday season come to light. Whether you are hosting a holiday gathering, or attending one, you are more than likely to encounter or participate in various holiday activities.


As you get older, it becomes more difficult to know what to get your friends and family for gifts, so I have compiled a short list of ideas to help avoid shopping for individual people, and keep the gift giving nice and simple.


Host a Yankee Swap

A Yankee Swap is a fun group game to play and a great way to only have to buy one or two gifts, rather than a gift for each of your friends or family members. Now although there are many way to play this game, I will be explaining the version that I prefer the most.


Growing up in my family meant that we would all gather together at my Grandparent’s house on either the weekend before Christmas, or on Christmas Eve for our annual Yankee Swap. There would be upwards of 40 or 50 people at these parties and everyone would participate. The rules for Yankee Swap consisted of bringing a wrapped present for each person who wanted to participate in the game. Couples could bring one gift for the two of them, or two individual gifts. We would cap the limit of each gift at $20-$25. Everyone would gather in the kitchen and sit in a circle around the kitchen table. Anyone who was participating in the game must put their gift on the table if they wanted to play.


Once all the gifts were on the table, the host of the game, which was usually my aunt, would count how many gifts were on the table in order to determine how many numbers to give out. Since our family took this game really seriously, we had hand-made wooden chips with numbers on them, instead of using scraps of paper. All the chips would go in this pretty velvet bag, and each person who was playing would pick out their chip to see which number they would get.


Now the goal of Yankee Swap is to pick the number 1, because that is the best number you can get in order to pick the best present of the game. The second best number to get is the last number. If there are 40 players, then you’ll want either #1 or #40.


Now the way my family plays it, which could be different than how other people play the game, brings a little more suspense and competition to the game. The first person (#1) picks a gift from the table and opens it up. At this time, there aren’t any other gifts to choose from, so the reason why this is the best number to have, is because after everyone has picked a gift, the #1 person gets to choose from any opened gift and decide if they want to “swap” it with someone else’s gift. The second person (#2) is kind of in a bad position because they either have the option to pick an unopened gift and swap it with #1, or they open the gift and have to keep it. Some people allow you to open the gift first and then swap it with someone, but that’s not how we play it in our family. The suspense is taking the gamble that you are giving up a good or bad gift, for a sure thing. So if you have 40 people playing the game, the higher the number you have, you at least have a good chance at getting something you want. Now like I said earlier, once everyone has picked a gift, the #1 person has one final chance to swap a gift, so it might be in your best interest to take a gift that isn’t necessarily the best gift of the game, but something you could enjoy, because who wants to be stuck with something like an oven mitt or massage oils?!


Secret Santa

Secret Santa is a bit more personal in the gift giving department. Sometimes it’s easy to choose a gift for someone, and sometimes it’s a bit more difficult. I have participated in various Secret Santa exchanges and the price range to stick to should be the same as a Yankee Swap, so $20-$25. Some have been with just family, or just friends, or work-wide. Within my family, we will draw names at Thanksgiving, for a gift to be given at Christmas. Sometimes we will group people up by couple, and sometimes we will do individual names. Now the goal of this game is to be a secret, but in my family, that never happens! We will all ask what someone else would like as a gift in order to get ideas, and then by process of elimination, we all figure out who has who.


By far some of the best Secret Santa experiences I have had have been through my work. I absolutely love having a huge group of people participate because it is less likely that you will find out who has each other. One person is designated or volunteers themselves to be the organizer. Being the organizer means that they compile a list of people who would like to participate in Secret Santa, and distribute to everyone who they have as their gift recipient. Names are drawn at random, but the organizer makes sure that each person has someone different instead of someone accidentally picking themselves. Usually names are drawn a month or so in advance of the date the gifts are due so that in the weeks leading up to the exchange, you have time to leave subtle hints or gifts to your person. If you google, Secret Santa poems and riddles, you can get some fun ideas to surprise your person. I enjoy leaving little poems with small gifts such as candy or scratch tickets on their desk before or after they are at work as a fun surprise.


If you are stumped as to what to get your co-worker for a gift, another strategic way to learn more about that person is to talk to someone in their department or a close work friend of theirs to get some ideas as to what they like. Finding out their favorite sports teams, vacation destinations, snacks, restaurants, etc. is an easy way to target your gift. If you want to get more specific, you can create a small questionnaire to secretly leave on their desk with instructions to leave the completed questionnaire somewhere in the workplace that won’t give away who you are or which department you work in, for example, the company cafeteria.


If you feel comfortable enough to give your gift to your person, then absolutely go for it! I love the surprised look on their faces when they find out it was me leaving all the fun hints over the last few weeks, but some people can be shy and may not want to do that, so it is very acceptable to keep the secret going and leave the gift and run.


Cookie Exchange

Another fun and easy gift exchange to do at work or with friends is a cookie exchange! I mean, who doesn’t love cookies?! It’s not quite the holidays if you don’t include some kind of baking fun. Grab a group of friends or co-workers and pick a date for everyone to bring in their favorite batch of cookies. Give everyone roughly 3-4 week’s notice before you host the cookie exchange. If you’re not a baker, that is okay! Some of the best cookies can be bought at the grocery store, so those are more than acceptable.


Set up a table to display all the delicious cookies and leave them out for everyone to enjoy. Package up small goodie bags in fun decorative ways so that everyone can take some home with them too! If you made your cookies, and are willing to share your delicious recipe, then bring copies of it with you so that someone else can spread the cookie love with their friends and families.


Gingerbread Decorating Party

Whether its gingerbread cookies or gingerbread houses, you can’t go wrong with gathering together to decorate either one! They sell gingerbread decorating kits at your local craft store or you can go to the grocery store and pick up decorating items there as well. If you are feeling extra crafty, you can bake gingerbread cookies and houses yourself.


Make sure you have a spacious and clean workspace to spread out. Cover the space with parchment paper so that nothing sticks and everything stays edible. Make sure to have strong pieces of cardboard to place the houses or cookies on for easy transport. Pipe bags or zip lock bags are great to use for applying the frosting, and you can add a drop of food coloring to have a few fun colors. Mini marshmallows, peppermint candies, gumdrops, wafer cookies, candy canes, and pretzel rods are fun and delicious additions to any gingerbread creation!


You’re never too old to get together with some girlfriends for this fun activity. I bet even the guys would participate in this as well! Gingerbread and frosting are too delicious to pass up.


The holiday season is meant to make memories together with friends and loved ones. I’m hoping this short but fun list of ideas help spark the holiday and Christmas joy in your hearts! Throw in some Christmas caroling to really kick the holiday spirit up a notch. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!


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