the Barbie trophies, the club kid, and other stories of holidays at work

All this week I’m going to be sharing holiday stories from years past. Here are 12 more. (And don’t worry — we’ll be taking new ones shortly.)

1. Odd trophies

“I had a supervisor who was very unprofessional, and her being in her position was a bit of a scandal in the first place. Well, she decided to do an award ceremony during our holiday party, but instead of buying cheap trophies or printing out awards on paper, she went to all of the thrift stores in the area and bought a bunch of old Barbie dolls. She stripped them, spray painted them gold, and called them “trophies” that she presented to staff as an award. No printed certificate or anything to go with them, just nude, gold, spray painted Barbies.”

2. The sweater

“This year, my HR department sent a mass email about the company holiday luncheon and ugly holiday sweater day. The clipart chosen to decorate this missive was chosen in haste and not closely examined. At first glance, it was a small image of a sweater with a snowman on it. Upon closer examination, though, the snowman had an extra carrot and two extra lumps of coal artfully arranged on its lower half. I did not expect to get snowman dick pics from HR! (In general, we are a sane, appropriate workplace where something like this would never happen on purpose.)”

3. The disgruntled coworker

“After having two prizes she liked stolen from her in our office game of Dirty Santa, a coworker happened upon my gift, a piece of novelty soap shaped like a slice of cake. (Not the world’s most inspired gift, but certainly within the bounds of office gift-giving.)

Coworker spent the rest of the lunch muttering things like ‘I don’t want this!’ and ‘what are we going to do about my situation?'”

4. The Coach bag

“I was one of about 8 temps at a large company around the holidays. All of us wanted to be hired but there were only 3 positions available. We had been invited to celebrate the holiday with the department. It was a potluck thing, held at lunch, very casual with a Yankee Swap gift exchange. Only one temp participated in the swap. He brought an old, beat up and very well worn Coach bag. It still had its original box and protective bag though so people assumed the best of it. The woman who got it was disappointed when she saw that the leather was ripped, the lining was in shreds and there was even a melted mint inside of it.

Fast forward to about a week later when Yankee Swap temp wasn’t chosen for permanent position (unrelated to gift) and he and 4 others were released from the assignment. He flipped out and wanted his gift back! He made a HUGE scene and had to be escorted to his car. I really think he thought that his gift would buy his way into the job.”

5. The club kid

“The year the club kid software developer INSISTED on everyone doing tequila shots, like ‘come on bro, it’s not cool if you don’t!’ — he saved his hardest pressure tactics for the CEO, who was like WTF. Same club kid tried getting down and dirty on the dance floor with a female high level exec, and then drunkenly knocked her over onto the floor.”

6. Most likely to kiss under mistletoe

“We had a people scavenger hunt based on self-volunteered random facts. The facts were pretty innocuous, but one girl used it as an opportunity to flirt with a coworker. Her facts about herself were ‘Won Most Flirtatious in High School,’ ‘Voted as Homecoming Queen,’ and ‘Most likely to kiss under mistletoe.’”

7. The disturbing rummage sale

“A long time ago, I worked in a place with a holiday gift exchange of the ‘randomly draw a name to give a small gift to’ kind. Our new boss said she didn’t want to be in the exchange because she was getting everyone something.

On the day of the holiday party, she came in late, with many huge cardboard boxes, and commandeered one of the long tables we needed to set up the potluck. Then she sent everyone out of the meeting room and locked it. At noon, she told us the rules: we’d all draw to go into the room and pick an item off the table. Then, after everyone had had a turn, we’d go again, until all the items were gone. She gave us all supermarket plastic bags to hold our treasures.

Several people went in and came out with stunned expressions and then it was my turn. The table was covered with the oddest selection of used items — hairpieces, costume jewelry with broken clasps or missing stones or other damage, broken toys, opened puzzles, well-read paperbacks, clothes with tears or stains, hairbrushes (with hair in them), combs, barrettes, the free notepads you get left on your doorstep by Realtors, small dusty stuffed toys, on and on. There were hundreds of items. No one wanted any of it. And she expected thanks from each of us each time we exited the meeting room.

People started taking as many items as they could fit in a grocery bag on each trip (emptying it into the dumpster out back immediately after), but it still took hours. And we couldn’t do the gift exchange or eat the potluck food until it was done. We finally ate lunch at 3:30. We sanitized the table with bleach before we set up the food.

Among the last items on the table were a not at all new pair of panties and what I think and hope was a large pestle without a mortar. I don’t know who finally broke down and took them.”

8. The hard-driving nuns and priests

“I worked for a catholic school some years ago where the teaching and support staff consisted of priests, nuns and laypeople. We decided to do a white elephant exchange at the staff Christmas party. Since most of the group had taken a literal vow of poverty, the gifts had to be below $5 and re-gifting was strongly encouraged, just bring the item to the party fully wrapped. We drew numbers and picked gifts but you could ‘steal’ a gift if you had a higher number. There was one gift that was relatively big and the wrapping was very, very fancy so you know it was the most popular. We had nuns attempting to hide the gift with the skirts of their habits, priests making side deals on taking over the less popular mass times in exchange for the gift, it was hilarious to see how far they were willing to go to get this gift. It was all in good fun and no one devolved into tears over any of it. One of the older nuns ended up winning it and she did a victory lap around us holding it in the air. The gift ended up being a used pair of running shoes from one of the priests that was an avid runner. She did another victory lap wearing the shoes.”

9. The duet

“The organization I work for often holds its convention just a couple of weeks before Christmas, and several years ago, as part of the entertainment for the closing banquet, we had a quartet singing mostly Christmas songs. In the banquet room right next door, though, somebody was holding a very large and loud corporate Christmas party that included a very loud D.J. playing very loud music, none of it Christmassy, as far as I could tell.

And I do mean LOUD.

So this, I swear to God, is what it sounded like to those of us sitting closest to the wall that separated our sedate Christmas quartet performance from the very loud D.J. performance of ‘Brick House’ by the Commodores:
Quartet: ‘Oh, hooooooly niiiiight! The stars…’
DJ: ‘Owwww! She’s a brick…HOWWWWse, she’s mighty-mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out’
Quartet: ‘It is the niiiight of our dear savior’s…’
DJ: ‘Owwww! She’s a brick…HOWWWWWse, well put-together, everybody knows.’
Quartet: ‘A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for…’
DJ: ‘She’s a brick…HOWWWse, owwww, that lady stacked and that’s a fact…’

I love ‘Oh Holy Night,’ but come on, that was HILARIOUS.”

10. The poop

“At job #1 someone pooped in an attorney’s trash can one year during the office party.”

11. The grief poinsettia

“It was one of those lunchtime holiday parties where people sat in groups around round tables. At the center of each table was a poinsettia. The big boss/emcee announced that she realized that some in the crowd must have experienced hard times that year. She invited people to share their tales of woe, and whoever told the saddest story at each table would win the poinsettia. No one volunteered.”

12. The reply-all

“My organization hosts an annual Christmas party where staff, spouses, volunteers, and board members are all invited. We get an email sent out when tickets are available so that we know when to go ahead and get them.

A few years ago, one of the board members accidentally hit Reply All to the ticket announcement email and asked the organizer to ensure that he wasn’t seated with our volunteer firefighters, since he was stuck at their table the year before and none of them wanted to talk to him. Within a minute, someone else had hit Reply All again saying that he would be honored to be seated with those firefighters, as they’re willing to risk their lives to keep our community safe. A few other emails went flying back and forth congratulating the firefighters for their hard work, and the board member soon sent out an apology email.

To make things even more awkward, one of the people making a speech at the company Christmas party did take a few minutes to commend our volunteer firefighters. I’m sure the board member couldn’t have looked any more uncomfortable as the rest of the room toasted them.”

{ 428 comments… read them below }

      1. I want a Barbie Trophy*

        Wondering if being presented with a gold naked Barbie trophy would be like a Rorschach test.
        I think I only relate to people who can understand the marvellous loopiness of this kind of thing.

        1. Princesss Sparklepony*

          Although I’m a little bummed that they didn’t have beauty queen sashes with the award name on them…. because that would be…gold!

    1. Presea*

      I would love to make one myself and have it as a decoration in my house.
      I would not love to receive one from my workplace as a way to formally recognize my achievements/thank me for a year of work/whatever the intent was here.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        Same. From a friend, I would find it hilarious depending on the situation. At work, I’d be annoyed.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          It would depend who I got it from at work. My current manager could give me a spray painted gold barbie as an “award” and I would proudly display it in my workspace and treasure it always because I would assume it was given in the spirit of THIS ALL BEING TOTAL BULLSHIT.

          As a sort of “I know your achievements are not sufficiently recognized and here is a token mocking that fact” award to someone who is in on the joke, it rocks.

          1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            I agree with you Wendy Darling. From my direct supervisor who makes about 5-10k more than I do but acts as a human shield for a lot of the bullshit that goes on around here = silly and funny; from my grand boss who makes double+ what I do and is the source of a lot of the bullshit = insulting and petty.

            1. A Genuine Scientician*


              From a friend, this would just be funny.

              From my current supervisor, I would also find this funny, and display it in my office proudly. But he is the best boss I’ve had in a *long* time. A couple of bosses from about 20 years ago also would have been able to pull this off. There is a recent past boss that I would have been profoundly insulted getting this from.

          2. Pounce de Lion*

            The faux-Oscar Barbie sounds more like it was silly fun at a party rather than their official and only bonus or recognition for the year. Seems like the circumstances of the supervisor’s hiring affected the OP’s sense of humor.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              If you have a jokey relationship with someone, this could be a huge joke. Like, I regularly tease my partner over his insatiable need for recognition, and I got a cheapo pack of medals. Any time he seems to be fishing for praise for doing something that should simply be expected, I throw a medal round his neck. He knows this means he should knock it off. So then of course he ramps up, but it’s all for a laugh and we both know it.
              For me, it seems like the circumstances of the supervisor’s hiring has affected OP’s respect for her, and when there’s no respect, humour doesn’t work well.

      2. Jaid*

        One year, some co-workers knew that I wanted a crystal paperweight from out of the “catalog o’fun”, back when employee appreciation actually existed. I got it, but they found also a decent sized rock and gussied it up with white out and yellow highlighter to proclaim me the entertainer of the unit and gave to me as their personal award.

    2. Gracely*

      I commented about this last year (or whenever it was this story was first posted) but my youth group in high school had an Oscars-themed party (our youth group was full of theater kids), and we did, in fact, hand out gold spray-painted Ken dolls as “awards”. But they had Hawaiian shorts on, because, church youth group.

      1. quill*

        Oh that’s a good one! though neither they, nor the actual oscar statue has a carrot… I suppose it’s the principle of the thing.

      2. Jenny*

        Were the Hawaiian shorts also spray-painted gold? Or were the dolls dressed after the paint dried?

        Either way, this is fantastic.

    3. Pants*

      It would make me laugh for sure.

      I won an actual bowling pin at a work event once. I was happy about it, as I have a collection of weird stuff. Right before they gave it to me, the Dragon Lady (one of the 3 named partners of the firm) handed her EA a sharpie and told her to handwrite the firm name and date on each pin. I tried everything to get that marker off before having to chuck the thing entirely. That place was an offshoot of the Hellmouth (fewer wasps) and I wanted none of that in my house.

          1. Pants*

            Boo! I didn’t even think of those! After various other things, I tried to sand it off with one of those Magic Eraser things (that’s all they are–fine sandpaper) and it wasn’t working either. In retrospect, it’s all for the best. It would just remind me of that hellscape. I much prefer to look at my demo drop-down oxygen mask thingie from an airplane. :-)

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              “my demo drop-down oxygen mask thingie from an airplane”
              There’s a story behind that right?

          2. A Genuine Scientician*

            Can confirm. Sharpie is soluble in alcohol. Pretty much every academic lab I know of has used alcohol to remove incorrect labels written in sharpie, most often on glass, plastic, or metal surfaces.

            1. Nightcat24*

              Or acetone! I specifically got myself a 4-colour set of fine-pointed sharpies for precisely labelling purposes.

    4. Anonymous Luddite*

      I mean, if there was a little effort in there. Speaking for myself, a little wood block for a stand would make the difference between weird and awesome.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        There is a series on Netflix called “The Toys that made Us”, and the episode on Barbie has some footage of an award ceremony at which the trophy is a gold Barbie doll.

        I think they did have a base though.

    5. Golden*

      Is it just me or do old Barbies have a greasy feel to them? Maybe the spray paint would cover it, but I never liked handling them.

    6. Lady_Lessa*

      I’m just surprised that the paint stuck.

      Many years ago, I tried to paint a dinosaur gold as part of my Halloween costume, but the enamel never dried.
      (it was supposed to be a dragon lizard)

        1. Nightcat24*

          I have never heard of that series until… three days ago and now it’s popping up here. A sign I should get started on it?

          1. Lady_Lessaa*

            If you like interesting science fiction, then consider it. The Series is “Dragonriders of Pern” From what I have read, just stick to the Anne McCaffrey ones. Next generation isn’t that good.

            And to A Genuine Scientician, you are right, I just forgot the true name of them.

    7. Van Wilder*

      I really need to know if they were mounted to a base so they were standing, or they were just dolls that you had to lay down because they wouldn’t stand on their own.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I had Sindy dolls (Barbie’s UK rival) and the Sindy ballerina came with a stand so it could stand on one leg.

    8. kittymommy*

      I’m not sure if I should be concerned that my first though is that if I cut all the hair off and rip off the arms, would it look like an Oscar…..

    9. Roy G. Biv*

      I think a gold painted Barbie sounds like the perfect top of my Christmas tree decoration. Right next to the zombie elf and Krampus. Must go thrifting this weekend….

    10. anonmouse*

      I think the issue was they only half assed it! They should have glued the barbies to stands and put little plaques on the stands for each award. Lean into the strange when doing something like this.

    11. CalypsoSummer*

      We used to have various competitions at work — athletic stuff, work-style Jeopardy, and so on — and the winner(s) of each competition would win a Genuine Authentic Plastic Cup with “Company-Name Cup” inscribed on it. Oh, and I think it had some goofy symbol on it that was supposed to symbolize something.

      The point of this Company-Name Cup was that the people who won them were supposed to display them and invoke envy and competitiveness in their fellow employees, which was supposed to foster teamwork in some way; and something was certainly invoked, I must admit that.

      “So. That’s it, huh? That?”
      “It’s . . . plastic.”
      “That’s what we’re supposed to in mad competition for, is it??”
      “Have you ever wondered what goes through the minds of the people who come up with this crap? I mean, have you ever wondered what in the world were they thinking?”

      1. TardyTardis*

        One year we ended up with beautifully-decorated paper plates (lace, ribbons, you name it) with some kind of name that symbolized your attitude towards work. I think I still have mine in the box I took home when I retired, though I can’t remember the name I ended up with. Our boss did some serious work with a hot glue gun on those plates.

    12. Baker*

      For a company bake-off, prizes were a certificate + a trophy made of a gold-painted wooden spoon affixed to a black-painted wooden base. Each trophy had a silver or gold starburst-style label with the category & year. These were highly coveted by the bake-off participants!

  1. Aarti*

    I feel for the board member in the last one. Yes, firefighters do risk their lives for us, but at the same time I have known them to be a fairly clannish bunch, and if I am seated with any group of professionals that all only have one similar job, I am definitely going to feel out of place and they might not have anything to say to me.

        1. PeanutButter*

          I was a firefighter, can confirm. Definitely would understand not wanting to be sat next to us. XD

    1. Metadata minion*

      Same here; this sounds like a situation where you should either let people sit with their colleagues OR mix it up entirely.

    2. Catabodua*

      100% this

      I had something like that happen, where I was seated at a table at a conference where it turned out everyone else was a bicycle enthusiast. The entire lunch was filled with talk of models and types and their workout routines, etc. When they asked me about my bike and I replied I didn’t have one you could see them collectively recoil in horror before they simply ignored me the rest of the meal. I made damn sure I didn’t go anywhere near them again for the next few days.

          1. Chilipepper Attitude*

            no but I have been touched by noodle, the savior of the church of the flying spaghetti monster, who declares bones and no bones days

      1. funbud*

        A similar story with a holiday lunch with a client (there were 2 or 3 reps present), one of our marketing people and me. Turned out two of the client reps and our guy were all HUGE Peloton cultists. Conversation devolved into tedious, extremely detailed comparisons of trainers and sessions. So incredibly boring. I had two desserts to compensate for having to sit through this.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think you deserved both desserts.

          I got trapped on a table by 3 avid runners who were talking at length for several courses about their favourite routes and running gear and shoes. Seldom have I been more bored.

          1. La Triviata*

            Years ago I was working for a trade association. The organization was a member of an international group which held annual conferences all over the world. The head of the organization I worked for (who attended to represent the American association) invariably had a terrible time at the non-U.S. conferences, everything from not having towels to being mugged by a prostitute (and, no, he was a devoutly religious man and would never go looking for extramarital hi-jinks). The ONE time the meeting was in the U.S., the person in charge of protocol and seating arrangements at the big banquethad him at a table where no one else spoke English (he, of course, spoke nothing else), So that was a bad time as well.

            Same man had a tendency to give Christmas “presents” rather than bonuses, but they always seemed to be things that weren’t money and/or couldn’t be spent. One year, it was lottery tickets; another, it was stamps that had been issued in the year each person was born. One year it was more useful – a sheet of two-dollar bills that, if you wanted to spend them, had to be cut up into individual bills. sigh ….

            1. UKDancer*

              I am trying not to laugh at the “not having towels” bit. I’ve occasionally stayed in an hotel and not had towels and I have asked for them at reception. Was there a story behind it?

        2. Artemesia*

          ANY hobby is boring to an outsider. My husband sings — opera chorus, symphony chorus, church choir in a church with a serious classic music program etc etc. I love being audience but nothing on earth is as excruciating as a table full of singers talking about singing technique, etc .

          Lovely people in his hobby, but OMG save me from inside baseball i.e. inside chorus talk.

      2. Aarti*

        Y’all my best story about this is once I got stuck in a networking session talking to some dude who was lamenting how hard it was to get a custom all-wood steering wheel for his BMW, which would cost X amount of money. It took every ounce of self control I had not to pop him in the nose, what a disgusting and ostentatious and overt display of wealth. You should all be so proud of me!

        And thanks all for submitting your stories! I hate being excluded I have been the new kid all my life (my parents moved a lot) and I am very good at it, but it’s nigh impossible to insert yourself into a situation where people just refuse to talk to you!

        1. Lizzie*

          Not work related, but many years back, a few months after I had broken up with a long term BF, I attended a bridal shower for the daughter of my mom’s best friend. I knew both her daughters, we had participated in a sport, which is how the mom’s met, and while they were still close, i was friendly with the daughters but not close close. i saw them a couple of times a year at the holidays.

          Anyway, all of her friends, who were a few years younger than I was, were getting married in a 6 month time frame. so ALL the talk was about that. My mom, who has always pushed me to be social, as I am kind of shy and socially awkward, asked after why I didn’t just change the subject. Um i TRIED but when you have 8-10 people all invested in something you have NOTHING to contribute to, well, its kind of hard. I was so glad when it was over!

          1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

            I actually really love weddings and wedding talk, ESPECIALLY when it’s not my own, but that sounds terrible! It is absolutely too much of a good thing and with that many people talking about it at once I can only imagine the inanity it would devolve into. 100 internet commiserations to you!

            1. Squirrel Nutkin*

              Big family wedding. Table skews towards the majority of the table talking about their kids. Okay, fine. Not unexpected. Cousin who is a psychiatrist (!) decides to try to include the rest of us by asking the three forty-something women how it feels not to have children. Two of the three of us are NOT child-free-by-choice. I left the table in tears. That little !@#$@# is dead to me.

              1. Squirrel Nutkin*

                So I guess my point is that there are definitely worse things than being left out of the conversation at times!

                1. Squirrel Nutkin*

                  Thank you. It’s almost funny in its extreme awfulness in retrospect, but it sure wasn’t funny at the time.

        2. Anon for this*

          I will admit to occasionally bemoaning the fact that I can’t find someone to make a custom woodworking piece for me, though I only do it when the person I’m talking to might have the skills to actually make said custom woodworking piece, and want to make it clear that I understand the costs involved and am willing to pay said costs.

          I don’t understand the point of talking about something like that with someone who doesn’t have those skills though.

      3. Drago Cucina*

        There is a large public library system in my state. I quickly learned that at state convention lunches they always tried to sit together and only spoke to each other. If you asked a question, there was a short answer, and then pretending you didn’t exist. I thought it was just me until I saw them do the same with an academic librarian in the same city.
        I began referring to them as The Cabal. I remember one time just saying the phrase and the director of another system knew exactly who I meant.

        1. pony tailed wonder*

          OMIGOSH – I work in a library and have had that happen to me as well. I didn’t realize it was a thing. This explains SO much.

        2. Windchime*

          We have these people at my quilt retreats. They are held at the same venue and the same people attend year after year. Some people attend every month. There is a group who guard their table at meals and only certain people can sit there. I call them the Mean Girls. (They are all in their 70’s at least).

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I agree. The board member didn’t say anything against firefighters other than they didn’t want to talk to the stranger in their midst. Seems like everyone else indulged in some virtue signalling.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        And really, it wasn’t his fault that whoever sent out the invitation put everyone’s email addresses in the To: or CC: fields, instead of using BCC: or a mailing list. And whoever was in charge of their email system *allowed* them to. There’s far more ineptitude here than hitting Reply All.

        1. curiousLemur*

          It wasn’t a good idea to ask this via e-mail. Even if he hadn’t accidentally cc’d everyone, e-mails are easy to forward.

            1. allathian*

              Hah, reminds me of the old saw “a committee is a life form with six or more legs and no brain.”

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Or if you have to ask via email – you do a new email to the person doing seating and “ask to sit at a different table this year so that everyone has an equal chance to sit with the firefighters.”

      2. Mister Lady*

        I read it the same way — that the board member just felt excluded and like the not-cool kid in high school all over again! The responses seemed weirdly off-base to me.

        1. Texas*

          Yeah! Like, no matter how risky your job is, no one has to put up with you treating them rudely. Unless the message from the board member was rude and dismissive I don’t understand why other people got so worked up about it. I wonder if any of the high and mighty people ended up the odd one out at the firefighters table…

          1. Anon for this*

            Sounds like a variant of people mocking someone for replying all, targeted specifically to the content of the message. The reply all could’ve been “hey, wait, the gift cards are double this year” and someone would have found a sarcastic way to mock it purely because it went to everyone.

      3. Essess*

        I had that same reaction. The board member was ostracized and no one would talk to them, so they wanted to ensure they were not seated with the people that didn’t want the OP with them this time.

      4. traffic_spiral*

        Seriously, wtf is “I would be honored to be seated with those firefighters, as they’re willing to risk their lives to keep our community safe?” Do you think the firefighters are going to care that you were willing to sit and be ignored by them?

        Personally, I’d give the seat to Ms. “Most likely to kiss under the Mistletoe.” I’m sure it’d be more appreciated by all parties (including her coworkers).

      5. Lunita*

        Agreed. The reaction after the board member’s email seems odd. And I have to add that I’ve actually had a negative encounter with fire fighters. When I was in college, I was sitting with my boyfriend at the time outside campus. His skateboard was nearby. A group of firefighters walked by and one of them-completely unprompted-made a rude comment about him picking me up for a date on the skateboard. Or something to that effect.

      6. Batgirl*

        I agree, I really hate virtue signalling, and there always seems to be someone ready to pop up their hand to talk about how awesome they are. The best bit is that they don’t even need to to be saying something bad, they just need you to have failed at maximising the potential message of virtue. This is a perfect example of one person asking for something practical and another person butting in with a morality message.

    4. Bernice Clifton*

      I’ve planned plenty of sit-down work parties and I would never do assigned seating unless specifically told to.

    5. You can call me flower, if you want to*

      Wife of a firefighter-also can confirm. I wouldn’t want to be at that table.

    6. Observer*

      I don’t think that the Board member was wrong. But it’s the kind of email that you need to be VERY careful of.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Certainly true, and this whole thing is a good example of it. I don’t blame the guy for not wanting to sit with people who ignore him all night. It’s not a diss on their job, it’s a diss on their clannishness, I guess.

      1. theonceandfuturegrantwriter*

        my guess is that it was less sanctimony and more trying to smooth over the board member’s faux pas, as it is pretty awkward for a member of the board to have emailed everyone who attends their holiday party saying they didn’t want to sit with the firefighters, and as first responders, there is a social norm of according them a certain amount of respect — especially from a board member. You can’t un-send the email, but you can try to mitigate the damage so that it doesn’t reflect so badly on the organization at large.

        1. curiousLemur*

          “as first responders, there is a social norm of according them a certain amount of respect” This!

          1. PT*

            Yeah, if you’re a public facing company, you play nice with the first responders because you need them to feel motivated to do their jobs correctly when they are dealing with your company. Not be like “ugh I hate responding there I’m going to stop for a coffee first and then do the bare minimum so I can eat my donut in peace.”

            I worked in a public facing place and having a good relationship with your emergency services really helps things go smoothly when you end up needing their assistance.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I think they actually made it worse by basically gasping in horror and making sure everyone notices Something Awful Was Said.

      2. LouLou*

        This seems like a pretty extreme reaction…replying all saying you don’t want to sit next to a specific group of people is really a HUGE faux pas. Ideally just ONE person would have smoothed it over, but I see why a bunch of people felt the need to leap into damage control mode.

    7. Snarkastic*

      Yes. It’s not like he said, “I’m too good to sit with Firefighters.” He said: “They didn’t speak to me all night and it was unpleasant.” Been there! Everyone gets very touchy when it comes to first responders, even though they are also people and are capable of being rude.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        Oh, yes to this! For some reason (well, ever since a tragic event 20 years ago), first responders have been put on pedestals, had halos hovering over their heads, and all wear angel wings. I mean, it’s an important job and good for them, but the whole thing of never being allowed to say anything negative about any of them, ever ever ever, no matter what they do, gets on my last nerve.

        1. PeanutButter*

          For those of us who are/were first responders (I was a paramedic for almost a decade) it gets old too…especially when it comes to us trying to get pay commensurate with the service we provide and immediately all that “Thank you for your service” talk becomes “why should I pay you more than $13 an hour when I can call a taxi to the hospital?”

          1. Snarkastic*


            It’s all good until you mess with their bottom line, I guess.

    8. Jessica Fletcher*

      Right, he wasn’t saying anything derogatory about them. He just didn’t find them chatty and didn’t want to pay to sit by people who wouldn’t talk to him. But of course, any mild criticism (of a mostly male group) gets blown out of proportion, and the whole thing turns into hero worship.

    9. Elizabeth West*

      I got stuck at the bosses’ table at OldExjob’s Christmas party. This happened twice, mostly because I had no one to bring and there was one extra seat both times. It was super boring. I stopped going to the party after that.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Or at least not as a reply to a message sent to a large group of people. If he’d written a brand-new email addressed to the appropriate person, it would have been fine. Likewise if he’d made sure to take off any other email addresses. Unfortunately, some people don’t understand how to do that.

    10. Pipe Organ Guy*

      I was at a regional convention once where I sat one day at lunch at a table with one of the elected national councilors. At the time, she also was one of the organists at a nationally prominent location in one of the western states. I mean, she was one of several giving daily noontime concerts and talking about the organ and its famous location. I introduced myself, being a member of our professional organization in the region she served. I was politely acknowledged, but then she just resumed her conversation with someone she knew and who had probably traveled to this convention with her. It was like a wall had dropped, because I clearly wasn’t part of her religious group. It felt very strange, to say the least, and she missed an opportunity to engage professionally with other members of the organization.

    11. Denver Gutierrez*

      I have had that happen. Not with firefighters, but once at a women’s breakfast, I was the only person at the table who had no kids. It was OK at first, but then the kid talk started and it was like I became invisible. When they started swapping childbirth stories (in detail in the middle of a restaurant!) I left early.

  2. You get a pen and you get a pen*

    I’m shocked in these holiday posts at how many employees get mad or upset at Brown Elephant/Yankee Swap gifts! They are SUPPOSED to be horrible gifts! You can’t participate and expect to come away with some over the top nice gift as that’s not the point.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      The comments thread on this site has discovered over the years that the rules and expectations for these different kinds of gift exchanges vary a lot – by region, family of origin, etc. To some a Yankee Swap is bad/funny gifts, and to others it just has the element of being able to steal someone else’s item.

      Companies need to be very, very clear on the rules for this kind of thing. If some people bring in second-hand stuff and others bring in small but nice new stuff, you’re going to end up with hurt feelings.

      1. Kimmy Schmidt*

        And there’s vastly different interpretations of “bad”! To me, it means a silly or funny novelty gift, but ideally something that’s still useful. Some people interpret bad as something secondhand, something bizarre, something homemade, or literal trash.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Very good point!

          Honestly, exchanges where the expectation is “bad” gifts probably work better among families or friend groups who are more likely to be more aligned on the tone everyone is aiming for. Sticking with small but real gifts for the office may be the way to go, unless you have a very collegial team where you have a sense that the jokey version will go over well.

          Of course, with gifts meant to be nice there can be hurt feelings if someone chooses something carefully and it’s clear it’s not a desired gift.

          I’m glad I work in a government office where maybe someone brings in cookies or something but there’s zero expectation of participating in gift exchanges.

          1. Funbud*

            At my old job, the staff was mostly relatively young people (20s – mid 30s). The most popular items the first year we did an exchange were LIQUOR. The 2nd year ALL the exchange items were liquor.

            We had to raise the purchase limit but folks seemed very happy. You need to know your audience.

            1. Absurda*

              My team doesn’t do holiday stuff but pre-covid we’d get invited to another team’s celebration. They always did “favorite beverage”exchanges; the whiskey and Bailey’s were always popular. Last time the team was so large they broke it into alcoholic beverage and non-alcoholic beverage groups. It worked really well.

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                Now that is something I would love to be part of.

                At ExJob we just drew names from a hat for Secret Santa, and it was still–a nightmare. It never happened again after that.

                1. La Triviata*

                  At old, bad, job, staff would have a Secret Santa deal. The idea was that you’d pick a name out of a hat (or equivalent) and then spend the week before the holiday party giving your person a little gift. At the party, people would try to guess their Secret Santa. It was often pretty amusing, so one year I signed up. My person was someone I knew enough to know some of what they liked – my gifts were, as I remember, some fancy teas, a pretty tea cup and such. However, the first day of the Santa-ing, I didn’t receive a gift from the Secret Santa. When I didn’t get anything the second day, I went to the person who was running it and asked if they could maybe nudge my Santa and remind them … but she said that she hadn’t kept a record of who was Secret Santa for who. So, for the entire week, I gifted my person but never received anything. At the party, when people were trying to guess their Santa and my person came up, she immediately named the person who’d been running the exchange, since they were good friends and all the gifts were JUST what she wanted. And the person running the exchange jumped up and declared that yes, she was the Secret Santa for her bestie. Which led me to assume that the exchange runner had drawn my name, knew that I’d drawn her friend, and decided not to bother getting anything for me.

                  Needless to say, I never participated again.

            2. Lizzie*

              I’m actually going to a holiday party with my BF, for a service org. he belongs to, and they do this. He’s already said “the limit is $20, most go over, adn most buy booze” okey dokey, that works for me!

            3. Rosie*

              Hah I work in a certain now legal industry in some states industry and I’d say 70% of the gifts tend to be directly related which has yielded zero complaints

        2. many bells down*

          I got a dead plant once. Not at a work event, at least.

          To be fair, I would have killed it myself anyway as I am very bad with plants, but already dead was a bit much.

              1. Magenta Sky*

                We are a retail chain. We sell many, many things, including air fresheners. One particular company, that we have dealt with for many, many years. sells especially well.

                As is typical in retail, vendors like to show some appreciation for the business come the holiday season (especially to companies that sell a *lot* of product, and, more importantly, pay their bills on time). This is usually in the form of cards, boxes of chocolate, or those big tin cans of popcorn, all of which are appreciated. There are exceptions. Some like to be . . . creative.

                The air freshener company, one year, sent us a miniature Christmas tree (a pine branch stuck in a pot), that they had sprayed with a new scent called Wintergreen. Very Christmas-y. There were two problems. First, they’d used about 1,000,000 too much. And second, it smelled like armpit. And I mean it *really* smelled like armpit, in the worst, “been to the gym every day for a week without a shower” sort of way. Within a couple of minutes, the entire office smelled like armpit. Within a couple more, it was removed (and the company told if they ever sent us one of those again, there would be . . . consequences).

                It should have gone in the trash, of course, but one of my coworkers (who I miss dearly, since she left to work at a place that lets employees carry pistols in ankle holsters, but that, and she, are another story entirely) asked if she could put it in my storage room until the holiday party, where she wrapped it up (well enough to hide the smell, even) and put it in the gift exchange.

                It was a very popular idea. It was *not* a very popular gift.

                My store room never really recovered.

                1. quill*

                  Sort of reminds me of the not-christmas fiasco I had at one lab where we were shipped a bottle of geranium scented oil. Instant headache! Also, very leaky.

                  I had to put it in a bag in a bag in an airtight box in another room. It took three days for the smell to leave the rest of the office. We never used it and when we moved out of that office we left it behind.

                2. Salymander*

                  Scented gifts are really tricky unless they are for a specific person and the gift giver knows them well enough to give a scented gift that they are absolutely sure to like. It can go very wrong.

                  I was once given a jar of scented bath oil beads for Christmas by a man of my aquaintance. Not anyone I was dating, and not at all a close friend. The bath beads were unsealed, and the smell of them was overpowering in a really sickening, migraine inducing sort of way. It was like an unholy combination of urinal cakes and roses. When I opened the jar to dump out the bath beads, I found several pubic hairs inside. So, migraine inducing as well as really nasty. I don’t know if it was intentional or just a really bad regifting fail. Knowing the person, it could be either.

              2. Usagi*

                Me too! I tried searching online but didn’t find anything (to be fair, I didn’t try to hard, I found stuff like a tattoo of a tree in someone’s armpit?? I don’t need much more of that in my life) Magenta Sky please deliver!

          1. Mars Maybe Me*

            In grade 8 we did the stealing present thing, the gifts were meant to be small, not expensive but still nice (chocolate, pens, cheap bath stuff, ect). I got toilet paper. I don’t think the teacher did a gift exchange the next year because she hadn’t expected a kid to gift toilet paper and was a bit taken aback. I was disappointed in getting the only objectively bad gift. Only experience with it and I wouldn’t partake again.

            1. Blue Skies*

              I am surprised a teacher would suggest this activity. Finances vary wildly and for some even small, not expensive gifts would still be out of reach for some. The TP may have reflected serious financial challenges. (That, or the giver might have thought it was funny).

                1. UKDancer*

                  When I visited Ukraine a few years ago I found you could buy toilet paper with Putin’s face on. He is, for many reasons, not very popular over there and apparently it amuses people to have his face on their bog roll. I must confess I did buy one for a joke present because I knew it would make the recipient laugh. It was not the only present I gave that recipient but it made them crack up.

                  I think that’s the only time I’ve given anyone bog roll as a present.

                2. MissBaudelaire*

                  Awhile ago on Facebook I used to see those ‘adult Easter basket’ idea, and it might be a mega pack of TP and paper towels, cleaning products, a mop, a bulk thing of a snack. All I could think was “I kinda want one for Christmas instead of a stocking.”

                3. KateM*

                  UKDancer: I gave once a TP roll as a gift because it was of the kind which had a sudoku printed on each sheet. I guess the idea was that if you need to wait lonh until you are done, you have something to do.

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                That is why I don’t do a gift exchange in my Scout group. Some of them do, but it just feels like it’s setting someone up to be traumatized. I, the leader, buy gifts for everyone and/or make up little goody bags with some sweets and a note pad and pencil.

              2. KoiFeeder*

                I went to a private school, so finances were (generally) within a closer range, and some of the elementary school secret santas got pretty harrowing. It could run the gamut of parents storming in to yell at the teacher for asking their kid to participate/for pairing their kid with a specific student, students getting in trouble because their parents refused to spend money on the secret santa and they either failed to bring in something or brought in something that wasn’t considered good enough, gifts intended to make their recipients angry or upset, and because secret santa gifts had to be given to the teacher before being handed out one or twice there was thefts of or tampering with gifts by a teacher which the student impacted by couldn’t complain about.

                On the funny side there was also the apocryphal gift that caused the rule of having the teacher inspect the gifts first, which was rumored to have been a variety of things including anthrax, a loaded gun, and a live tarantula.

            2. Butterfly Counter*

              Interesting. Had that been the gift in April of 2020, it might have started a riot to get at!

        3. Cold Fish*

          The only white elephant gift I found to be truly in poor taste was that gal who 5 min before the exchange, wrapped up literal trash (wadded up scrap paper). To me there is a different between “ha, ha, ha, you got this totally hideous/useless thing” and “ha, ha, ha, you got nothing” If I wanted nothing, I would not have participated.

        4. A Feast of Fools*

          Gah, yes!

          My next-door neighbor used to hold an annual “Dirty Santa” party, where you can steal someone else’s gift. Other than how to play the game, the only rule was a spending limit per wrapped gift.

          My neighbor got it in her head that “Dirty Santa” meant trash gifts. One year, her wrapped contribution was her deceased father’s ancient, yellowed, Rolodex. Har-har-har.

          The Rolodex was the final straw and the next year we all told her she couldn’t participate in the game she was hosting unless she contributed something that she, herself, would like to receive.

          1. Sakuko*

            Around here an after Christmas junk Santa is popular. The idea is not so much to give actual trash, but give away the horribly pointless, tacky or weird gifts you received by well-meaning or not so well-meaning family and friends.
            I personally don’t really understand it, but apparently the point is to just laugh at the silliness and maybe get something you personally don’t find quite as trashy as the original recipient.

          1. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

            I don’t know, but this is apparently a thing at a professional group I participate in. I’ve been told repeatedly that the #1 rule of the thing is not to spend any money on the present. Re-gifting is common and there are gifts that have been passed around the group for a couple of decades at this point, including some tacky angel figurines that have achieved total rockstar status.

            I’m…mystified. And looking forward to it in more of an anthropological sense than anything else.

      2. UKDancer*

        This so much! I think if you’re doing a Christmas exchange it’s critical to be clear what the rules are so that everyone knows what type of exchange it is.

        We’ve never done anything involving stealing gifts so I wouldn’t know how that worked without someone explaining it. When my last company did a secret santa it was the “pick a name and buy them something below £5 in value.” So I’d not expect people stealing things unless it was explained to me.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          I think the “stealing” gift exchanges are popular because they give some structure to a party other than standing around making small talk. There’s a whole round-robin process of figuring out who gets to pick a gift off the table first, people watching the gifts be opened and discussing them, etc. There are different rules about whether the stealing happens before or after the gift is unwrapped, how many times a gift can be stolen, etc. It’s more of a party game than a gift exchange, really.

          If your office is more of a “leave the gift on someone’s desk” type, the swap-style exchange wouldn’t really make sense.

          1. Anne Kaffeekanne*

            Yes – when I was a kid my parents would host the Christmas party for my dad’s department and they always did a swap with terrible presents and very clear rules (it couldn’t be broken but it had to be terrible or completely useless). There’d be a round robin with swapping and stealing etc and as far as I remember everyone loved it because it was more about the game than the presents – and it was a department where all the people had fun with this kind of stuff.

            After year 1, my parents did however institute a check when people were leaving to make sure they had their ‘present’ with them. Too many were hidden in our bookshelves that first year.

            1. Hats Are Great*

              My grandfather’s office started with a Yankee Swap, but over the years it turned into this whole thing where all of the presents were regifted every year, and whichever one you got, you had to display on your desk for the entire year, and there was a whole ranking of which ones were the best and worst presents even though they were all just objectively bizarre. The “best” one, which would allow you to lord it over the rest of the office for the entire year, was a 6-in high stuffed giraffe that someone had given earrings, really tacky earrings. The “worst” one, which brought shame upon you, your family, and your dog, was an actual statuette of a white elephant painted with glittery gold paint in places that had a tiny top hat.

              It was this incredibly raucous gift exchange, with super-elaborate rules about stealing, that would end with grown ass adults pumping their fists in the air and shouting with joy because they got the weird earring giraffe.

              I feel like this is the only kind of Yankee Swap I would want to participate in!

          2. Lore*

            We haven’t done one at my job in years (the department has grown enough to make it unwieldy) but we always did the stealing before unwrapping, so the gift was pretty much incidental–the wrapping was EVERYTHING. I found Scooby Doo paper at the drugstore one year and my gift suddenly became super popular. The best ever was a giant box that jingled that turned out to contain a set of jingle bells, an enormous quantity of straw and a $20 iTunes gift card. (It was a $20 limit.) The best thing I ever got out of it was a handheld electronic Yahtzee game that is lost somewhere in my apartment at this point, and that’s all for the best because it was completely addictive.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I can only see potential for bad blood and no fun whatsoever in stealing presents, but maybe my sense of humour is stunted…

        2. Lizzie*

          I agree! I’ve done pretty much every variation out there; secret santa where you pick a name, and buy ONE person a gift. Sometimes with the name is a list of 3 things they like. Others have just been pick a name and buy X$ gift for that person.
          I’ve done grab bags where everyone buys a gift with a $$ limit, you pick, and that’s it. you keep what you pick.
          I’ve done the Yankee/white elephant/dirty santa one too. sometimes its buy a NICE gift, other times, its a funny gift, and the way most have worked, you pick a number, which is what order you choose, and you can keep or steal someone else’s gift.

          i think the biggest issue with these is how its presented, i.e. are you buying a ‘real” gift, gag gift, or something utterly hideous, and spelling it out clearly, as everyone has different interpretations.

          1. Zephy*

            The problem is that we, collectively, have conflated the concepts of Yankee Swap, which is just a party game and may be played with gifts of any caliber, and White Elephant gift exchanges, where no matter what game you choose to play (if any at all), the point is that the gift is either bad or useless, and is often an inside joke – be it an obvious regift, a heinously ugly piece of decor or clothing, or the classic immortal fruitcake that gets passed around every year. In fact, White Elephants are exactly when you *should* bust out the “random tchotchke no one remembers buying and no one actually wants to have,” whether that’s a weird bust of Danny DeVito or a can of white hominy from 1998 or socks with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s face on them or whatever your family/friend-group’s meme gift is. White Elephant gift exchanges *often* involve a game of Yankee Swap but it’s not obligatory, and generally speaking a work gift exchange probably should *not* be a White Elephant.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            This. Make sure it’s “all nice gifts at X price point” or “all silly stuff we can laugh over.” At my Doctor Who group, we had one of these and I brought a Van Gogh exploding TARDIS poster and ended up with a plastic banana because nobody defined the rules.

      3. Anonymous Luddite*

        That last bit is the most important part: Have VERY clear cut rules established BEFORE everyone starts drinking. Because nothing says “holiday spirit” like drunk people acting as rules lawyers at volume.

      4. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This is why when I was in charge of planning Yankee Swap for the work party, I always picked a theme. Everybody brings in a coffee mug or a pair of novelty socks or a book they enjoyed this year, something along those lines. That way, everybody gets a gift roughly equivalent to the one they brought.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          Now *this* is the only kind of Yankee Swap I want to be part of.

          I have seen some places do cookie exchanges, where everyone bakes a dozen or so of their favorite kind, and whoever bakes gets to take one cookie off everyone else’s tray. Thought that was a cute idea, too.

        2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          My husband’s family did that a few years – it had to be Christmas ornaments of some type, with something like a $10 limit.

        3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          Just make sure you announce the theme far enough in advance. One year, my boss announced a really specific theme the week of the work party because she’d found something “perfect” while thrifting that weekend and gotten inspired (other years this exchange did not have a theme). I then got to rummage around my house for something I already owned but didn’t want that fit the theme since these were supposed to be used items and I did not have time to go theme-thrifting after work in December.

      5. Olivia Mansfield*

        Our exchange used to be funny / gag gifts, and it slowly transitioned from that to nicer stuff, including a lot of alcohol. There are usually one or two items that are still on the gag gift spectrum, but now those items are noticeably worse than the other items. Some people bring what they think a white elephant / yankee swap gift is SUPPOSED to be, regardless of what our event has actually become. They are sticklers for the original intent of the swap.

      6. anonymous73*

        What you say is true, and I agree that the rules need to be clear. But if you lose your mind over receipt of a less than stellar/used/cheap gift you need to seriously re-evaluate your life. I’ve been a part of several of those gift exchanges, and there’s always someone who shows up with something not great, but the participation of it is usually fun and most reasonable humans aren’t going to lose their shit over a $20 gift.

      7. Denver Gutierrez*

        We do these games at my workplace, but with new items. We have a limit of how much you can spend, like $15. That way no one brings literal junk while someone else brings an iPod or something.

      8. thatjillgirl*

        Very true! To me, “Dirty Santa” just means you will be stealing gifts, but I still expect them to be actual gifts. “White Elephant,” on the other hand, I would take to mean bad/joke gifts. “Yankee Swap?” No idea. That term isn’t used in my region. But yeah, because of the varying terminologies and expectations, you really need to define the terms up front.

      9. Retired (but not really)*

        A choir group I was in did an exchange like this. It was a lot of fun because one of the gifts was a wooden necklace with parrots on it that whoever ended up with “had” to wear over their choir robe the following Sunday. And of course bring it back the following year to be passed on. The funny part of it was that two years in a row the guy who also played the tuba was the recipient. The next year I got it. The other gifts were usually Knick-knack things.

    2. Metadata minion*

      I think a lot of it is that the idea they’re supposed to be terrible gifts isn’t universal! I’ve seen these swaps presented as “bring a hilariously terrible gift” or “bring an inexpensive gift (that you think someone would actually want)”, and if you don’t make explicit which one it is people are going to end up embarrassed and/or disappointed.

      1. probably not the favorite niece*

        This miscommunication happened one time when my extended family decided, now that all the cousins are grown, we should make Christmas gifts easier by having everyone bring just one thing and doing a swap. My grandmother was very clear about the expected price range–there was a lower and upper limit, so that we would get items of comparable value. The range was reasonable for my family’s circumstances, but definitely no lower than you would’ve expected to spend on a normal gift for a family member.

        Unfortunately, my aunt did not take in that this $20 minimum value, or whatever it was, meant they were supposed to be gifts people would actually want. And she bought the gifts theoretically contributed by her husband and two kids, as well.

        My immediate family somehow managed to end up with only my aunt’s contributions in the swap. Other people went home with things like sausage and cheese hampers or nice kitchenware. We had a mug in the shape of a toilet and a soap dispenser shaped like a giant nose. (Yes, it dispensed green soap.)

        We never did a swap game again.

        1. Denver Gutierrez*

          Lol, the toilet mug was a very popular item at one of my workplace gift exchanges a few years ago. The nose would probably been a hit too.

    3. Nanc*

      One year I found a copy of The Partridge Family Up to Date album in a thrift store. I paid a quarter for it and wrapped it up super fancy in a giant box and it turned out to be the most stolen white elephant gift at the party. Who knew there were so many Partridge Family fans in the parks and recreation department?

      1. Why *do* birds sing when you are near?*

        My dad lost his copy of The Best of the Carpenters in our move 16 years ago and he still talks about which one of us must have stolen it/threw it away/etc. It takes all kinds, apparently. (And yes, I did buy him a new copy when we realized it was gone. I don’t like the Carpenters, but who am I to deny him the joy?)

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          Gave my best friend’s dad a mini guitar hero type game as a gag. He was thrilled by it. Okay, cool, Dad. We went about our business. Later that night he stomped in and demanded to know which one of us had taken his super cool five dollar mini guitar hero game. Neither of us! No one wanted it but him!

    4. Pants*

      Depends on who’s running it. In the work-sponsored Elephant exchanges that I’ve seen in all my years, it was always expected that you’d bring a nice gift within a certain budget. The one time I was forced to participate, I brought something I’d chosen with a particular person in mind but could work for anyone. I told him which was mine and that I had him in mind for it. (It was an admin party and he was the only man there; I wanted to make sure there was something appropriate there for him, since this was a puffy hearts and Precious Moments type of crew.) He wound up with my gift but it got stolen a few times first. I wound up with a Hallmark figurine of some sort that went straight into the bin once I was home.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        To me, a White Elephant means you bring something you already have & don’t want but that someone else might. Otherwise, it’s a swap, grab bag, etc.

    5. Scarlet Magnolias*

      I remember a yankee swap at an Xmas party in my library. I brought 2 battery operated hamsters that wore karate uniforms and sang “Kung-Fu fighting” while waving their weapons. You never saw so many drunk librarians fighting for those hamsters.

      1. Gemmy for Life*

        One year for Christmas, I bought four of these- one for myself and three to give away. I usually am very mild mannered and defer to people, but I could see myself getting VERY worked up about a Gemmy special.

      2. Wesley Smasher*

        My ex-wife had a collection of 30-40 of similarly themed singing dancing hamsters. I can’t hear “Kung-Fu Fighting” now without mentally cringing.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          My driver’s ed teacher had a similar collection. 30-40 of them. She’d set them going whenever she was bored, which was often. Lady had more loose screws than your average Home Depot.

          Bonus: My first day of driver’s ed was the morning of 9/11/2001…a couple of miles from the Pentagon. I remember a loud thump, and the pause as we listened, trying to figure out WTF was THAT and whether we needed to do something about it. I remember the other silence after the principal got on the PA and told us what it was. And yes, I remember the hamster chorus kung-fu fighting their little electronic hearts out in the background. I can’t unhear it, so I’m sharing, you’re welcome.

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        As somebody who has attended many a drunk librarian party, that sounds ridiculously fun.

      4. EPLawyer*

        I would have fought for the hamsters. Even sober.

        The adult girl scout leaders got together for our annual holiday party (without the girl scouts so we could drink and be silly). We did the Yankee Swap with stealing. One person brought a pair of ceramic owls that were … rustic shall we say. The person who grabbed that package was praying someone would steal them. Got to my turn, I don’t even know what I orginally opened, I just grabbed those owls. Everyone thought I was being nice and relieving the person who did not want them and make sure no one else got them. I had to explain, no I WANTED THOSE OWLS. I collect owls and they were ADORABLE to me. I still have them in fact.

        As to Alison’s list, HOWLING at the Nuns and Priests. See that’s the way its supposed to be. Everyone having fun and “fighting” over a prize. But no hard feelings in the end.

        1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          I LOVED the nuns and priests story! And I’m not crazy about buns or priests otherwise.

          1. Anomalous*

            I loved the nuns and priest story, too. If you are going to do “stealing” of presents, I think the ideal way is to do it when they are still wrapped. That makes it all fun, and you don’t really have a good idea of what you are trying to steal.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think that was the greatest white elephant/Yankee Swap story of all. They all knew what sort of Yankee Swap they were participating in, and had total fun with it. I get a big grin on my face every time I read it.

    6. Golden*

      At my old job, there were two coworkers who would bring absolutely awful, third and forth worst gifts year after year, but somehow inevitably end up with the worst and second-worst gifts. They’d then throw a fit about what they had received despite having marginally better contributions.

      One of them also complained loudly that my contribution couldn’t have been lower than the dollar amount (it was; I got it at the thrift store) and should be taken out of the game. I think people’s expectations with White Elephant just vary so widely that this sort of thing is common in the workplace, when it might be the first time playing for some or have different standards than their family or friend group game.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        Another website I’m part of used to do a lot of themed exchanges. Books, cats, anime, you name it, there was probably an exchange for it. It went downhill when a lot of people started signing up for them and sending out really crappy gifts in hopes that they would get the super lovely expensive gifts that were given.

    7. yala*

      My Dad’s side of the family used to do Dirty Santa on Christmas morning (either DVDs or ornaments, depending on the year), and I haaaaated it so much, because it could get very mean-spirited

      But at the office party? I think it’s a hoot! Yeah, sure, sometimes there will be Nice Things that someone Really Wants, but overall, they’re cheap little sussies that aren’t more than ten bucks or so. If you’re lucky you might get something kinda neat (I like my lumbar-support vibrating desk chair pillow I got two years back), but you really don’t go in expecting that.

      Now, if it’s an office where folks have started bringing Nice/Pricey Things in…then you’re gonna get hurt feelings again.

      1. Usagi*

        I wish my office would standardize a “theme,” like are we getting gag gifts? Nice-ish stuff that people legitimately would want? Practical stuff?

        I’ve worked here two years, and both years, I’ve done my best to stick within the $20 limit and still get stuff that people would want. The first year I brought one of those mini waffle irons and some pancake mix, and last year I brought a desk humidifier. The first year I received a pop-socket, and last year I got a big paper bag (like grocery store bag) full of random inexpensive food items like instant ramen and vienna sausage. I really don’t need a pop socket, and it’s not like the food isn’t useful? But this year I’m not going to try too hard.

    8. JB*

      I think part of the issue is different expectations, and that there are multiple games with a similar setup that people might be familiar with.

      Yankee Swap, in particular, is not supposed to be horrible/joke gifts. It’s supposed to be nice gifts (within the cost limit). Our family Yankee Swaps usually include gifts like nice throw blankets, exotic BBQ sauce sampler sets, a mid-price bottle of liquor, etc. (Obviously it’s still not cool to complain about the gift you end up with if you don’t like it! It’s a game, and although ideally everyone ‘wins’, sometimes your ‘win’ is getting something you can re-gift.)

      White Elephant is more likely to be joke gifts, or at least very cheap gifts. Dirty Santa can be either, IME.

      So if you have people who have only ever played one type of gift swap, and they’re invited to a different kind, and either the guidelines aren’t clearly laid out or they don’t read them…chaos, hurt feelings, etc.

    9. Pool Lounger*

      At my partner’s previous job you weren’t supposed to give bad gifts, just weird and not expensive ones. One year we got 12 bottles of Sriracha and it was great!

    10. nonnieeee*

      The fact there are multiple names for this doesn’t help. I know of people who called theirs a ‘Dirty Santa’ until one year when new invitees took the ‘dirty’ part to mean ‘x-rated’ and brought gifts reflecting that interpretation. There were a fair number of kids and a fair number of grandparents, and a large amount of discomfort as a result.

      The name of the gift exchange has since been re-named, and instructions are clearer.

      1. BubbleTea*

        Having never heard of any of these names or games outside AAM (only Secret Santa where you pick a name and buy them a nice gift), I can confirm that every explanation I’ve seen assigns a different name and set of rules to each game!

    11. Random European*

      I’m left wondering how the people who get this worked up about not getting the nice gift they wanted would cope with our local swap game, which involves dice, gleeful stealing, and usually at least one person going home empty handed.

      1. Jen in Oregon*

        Personally, I hate that kind of thing and would definitely bring a re-gift from my bin of “what must they possible think of me to give me this?” items. I’m not going to give garbage, but I’m not going to put thought or money into it either.

        I used to work with a group where one almost everyone brought booze, or gift cards. One guy made home-made BBQ sauce that was a huge hit every year. I made home-made jam my first year and the person who got it politely thanked me, but I could tell she wasn’t enthused…..until she came in a few days later raving about it and for the next 10 years it was the only thing anyone wanted me to bring in, and it got stolen the pre-determined number of times every year, which was a super nice feeling and very kind of everyone.

        1. kitryan*

          The jam thing is really sweet (pun not initially intended, but once noticed is now *totally* intended).

    12. quill*

      Yeah, but they’re supposed to be tchotchkes, not literal garbage.

      I brought a literal white elephant to a white elephant once: it was clean, but obviously a knicknack. It went over well. My uncle was known for things like chia pets.

      When it comes to Yankee Swap / Dirty santa, where I’m from it’s supposed to be generic but useful. One year we had a popcorn popper, throw blankets, and a set of nice spatulas.

      1. Tessie Mae*

        At a club holiday swap, which was attended by families, my young son was positively thrilled to get a literal white elephant family: white ceramic elephants–dad, mom, and baby–attached to each other with gold chains. It was our first year in the club, and apparently this gift had made the rounds for a few years. It never made its way back, as it stood on the shelf in his room for quite a while.

    13. Database Developer Dude*

      It really depends. The first project I was on for my firm, the staff got together for a white elephant exchange, and it was understood that as long as you adhered to the limit, it was supposed to be a nice gift.

      One guy brought in stuff that looked like he went into his garage and looked around for old junk, including a headband with a light on it. The person that got it was a very heavy woman. The guy that brought it said “Oh, you could use it when you go running!”. Her response: “do I look like I run, Troy?” She is awesome.

        1. SometimesALurker*

          If we’re splitting hairs, Little Lobster, a headlamp is a specific thing — something that is powered at least as strong as a strong flashlight, usually with multiple settings and options to position them straight-on or towards the wearer’s feet, on a band with the sole purpose of supporting the light. There are also headbands with lights on them designed for running/jogging/etc in low light; they’re often more like other running headbands that are made with moisture-wicking material, and they have one low-powered light that faces straight ahead and is designed for visibility.

    14. Elizabeth West*

      I don’t like that game. I wish people would stop doing it. It’s not fun. People are like, “Oh it’s supposed to be gross gifts,” but then some people always bring nice stuff and it turns into a free-for-all.

      1. anonymous73*

        I don’t like them for an office – you’re just asking for trouble and drama. We always have them at my friend’s Christmas parties. One year we all had to buy an ornament. Everyone was fighting for the ornament of 2 snowmen humping. Those of us who didn’t want our ornaments ended up sneaking them onto my friend’s Christmas tree before we left. But nobody had hurt feelings or a mental breakdown – it was all in good fun.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, with friends it’s better but still it can mess up. Like I posted above, at my Doctor Who group exchange, I was the only one who got a terrible gift that day and it felt shitty. If we’d all said “Bring something silly,” then it would have been fine.

    15. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      It sounds like the nuns and priests had the right attitude about them! Although, I do not think I can condone wearing someone’s used running shoes for a victory lap! LOL

    16. Tessie Mae*

      A social group I belong to (so, OK, not work-related) has a Naughty/Nice Ornament Exchange at our December holiday party. Naughty = Funny/Silly, not R or X-rated. People can choose to opt out, so participation is not required. There have been some truly lovely and seriously fought-over ornaments, and some really funny ones as well. I never knew people had strong love/hate opinions on sock monkeys, for example. And some ornaments have come back a few times, which just adds to the fun.

      I felt like I hit the jackpot one year when I found a poop emoji ornament–it was actually rather cute. But, no, I wouldn’t really have wanted it.

    17. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I have never heard the term Brown Elephant. I’ve heard white elephant, yankee swap, dirty santa. Is it regional? Please and thanks.

    18. me*

      I am currently shopping for a gift for this type of game with a group of friends where there’s a price limit of $15-25 and lots of stealing (except if a child opens it, you aren’t allowed to take it if it’s a child-appropriate gift, such as the baby yoda-themed blanket someone brought last year). I very much appreciate all the comments listed talking about different gift ideas, and immediately went online to see what sort of singing rodent contraptions I can purchase for my gift this year.

    19. Beth*

      Every time I’ve had to do one of these exchanges, it has combined incredible boredom with extreme nastiness. The “gifts” always include a few really, really nice items and a huge amount of vile crap — purple lingerie or used dishclothes. I would rather have a root canal than ever do one again.

      It’s not about the quality of the gifts — it’s about having precious time bled away when you could be enjoying yourself doing absolutely anything else.

  3. Generic Name*

    The rummage sale. OMG, I’m dying. Since she was the new boss, I’m wondering what she was like as a boss. Did the weird “gifts” affect her team’s perception of her as a manager? So SO weird.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      That one gives me the absolute heebie-jeebies. I can barely deal with my own clutter (and hairbrushes with hair in them, ick) and if I were faced with that I would absolutely have refused to go back in the room.

    2. Nea*

      They would certainly affect my perception of her in all kinds of ways! In addition to the What Were You Thinking of the actual objects, there’s Have You Zero Grasp of Time Management in how long it took.

      And that’s before my shoulders come back down from around my ears at having to graciously thank her – repeatedly! – for literal trash.

      1. FrivYeti*

        After the second trip, I would have gotten the largest trash can in the office and brought it up, and on the third trip I would have locked eyes, thanked her very seriously, and dumped my offering directly in the trash in front of her.

        Well, no, probably I would have just bailed on the entire party as aggressively not worth it, but seriously. What was she thinking? Was it supposed to be a prank, only everyone was afraid of her and didn’t say anything and then she was feeling too awkward to back down? Was it a major power play to show that people had to do whatever she wanted? She can’t have actually thought they were good gifts, right?

        1. Olivia Mansfield*

          Maybe she was a hoarder and the only way she could let go of the stuff was if it went to a good home? IDK if that’s how hoarding works.

    3. Butterfly Counter*

      Hmm. I wonder if she was a hoarder and that, in order to clear out her house, she had to tell herself she was finding new homes for all of her treasures and that everyone else would see the same value in them that she sees.

      So at least the OP and their coworkers can feel okay-ish in that maybe they helped someone who needed help letting go?

      (I watch too much Hoarders.)

      1. Olivia Mansfield*

        Oh ha, I didn’t see your comment before I posted mine. That was my thought, too, that maybe she was a hoarder and this was the only way she could let go of some stuff, by finding a good home for it.

      2. Bernice Clifton*

        If I had to guess, I would have said the boss planned to make/buy something better but ran out of time or money and gathered up whatever she had in her house that was halfway acceptable.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I respect your effort to avoid attributing malice where there is none, but I feel the facts belie your generosity.
          If she didn’t have time/money/know the people well enough then why not give each person one thing?
          She packed and carried boxes, usurped a table and the room they needed for the party. Set up a raffle for line placement and made people come in individually.
          This is not the result of a healthy gift giver. This is pathological.

  4. LTR/FTP*

    Whoohoo! I’m so excited that one of mine was chosen (either that or there is more than one poster here from my old Job From Hell with the club kid developer). But it’s nothing compared to that boss that brought in a roomful of crap to give away.

    “and what I think and hope was a large pestle without a mortar” had me SCREAMING!

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I did, literally, scream when I got to the large pestle! Thank dog for WFH, would’ve been awkward in an office!

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Oh my damn. One of my favorite heirlooms is my great grandmother’s mortar and pestle. I took it for show and tell in grade school. I took it to my first apartment. I still have it. I still use it.
      I was feeling happy vibes at the mortar and pestle in the middle of that shit show…
      I’d misread “withOUT.”
      #childhoodruined #goingintostorage

    1. Chestnut Mare*

      I work with nuns and I can confirm that they are extremely competitive and exceptionally ruthless.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        And they can be snarkily clever. It’s interesting walking down Bourbon Street at night with your school superintendent, who is a nun, in habit. She grew up and worked in very rough neighborhoods and would tell people it would take a lot to shock her. Getting propositioned by some drunk and her giving him the “don’t make me waste my time” look left us cracking up.

    2. Anonymous Luddite*

      It’s also a breath of relatively calm, dare I say wholesome, fun compared to the car crashes that some of these others are/were.

    3. CoveredinBees*

      Yup. I remember reading it before and it’s nice to hear about these things going right. My experience with the steal-a-gift types of exchanges hasn’t been great. At best, it was a surprise (my first encounter with the practice) and I had an item I really liked (chocolate orange!) stolen and I ended up with something I had zero use for. It also got pretty intense to the point where I’d much rather have spent the afternoon working.

      1. Lizzie*

        Right? I’ve gotten nice things, and utter crap. I look at it more as entertainment than anything else, and what I spent on the gift, is my price of admission. I’ve gotten things I kept, and stuff that went straight into the trash. But I’ve always taken wahtever I ended up with gracefully. Yet i’ve seen some pretty cutthroat, whiny, carrying on about gifts too!

      2. Xenia*

        I participate in a yearly one of these and i find that what makes it work is that a present can’t be stolen more than twice and a person can’t be stolen from more than twice. Really takes the sting out of it

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Very much this. Even only stolen once because work, and it makes the game go faster. Twice is good if it is more than ten people. But the key is to keep it moving. Don’t let people get vested in it.
          And don’t get really crap things.

    4. Stinky Socks*

      Right? Nice, wholesome fun!

      I suspect most organizers expect their gifting games will be similarly “competitive” with no actual hard feelings. But I’ve heard enough not – so-great stories at this point…

  5. NeedRain47*

    I have a Barbie trophy exactly as described! Not from work tho, a friend made it for me as a joke, probably 15+ years ago now. I like that there are more gold barbie trophies out there somewhere.

  6. Texan In Exile*

    “At job #1 someone pooped in an attorney’s trash can one year during the office party.”

    Shouldn’t that be Job #2?

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I thought you were singing the “meta reply” song. Because she’s a brick [sh!t] house, was the origin of the song!

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      A young person trying to turn every situation into a club. They were treating the workplace party like a club – shots, grinding, high pressure frat bro tactics, an inability to read the room.

    2. Voluptuousfire*

      When I think Club Kid, I think of the mid 90s and the Club Kids they had at The Limelight and such.

      I picture someone on a wild costume and makeup, in huge platform sneakers dancing to house music while sporting a mini backpack and a beeper.

      1. RJ*

        OMG, I worked around the block from The Limelight during the Club Kids age and I always think of them when someone mentions ‘club kids’ now. They had the most amazing outfits.

        1. pancakes*

          I went a few times, though not in super outlandish outfits, so that’s my association too. Tequila is much too mild for that scene!

    3. Expelliarmus*

      In my mind, I’ve always associated “club kid” with Stefon from SNL, so hearing about a more fratty club kid was a new perspective

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Nothing, lady, you’re stuck! Suck it up and stop publicly whining about how bad your gift is like an actual adult! Some years I get boner items too, but you suck it up and take it or throw it out later!

      Reminds me a wee bit of the last Yankee Swap I sat through in which a friend of mine kept having good stuff stolen and then ended up with like, too small headbands or whatever and he kept trying to get anyone else to take them. As I recall, the first gift he got he was allergic to, so the friend on the other side of him had to tactfully steal it too.

      1. Erin C.*

        To be fair, I have been known to -lightly- express my willingness to trade. “Oh! A popcorn popper! I already have one, but this is nice!” etc (no one bit, I went home with a popcorn popper). One year I got a fleece blanket with a sports team logo on it– “Oooh, this will be warm, funny I got it since I don’t even watch sports!”–and another coworker traded with me, saying his son would like it. I got a fleece blanket with a wolf howling at the moon on it instead. Not something I would have bought myself, but the kitsch value was amusing.

        I probably would have been all “Ha ha, soap shaped like cake! Who thinks of this stuff? Anybody want this to play a prank on someone? No? Well then, I’ve got me some cake-shaped soap! Soap is always useful!”

    2. Ferdinand the Dog*

      This is also what has me in stitches. I imagine it being said in a Gollum voice “Whatssss are weees doing aboutss thisssss sssituationssss?”

    3. Mimi Me*

      I’m waiting for my favorite…it’s the one where the woman got her breasts stuck to the cold fencing on the balcony and the interns had to breathe on them to free them. That image is welcome to live in my head for all eternity because it cracks me up every time!!!

      1. thatjillgirl*

        There’s a story in The Travels of Marco Polo where a Russian peasant couple is going home after a night out drinking, and the wife has to stop to pee, but when she squats down and pees, her pee freezes and she’s stuck to the ground. So then the husband stoops down to try to blow on it to melt it, but the condensation from his breath also freezes and his beard gets stuck in the whole thing as well. And so, Marco says, they had to just stay like that until someone could come along and break the ice. Almost certainly not a true story, but I definitely laughed when I read it.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I’m never going to hear the idiom, “breaking the ice” quite the same again.
          Anyone have a good ice breaker?
          Well, there was this Russian guy…

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        it was in the previous batch actually. I wasn’t even expecting it because I’d have thought it would have made the Christmas finale!

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          No, today’s bunch, 26/11, sorry, I was catching up after working like crazy and reading stuff in the wrong order!

    4. Artemesia*

      I understand being really disappointed in a gift swap — I have ended up with a used copy of a book I’ve already read at a book club event and with really useless stuff in yankee swaps — BUT to whine at work about not getting the right doorprize or a good swap gift? Wow. Just seems such an easy way to become an office joke or seriously damage your career.

      1. Denver Gutierrez*

        I can’t believe people even through tantrums about this stuff! We always have lots of laughs and joking around at ours. There have been some dud gifts but no one whines about it. What is wrong with people?

    1. anonymous73*

      Yeah, I think I would have taken one look at the stuff on the table, turned around, got into my car and bought my lunch that day. There is no way in hell I’m weeding through someone’s else junk at work, manager or not.

    2. pancakes*

      It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever read on this site, but yeah. I picture the woman who put it together as resembling Garol from Broad City.

  7. Cardboard*

    I was screaming at the coach bag story – what a twist! Then I was shocked into silence reading the rummage sale one lol. I can only imagine how painful it must have been especially with everyone getting hungrier and hungrier

  8. Cold Fish*

    One year, there was a recurring joke with one of the customer service reps (Mel) about a problem client. She would break into mock tears every time someone said clients name (Cheryl) and exclaim “Why would you do that? Now she’s going to call!”. (All in good fun)
    Anyway, we do an office white elephant every year for Christmas. Someone, who would not admit to it, found an old bowling trophy at a secondhand store with the name Cheryl, wrapped it up for the white elephant and purely by chance Mel ended up choosing it during the exchange. One of the most appropriate and funniest white elephant exchanges I’ve been at.
    The Cheryl award was re-gifted several times for the white elephant in the following years. The office manager had it the year Mel retired. She wrapped it up very nicely and dropped it off at Mel’s house for Christmas ;)

    1. Free Meerkats*

      A group of friends did a regular gift swap every Mathom Day (Frodo and Bilbo’s Birthday). There were gifts that were passed from hand to hand for years until they were accidentally lost or destroyed; simple damage wasn’t enough to take them out of rotation.

  9. Suzy Q*

    I would also have been annoyed by the cake soap but I certainly wouldn’t have made a big deal out of it. At my last office, which was relatively small, we did Secret Santa and the gifts were generally fairly good. The new accounting lady gave me a horrid glass picture frame and in it was a stock photo of a wedding couple from the 1980s. I was single and not engaged or anything. I’m pretty sure it was one of her own wedding gifts that had been in her garage all those years. I threw it away immediately.

      1. Meep*

        My guess is it comes off as cheap and lazy. Like you are gifting something that was in your closet for ages. I have a second cousin who gifts soap based on states he is currently deployed in (Texas, Oregon, etc). That has more thought than going out and picking a random colorful chunk of soap.

        1. JB*

          Thought? It’s a swap gift. It’s not picked out for someone in particular. Even nice swap gifts don’t require any more thought than ‘which of these items in the gifts section of Target would be fun to receive for some people?’

          Novelty soap is something many people would find fun to receive for sure. It’s cute and useful. The fact that it’s capable of sitting in someone’s closet for a while doesn’t mean that it has been, and I don’t know why soap would imply that any more than most other non-perishable gifts.

          1. calonkat*

            Soap definitely can dry out and change in quality, and a lot of the “shaped like something” soaps aren’t the greatest to start. Not worth getting annoyed over, geez, it’s a gift, go buy yourself something you want for under $5!!!

            1. Meep*

              Oh definitely not worth getting fussed about. I mean unless you are like my catty group of high school friends and get a soap gift basket for someone in particular because they smell. (It wasn’t me they did it for but trust me, I was mad for the girl they did that too.)

              I just mean that decorative soap is really not the best gift to get unless you know your audience and definitely not for a white elephant gift exchange. There are so many factors that go into it – quality like you stated, fragrance preferences, practicality – that it comes off as less thoughtful and more “I bought this for myself and decided not to use it” 9/10 times.

          2. Meep*

            I am not saying I personally think this way. I am saying that novelty soap is usually a bad idea as it is seen as cheap and lazy on principle. I am glad you like soap, but many don’t. It is also very risky when you factor in fragrance.

        1. UKDancer*

          I don’t know. I mean at least it’s usable. I’d rather have soap than an ornament most of the time. I tend to prefer gifts that are edible / usable and won’t take up long term space in my tiny shoebox flat.

          1. Pool Lounger*

            Not all soap is really usable to all people. If you have sensitive skin, or can’t deal with fragrance, or only use liquid soap… I recently threw out old soap bars my MIL had gifted us that we never used.

            1. Office Lobster DJ*

              Ah, but see, I consider the carefree throwing out of unwanted soap to be a feature, not a bug. I feel no particular guilt about throwing away some soap that I don’t like, can’t use, or don’t have room for. Now, give me a mildly amusing coffee mug and I’ll feel obligated to hold onto it from now ’til Doomsday, even though I don’t have room.

      2. Pool Lounger*

        I get being annoyed, but I also think that’s why these gift exchanges should be optional. Then only people into it have to do it. It is a bit annoying when everyone else has tried hard to get funny or weird-good gifts and one person didn’t try. One year at one of these things people got wine, steaks, bizarre statuettes from the cheap antique mall, a whole collection of Chinese pantry staples… and one person got a mug with powdered hot chocolate that was expired. I did feel bad for that guy! If not everyone has to play this kind of thing is avoided.

      3. KoiFeeder*

        I would’ve been annoyed at soap, but I’m allergic to a lot of fragrances and I hate throwing things out. But I also probably would’ve outright said “hey, I’m allergic, does anyone else want this enough to spare it from the trash can” after the swap.

    1. Sunrise Ruby*

      Oh, but you’re supposed to donate such stuff to Goodwill or another similar organization where people shop for their cheap-a## Secret Santa or Yankee Gift Swap gifts. That way, the gift can keep on giving!

    2. Esmeralda*

      You know, that’s how they sell picture frames. With stock photos in them, quite often of wedding couples. Which you take out, so you can put your own photo in it.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        I dont think they were complaining about there being a stock photo; I think the fact that they said had a stock photo of a *couple from the 80s* was meant to indicate that it was an old thing that had been sitting in storage for 30+ years.

        1. Little Lobster*

          Yeah, but so what? I know you’re not the one complaining about this, but… it’s not like picture frames go bad or expire or grow mold or anything!

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Like any kind of decor, picture frames can become dated. I’m not sure why this is so surprising to you.

      2. I'm just here for the cats!*

        Yeah, go down any picture frame aisle and probably half of them are going to have stock pictures of smiling couples. At least it wasn’t a creepy picture of the co-worker. I think you read too puch into the gift. Unless it said some sort of Our Wedding phrase on it it was probably a frame that they found and thought “oh everyone can use a frame”

    3. The New Wanderer*

      Oh, my mom went through a crystal picture frame phase when I was in college. She gave them to her nieces and nephews whenever any of them got married. She kept wanting me to give crystal picture frames to my college friends for any gift-giving occasion. My brother’s and my graduation photos are still in crystal frames 30 years later. Picture frames in general are very much a know-your-audience thing, but crystal ones only fit a niche aesthetic.

      Also, it extended past the frames – I have a whole stash of cut glass/crystal candy dishes packed away somewhere, just waiting to be a White Elephant gift someday.

    4. Little Lobster*

      Can’t imagine being the type of person to be “annoyed” by cake soap at the office holiday party. What’s up with people having actual *emotions* about white elephant gifts? It’s just work, folks, these people are not your family and probably not your friends, either! It’s seriously not that important!

      1. Despachito*

        True, but why then pretend you are by playing gifts? Unless the atmosphere at the workplace is fun in general, I’d find organized activities of this type rather annoying)

        (I’d be excited to receive a cake soap. Actually, I remember a soap a couple of friends won in a raffle during a village ball. It was a very unusual soap … let me say that nobody would mistake it for a pestle without a mortar. It was life-sized, life-coloured – a very naturalistic-looking piece of art. The friends who won it had a little kid at the time, and did not dare to use it at home. If someone brought it to an office party, it would probably cost him his job).

  10. Momma Bear*

    The duet was probably not hilarious to everyone at the time, but I love the way this story was told.

    1. Windchime*

      This was actually the funniest one to me, just because the writer has such a good way of telling the story that I could actually picture the situation.

  11. LouLou*

    I’m at my desk just laughing out loud at “what are we going to do about my situation?” That person needs to read this post and get some perspective!

  12. Dust Bunny*

    “what I think and hope was a large pestle without a mortar”


  13. Dust Bunny*

    We gave up on the white elephant gift exchanges. The gifts were generally dismal, although the gift-stealing was pretty funny.

    I brought a themed Monopoly game this year. It came under the $15 limit because it had been on sale, but it was one of the more desirable gifts, apparently. Two guys got in a good-natured roughhousing “fight” over it (not a real fight) and probably half a dozen people asked me later where I’d gotten it. I think HEB owes me some royalties on that one.

    1. Meep*

      I love the concept but dang if you don’t learn more about people’s gift-giving habits from doing it.

      I did it a couple of years ago at my work and my boss brought magnetic teaspoons for our exchange. It was one of those things that while I appreciated (I ended up with them) and was on theme (whimsical) but did leave many confused on how he selected this as a gift.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        One of my bosses at the vet’s office, many jobs ago, was not a warm-fuzzy kind of guy and when he realized he hadn’t thought to get the techs gifts he ran out to his truck and brought us . . . a box of chemical hand warmers. The kind that heat up when you crack them. It would have been weak but we liked him and it was hilariously on-brand.

        We ended up using them to warm up orphaned kittens, so win?

    2. Panicked*

      You mean, H-E-B, the most amazing grocery store in the entire world? We moved out of Texas for several years before moving back and the first thing I said when my husband said we were headed back was “I get to shop at H-E-B again!” I love that place. LOVE IT.

      1. Dust Bunny*


        My non-Texas friends don’t understand why we’re so devoted to a grocery chain. Their loss.

        1. Jen in Oregon*

          I grew up in Florida, in the town where Publix has their headquarters, so I get it……but I’m a Trader Joe’s girl, all the way.

        2. NeutralJanet*

          That’s how I feel about Wegmans! All of my friends who have moved away from the East Coast get so excited to go to Wegmans when they visit.

  14. Dahlia*

    Similiar to #9 – Some company was having their Christmas party downstairs as I (and a bunch of other people) were seeing Knives Out in the theatre upstairs. The building is 100 years old and it is not soundproof.

    Imagine Knives Out but the first hour has Christmas music, including Mariah Carey, in the background.

      1. Jen in Oregon*

        You’ll be as pleased as I was to know, then, that Knives Out 2 is listed as being in post production on IMDB and Knives Out 3 has been announced!

    1. Sherm*

      I was the contributor. Yes, inviting happy instead of sad tales would have been wise, rational, and compassionate. Unfortunately, the big boss was none of those things!

      1. Meep*

        Yikes! Misery loves company, I suppose.

        Though, I am not surprised. My former manager lost her $600k house because neither she nor her ex-husband wanted to pay the mortgage for 15 years out of spite (he was active duty military so they had a pause on the mortgage). She kept blaming him for it, despite both of them working. Cue to my then-fiance and I looking for a house last year. The entire process, she was miserable and nasty to me. She was positively GLEEFUL to hear we had packed up our apartment and the house fell through because the current owners didn’t want to pay off their second mortgage before the sale. My mom was listening to her on speakerphone as I explained the house fell through. Afterward, my mom even commented about how happy she seemed at my misfortune. She was a lot nicer to me after and I did not include her in the house buying process the next time around. Heck, she didn’t even know that we had bought a house until two weeks after we had moved in so she couldn’t complain that I was “distracted”.

        She is pretty horrid in other ways too.

        1. Observer*

          I seem to recall someone whose boss tried to keep them from buying a house because someone “so young” should not “be allowed” to buy a house if SHE couldn’t have one, and the reason for the boss losing her house seems to have been the same refusal to pay out of spite.

          Was that you and this boss?

    2. CW*

      I agree. Whenever I see poinsettias I get that happy feeling. Sad? No way. To me, a poinsettia always brings joy.

    3. Susan Ivanova*

      I would be so tempted to make up a story about my cat nibbling on a poinsettia and spending the holidays at the vet, leaving the boss stuck with the problem of awarding the “prize” that caused the sad story.

      Totally fictional: I have always had cats, so I have never brought home a poinsettia.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think someone watched Notting Hill and thought that the brownie scene just organically happened. They didn’t think wasn’t the work of writers, videographers, directors, editors and actors but rather just people naturally talking about their most traumatic moments would be cathartic and beautiful.
      Even in the film, the people were life long friends, they had a tradition of doing this, and again THEY HAD A SCRIPT.

  15. FashionablyEvil*

    My old office banned Yankee Swaps after an incident in which a (non-drinking, very religiously conservative) colleague ended up with a gift bag containing a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, and a 12 pack of “Extended Pleasure” condoms.

    (Also! There was a $10 limit. The condoms alone cost at least $15.)

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Every time someone puts alcohol into the Yankee Swap at my office, my coworker in AA ends up with it. She’s good spirited about it and it always goes to someone else, but the repeated coincidence/Murphy’s Law of it all….

  16. Miss Muffet*

    I’m 100% here for the nun that did a victory lap in the used shoes. She really understood the spirit of the exchange! How fun!
    (And yes I’m totally picturing one of the older nuns from Call the Midwife doing this)

    1. Trawna*

      Me, too.

      I get super hungry & also don’t give a you-hoo about political capital around such obvious weirdness. My question on reading that horror was why did no one scoop the whole lot into a big garbage bin and get on with the party? Or, go out to lunch or leave for the day?

      1. anonymous73*

        Yeah, you don’t want to be around me when I’m hangry. I would have left and gotten lunch somewhere else.

        1. madge*

          Yep. I’d have filled my bag every time and run it to the dumpster, as the LW said some did. Better to be fired/disciplined for that than for my inevitable, atrocious, hangry behavior.

    2. Dino*

      Me too. I come from a family of hoarders and I’ve witnessed similar….. events. I want to know what happened after!

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        Yes! Among other things, I’d love to know whether it ever dawned on that boss that their little “giveway” was not a hit.

        I suspect that anyone tone deaf enough to do that would be too dense to figure out no one was enjoying it, but I’m still curious.

  17. Purple Penny*

    In one particular office my partner worked in they did Secret Santas each year. One year they drew the name of the Office Manchild (who was sweet but remarkably taxing to be around) and we didn’t have a clue what to get for him, until I was wandering around a local toyshop and found a child’s plastic hammer that made a brief noise and lit up when you hit something with it. For some reason (cough), it said ‘Office Manchild’ to me, so I bought it. And it was, literally and metaphorically, the hit of the the party. Office Manchild adored it to pieces, everyone else was queuing up to play with it too, so lots of love for Office Manchild, and my partner smiled quietly and said nothing.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I drew a boy I didn’t know well in my college choir secret Santa, and I bought a dinosaur excavation kit – you chip away at the “stone” to reveal a “fossil”. He was unexpectedly delighted! I was very pleased.

      1. Toasted Coconut*

        I bought a similar item for my boyfriends toddler aged niece, only instead of fossils, the excavation stones revealed little plastic mermaid figurines and other little trinkets.
        To my surprise the older boys had more enthusiasm chipping away at the gift then his niece was!

  18. TrackingCookieMonster*

    #2 reminds me of a much more PG-rated ugly sweater related story from my past.

    One year for our Holiday party our department decided it would be fun if we all wore ugly sweaters. This was about a decade ago, so sweaters were A Thing at the point but no department had done it as a group. And we went all out with it. My boss contributed with a very, shall we say, “festive” sweater vest that he noted he found in the women’s apparel section from the nearby location of an Arkansas-based big box store. We were so ready to walk into the social that afternoon making it obvious we were all wearing intentionally tacky attire.

    That is, until a couple of hours before, when Grandboss’s secretary came in with some work documents to sign.

    Grandboss’s very sweet, grandmotherly, almost about to retire secretary. Wearing the exact same vest as my boss. Also, at this point, my boss was in some slightly lukewarm if not hot water with Grandboss and was working to get back in his good graces.

    “Oh boss, looks like we’re matching!” the secretary said, completely unaware of our plans.

    As soon as she exits the office, we all look at each other in a bit of panic. My boss grabs his car keys and immediately heads off to Big Box store to return the vest.

    1. Florida Fan 15*

      Our last holiday party in the Before Times, we did an ugly sweater contest. People signed up ahead of time, but Bill tried to be “helpful” by going around and rounding up the contestants without looking at the list. Bill goes up to Carol, who’s wearing a sweater so hideous a blind person would do a double take, and loudly says “Come on, Carol, time for the ugly sweater contest. I’m betting you win 1st prize, yours is a doozy.” To which Carol, with fire in her eyes, says “I’m not taking part in that stupid contest, Bill. This is what I wore today.”

  19. SMH*

    The rummage sale reminded me of my 3rd grade teacher back in the 80s. She spent weeks hyping this game where we would find wrapped gifts outside and then we’d get a gift. We all went outside and excitedly looked for packages. I found one and was so excited. We went inside to open these origami style presents that were made out of very thick paper. One by one we opened them and then looked up disappointed. The presents were a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and a penny. I got the dime. We were 3rd graders. Fake Spider, stickers, a weird shaped pencil, air head candy would have been memorizing to us. Still to this day I have no idea why anyone would think this is a good idea or why she talked about it so much for weeks before.

    1. TiffIf*

      Now I’m remembering the substitute teacher in elementary school who would, as a reward for good behavior, or getting an answer right was one single goldfish cracker. Even as a 6 year old I was seriously judging her teaching style.

    2. BubbleTea*

      My primary school headteacher talked up these amazing wind chimes she was going to donate to the tabletop sale, and several of us really wanted one. On the sale day, there was no sign of them. Just a single old cast iron thing that didn’t make a good noise. I bought it anyway, as I recall. It was not what I had hoped.

    3. Olivia Mansfield*

      My teacher back in the 80’s (I had her in 3rd grade and then again when she moved up to 6th grade) always bought all the kids in her class a set of #2 pencils with their full name on them. I loved getting that gift; it felt so fancy to have a set of personalized, colorful pencils.

  20. Cookies For Breakfast*

    I’ve been in the same position as #3! My gift was something I didn’t care about for myself but knew most of my colleagues would enjoy. The person who got it looked desperate to get rid of it and even tried to swap with me (I didn’t tell her I bought it). I picked a very tacky gift, but swapped it with a box of nice chocolate, which I still can’t believe was worth less to the person who gave it away.

    I now also remember that happened at the worst office Christmas meal I ever had. We were rushed in to have a 3-course dinner at something like 5pm, because someone else had booked the table at 6. I was sat with 5 others at a small table, because the long group table they’d given the others in a separate room couldn’t fit everyone. The food was Fyre Festival levels of bad, which is not surprising in hindsight, because the venue was in fact a nightclub (highlight: the starter was a slice of smoked salmon on a cold, unbuttered piece of toast bread that must have come straight from supermarket packaging. I make it way better at home). When management asked us to leave the table, they had us continue our party (the gift exchange) in the corridor of the venue, outside the toilets. Some people refused to stay at that place and left for another club. I was home by 8. A party to remember, for sure.

    1. quill*

      Chocolate allergy / sensitivity might make a person hunt for any gift that they could actually use in preference to the chocolate..

  21. The Lexus Lawyer*

    I once worked for a company that charged its employees for the Christmas party. The owner was a notorious cheapskate. If payday fell on a weekend or holiday, most companies pay your salary the business day before, but this company would hold payroll til the actual day.

    I only lasted past one Christmas, ended up leaving soon after.

    1. CW*

      Hold payroll until the actual day? Banks don’t operate outside business hours, that means your paycheck will be late if it fell on a weekend or a holiday. Either way, that is illegal and I am glad you are no longer there.

      And the fact you had to pay for the Christmas party screams Scrooge. I wouldn’t partake in the Christmas party if that were the case. Also, I won’t lie. I would also be pissed.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        I worked for a company that made us pay for the company summer outing – which was to be held around 100 miles away from the office. It was cancelled due to lack of interest.

  22. Kristine*

    Someone, please do a mashup on YouTube of “Oh Holy Night” with “Brick House”! I need to hear this. The Commodores were my favorite!

  23. Wally1121*

    Contractors should be glad they GOT invited to the Christmas party.
    I took a 1 yr contract job at a Fortune 500 company. There were a LOT of us “temps”. We all got invited to the summer picnic. Then, about a week before the event, we got UN-invited. Apparently HR decided that including us made it look like we were being treated as employees and might be entitled to benefits, so we weren’t allowed to go.
    I too was promised the possibility of full time work. I’d been there about 6 months at this point and had NO desire to work there permanently! When my year was up, I retired!

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      It sucks they rescinded. The invitation never should have happened. It is a whole legal issue about treating contractors like employees. It sucks that there isn’t some leeway with “parties” but there really is none.

  24. CW*

    #4 – I have been a temp before but this is taking it too far. Like a gift will get you a job, sheesh. And no, I never did that and never intend to do that. If you want the job, focus on doing your work well. That’s it.

    #5 – No way will I be able to take a tequila shot. First, I don’t like tequila. Second, tequila always does me dirty, if you know what I mean. If that coworker made me take a shot, I better be careful.

  25. Lyds*

    ‘what are we going to do about my situation?’ Will never not make me laugh, I will read the etire thing every time I come across it.

  26. Ashkela*

    The nun story never fails to put a huge smile on my face. I also picture the nuns from Sister Act, with Sister Mary Lazarus (the former choir mistress) being the winner.

  27. raida7*

    to be fair for the last one, when someone says “Can I sit at a table with people who don’t ruin my night by ignoring me? I think they all don’t like me”
    an appropriate response would usually not be “Well *I* think those people are great and I would love to sit with them.”

    that dude wasn’t saying “urgh don’t sit me with volunteeers”, after all. I would have liked to have seen one of the firefighters reach out to him and say he’ll have a great time this year, they’ll guarantee it.
    that would have been a nice ending instead of “everyone is laughing at you, nigel-no-friends”

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