The White Elephant

A few years ago my wife and I went to her office Christmas party, which had a white elephant gift exchange. The rules for it were fairly simple:

  1. We drew paper chits to determine the order.
  2. Each person took his or her turn choosing a gift. The first person picked a gift, opened it, and showed it to the rest of the company.
  3. The next person could either unwrap a new gift, or “steal” a previously unwrapped gift. If a gift was “stolen,” that person who was stolen from got to unwrap another gift.

When it was our turn, we unwrapped something pretty nice: a bottle of wine. A turn or two later, someone stole it.

We chose again, and unwrapped some nice candle holders. Those were stolen as well.

We chose a third time, and unwrapped a really nice Asian tea set, with a small, handmade pot and four small cups. It was stolen.

So we chose a fourth time, and ended up with the thermos you see above. If you look carefully at the thin black line, you’ll see that the thermos is dented. Not surprisingly, no one stole it.

We unwrapped three nice gifts, and came home with a dented thermos.

The thermos gathered dust in a cabinet for a year, until it was time for my wife’s next office Christmas party. This time we were bringing our two boys, the oldest of whom was eight. On the way to the party we explained the rules of the gift exchange, and told them the story of how we got stuck with the pitcher.

To keep our sons from getting bored, we agreed to let our older one unwrap the present when it was our turn. As we waited, someone unwrapped the dented white thermos. My wife and I exchanged a look, and she said, “There it goes!”

A short while later it was our son’s turn, and we reminded him he could unwrap a present or steal something that had been already unwrapped.

He stood up, but he didn’t head for the tree and the presents. Instead, he pointed across the room, and pointed. “I’ll take that,” he announced.

He had just stolen the white thermos.

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