Story 18: Elephants, Anomalies, and Antics

LoLo and Saint Nick, 2017

Story 18/24: Christmas brings out other sides of people—good, bad, ugly…stupidity—or perhaps that’s just me?

The Ellis side of my family has a tradition of doing a party the Sunday before Christmas every year. My siblings, who live in the state, gather together with their families at my parent’s house. We have dinner. We do a White Elephant gift exchange, and then Santa Claus comes for the ultimate photo op.

This year my sister suggested we add wearing ugly Christmas sweaters to the mix. Bry and I had forgotten about it until hours before the party and scrambled to find sweaters deemed ugly with hints of Christmas paraphernalia on it. We had to go to several different stores before we saw some—everyone is doing an ugly Christmas party everywhere it seems. There was exactly one sweater that fit my son, Nate, so we snagged it without looking at it very closely.

As we sat in the front room of my parent’s house, visiting with relatives, my daughter, Lorrin, and her college-aged cousin, Katelyn, noticed something worth noting about Nate’s sweater.

It was green with a pine wreath taking up most of the front. The words, “Come All Ye Faithful” were scrolled across the top, and in the middle of the wreath was a red bucket with a tree ornament splashing out of it. It was ugly enough—we thought. However, Lorrin and Katelyn had a different interpretation of it.

“Is that a red Solo cup?” Katelyn asked.

“Is that a ping pong ball coming out of it?” Lorrin asked.

Inadvertently, Bry and I had purchased a Christmas sweater featuring the drinking game, Beer Pong—perfect for a fifteen-year-old and a Christmas picture with Santa Claus, right? Nate hadn’t realized what it was and neither did anyone else until it was pointed out and then was blaring before us. Fantastic.

Nate, his sweater, and Santa Claus, 2017. See how he is making sure that the camera captures the image on his sweater? Punk!

My favorite part of the Ellis Holiday Extravaganza is the White Elephant gift exchange. The rules are every family unit must provide a wrapped present according to how many people are in said family. For example, there are four in the Allen household, and therefore, we bring four individual presents for the gift exchange.

After dinner, we move down to the basement and sit around a pile of gifts in the center of the room. Each person takes a turn choosing a present and opens it. Everyone else has the option of stealing the gift or selecting another one from the pile. Every gift can be stolen a total of two times and then it’s “off the table” and can’t be taken anymore.

I’m from extremely creative stock, which means White Elephant gifts can be hilarious as well as horrifying.

One year, I made a human PEZ candy dispenser out of a foam head. I painted her face to give her that life-like appearance, too. When one tipped her head forward, she spat out mini-M&M’s. To me, it was hysterical. However, when my nephew opened the box and found the head, I saw it with new eyes and realized it was grotesque if not borderline perverted.

My brother Jeremy and his family should get the prize for the best and most creative ideas. One year they welded a metal post to the heel a pair of tennis shoes. For another gift, they spent six months gathering hair from brushes and combs to put in a plastic baggie for the ultimate hairball.

Yesterday, they provided a dieting kit made up of a soup spoon with a massive hole in the middle, and a butter knife and fork with the ends serrated off. My chosen gift turned out to be a “Hands-Free Cell Phone Kit” (broken cell phone included). It consisted of a workout headband, an old cell phone, and a photo on the front of my brother wearing the contraption to demonstrate how it worked. Genius!

The family dynamic can be grand at the most and harrowing at the very least. I’m simply glad I’m part of one that makes me feel normal to the degree of both extremes.

The White Elephant I picked

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