ugly gift exchange and secret santas

It’s approaching Christmas and I don’t have a list or a plan. I’m not too worried about it yet. This is the week that we start to get moving on that sort of thing at our house. We even had some snow on the weekend, just to make it feel a bit more like the holiday season.

Every year on the last weekend of November we have house guests for the weekend and a dinner party on Saturday night. It starts on Friday night with a local fundraising banquet that we attend with some local friends and some friends that come from away. Everyone comes back to our place on Saturday night for dinner.

This fundraiser – Ducks Unlimited – utilizes raffles and a silent auction. Most years someone ends up with a dubious duck related item from the raffle table (and occasionally we bid on some from the silent auction). We never knew what to do with the items, until one year we decided to re-gift them at our Saturday dinner. Now we have the ugly gift exchange every year. The only rule is that the item is supposed to be on display in your home for the year and then the next year you can find a new victim for it (think weird duck-shaped sugar bowl, creepy old man wine holder, ugly decoys, ugly mounted photographic prints). Even that rule is a little loose; I once hung the pictures on the inside of a closet for the entire year.

The way that you give the gift can be creative, too. Sometimes they are wrapped and exchanged at dinner, sometimes they have been mailed to the unsuspecting recipient, or items have been hidden during the party and not discovered until after guests have left (once shoved in a guest’s briefcase in his car, once hidden on our mantel), and last year one couple actually broke into our house and hid the items in plain sight (it took me a few days to discover the crime). I returned the favour during their Christmas party by leaving something behind in their display cabinet.

We’ve just recently started altering a few of the items as well, to make them more interesting. I altered an ugly mounted photo of a pond to include some rubber duckie stickers, and the pair of decoys that was hidden in our home last year came with little hand-knit toques and scarves. I quite like them now and will be sad to see them go. Maybe I could keep just one.

I look forward to this weekend every year – it’s pretty low-key entertaining. Lots of wine, finger foods, some kind of roast beast and a dessert. We laugh a lot – we all tell good stories, made even better by the stretch of time between visits and a few glasses of wine.

Also going on right now is our Secret Santa gift exchange at work. I work in a small office of 9 people, and this is an easy way to make things fun for the few weeks before Christmas. We draw names at the beginning, and for the next four weeks, we hide one gift every week for the person that we picked. The total cost of all four gifts is supposed to be under $20. It makes the weeks before Christmas a little more fun, and we all spend a few minutes each day searching for gifts. You can find someone else’s gift, but you let that person know that their gift has been found and can give clues if you want to help them find it. We hide everything from baking to gift cards – all wrapped, of course. On the fourth week, the gifts that we find remain unopened until they are all found and we have a tea break and try to guess all of the Santas. Sometimes it’s easy to guess. It’s hard to give baking away when your co-workers know your favourite things to bake.

Which reminds me, I’d better get something bought and wrapped and hidden for this week..


Linking to Frugally Sustainable, Simple Lives Thursday

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37 thoughts on “ugly gift exchange and secret santas

  1. What a fun time you have .both at work and with your friends..It sounds like a special way to start the season off right….This weekend have just a ‘ducky’ time….oh that was so bad…Diane

  2. Ugly gifts, hmm I kind of like your ducks, not really something I would put in my house, but still they are attractive. What a brilliant way to display an item by hanging it in the closet I’m going to have to remember that one!

    While secret santas can be fun, when I had to participate in them it felt like pressure. I had enough on my plate trying to get through the holidays without adding to it. Glad you have fun with yours.

  3. Mo says:

    I LOVE the ugly gift idea! What fun! And made even better throughout the year when you get to explain it to people when they ask about an ugly thing amongst a beautiful mantel or china hutch!

  4. IntrovertedSarah says:

    I love this idea and the altering makes it all the most fun.

  5. Kerry says:

    Verrrrrrrry interesting! Some unique gag gifting going on here. Sounds like fun!!

  6. megan12ca says:

    Fabulous! I love it! Even better than an ugly sweater party!

  7. PJ Girl says:

    What great fun Heidi! I love the thought of displaying something hideous know that it will serve it’s next year out in someone else house… now, where did I put that rubber, singing rat that my husband bought me one Valentine’s Day?

  8. I love the idea of stealthy ugly-gift giving! 🙂

  9. Sarah says:

    Hahahaha, this all sounds like fun! I especially love the ugly gift giving. I’d have so much fun with that. I’m glad you’re having fun with secret Santas at work too. That’s one of the things I miss about working in an office…..we had a lot of fun with that every year. I always loved the handmade stuff people would do.

    Your picture of the decoys is too cute!

  10. what a lovely idea! and everyone KNOWS they are getting something ugly!

  11. Somer says:

    So funny Heidi! I have a Twilight Edward Barbie Doll that was I won at a party still in the box. It would be perfect for the ugly gift exchange!

    • Oh, the poor person that has to display it! 🙂 Teen vampire angst doll on the mantle..

      • Somer says:

        For reals! My toddler keeps insisting on taking it to preschool show and tell in his backpack. I can only cringe and wonder at what his teacher thinks of me!

        • I get to sit through the movie tomorrow night – oldest kid is getting hit hard with the hormone stick lately, so I agreed to take her on an outing. This was her choice. Shiny teen vampires.. Fun.

          • Somer says:

            Confession: I admit, I’ve all ready seen it. That’s the party where I won the doll! The mom’s in my neighborhood did a girls night out and I joined them and even got Annie at Unrefined Vegan and Erika from GCF to join me. We were the ones heckling, throwing popcorn and eating homemade vegan chocolates. I think we might have made some other moms cry. I have to say though that as bad as this installment is, it’s less bad then the last one….

  12. Sarah says:

    Sorry Heidi, but Hubby as failed at your quest. The closest he got was using one of those big, greenie dog bones that was as tall as the wine bottle, but we couldn’t get anything to stay put and hold the wine bottle from the bottom. He had to give up because we had to leave town for a couple of days, he apologizes 😦 He’s bummed.

  13. […] something I adore about her blog and the comments she leaves.  Heidi has an unusual twist on the unwanted gift  (or the ugly gift as she puts it) for us […]

  14. Donna says:

    i need help in finding an ugly gift … I have been doing this for years with my sister and can not find anything ugly enough to beat what she gave me last year …. help please.

  15. Too much fun! I love that even the gifting of the gift is done creatively… You’d never know when or how it was going to happen to you!

  16. My husbands work has a secret santa and every year they used to spend £15 on each other, which was a lot of money to us. We suggested they did something fun instead by having a budget of £1 that they had to spend on something funny from the pound shop. They do this every year as the laughs give so much more pleasure than the £15 presents, that were so hard to buy for people you didn’t know very well and now they have so many funny memories of laughs they have had.

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