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Ninamalyna - DepositPhotos.com

Nina Malyna – DepositPhoto.com

I went to one of those holiday parties where gifts were distributed at random, opened, then gamed, with participants allowed to “steal” from one another. Never understood what the appeal was. Since everyone knew what they got, the poor sap who recieved a bottle of wine, promptly loses it to someone who got the fingernail clipper. Where I come from, in homage to Let’s Make a Deal, and the great Monty Hall, gifts are proffered and exchanged before you open them.

I grew up in a large, Wisconsin family household where we’d gather on Christmas Eve, drink heavily, and pass out gifts. The tree was practically buried in presents, and it took several hours to clear gaily-wrapped flotsam from beneath its needle-shedding branches.  As the night waned, copious adult beverages tended to slow the process. My in-laws introduced me to a Christmas Eve tradition of playing Monty Hall. Packages large and small, heavy and featherweight, were arranged in no particular order. Our host, usually my father-in-law, whose joviality multiplied with each martini, would offer the first gift and a stern warning, don’t open it. We could judge its heft, examine the wrapping, and shake it … but no peeking.

As each package found a pair of excited hands, the host would offer one of several options. “Would you like to trade that for the smaller one in my hand? I’ll give you what’s behind door number two if you take the one from your sister.” It really wasn’t an option, our Monty was insistent that you make the trade, regardless if you thought it held something of value. It gets funnier when the host starts to forget what’s behind door number three.

On the night would go, with package-shaking reaching fevered heights. Eventually, when catcalls from the audience got too boisterous, the host gave permission to open a gift.  You hoped for a good prize and avoid getting zonked. Some of the zonks were classic. A pair of men’s jockey briefs, used (but laundered, we do have standards). Roll of toilet paper packed with rocks to give it heft. Envelope you hoped held cash (one of the good prizes), but instead had the grocery receipt from last week. Two zonks always-made repeat appearances each year. The proverbial lump of coal (some traditions must be kept), and an ugly, stained polyester, seventies-style necktie. The winner would have to wear the tie the remainder of the evening.

Packaging is everything. It has to be done in a manner in which no one can guess what’s inside. Even envelope gifts must be able to prevent bright-light inspection (and we’ve had some creative attempts).

Kid’s love it. It’s even fun if you don’t have adult beverages.  Just remember, it must be done in a spirit of carefree competition. You’re with family and you still have to live with them. So, forget the stealing game. Play your own version of Monty Hall’s famous game show.

From In Search of Light in the Darkness, we hope all the doors you open lead to great prizes. Have a wonderful holiday.