By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
It never fails: Just when someone thinks he has holiday gift-giving under control, and manages to keep the lights and heat on throughout the month, along comes an office party, or youth group party, or something else that strains the budget.
Buying presents can add stress to an already tense time of year, especially in a down economy. But there are plenty of ways to have holiday fun while going easy on the wallet.
Guests and planners alike will appreciate some of these ideas from Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore, of Buttonedup.com, who also recommend that Dirty Santa is a brilliant way to organize these exchanges.
Also known as "White Elephant," "Greedfest," "Yankee Swap" or "Parcel Pass," the idea behind Dirty Santa is entertainment, not getting a good gift --Êthus removing the stress of shelling out for an awesome present.
According to dirtysantarules.blogspot.com, the rules for the exchange are simple. Assume you have 10 players, each of whom have brought a gift to exchange:
There are some variations, such as No. 1 getting the final pick of gifts (which means that No. 2 gets the shaft) or if a gift is chosen three times it is retired. Whatever variations are used should be explained at the beginning, before the first gift is exchanged.
As for the types of gifts to plug into that game, Welch and Rockmore have plenty of ideas.
All presents must cost $1 or less. Welch and Rockmore write that this is perfect for the office, where everyone feels an obligation to buy presents for colleagues, but may not have the foggiest idea what to get them.
Have all attendees buy something at a nearby dollar store -- either a gag or a useful gift -- and play Dirty Santa. The strangeness of the items and resulting thefts will cause plenty of laughter and conversation.
This can be customized to be either family-friendly or adult-oriented. Players can bring their favorites, or they can get adventurous. Avoid gag gifts with this game: A bottle of Stinky Cheese Skittlebrau will be more of an unlucky draw than other versions. And when a bunch of favorites are chosen, players might trade after the game.
Along the same lines, food can be gifted. They can be store-bought or home-made, sweet or savory.
Despite the advent of e-books, this one will never go out of style. A beloved book can be wrapped up and traded effectively in Dirty Santa. If you gift a meaningful book, write a brief description of why you like it on the first page. Then watch the fun as the copy of "Fifty Shades of Grey" gets stolen 30 times.
Ugly sweater swap
Wearing them is so hipster. Be trendy and trade them! Guests should bring a sweater that they already own. Throw in a variation that everyone has to wear what they end up with after the exchange. Welch and Rockmore recommend taking a group photo afterward.
Can't get together until after the holidays? This is a perfect chance to shed some unwanted weight in presents.
Bring that thing brought by the clueless, insensitive in-law and enjoy watching someone else opening it. Or better yet, actually appreciating it.