Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stories from the Community: The White Elephant Gift Exchange

Note Nancy’s shirt, Christmas-time favorite.
Welcome!  Our second blog post picks up one stream of the ongoing discussion we hope to have—sharing the richness of our community life together at ESR.  Our second semester began yesterday, but we’ll be rewinding to share a story from the last Common Meal of fall semester.  Every Tuesday here during the regular semester is Common Meal and most weeks we have an educational program—a visiting speaker, an MA student presenting his or her research, a traveler sharing their experiences from another country.  That’s all well and good, but there are always a few planned during the semester that are considerably less educational, including annual White Elephant Gift Exchange, held Tuesday, November 30. 

Jim takes a break from doing dishes.
For those of you who have never experienced a White Elephant Gift exchange, I will explain the rules.  Each person playing brings one wrapped gift and pulls a number from a hat.  ESR provides extra wrapped presents so that those who tried to avoid this activity by not bringing a gift can also participate.  The gift exchange begins with the person who drew number 1 picking out a gift and opening it, showing the whole room what they have.  The second person opens another gift and decides whether they want the gift they opened, or whether they want to “steal” the first gift, and so on.  If someone steals a gift from another, the second person gets the gift that the “stealer” opened.  Each gift may only be stolen twice, but other than that a person may choose to steal any gift.  (An alternate way of playing the game is to have each person decide whether to steal before they are allowed to open another gift, but that is not how ESR plays.)
Nancy shares her chocolate. 

“Stealing?!”, you say, “At a Quaker seminary concerned with Peace and Justice? “ You may think that ESR students and faculty would bring nice gifts and would never, ever steal a gift from someone else.  You would be quite wrong.

First of all, our very own Nancy Bowen, Professor of Biblical Studies, supervised the festivities.  If you look carefully, you can see that Nancy is wearing her annual Christmas sweater, well known to students and recent alums.  On the front is a picture of the stable in Bethlehem with someone shouting “It’s a girl!”  She wears a crown because the faculty have just announced that she has successfully completed her twenty-year review (ESR does not operate on a tenure system, but instead has a five-year review system for teaching faculty.  The review committee awarded her with chocolate, which she shared.

Jerry's gift: jell-o.

A few gifts were practical, like the beautiful white scarf Robin Anderson stole from Emma Condori.  A few were comical, including the jell-o that Jerry Knutson traded for Brent Walsh’s gift (it turns out, actually, that Brent loves jell-o).  The joke was eventually on Jerry, who (when the dust cleared) ended up with several bottles of flowery bath gel.  Some decided that the wrapping was the true gift, including our Pastoral Care professor (Jim Higginbotham), who was spotted wearing a purple bow on his head.  Marilyn Sizer opened a wooden pen in the shape of a giraffe and blessed the crowd with it.  As a former museum curator, this was an excellent gift for Marilyn . . . until someone else stole it from her.
Marilyn Sizer blesses the crowd the giraffe pen.

The prize of the day, however, was a librarian action figure.  It was stolen twice, eventually ending up in the hands of Robin Anderson (yes, the same Robin Anderson who stole Emma’s scarf, which was later stolen from Robin, leaving her open to steal the librarian action figure).  Perhaps it is representative of our community that most contested possession to come out of the gift exchange was library-related.

Shelley Bourdon, MDiv/MMin student, is the first to open the coveted librarian action figure.
Diane Reynolds attempts to protect the librarian figurine.
A spirit of fair play wins out.
In the end, not everyone got what she or he wanted, but people had a good time.  Hopefully the jell-o will be used, and I’m sure Robin will cherish the library figurine (although Diane and Shelley looked ready to request a timeshare).  As I sit in my office on a cold and gray January day, writing about this brings some warmth and merriment into my office.  A belated Happy Holidays from ESR! 

Valerie Hurwitz
Silas Wanjala, MA student from Kenya, seems content to stick with the tennis balls he unwraps (or perhaps thinks this is an odd tradition and he’d be wise not to get too involved!)

All Pictures by Brent Walsh, MDiv/MMin student!

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