Mom, Dad, siblings, children, cousins, nieces and nephews, Officers Barnhill and Dunham, court-appointed legal advisors, family friends:

Happy Holidays! We’re looking forward to our traditional Dunley family Christmas celebration—but after last year’s gift exchange debacle, I’m afraid we must once again change the way we celebrate the holiday.

This year’s gift exchange is sure to be especially difficult, as two of the Dunley spouses are now required by law to celebrate in separate rooms with no walls in common. (Incidentally: happy belated Thanksgiving, Tom, and congratulations on eleven months of sobriety!) This restriction unfortunately means Mom and Dad’s house is off limits until Christmas 2017, when the full second-floor addition and remodel will have been completed.

With so many factors to consider, it was agreed that a fair and effective plan for the distribution of gifts would be developed by a committee consisting of one representative of each generation of Dunleys, as well as one neutral family friend and one court-appointed legal representative. This committee met the Saturday before Thanksgiving to review the many mistakes of the past and consider practical options for this year’s holiday frivolity. Thanks to Frank for taking notes and to Mom for providing fudge.

In attendance:

  • Janice Dunley, mother
  • Marge Dunley-Filbert, daughter
  • Billy Filbert, grandson
  • Bernice Jenkins, family friend
  • Frank Brinkman, court-appointed mediator

The committee reviewed holiday depositions from the past six years and recommended three key steps to avoid last year’s catastrophic events:

1. Avoid police involvement.

• Everyone will make a list of the items they do or do not want.

• Once a gift is unwrapped, it’s considered the property of the recipient. Any disagreement over the value of the gift and whether it should be kept or re-gifted, or returned or discarded will be decided in favor of the recipient.

• If any family member boycotts Christmas at the last minute to take comfort at a hot springs resort without alerting the family, any gifts purchased for them are not to be entered as bets in the holiday poker game by anyone other than the gift giver. Describing this prohibited practice as a “tradition” does not make it okay.

2. Gift wrap and child artwork are two separate things.

• Each family member will receive no more than one gift of artwork created by each niece or nephew.

• Homemade gift wrap clumsily decorated by an infant may be torn off the gift without concern for its value as a masterpiece of naïve creative design. Once the gift wrap-removal process has begun, these hand-wrought package decorations will be considered garbage.

• At recipient’s discretion, any hand-decorated object found inside a package may also be considered garbage.

• Each family member will discreetly maintain a small paper bag to collect used gift wrap, orange peels, and other waste. For safety reasons, large grey trash bins are not to be placed in the center of the room. As demonstrated during last year’s wet puppy panic, industrial trash containers would block the exits and obstruct views of the tree.

3. Keep it short.

• Per requirements of Uncle Rob’s revised insurance policy, the gift exchange will end after four hours or 300 presents, whichever comes first.

• The Christmas gift exchange is only for members who don’t live in the same household. Nobody wants to watch kids opening thirty presents in one sitting.

• Due to time constraints, all participants will avoid unnecessary conversation during the gift exchange. Instead, riveting accounts of bargain-hunting triumph may be submitted for mention in the annual Christmas letter.

After extensive discussion with our court-appointed mediator Frank Brinkman, the committee identified one key issue plaguing the annual celebration: each gift is purchased by one family member, but ultimately given to another. If family members purchased their own presents, packaged them appropriately and presented them to themselves for unwrapping during the holiday gathering, a tremendous amount of frustration and grief could be avoided. The team agreed this would be the most practical approach, provided that it be done with the utmost respect for tradition and the true meaning of the holiday. With that in mind, Frank will work with an outside consultant to create a smartphone app that will allow every adult family member on the list of Family Christmas attendees to randomly draw his or her own name. The technology will then provide the participant with a list of suggested gifts, stocking stuffers and last-minute items for those who always seem to wait until the night before.

Frank showed the team a beta version of the app that’s been in development, and the committee agrees it will be easy to use and very helpful. With Frank’s help and recent improvements in consumer data gathering and analysis, it’s virtually certain to be a Merry Christmas for all!