I find myself thinking about this episode of The Office on a yearly basis, as we participate in a more civilized version of Michael’s “Yankee Swap” at our family gatherings. I still have no clue as to what its true name is, but my thoughts always drift to it when it becomes abundantly clear that nobody else in the room spent anything close to the $20 limit-or if they did, they didn’t shop wisely.
In “The Christmas Party” the Scranton office of Dunder Mifflin organizes a small office party with a Secret Santa gift exchange. After Michael receives a huge bonus from Corporate he uses it to plan a more extravagant party, and to buy a $400 IPod for his Secret Santa Recipient instead of sticking to the $20 limit that everyone else had followed. When Michael receives a handmade gift from Phyllis, he throws a tantrum that results in his decision to initiate “Yankee Swap”.
Jim is especially annoyed with this decision when the gift that he bought to score brownie points with Pam is passed over to someone else. As the wildly specific gifts underwhelm, Michael is oblivious that the circulation of the IPod is causing further tension between everyone. Once the truth about Michaels bonus check gets out, he tries to make amends by getting everybody drunk.
This episode is not especially festive, but it does capture the materialistic side to Christmas while reminding us that a personal and thoughtful gift is often priceless. The most important lesson-and the only one that Michael learns-is that alcohol is great for getting through a rough party.