By Kevin Gray
Illustration by Tara Jacoby
It’s usually sometime between the second round of Old Fashioneds and the first uncorked bottle of red wine that the games begin. My mom declares “game time,” and everyone stops what they’re doing — watching college football, eating Christmas cookies, playing with a nephew — and hightails it to the kitchen table.
Now, in some families, “game time” denotes a period dedicated to all-ages board games, charades, or maybe some Pictionary. But, in my family, an understood form of blood lust—one that’s been forged in the crucible of holiday togetherness—calls for something else entirely. Because rather than sitting in an open admission of vulnerability and weakness, 10 members of the Gray family stand firmly around the table, ready to do battle in what’s not-so-cleverly been coined “the oven mitt game.” It goes something like this:
Step 1: Find a gift. Any gift. It doesn’t even have to be a good gift. But it should absolutely not be a breakable gift.
Step 2: Wrap said gift so absurdly well that you’d cause a grown adult to shed tears of frustration. I’m talking scotch tape for days. When you think you’ve used enough tape, use more. The old box-inside-a-box gag works nicely here, too. The point is: wrap this thing like you don’t ever want it opened.
Step 3: Along with the gift, place a pair of oven mitts, some dice, and a Santa hat on the table. These are your weapons.
Step 4: Choose someone to kick things off. Youngest, oldest, closest to the fridge—it doesn’t matter. This person will roll the dice, trying for doubles, with the dice moving around the table clockwise until someone lands doubles. This lucky soul gets first crack at opening the present.
Step 5: If that lucky soul is you, don the oven mitts and Santa hat. The person to your immediate left (again, you’re going clockwise, but moving counter-clockwise can’t hurt anything) gets the dice.
Step 6: Start tearing into the present. Which, because of your bulky oven mitt-clad hands, is akin to awkwardly clubbing a box rather than productively pulling apart paper and tape. Meanwhile, the person next to you furiously rolls the dice, hoping for doubles. Once they hit that magical combo of matching faces, you must stop opening the gift. Seriously, stop. This game is nothing if not fair and orderly.
Step 7: Everything moves clockwise. You quickly relinquish the mitts and hat to the dice roller, and the dice roller gives the dice to the next person down. Once the handoff has been completed, the mêlée begins anew.
It continues in this fashion, with the gift moving from person to person until it’s finally opened. To the victor go the contents.
Past instances of the oven mitt game have taken anywhere from 15 to 30 turns before someone pulls and punches their way to glory. And, as the gift begins to yield, attempts to uncover the hidden treasure within become noisier and more frantic, punctuated by doses of cursing and mitt-on-wrapping-paper violence never before perpetrated by your otherwise gentle and loving aunt.
No one quite remembers exactly when or why we began this tradition. But I can tell you that exactly three years ago, I clumsily clawed my way to a $50 gift card and a beer koozie, and it was the best Christmas of my life.
Kevin Gray is the editor of Bevvy and a writer for hire whose work has appeared in GQ, Men’s Journal, Tasting Table, Muscle & Fitness, the Dallas Morning News and more. He’d invite you over for Christmas, but doesn't want the extra competition.