A Holiday Gift Exchange Has Held My Friend Group Together for Two Decades

Holidays with family can be cozy, but our exchange offered something else: a chance for my friends and me to create our own traditions and play at being grown-ups.

Close-up of hands exchanging giftsPhoto: Shutterstock

Girls’ Club

Some folks spend decades looking for their people, their best friends, the crew that really gets them. I was lucky enough to find mine in Grade 7 at Glenview Senior Public School in north Toronto—eight tween girls turned one brace-faced hive mind.

As we progressed to high school, a couple of girls dropped out and a couple of new ones wormed their way in. By the end of Grade 12, the group had more or less coalesced into its final form, one that’s remained remarkably intact for the past 20-odd years.

Among our many traditions is an annual Christmukkah exchange. This event first took place when we were 12 and newly empowered to shop without our parents at Yorkdale Mall. We set it up on the long, sticky cafeteria tables at our school, choosing names out of a Tupperware container and swapping modest gifts we’d bought with our babysitting money. In subsequent years we’d make a night of it, watching movies and ordering pizza in parents’ living rooms, eventually segueing into our own shabby student apartments, then into slightly less shabby adult apartments and finally into our first homes.

At the beginning, we gave each other butterfly hair clips and Spice Girls Chupa Chups that we’d purchased at Ardene. Those gave way to gaudy mall jewellery and satsuma lotion gift sets from The Body Shop in our teens, cheerful housewares as we began nesting in our 20s and baby clothes once we started having kids in our 30s.

Once, I received a scented candle in an antique teacup from my friend’s partner, Steve—only to receive a near-identical teacup candle the following year from Sara, who’d missed the previous exchange (apparently, I give off a Victorian grandma vibe). But my favourite gift by far was the one I received two years ago. That time, we’d gathered at Lauren’s house, and Abra—whom I’ve known since birth—commissioned a custom cross-stitch kit that depicted all the members of the group.

Holidays with family can be cozy, but our exchange offered something else: a chance for my friends and me to create our own traditions and play at being grown-ups. We got to plan and fuss and cook for ourselves, setting up the kinds of ritualized joy that have kept us bonded. And now, so many years later, it’s also a time when we get to revert to the goofy, giddy girls we once were.

Next, read up on these uniquely Canadian holiday traditions.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada