The Gift Exchange

December 1956.


a similar 1950’s classroom

I posted this 5 years ago but it seems like a good time to post it again. This year, when nothing is normal, is a good time for memories.

The first grade classroom crackled with excitement.  Small packages wrapped in bright papers rustled in our hands.  Make no mistake though,  Mrs. Gassman was still very  much in charge of the room.  We were all seated and squirming excitedly in our nailed-to-the-floor seats.

A few weeks earlier, we had exchanged names, in a very orderly methodical way.  We each took a sheet of paper out of our yellow tablets and cut off a piece of paper (that we had measured with our wooden rulers).  Yes, there was always learning taking place in that classroom.  We very carefully printed our first and last name on that small piece of yellow paper, folded it once, and when our row was called, we marched to the teacher’s desk and dropped it in  a small basket. Then the teacher walked up and down each row with the basket as each student drew a name for the Christmas Gift Exchange.

“Now, if you get your own name, please put it back,” Mrs. Gassman explained, “you don’t want to buy yourself a gift, do you?”   Of course, the class goofball had a comment for that, but it was low-spoken so the teacher did not hear.  Maybe she just ignored it.

“Keep this a secret.  And don’t lose your name!  No one else knows whose name you have selected.  We don’t want any disappointments! And remember the gift limit is twenty-five cents.”

Today was the day we had been anticipating for weeks.  In her usual orderly fashion our teacher called out for row one to deliver their gifts.  Then row two, row three, and finally row four.  We waited impatiently for everyone to give and receive their gift and then we were directed to open our presents.  And, of course, we were reminded to thank the giver.

I opened my small package, which was long and narrow, and wrapped with a pretty bow.  Opening the tiny black box inside, I discovered a pearl necklace!  I was delighted and disappointed at the same time.  I was hoping for some type of toy, but at the same time… this was my very first piece of jewelry.  Ever!  I quickly decided to go for the delighted emotion and carefully examined the necklace.  It was attached in several places with tiny string so it would lay flat in the box until you removed it.  Of course, I wanted to wear it right away so I tore into the necklace and it exploded!  Tiny beads popped all over my desk, rolling onto the floor and creating a minor disruption in my area of the room.  I had broken the necklace getting it out of the box.  I was crushed.  I quickly began gathering up the tiny white beads (and they were tiny) with the help of my classmates and dumped them into the box with the white silky lining.  My eyes filled with tears and my heart filled with real disappointment.  Mrs. Gassman quickly came over and reassured me that when I got home, the beads could be restrung on a new piece of string and it would be as good as new.  I had my doubts.


Somehow, the rest of the day played out.  I’m sure we had a treat of juice and Christmas cookies and usually the school or the PTA provided each of us with a nice brown paper bag full of goodies, including an orange and chocolate drops (my favorite as a first grader).  There were many more gift exchanges in my future.  I did learn to be a little more careful while opening gifts.  Later I became the teacher in my own little classroom and supervised a few gift exchanges of my own.  This first one was the most memorable by far.

About Life in the 50's and beyond...

Welcome to Life in the 50's and 60's and beyond .... where I write about my childhood memories, music of the 60's and about life in the country. I am a mother, grandmother, farmer's wife, business owner, and retired teacher.
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6 Responses to The Gift Exchange

  1. A pearl necklace was $.25? That story brought back memories of anxiety. I don’t remember any gifts I got but was always so nervous that the recipient of my gift liked it and didn’t embarrass me.


    • It wasn’t a real pearl necklace, just glass beads. It may have cost a bit more than a quarter, but not much. I think it was more of a little girl necklace, not something from a jewelry department.
      I don’t remember feeling anxious about someone liking my gifts. I hope you still don’t have that anxiety!

      Liked by 1 person

      • No! I don’t have anxiety. I was an insecure child I think. I was always trying not to be noticed in case everyone would look at me. I was especially sensitive to boys making fun of me. I just remember holding my breath when the recipient of my gift opened it. (It seems I always got a boy’s name). I also loathed when the girls had to bring a lunch and the boys bid on it and you had to eat lunch together. I always felt the boy would rather be with a prettier girl. Your post brought back all those insecure feelings. I got over all that, luckily!


  2. mewhoami says:

    Aw, what a sad moment that must have been. Your excitement gone in an instant. Hopefully, any future gift exchanges you participated in went better than that one. Plus, it’s a good lesson in what *not* to buy others.


  3. I distinctly remember our Grade 1 gift exchange – not because of what I received (I honestly don’t recall) but because of the gift I gave and who I gave it to. I drew Larry Wilson’s name; Larry always made fun of me for wearing purple (my favourite colour then, and now) so for the gift exchange, I gave him a purple bow tie (I have no idea where my mother and I bought it – another mystery!) That gift started a keen friendship lasted through high school and beyond. Unfortunately, Larry died in 1973, but I still think of him from time to time and I’ll never forget the look on his face when he opened his gift. Priceless!

    Liked by 1 person

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