Secret Santa

by Steve

Santa Claus and models

At first Secret Santa seems like quite an elegant solution to a thorny problem. Rather than have lots of people buy lots of presents for each other, with everyone ending up out-of-pocket and in receipt of lots of terrible gifts, why not draw names so each person buys one gift and gets one gift in return. Savings are made, as those involved aren’t buying as much, but the gifts might be better as you can probably set a higher budget for that one gift. It seems perfect.

It isn’t, though. While I’m sure it can work really well it does strip out the personal nature of giving at Christmas. There is less effort involved, perhaps less meaning. And if buying for these people is a drag (and if getting gifts from them is too) then maybe it is just best to exchange cards and not get caught up in the whole consumerism thing at all.

Secret Santa hits its nadir with the office Secret Santa. There can’t be many situations where you’d want to buy colleagues gifts, or get gifts in return from them. I don’t think I’ve ever given a decent Secret Santa gift, and I haven’t received many decent ones either.

But maybe it is just a bit of fun?

The budget is generally set so low to encourage participation (which makes sense, as this isn’t the occasion to shell out a load of money) yet there will always be the odd person who opts out claiming they can’t run to a £5 gift. Which sours the event somewhat.

Then there is the ‘draw’ for Secret Santa. I’ve had the organiser ask me to pick out a name and then stand over me until I told them who I had drawn. “But it is Secret Santa!” I protested. “But I need to fill in my spreadsheet!” came the reply. I’d never realised Secret Santa required such extensive admin, or Excel for that matter.

Then there was the time when the presents were opened, everyone was reasonably jolly about what they had got and then the Chief Executive worked their way around the table quizzing everyone on who had bought what present. Again, not so Secret.

I can generally act pleased when I open my present. When I got a shower gel/deodorant combo for the third year running I still acted pleased, and surprised. I did, however, wonder if I had a serious body odour problem, and that this was the only way colleagues felt comfortable breaking it to me. I could imagine the discussions. “Just how many Lynx Gift Sets do we have to give this guy before he washes properly?”

I even acted pleased when I was given a Jim Davidson autobiography, although it got a little awkward when the Chief Executive asked to see what I’d been given and asked me why I’m been given this particular book. Sentences that begin, “I’m not a racist, but…” never work out well.

You can’t guarantee that everyone will act pleased with their gifts. One year I was a pound under budget, so added a scratchcard to the present I was giving. The person receiving it won £20 yet didn’t even break into a smile. They mumbled something about “putting it towards my gas bill” which wasn’t quite the reaction I was expecting.

This year I didn’t exactly excel myself. I bought some sort of desk name plaque that had a series of ring-bound “status updates” to hang over the person’s name, if that makes sense. I got it because I know the person I was buying for likes to dabble in the ol’ social media, they have a desk, and I really couldn’t find anything better within the budget. I probably didn’t try too hard, though.

In return, my Secret Santa bought me an ice-cube tray which produces ice cubes that look like moustaches. I hate moustaches, but there you go. They also bought me a lottery ticket. It turned out to be a losing lottery ticket, but I appreciated the thought. It could have been my passport away from office life and future Secret Santas.

Image from State Library and Archives of Florida, via Flickr