Secret Santa, Gift Card Rant

I’ve played Secret Santa at two work places. If you don’t know what Secret Santa is, it is an activity where you pick a recipient and secretly provide a small gift, usually each day the week, before the holiday. There normally is a spending limit. In years past, we had a very low dollar limit for all five gifts combined. We drew names early enough shopping wasn’t a hindrance. In anticipation of the following year, I usually picked up holiday related items at post-Christmas sales.

My current workplace has increased the dollar limit to $20, the time limit to NINE days–you pick at least four–and we fill out a preference sheet as our ticket to participating. We draw our recipient four days before we start. Granted, this gives us a weekend to shop, but with the preference sheet, it makes me feel pressured. What if I don’t want to, or can’t, shop that weekend? For me, the fun is getting a small gift daily as well as trying to sneak a gift to my person each day, but nine days is too many!.

What I most object to, though, is the preference sheet. Yes, it is nice to know that someone is allergic to nuts or hates dark chocolate since you always wonder, do they like purple or should I have gotten the yellow Santa? Okay, so some basic information is nice if your organization is large enough you don’t know everyone. But when the questions involve hobbies and what stores you prefer, I feel as if I’m being handed a checklist and if I don’t purchase at least one item on that list, I’m a bad Santa.

To me, this is similar to the proliferation of gift cards or money as requested presents. Sure, now that postage often costs more than the gift you want to mail, gift cards are a good alternative for those at a distance. Before gift cards were the preferred present, my sister’s mother-in-law sent gift certificates along with a catalog with ideas circled. No rule you had to purchase that exact thing, but if it happened to be a sweater, it was nice to pick blue over pink, or make sure you ordered a size that fit. This year I’m giving my nieces gift cards to a local restaurant. With gift cards it is possible to be creative, but with money I feel like I’m nothing but the bank. I want to say to my sisters, “Why don’t we add up all the gift-giving occasions, multiply by twenty-five  for each gift/person, subtract what you’d spend on me, and I’ll give you a check to cover the kids’ lives.”

I don’t believe Secret Santa gifts need to be practical;frivolous and silly serves the purpose. I also don’t believe most gifts need to conform to what you want or what you expect. The best gifts both reflect the giver and the recipient. How will you ever know you like something new and different if you aren’t given the chance to explore possibilities beyond your usual field of interest or knowledge? The very best Secret Santa gifts I received were from a Danish woman who made me paper ornaments and Danish cookies. I have those Danish stars hanging on my tree today, twenty years after I received them. I never would have written on my preference sheet, “White handmade paper stars,” but I love them and look forward to taking them out every year.

The group at the first workplace, a nursing home, was small enough we knew or could tease out likes and dislikes without resorting to a list. (The year the handyman selected my name and immediately cornered me to say, “So, you like to ride your bike?” I knew immediately he was my Santa.) My current organization, although not huge, is spread out and many of us seldom interact with others. Maybe I’m the only employee who feels closer to my Santa and recipient. I can point out which teddy bear was given to me by whom, which Santa tin was presented by another work friend. For me, Secret Santa provides a chance to make connections and have some fun.

I wanted to relate Secret Santa and writing in some way but when I attempt this, it gets convoluted and involved and better saved for other, more specific blogs.

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