Holiday Gift Guide: Secret Santa Edition

I’m told I have something of a talent for gifting.

I usually shrug it off, or offer up some flannel about my approach emphasizing what makes the recipient happy, versus what strokes the ego of the giver. Which is all perfectly true…just not necessarily true for me.

I have several hypotheses that might explain this ability:
1.) Low, low stakes: I don’t really like people, and so the thought of incurring someone’s reciprocal dislike or failing to live up to their expectations does not cause me a great deal of emotional distress. Obviously, life is much easier when people “like” you, or rather, when they like whoever they perceive you to be (because who can truly know another human being?)
However, strictly speaking, it’s not essential.
2.) Life has conditioned me to be excellent at reading people and even better at manipulating them. Moreover, I enjoy the challenge of working out what makes someone else tick. Now, were I so inclined, I could use my powers for evil — fortunately, holidays and other celebrations provide more constructive outlets for what amount to some rather dark impulses.
In other words, a successful gift from me translates to “I’ve got your number.” And that’s sort of disturbing, don’t you think? I certainly do.
My Fella, being free of malice, puts it far more charitably: “so it is your cold dispassion that leads to perfect presents.” And sure, why not?

Anyway, psychobabble aside, I thought I’d share some of my expertise by tackling life’s no-win gifting situations, beginning with…

Secret F*cking Santa.

This category is the absolute worst. No one enjoys this nonsense, so don’t feel as though you have to.

Essentially, there are four variables in play: a.) spending limits*, b.) a randomized selection process, c.) an acquaintance-level relationship defined almost entirely by proximity, d.) mandatory workplace funtimes

Given these constraints, your only viable option is the Thoughtless Gift, of which there are, roughly, three categories:

1.) A food
2.) A piece of festive tat (e.g. scented candle, tree ornament, menorah keychain, etc.)
3.) A personal item (e.g. fancy soap, lip balm, basically anything that comes in a shrink-wrapped set of three at your local drugstore)

Let’s jettison #3 immediately, b/c that is some creepy $#!+ right there.

Don’t believe me? Look at the following images and read the captions aloud:





Also, forget #2. I’m not saying it NEVER works, just that it seems like a minefield to me and unless you are the consumer equivalent of one of those sniffer bees, you cannot win this.

Which means that I’m going to strongly recommend #1, which certainly isn’t bulletproof — people may well have dietary restrictions, food allergies, personal preferences and dislikes — but has a few things in its favor.

The main advantage is that food is by its very nature perishable, so even if the person has no interest in the gift, they don’t have to (and shouldn’t) keep it forever.

Similarly, no one expects to see the chocolates on your desk six months from now, unlike that tacky-@$$ snowman mug that has to be washed by hand, lest all the glitter come off.

In short, either the person consumes the item, surreptitiously throws it away, or else gives it to someone else to consume and that is the end of it.

Remember: your obligation ends with the completed transaction.

Pro Tip: without being too brand-specific, I’d like to put in a vote for the Starbucks gift card — not because it’s good, but because it’s basically a form of currency (far more so than, say, Bitcoin), yet more socially acceptable than reaching into your wallet and handing over a couple of Hamiltons.

Also, as much as people enjoy slagging off Starbucks as an aggressively cloned caffeine teat for irredeemably basic suburbanites, it is drinkable.

So, for the same reason I encourage giving Target gift cards to new parents (no, $30 worth of diapers isn’t particularly adorable, but then neither are the approximately 150 bowel movements that your present is effectively subsidizing), I am telling you to acknowledge the reality that nearly everyone will, at some point in their lives, find themselves stuck in an airport or at a service station.

When that happens, you will silently thank that person for ensuring your survival. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Great, now we can file “Secret Santa” under SORTED.

Next time, I’ll provide you with a lantern to guide you through the dark forest of kinship networks. Stay tuned.


*Spending limits are pernicious, and here’s why: whether the limit is $1, $5, $10, or $20 (or more, or less), there is an expectation that you will round up, not down.

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