Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat. Offices everywhere are being decked out in an appalling amount of tinsel, making the workspaces of adults look like they are covered in fairy vomit. Everyone is preparing for the Christmas party and working out how many drinks they can have without disgracing themselves.
As part of the seasonal spirit you can almost guarantee that, at some point in December, you’ll be pulling names out of a hat for the annual round of Secret Santa.
The Kris Kringle is a yearly trial in many offices. There are many fine lines involved in choosing a present for a random colleague. You can’t be boring, but have to be careful not to offend anyone. You have to work within a budget, but can’t appear to be cheap. It’s a minefield of things to consider.
There are, however, a few simple rules that will keep you safe. Here are five things to keep in mind when you’re out shopping for your giftee.
#1 Know your giftee.
In the real world, away from the crazy randomness of the Secret Santa, one of the main purposes of present buying is demonstrating how well you know someone. You show how much you appreciate them proving you understand what it is they will like.
When the present giving is secret, this is not the idea to the same degree, but it is still vital to base your present on what you know of the person. If you try to go for something funny, you have to know the other person’s sense of humour. If you’re going for something useful, make sure the giftee will also find it useful.
#2 If you don’t know your giftee, keep it simple.
At somewhere I once worked, someone received from their Secret Santa two individual chocolates. They were very good quality, handmade little chocolates, and you could tell that someone thought they were on to a winner.
The person receiving these chocolates got really angry. “How can they have spent the whole budget on just two chocolates?”, they said, vocalising their feeling of having been ripped off. The gift buyer tried to go too fancy, and the giftee didn’t appreciate it.
Clearly, the Secret Santa in this case didn’t know the person they were giving to well enough. While top quality chocolates may seem like a safe gift, if the person receiving them doesn’t recognise that quality, they won’t appreciate it. It would have been safer to go with a larger box of average chocolates, which wouldn’t excite anyone, but wouldn’t disappoint either.
It is a risk in Secret Santa that you get someone who you don’t know at all. In this case, keep it simple to keep it safe. Wine, chocolates, or desk calendars aren’t going to set anyone’s world on fire, but they’re not likely to offend either. Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for.
A Secret Santa once gave me a little clock, and it didn’t excite me much at all. Five years later, that clock was still sitting on my desk. You never know how much something simple can succeed.
#3 In-jokes are great. Just make sure your giftee is in on it too.
A friend of mine this year has to buy a Secret Santa gift for someone. The person she is buying for is known around the office for always wearing flannel shirts. His love of the checks is a running gag around the office, and something that he is well aware of. As such, she is buying him a checked, flannel onesie.
It’s a great choice for a gift. The joke is simple, it’s something that everyone can have a laugh at, including the person receiving the gift, and yet it is still something that he might actually use. Admittedly, she broke the fourth rule (see below), but it was such a perfect gift that it’s excusable.
#4 Stick to the budget.
This is a pretty simple rule. Putting a maximum price on the Kris Kringle is to keep things even. It stops competitiveness, and people feeling awkward if they receive something much more valuable than what they gave. As a result, sticking to the budget is actually important.
You don’t have to be insanely strict about it, of course. If the budget is £10 and you see something great that costs £12, that’s not going to upset anyone. It’s when you start doubling the intended that gets people into trouble.
Of course, there are exceptions. If a gift is hugely over budget, but is so mind-blowingly good and such a perfect fit for the person, generally you’ll get a pass. The pure enjoyment of the person opening it can overtake any issue of rule breaking.
Which brings me to the final and most important rule:
#5 Just remember, it’s supposed to be fun.
At the end of the day, don’t stress too much about your Secret Santa. Don’t get too worried about what you’re buying, and definitely don’t get upset if you get something’average’.
The annual office present swap isn’t meant to be too serious. We’re not talking about the Gift of the Magi here. It’s a few people anonymously (in theory) handing out the type of cheap gifts that keep novelty stores in business. It’s meant to be silly, and it’s meant to be fun, so just relax.
There are many things to consider when buying a Secret Santa present, but don’t consider them too hard. If you follow these rules, and the last one most of all, everyone in your office will have a Merry Christmas.