Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Secret Santa - a product of derangement*

It being the feast of St Nicholas for those who do that sort of thing, I thought it would be the appropriate time to fulminate against one of the more pointless activities carried out in his name.

Several bloggers have already posted on the abomination that is the employees' Christmas party - enforced crass jollity with a bunch of people whose only common factor is that they work in the same building. I'm off the hook this year - the plan for a beer-tasting at a local brewery has once again been shelved, happily confirming my metaphorical opinion of my employers.

There is, however, no escape from the horror of Secret Santa. The workplace variety is probably the most monstrous of all; soooner or later, a member of staff will get the bit between his (or more usually her) teeth and you are dragooned into the whole sorry business.

For anyone fortunate enough to have missed this creeping phenomenon so far - just wait; they'll come for you in the end - each person in a group draws the name of another and buys them a present to a pre-arranged budget. The presents are given anonymously; thus everyone receives a gift and participants have the sense of universal generosity while only making one purchase.

Now that's all well and good - and even pleasantly economical - in families, say, or groups of close friends where presents would be customary. But how many people, particularly in the current climate, want to spend money on presents for their work colleagues? How do you even know what they would like?

And don't even think about refusing; if everyone else has caved in - or, worse, is enthusiastic - you'll never hear the end of it. Politeness dictates that you agree, so you find yourself obliged to buy a meaningful gift for someone you hardly know.

Unless you a) are highly creative and b) have plenty of spare time, this will probably mean heading for one of the major retailers, who have not been slow to cash in on the practice; there are Secret Santa sections springing up on all sides on retail websites and in the high street.

So the day arrives; the spirit of St Nicholas is celebrated with a vast heap of plastic ephemera, unwanted items and cross-purposes - the law of averages dictating that every group contains someone whose idea of a joke is a mankini or furry handcuffs and a grown-up who will have taken it seriously and given a bottle of good wine.

Should you find yourself entangled in one of these schemes and unable to make a graceful exit, it's no good trying to get away with an empty box - unless you want to upset the instigator. I recommend an alternative present so bizarre and out of keeping with the consumerist spirit that you'll never be asked again.

My current favourite is Oxfam Unwrapped's £5 load of manure, but I'm open to suggestions...

*For statisticians, this means a permutation of names on a list such that everyone is paired with someone different. For the rest of us, it just means what it says.


  1. Hah! Our on-again, off-again Secret Santa was confirmed this afternoon. I drew the colleague I don't really know :(

  2. How about a pack of cassette tapes?

  3. Mrs L has been thus dragooned. She is not best pleased.


Moderation is on as I’m having some technical difficulties with Comments