Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Thrifter's Guide to Secret Santa Success

Thoughtful, Inexpensive, Secret Santa Gifts

Stress-free and FUN Secret Santa Solutions 

(they make great Stocking Stuffers, too!)


Introduction: Secret Santa is Supposed to be Fun!

If you've ever been involved in playing Secret Santa, you probably feel one of two ways about it: you love it or you dread it. Or maybe you're the Secret Santa Organizer, and you feel a combination of both; you're trying to balance getting people excited about it, managing the group's participation, and planning out your own gifts. One way or the other, the simple game of Secret Santa can turn into a stressful experience, much of the stress stemming from wondering what to give.

What qualifies me to write about Secret Santa?

There's something inside me that is compelling me to write these posts, and believe it or not, it's not my love of Secret Santa. In fact, I'm going to be honest with you here: I'm not a big Secret Santa fan. I'm just not. Just thinking about the whole process of playing gets me a little anxious. You see, I tend to over-think things. Like, a lot. And for some reason this over-thinking goes into overdrive during the holidays. I worry about two main things during Secret Santa: 1) Will my giftee like his/her gifts? and 2) Will I have the appropriate reaction to the gifts given to me? And honestly, it's Worry #2 that sets me over the edge... but enough about me.

Actually, no, that's not true. Back to me. Because this is starting to feel therapeutic.

As far back as my middle school years, I've navigated my way through many Secret Santa games. Why did I play if I didn't like it, you ask? Well, I didn't always feel that way. The whole premise of Secret Santa is so much fun! Finding clever ways to stick to a budget, hiding gifts, receiving gifts... really, there's nothing NOT to like! But I think that over the course my Secret Santa experiences, I began harboring some anxiety towards the game. Because, like I said, I over-think things, and not in a good way. I'd wonder if my gifts were well-received, and I always worried about having appropriate reactions to the gifts given to me. And, honestly, maybe it's my personality, but I tend to put more effort into the game than others, thereby setting myself up for disappointment.

But I think the best way I can explain all this stems back to my most vivid Secret Santa experience. So let's go there:

I was the year of 2005 (or so). I was playing Secret Santa at work, and I decided I would be GREAT. And I was. I felt like I could have won the award for best Secret Santa. Okay, there was a little bit of luck involved: I happened to pull the name of someone I knew pretty well. So that made gifting easy; she loved coffee: I got coffee; she loved snowboarding: I got handwarmers. I even went so far as to knit a (really cool, if I do say so myself) pair of mittens as my final Secret Santa gift (keep in mind, this was during my obsessive knitting years, so it wasn't obscenely time-consuming). I was Secret Santa On Fire. I had thoughtful gifts, and I was clever about hiding my identity and planting the gifts when I wouldn't get caught. I felt great!

Well, sort of great. I was on the receiving end of some questionable gifts, and even then, nothing came until the day before the game ended. On that day I was given a Hello Kitty eraser (I had no children at this point, and no obvious ties to Hello Kitty). I became convinced that my Secret Santa was a prankster and must have something big planned for the next day. And then it came: the next day, the LAST day, the FINAL Secret Santa day... and here it was... wrapped up sloppily and placed in my work mailbox... I received... wait for it... I received... a mini spiral notebook with a florescent-colored cat on the front. Okay, now this feels awkward. I glanced around the faculty room with a forced smile, wondering if the gift-giver was around. I held my smile as I stuck the notebook into my bag and trotted off to class. Oh how very awkward I felt. 

But that awkwardness had had nothing to do with the actual gift. While most of my coworkers knew me as a dog person (I had two dogs and brought them to school with some frequency), I really didn't mind the presents. I didn't care what I got. What concerned me was the possibility that someone put thought into these gifts, and I just didn't "get it." And I felt guilty about that. 

To make things worse, all day there were calls of, "Hey! Who was your Secret Santa?!" and "What'd'ya get today?" and I smiled past the quizzical looks when I told them about my Neon Kitty Pad... I had to smile, maybe my gifter was watching! 

There you have it. And that was the last time I played Secret Santa. And here I am now. Retired from playing, but still available to share my ideas as a Secret Santa Coach.

So you see with the story of Secret Santa Circa 2005, I've painted two very real pictures. And neither one is good. But my experience certainly wasn't an isolated one; these are universal Secret Santa dilemmas. And here they are:
  • Problem #1: Super Secret Santa (i.e., me!): Super Secret Santa's are certainly well-meaning, but that's not the point of the game. The objective is to give gifts that total less than a certain dollar amount. Did I go over that dollar amount in 2005? I'm certain I did. I know I used really nice yarn for those mittens, and Starbucks coffee's not cheap! In my mind, I thought, "It's not a problem to go over because I'm only being nice! Who could fault niceness?" But in reality there's a big problem with going over: you make others feel bad because they didn't do the same. And no one wants to feel bad around the holidays!
  • Problem #2: Slacker Secret Santa (i.e., my gifter): One might wonder why Slacker Secret Santa is even playing the game. Because they don't seem to put any effort into the gifts at all. But let's not jump to conclusions. Maybe they got pressured into playing in the first place, or maybe they've got something going on at home. Or maybe they just forgot they were playing until 7am that day and the only place open was CVS, and hey, they love cats... doesn't everyone? Well, no matter the reason, Slacker Secret Santa needs some work, too.

This is where I come in as your Secret Santa Coach. 

I may be retired from the game, but I'm still involved. Last year my husband (who might be described as a Secret Santa Slacker), was lured back into Secret Santa at his new workplace; like the good sport that he is, he agreed to play (not fulling realizing, at that time, I'm sure, that I would be doing all the work). But as he began freaking out the week before Secret Santa was to begin, I came to his rescue, and vowed never to "go over" the Secret Santa budget again. So I coordinated a fantastic, budget-friendly, Secret Santa week for him. And now I'm here to help you do the same.

Over the next 5 Saturdays, I am going to highlight easy ideas to help you thrive during this year's Secret Santa season. No need for you to overthink things, because I'm here to do it for you! It is my goal to renew the spirit of Secret Santa in the American people (well, I guess you don't have to be American... is Secret Santa played in other countries, too?). Because that's Rule #1: Secret Santa is Supposed to be Fun!

What's Up Next?

Chapter One: It's Not About the Money


  1. Oh, boy. Can I ever relate to this post. I'm a retired teacher, and schools are big on Secret Santas. I participated twice, in two different cities. Can you believe both times my secret Santa didn't follow through? I don't remember what happened the first time, but the second time, the employee transferred to another school. I was so disappointed at the end of the year when no one was there for me.

    1. Oh, Grammy! I'm so sorry! The cat notebook was better than nothing, at least! It's hard to believe how complicated Secret Santa can be!!! Thanks for commenting. I hope the REAL Santa brings you lots of goodies this year :)


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