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The 10 Dirty Secrets Of Secret Santa Giving

It's almost time for Secret Santas! Yeah, I know. Let's all think it together: Oh man, I don't have time for this crap.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the "Secret Santa" tradition, it goes something like this:

Everyone in the office (or department) draws the name of a co-worker out of a bag. Or maybe your office has another way of pairing people up. Anyway, each employee is then responsible for secretly giving small gifts to their chosen co-worker over the course of a work week. Employees spend their own money but preferably keep their spending below a specific dollar amount. This amount is usually no more than $25. On the last day (Friday) there's the BIG REVEAL when everyone gives their biggest gift and finds out who's been putting candy and other crap on their desks while they were in the restroom. Oh, it was yoooou! I thought so!

But maybe we're not as "into" this tradition as we used to be? One Consumer Reports survey found 35 million Americans despised "having to be nice" to other people over the holidays. Bah, humbug. Screw you and your Secret Santa gifts, too!

Amid all the "how-to" business stories about Secret Santa giving over the next month, no one will be talking about the dirty little secrets that come into play as this tired holiday cliche plays out in the workplace. As I've noted before, what if Jane in accounting doesn't like cranberry-scented mini candles or reindeer-shaped plastic cookie cutters? Secret Santa is just another thing to have to remember in December. From lazy gift givers to envy rearing its ugly head, the Secret Santa tradition can also become a morale minefield that lasts until Valentine's Day. Without further delay, here are the 10 dirty secrets of Secret Santa giving:

1. Someone will go overboard. This employee didn't get the memo about spending $25 maximum. So you get five Hershey's Kisses and a Bic Pen while your co-worker gets a beautiful vase filled with the good candies, a nice note and a $5 coffee gift card. And that's just on Monday! Your co-worker is over the moon, of course, but you feel nothing but cheated even if your gift isn't half bad, which brings me to Dirty Secret #2.

2. Someone will be a cheap bastard. Don't spend more than $25? Hahaha, get real! This employee isn’t going to spend more than $5. Total. All week. Goodbye World Market and hello dollar store, where the things are cheap and sure to break within days. The recipient feels the cheapness and suspects this co-worker is simply re-gifting the things he or she got for Christmas last year. A chipped snowman figurine made in China? Wow, thanks.

3. Someone will forget.
This overworked employee suddenly remembers that he forgot to leave a gift on your desk and it's almost quitting time! So he walks next door to the 7-Eleven to see what he can find, or he buys something from the vending machine. If he's more on his game, he picks up something at the gas station convenience mart on his way to work, or he'll wrap some swag he still has in his desk from last year's conference. And don't get too high and mighty ladies over what a forgetful jerk he is, because we know your Secret Santa gifts were free with purchase.

4. Someone will complain about getting shafted. This employee goes on and on about how this year's Secret Santa is so lame. Last year's Secret Santa was awesome and gave a ton of better bling! And last year's big Friday reveal gift was absolutely to die for! This year's Secret Santa overhears the ingratitude (or hears about it second-hand), promptly gets pissed off, and that's how we end up with five Hershey’s Kisses and a Bic Pen. Happy holidays!

5. Someone will have to buy for someone they despise. An employee draws a name out of the hat and lo and behold, it’s a co-worker this employee hasn’t gotten along with since Day One. Oh man, I have to buy for HER? She totally hung me out to dry on that project and I’m not spending more than I have to on her ass. Secret Santa becomes an opportunity for all-out revenge. Visiting the dollar store has never felt so good.

6. Someone will a little too into it. This employee has an entire collection of appliqued holiday sweatshirts and started celebrating Christmas before Halloween. It goes without saying that she (and it's usually a she) LOVES the Secret Santa tradition and may be the ringleader on this project every year, even if everyone else wishes it would die a quick, merciful death. Other employees might find her eagerness both endearing and cloying at the same time. Everyone assumes this employee has never watched Bad Santa.

7. Someone's Secret Santa won't stay a secret. There’s always a co-worker who can’t keep a secret, isn't there? You didn't know who your Secret Santa was five minutes ago, but -- oopsies! -- now you do. Or maybe you see your Secret Santa leaving a gift on your desk but you pretend you didn't see it happen and play along for the rest of the week. The acting routine is getting old fast, and it's only Monday.

8. Someone will dread buying for the boss. Will you draw the short stick this year? Buying for the boss can be daunting, even if your boss is the coolest person on the planet! In fact, having a cool boss could make selecting gifts even harder because you actually like this person. What if your boss has a fondness for nice (read: expensive) things or has hard-to-target tastes, though? Could your choices result in a pink slip during the next round of layoffs? You know you're being paranoid to think this way, but it's in the back of your mind as you cruise the Target One Spot. Have fun!

9. The boss will dread buying for a subordinate. If you're worried about buying for your manager, your manager might feel like he or she is walking through a minefield, too. What should I buy? What message am I sending with these gifts? And what will the other employees think of my choices? Could these chocolate mousse candies lead to lower employee morale? Of course, if you have an executive assistant, you can just pawn the shopping off on him or her and be done with it.

10. Everyone will be secretly glad when it's over. It's Friday, you've done the final gift exchange, and you finally know who your Secret Santa is. Ah, the sweet sense of relief in no longer having to remember to leave small gifts on someone's desk when you already have too much to do! The secret feeling of joy is almost enough to make you pour yourself a second cup of eggnog. At the very least, you'll be ready for a pint of beer after work. From the six pack you bought at the gas station convenience mart along with yesterday's present.

See? Aren't you looking forward to it now? Better get shopping! Time's a-wasting.

For my other holiday-related posts, click here to read Will This Year's Office Holiday Party Ruin Your Career? and here to read Five Tips For Surviving the Company Potluck.


  1. Glad you thought so. Thanks for reading!

  2. Love this! I want to do a secret santa where I work, but there are other thoughts on how to it, the other ideas are just a regular gift exchange to me, I like the gft a day idea, its fun, but I have seen people who act exacty like you mentioned!

  3. I'm from the UK where I have never seen this happen. It seems to me that the best approach is to accept the gift left for you and send it on to someone else. Done and dusted and no effort required. Simples!

  4. This is funny, but the way we did this at our job, among us coworkers, is the minimum limit is $25 with no maximum. I can almost imagine what might happen... I asked a question that if I bought a alienware computer (2 grand; btw I can't imagine buying that for myself) would that be too much on the cap limit and I got the response "No, that's your money to choose how you spend as long as its at least $25. Hmm, its gonna be fun!


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