by R. C. L. Bailey*
It's that time of year again: a plastic Christmas tree has appeared in the office, an unknown sadistic monster has put a Christmas music CD on repeat, and jolly Christmas-themed jumpers are getting everyone into the Christmas spirit. It's enough to make anyone turn into Scrooge and replace the receptionist's bowl of candy with humbugs.
Secret Santa gift exchanges are the icing on the cake of Christmas shopping misery. There are only a few people in the workplace who are easy to buy for, and the chance that you will draw the name of the sports-fanatic whose only conversation is of the exploits of a sports team, and whose special team mug only lasts until May, is slim.
So which lucky workplace denizen is to be the recipient of a generic gift card this year? If you're getting barbed emails from the Secret Santa Gift Police stating that a gift has to be something thoughtful, then this guide has a few shortcuts to finding that perfect Secret Santa gift.
Gifts for The Hipster
Hipsters like to be interested in things before they become fashionable. They like to be quirky, and have others recognise their quirkiness. It can be difficult to tell them apart. If you're not sure which hipster you're buying a gift for, you can use their social media to match a photograph to a name. Be wary of doing this at work: you may discover something highly quirky about your work colleague which should not be laughed at in the office.
A great gift for a hipster is something 'ironic', which in hipster terms means enjoyable but not quirky. Make sure it is wrapped in suitably 'ironic' wrapping paper. This simply means 'with cartoon cats on it.'
Carnivorous plants make great gifts, as do windowsill salad growing kits featuring unpronounceable leaves. A basic musical instrument, such as a penny-whistle, ocarina or harmonica, will give your hipster and his flatmates hours of innocent pleasure. If your hipster enjoys wearing knitted hats and scarves, consider buying a knitting loom. These are simple to operate and allow your hipster to mix and match wool shades to create quirky knitted gifts. With any luck, next year the Secret Santa Gift Police will be forced to wear an orange and plum coloured bobble-hat all winter.
- Beard trimmer
- Cereal bowl
- Anything which is too mainstream.
Gifts for The Office Admin Lady
She's worked here for years and no-one remembers her birthday. She quietly comes in, quietly gets on with her job, and quietly leaves. No-one knows if she has a partner waiting for her at home, nobody knows what her hobbies are or whether she has children, cats or an unholy mixture of both. She's a fixture of the office, and, much like the door-handle, no-one notices her unless she stops working.
No pressure -- but if she gets an anonymously dreary gift, she's likely to be quite upset. If she leaves, the entire workforce will find itself ambling around in the dark, asking why nobody paid the electricity bill. The Secret Santa Gift Police will be watching her response through narrowed eyes, HR email summons at the ready.
Good quality art supplies, such as watercolour paints or oil pastels along with the appropriate pad of paper, will either give her a new hobby or provide a boost to her existing one. Studio Ghibli DVDs (with the exception of Grave of the Fireflies, which is a real tear-jerker) are gorgeous to watch. A History of Art book with lusciously printed images is generally enjoyable for everyone. Joseph Campbell's study of mythology, 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces,' is a fascinating read.
- Domestic goods
- Fifty Shades of Grey themed novels
- Anything which could be useful in the office
Gifts for The Recycler
Determined to save the world one drinks-can at a time, the Recycler is saddened by the tawdry pile of injection-moulded plastic which is all going to end up in a landfill in January. A battery-operated novelty Santa who drops his drawers is simply not going to bring a smile.
A virtual gift, such as an Oxfam card informing the recipient that an earth toilet has been constructed in their honour, is likely to bring a warm glow of happiness and an honourable lifting of the chin to a recycler. A truly recycled gift, such as a pile of second-hand books, might not be an obvious choice for a Christmas present but is perfectly acceptable.
Collect a variety of titles -- social history, anything by a Nineteenth Century female writer, and any Folio Editions which the shop has -- and package them in a cloth shopping bag. Make sure that it does not look as though you are trying to pass off second-hand books as new books by buying copies which are at least fifteen years old, preferably hardback, and in good but not perfect condition. In particular, make sure they do not smell. The Recycler is likely to gleefully point out that the books are very enjoyable and ask why everyone is obsessed with receiving new things. The Secret Santa Gift Police will be helpless in the face of such righteous pleasure.
- A compost caddy, unless you want it to be used in the office
- Anything made of plastic
- Non-native flower seeds
Gifts for The New Employee
He or she has only worked here for a month and a half but has eagerly joined the Secret Santa gift exchange. The New Employee wants to make a good impression on everyone, and as a result, you have no idea whether there is a personality with likes and dislikes lurking under the incessant coffee and tea making and manic agreement for any outlandish statement.
A useful gift is reasonable, and will be appreciated in public. Good quality notebooks, pens, calendars featuring scenic photographs or agreeably edgy graffiti artists, or a novelty Discworld diary are easy to find and easy to wrap. Less useful generic gifts such as a bottle of blackcurrant cassis or mead if the recipient is known to drink alcohol, or a novel by Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, or the lesser known 'Dirk Gently' series by Douglas Adams, will also serve to avoid the wrath of the Secret Santa Gift Police. If the New Employee is under the age of twenty-five, or dresses as though he or she were, then juggling balls, a diablo, or a small remote controlled drone are also going to be held aloft with cries of glee.
- Anything which requires an ironic or dark sense of humour
- Coffee or tea making kits
- The same gift that you bought last year's New Employee
Gifts for Other Colleagues
The Alcoholic: A giant box of alcohol-free chocolate. They have a sweet tooth.
The Sales Professional: A book called Influence: Science and Practice, by Robert Cialdini. A self-hypnosis CD assuring the listener of even more confidence. A novelty tie, or lurid nail varnish. Or a muzzle, but Human Resources might not appreciate the joke.
The Gluten Intolerant: Silicone moulded bakeware, a cookbook featuring gluten-free pastry recipes, or a DVD of a classic British comedy. 'Yes Minister' is hilarious and has not been over-exposed like Blackadder or Monty Python's Flying Circus. Don't buy food as you are unlikely to get it right.
The Parent: Alcohol.
The Stress Junkie: An adult coloring book and some coloring pencils.
The Whiner: Don't buy 'I can make you happy' by Paul McKenna. Other than that, just wander into any high street shop and buy anything which is easy to wrap. The whiner will enjoy complaining about it.
The Very Spiritual Person: Loose-leaf herbal tea and a teapot. Don't buy anything which refers to his or her Very Spiritual Outlook, unless you want to hear all about their Spiritual Journey in the New Year.
The Overweight Person: Calligraphy set, a board game such as scrabble, or an Amigurumi (crocheted soft toys) kit. Don't buy anything food related. This could be misinterpreted as an inappropriate comment on his or her eating habits.
The Fake Tan Fan: A selfie stick, or a game which involves posing. Twister is ideal.
You've forgotten who you're meant to be buying a gift for, it's nine pm, and the gift exchange is tomorrow morning.
All night supermarkets usually sell best-selling books and DVDs, and in the run-up to Christmas, also stock a distressing number of plastic items which will end up in the landfill in January. Don't pick something which is gendered: if it has a picture of an explosion or has pink paper cut-out style lettering, then you might be treated to the sight of your incorrectly gendered manager's face falling. Choose something worthy: almost everyone likes to think of themselves as an intellectual heavyweight.
Cook's ingredients, such as very high quality balsamic vinegar, are also a possibility. Home-wares such as coffee-mugs, coasters, or glass vases are dull but serviceable. Avoid buying alcohol, food, and toiletries.
If the supermarket is closed, find a gift certificate for an experience. Are there ceramic-painting cafes in your area which have a website with printable vouchers? What about spa days or cinema vouchers? Vouchers might get you into trouble, but you'll be in more trouble if someone does not get a present.
Part of the 'fun' of a Secret Santa gift exchange is guessing who the gift-giver was. Don't give the game away by smiling with relief that the Secret Santa Gift Police are not going to be having a little chat with you in January. Even if you know you got it right, there's no need to spoil the fun of the office gossips, and while they're distracted, you can throw that CD of cheery Christmas tunes out of the window and replace it with something else. Queen's Greatest Hits is a brilliant choice because no-one with any decency could interrupt Freddie.
The other part of the 'fun' is pretending that your own Secret Santa has given you something that you really, truly, did want. A little practice before the day might come in handy. Key phrases here are: 'oh, that's very useful,' 'I needed one of those,' 'that's so funny/quirky/thoughtful/cute.' Then re-gift it to a relative. You haven't lied and you haven't made your Secret Santa feel bad. The Secret Santa Gift Police will be at peace for another year, and all's right with the world.
* R. C. L. Bailey enjoys creating articles which will engage the reader's interest. She writes about history, books and film, travel, cookery and self improvement. Has a BA degree which included studying creative writing, history and literature, and has 15 years of gluten-free cooking experience.