Halloween is over, the fairy lights are up and the temperature is down. This can only mean one thing; Christmas is almost upon us, and nothing screams Christmas spirit quite like parting with that €15 you earned shovelling popcorn at the Rathmines Omniplex to buy that standoffish guy from your student house a bottle of aftershave. For as long as there’s been associative groupings and discretionary income, the tradition of Secret Santa has surfaced in mid-November, causing students to hit the high street in pursuit of novelty gifts for the pen-lenders of their seminar groups.
For those blessed enough to be unfamiliar with this tradition, it involves a group of people being anonymously assigned/forced to buy a gift for a random other. Secret Santa can incite many different things: a novel expression of class cohesion, a breeding ground for passive-aggression, or a stark realisation of just how little you know about your flatmates. In my time, I have come across many Secret Santa gifts – the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, with Christmas fast approaching and the inevitable Secret Santa conscription email from your class rep sliding into your inbox, let’s look at the worst kind of Secret Santa gifts on the market, the kind to be avoided (or sought out, depending on your temperament).
The grossly predictable – Bath salts
While it’s pretty inoffensive to rock up to the Grafton Street Boots between lectures and buy a tub of purple sand from the shelf labelled “Gifts for Her”, grossly predictable gifts show thoughtlessness. Yankee candles, pencils with politically incorrect slogans, aftershave gift sets, hot water bottles that look like animals, mugs, ironic ties; they’ve all been done to death. Don’t play it too safe, you may as well hand your assigned person a card telling them that they are the human equivalent of a ham sandwich. Secret Santa is an opportunity to show your assigned person that you know them as the unique and special individual that they think they are. They do not need you to tell them they deserve a gift as dry as a Weetabix biscuit, regardless of whether or not it is true. There needs to be a bit of spice.
The trying-too-hard – Personalised snow globe
While predictability should be avoided at all costs and all gifts should come with a hint of spice, gifts that are too unpredictable cause discomfort. There is a line that should never be crossed in how much time, effort, and money you should pour into a Secret Santa gift. Any personalised item with you and your assigned person’s faces printed on it marks dangerous territory. A jigsaw, snow globe, or teddy bear printed with the only existing photo of you two is so above and beyond the call of duty of the sacred Secret Santa tradition that it is borderline inappropriate. Stay away!
The stereotyping gift card
This is a tricky one, with the potential to go catastrophically wrong. Every gift card sends out an underlying message: “Karen, the sole thing that springs to mind when I hear your name is the Celtic Whiskey Shop”, “Jack, when I think of you, I think of Carroll’s Irish Gifts”, “Siobhan, I thought the place you would be most likely to spend money is Burger King”. You are essentially telling your assigned person, who you may barely know, which local enterprise best matches their personality. It’s a risky game to play. I once received a €10 voucher for The Equine Warehouse because the person said that “I looked like a horsey kind of gal”. Avoid gift cards like the plague, they can have devastating consequences.
The Secret Santa tradition, while it may serve to prepare us for the office parties of the future, leaves huge scope for error. There’s no point sugar-coating it – it’s an absolute minefield. So, in a few weeks’ time, when you are searching for a semi-decent gift, four and a half hours before the time your flatmates arranged the exchange, remember: proceed with caution.