Secret Santa Fail

Secret Santa – the scourge of the office Christmas.

I’m no Scrooge and actually, I rather enjoy the challenge of buying a random gift for a random colleague, but generally I don’t seem to come out of these things well. I’m passing no judgement on the present I received today, and this is not necessarily a view I share, but C rated it as the ‘lamest Secret Santa’. Cheers. Even the giving element wasn’t particularly thrilling for me, as the name I picked was the one colleague in my team that I’d never met and worked out of the building. The only respectable thing to do in such a situation is to buy nice chocolates, which is what I did.

Annoyingly, I missed a really good trick this year. My first pick out of the festive bucket was my own name, so I put it back and chose another. When I told C this, he pointed out that I’d have been much better off if I’d simply kept my own name and bought myself something I actually wanted. (Though trying to explain to the team how my Secret Santa had miraculously chosen the exact volume of Orwell essays I wanted might have been tricky…)

This is probably a little late for most people (someone I was chatting to this evening needed his gift by tomorrow, so was off to Lidl first thing to acquire it – I pity the person at an anonymous office in Oxford who receives that one), but here’s a few suggestions of gifts for a fiver:

Penguin Great Ideas series These are £4.99 each and consist of a whole range of classic and not so classic texts. I discovered them via Nose in a Book and her rave review of Orwell’s Books V Cigarettes – possibly the first time I’ve ever read a review and literally gone straight out (within the hour) and bought it. The latest series has another Orwell collection and I’m all about collecting Orwell at the moment.

Boots 3 for 2 gifts. There are tons of these – perfect for anyone – and the bonus is that you get a freebie. This year I’m particularly loving a mug covered in useful information (formulae, random facts etc), so you can learn while you sip.

Miniature toiletries. I’m a sucker for these – in fact, I have a whole drawer in my bathroom devoted to them, mostly items purloined from hotels. Personally, I like a stock of Sanctuary products that can be kept in my gym bag. Always nice to have pleasant smelling shower gel after a workout.

A nice, reusable shopping bag. Who doesn’t like to have multiple bags? Many of these are £5 or less. Current favourites include this red Foyles number – at £2.50 you could buy 2 – or one jute Foyles bag. Continuing the bookshop theme, Daunt’s bags are also highly attractive and useful (if you buy a super expensive book there, you get their smaller one free – fabulous).

Failing those ideas, chocolate will always work (unless you have my friend Jo, who’s allergic to cocoa – travesty), especially those Green & Blacks selection boxes. Oh, it’ll work unless the person you’re giving it to has been on a diet for 9 months and obviously lost a lot of weight – I wasn’t overly impressed last year to receive 2 bars of (quite nice) chocolate and a chocolate recipe calendar, given as I was deliberately avoiding the stuff! And scented candles – who doesn’t appreciate a good scented candle?

I do hope, if you work in an office environment and are not the sole employee of your organisation, that you get a wonderful Secret Santa gift this year. (If you do work on your own, why not just buy yourself a treat?) Next year, why not up the ante and make it really challenging? My favourite experience of the tradition was with a group of friends where we set the amount at £7.77 and insisted that the precise amount had to be spent. Quite, quite amusing.

Oh, and if you happen to get my name next year – follow the above instructions and you’ll do exceedingly well. Thank-you in advance.


  1. Possibly your most useful post ever. Or at least most immediately applicably (urgently) useful post..

    thank you.

  2. I’m so pleased! Clearly I’m all about present advice for you at the moment.

  3. I’m please to say that I had already bought one of the items from your list for a forthcoming Secret Santa. Well, one from your ‘failing that’ paragraph, which isn’t too bad, is it?

  4. Ooh, some good ideas there. And thanks for the mention! I am also collecting all the Orwells in the Great Ideas series!

    I actually have my office secret santa exchange tomorrow so have already prepared my gift (it’s arts and crafty, as befits my team) but I would counter the chocolate suggestion. Maybe I am surrounded by particularly fussy people, and I personally love Green & Blacks and indeed most chocolate, but for various reasons I could not give chocolate to 9 of the 11 people in my extended team. People is crazy.

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