It’s hard enough trying to come up with holiday gift ideas for your parents. (After all, unless your folks have a particular fixation—golf, cooking, a new pet they obsess over with a level attention usually reserved for flu-stricken infants—there’s really nothing you can get them that they won’t open up, study for a second and then say, “Oh, I didn’t even know there was a market for this.”) But deciding on a Secret Santa present for a random coworker, perhaps even one you’d rather give the plague than a $5 McDonalds holiday gift certificate? That requires a degree of finesse and careful politicking rarely seen outside of SALT treaties.
Be too specific in your selection (say, telephoto snapshots of the looker in Sales Development leaving her apartment) and you may reveal a character trait your coworker is not yet willing to share in public. Be too vague (say, $10 in loose change, minus quarters for the laundry machine) and your coworker may wonder how you can know so little about a person who has not only sat next to you for eight ears but organized every single office birthday party thrown in your honor. Furthermore, fool yourself into thinking, “It’s the thought that counts” when choosing a present and the consequences are bound to be dire. That’s because we’re talking about the office, not a toy drive, and business is nothing if not about money. So while your final purchase will obviously depend on both your personal budget and your professional standing, best to spend what you can rather than what you actually desire. You’d be surprised at the yawning gap between the two options.
Still at a loss as to what to get? Then take a look at the following Secret Santa Dos and Don’ts. They may not provide you with all the answers but they may prevent you from asking any questions like, “I wonder if my coworker likes collectible miniature representations of mid-20th century furniture as much as I do.”
Secret Santa Dos:
• Gift Certificate: The plus side to giving a gift certificate is that it ensures the recipient will be able to find themselves something nice, even if you obviously couldn’t be bothered to scan a store shelf for five lousy minutes. The downside is that—desperate application of White Out aside—there’s no hiding how much you chose to spend on your fellow employee. Sure, everybody loves Target, but not everyone goes there specifically to purchase a single candy bar. So to make sure your certificate seems more like a gift and less like a fancy coupon, try to choose a dollar amount that at least indicates you had to make a trip to the ATM before you picked it up.
• Gift Basket: A gift basket is like a more thoughtful gift certificate. That’s because instead of just pointing your coworker to some store and saying, “I trust you know where they keep the shopping carts” you can present them with a selection of hand-picked goodies that say, “If nothing else, you can use the basket when weeding.” Besides, as opposed to purchasing a single present, a gift basket greatly increases your “hit-or-miss” ratio since the recipient is bound to like at least one of the items, if for no other reason than the fact that everybody enjoys a nice sesame cracker from time to time.
• CD or DVD: Music and movies make great presents, as long as you keep in mind that you want to get your coworker something they'll actually like, not something you believe they are less of a person for having missed. This is not the time to introduce them to the spiritually instructive Christian rap of “MC JC” or a harrowing cinematic expose of humanity’s basest nature like The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. They call it a “present” for a reason—because people actually want to be there when they open their gift, not wish they had fled to the hills the moment they undid the wrapping. Plus, some CDs are called “popular music” and some DVDs called “blockbuster films” because most people genuinely like them. So avoid any recordings featuring tracks listed in Latin or any film featuring the blurb “Klaus Kinski in the most gut-wrenching performance of his career” and you’ll do just fine.
Secret Santa Don’ts:
• Flowers: Unless delivered to a hospital room or given shortly after the passing of a loved one, the gift of flowers says one thing and one thing only—“I’ve been watching you and I likes what I sees.” Sure, you can stress how you chose yellow roses over red or how you thought they could use the vase afterwards. But unless you want to give everyone else in the company the truly cherished gift of office gossip, best to invest your cash in something a tad less controversial…like, say, a photo of your naked ass.
• Clothes: No one likes getting the gift of clothes from relatives. So why on earth would they want to get a sweater from the guy in Accounting? One’s wardrobe is a very personal statement and few long to take sartorial suggestions from staff members they can’t even stand getting emails from. Besides, when given as a gift, clothes have a tendency of saying one of two things, neither particularly pleasant—“I think it’s about time you wore something decent to the office” or, far more disturbing, “I want to dress you.”
• A Donation Made in Their Name: Nothing says, “screwed on the holidays” like opening up a card only to read “A donation of $__ has been made to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in your honor.” Is a dying child far more deserving of a gift this holiday season than a healthy, employed adult? Of course! Deep inside does that healthy, employed adult know this to be true? Certainly! Will that healthy, employed adult immediately demand back the Wii they gave you this year? Without a doubt! That’s because people like tangible gifts. Even a gift certificate promises sooner or later that person will be holding something between their grubby little hands. But a donation? How do you put your hands around that?!? Yes, the holidays are a time to think about others, but many people take that to mean others should be thinking about them. So make a donation to your favorite charity either anonymously or in your own name and get your coworker a gift certificate to Starbucks. After all, do you really want to go through all of January hearing the person in the next cubicle constantly mutter, “What if the kid croaked before the check cleared? Then no one made out this Christmas!”
Finally, don’t fret. Some coworkers are just happy to get a present. Others would complain if your donated kidney fits too snuggly in their body. Just buy something, wrap it and hand it over with a tight, forced smile. After all, it’ll be great practice for when you have to go through the whole procedure all over again with your family in less than two weeks.