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Secret Santa Gifts and Special Surprises

Updated on December 19, 2009

Secrets of Santa Success

The nicest gift is a pleasant surprise.

When playing Secret Santa, your job is to create a surprise that your 'target' will like.

It doesn't have to be expensive, fancy, or funny. But it's nice if it can be slightly personalized, cheerful, and entertaining.

Stalking the Wild Recipient

Your first job is to determine what your target likes.
- Is the person shy, or outgoing?
- How do they decorate their office or locker?
- Who knows them best in the office?
- How do they work and play?
(Do they enjoy pictures, actions, sounds, words, numbers; are they funny or serious?)

Don't dig too deep. If they hide their personal information, they won't appreciate gifts that reveal it. Keep a shy person's gifts discreet. For the office ham, you can make a public fuss.

Remember you will be revealed sooner or later. Be a benevolent stalker.

Laying a Trail

Nothing builds excitement like anticipation. And nothing builds anticipation like recurring clues.

Pick a theme.

You can use perfectly ordinary office tools, holiday elements, or ridiculous fancies.

  • Pink sticky notes...
  • reindeer, snowflakes, or candy canes...
  • 'tell-tale' traces of tinsel, chocolate, angel feathers, or Yeti-fuzz...
  • Messages on the bottoms of snow globes...
  • Characters from their favorite series or graphic novel...
  • lizards with Santa hats...
  • emails and e-cards from a mystery address...
  • 'get to know you' questions with instructions where to leave (or email) the answers.

Make them start looking for 'Santa's Clues.'

Confuse and amuse them.

Playing Fair

If there are cost limits, deadlines, or other rules for the Secret Santa game, follow them.

Don't indulge in competition or spite. Don't reveal other people's secrets. Keep it fun.

Respect personal beliefs. If you don't share a colleague's values, find a neutral gift or common ground. (Snowmen, sparkles, chili-lights and flamingos?)

If you think your person will not be happy getting gifts from you (you have a bad history, or are complete strangers), you can ask the organizer to reassign you. If you know a co-worker who could be a better Santa for this person, offer to swap.

The point of a Secret Santa exchange is to have some fun together. It's best if everyone joins voluntarily, and no-one is forced to participate. Once you're in, be a good sport.

Sweet Nothings

There's never a shortage of sugar during the holidays. Sweets make some people happy and others ill. What are some good alternatives?

You can still leave treats in the fridge. A little research can reveal whether they'd like...

  • gluten-free snacks and smoothies,
  • great Indian food, or
  • a family-size ham to take home.

When in doubt, try something sharable and pretty like

  • an elegant fruit-basket,
  • festive nuts, or
  • a fancy braided bread.

Look for gifts that are consumable but not edible:

  • a tiny lantern or refill candles,
  • tickets for the Christmas Train or a local performance,
  • a Singing Telegram,
  • decorative stamps, or cheerful office supplies.

Consider casual, seasonal gifts like

  • a clove orange,
  • spice mix for mulling hot drinks, or even
  • a silly Santa hat and red-toed socks.

You can leave a trail of clues to food, but don't leave perishable foods in weekend limbo!

Personalized Cheek

If your target has a good sense of humor, consider a mildly embarrassing display. Think Mom's Birthday, not Bachelor Party. Just a little fuss to make them feel special and obscure Santa's identity. Like

  • Helium balloons in the shape of odd creatures,
  • Glittery streamers and a halo, or a silly hat, to say:
    "Ho, Ho, Ho, Jim's the Best Clerk We Know"
    or "Brenda's Brilliance is Finally Revealed"
  • A music-box or tin with "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge." (Should definitely be accompanied by fudge, or it's not very funny.)
  • Scatter personalized pens, coffee mugs, or greeting cards with their name on them around the office, so that people will find and 'return' them all day.
  • Start an email chain where everyone in the office sends a nice message.

Touching Treasures

If you discover what your target really loves, or use your own hidden talents, you can create truly meaningful gifts. These can be trivial, or lasting, keepsakes.

  • A personalized music collection with a holiday theme that suits their tastes: humor, Gospel, jazz, classics, or favorite modern performers.
  • Fan gear for their favorite sports team, band, comic, or hobby. Autographs are a big plus.
  • Tokens from an ethnic tradition they love - wooden shoes, painted horses, candles to re-fill a wreath or menorah, wooden ornaments from Ukraine or India.
  • Gifts from around the world, with an inflatable globe showing Santa's route. (If your office has branches or suppliers in distant locations, consider commissioning someone to send a souvenir from each location.)

A charity donation in their name with a commemorative token, like

  • a calendar from Nature Conservancy,
  • stationary with Humane Society puppies and kittens, or
  • a plush doll from Oxfam.

Small gifts can carry major sentimental value, encouragement, or appreciation:

  • a blank book or Writers' Market guide to get them started on that novel,
  • a fine-dining gift certificate to celebrate their personal or professional milestone,
  • a spa day, ski ticket, or 'flying pig' to thank them for doing the impossible on overtime.
  • a framed copy of something that inspires them: their favorite quote, story, or hero.

Too Intimate for the Office?

Depending on your setting, some gifts are simply not appropriate.

A bottle of brandy, for instance, might not be appreciated in a Salvation Army office.

A "Relax Package" with massage gift card, bubble bath, and chocolate underwear, could be taken quite the wrong way by a reserved recipient (or boss).

A gag gift is a very bad idea for someone who's going through a difficult time. The death of dreams, relationships, or loved ones can be a touchy subject even if they're trying to laugh it off. Consider a comforting or distracting gift instead (hot water bottle, spa day, hobby gear).

But there are other situations where such gifts would be totally acceptable, and wouldn't even reveal Santa's identity.

Stick with the boundaries of your workplace or group. Give or hide gifts in public places; follow dress and behavior codes that are normal in your group.

If you know the recipient intimately and want to give them something more meaningful, do so privately.


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