The Hidden Meaning of Secret Santa

Many offices run a Secret Santa leading up to Christmas.  My one certainly does.  In theory, it is a bit of light-hearted fun whereby each member of the office is randomly allocated another member of the office for whom they have to buy a secret gift; in practice, it is a Pandora’s Box of slight and insult, both intentional and, worse, unintentional.

Our office sets an eminently sensible upper-limit price for the secret gift of £5.  Not a lot of insult can be bought for £5 one would think?  You’d be surprised.

The problem with Secret Santa is that is reveals exactly what someone else thinks about you, but which for the other 364 days of the year they are too office-polite to voice.  Through the medium of gift, Secret Santa lays bare every unconscious assumption; every unarticulated prejudice.

Secret Santa is the ultimate leveller; the £5 pretence-pricker.  Several years ago, a hitherto fearsome director of our section was reduced to a quivering psychological wreck simply because her Secret Santa present was a selection of coat hangers and a simple soap.

“What does it mean? she asked, crushed and uncomprehending.  She was gone by the New Year.

Like the sharpest rapier thrust, Secret Santa punctures the border between self-image and group perception.  For example, if I were buying a £5 Secret Santa gift for myself, I would buy a couple of bottles of craft beer.  It says, “Hey, I’m a fun-loving kinda guy; I’m still young; I can party with the best of them, providing it is within carefully controlled, pre-designated limits and with a reasonably good quality alcoholic indulgence.”  However, the group perception is different.  How different?  I wait in expectation to find out.

Where I work, the Secret Santa gifts are exchanged and opened at the office party on Friday.  I have my frozen rictus of false delight already primed for action.

© Simon Turner-Tree


Simon Turner-Tree waits for Secret Santa more in hope than expectation.


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