Secret Santa is one of the most stressful holiday traditions: Here's how to deal

Secret Santa is one of the holiday’s most divisive, most sinister and most stressful gift-giving traditions. In homes and in offices, between friends and relations, acquaintances and enemies, people are covertly buying gifts for each other. Why? Torture, I assume.
'Oh wow,' Karen exclaims, lacking any other words to describe her horrible gift. (Shutterstock)

The sounds of the holidays are all around us: the songs of the season, the cheery ring of good wishes, the occasional "Ho ho ho." But if you listen closely, you can hear something menacing, something maniacal. 

It's the slice of scissors as they julienne paper into strips. The scrawl of a ballpoint pen as ink meets paper. The cacophony of confetti rustling in a hat or a bowl.

Yes, while the high-pitched notes of Mariah Carey earworm their way into your brain, these other sounds are just as ubiquitous to the season. They signal secret Santa, one of the holiday's most divisive, most sinister and most stressful gift-giving traditions. In homes and in offices, between friends and relations, acquaintances and enemies, people are covertly buying gifts for each other.

Why? Torture, I assume. 

If you are reading this, it is already too late to ask why. You need to cope, which is why I have outlined the process for you.

Step 1: Denial

Spoiler Alert: You're not going to like it. (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

The turmoil of last year's exchange feels likes ages ago, enough time having passed to dull your memory, because you signed up again. And even once you've selected creepy Tim from HR — or creepy uncle Tim — you'll think "How bad could it be?" 

You are lying to yourself. It will get much worse than you ever imagined.

Step 2: Anger

Jill, on the brink of a mental breakdown, regrets her decision to try to craft something for her secret Santa partner. (Shutterstock)

Emerging from denial you descend into anger. With every conversation around the water cooler and every message in the family group chat hinting at "How they found the perfect thing for their lucky secret Santa ;)" the rage will build. 

Why did you get the most impossible person to buy for? Chances are you'll devolve into a nog-fueled tirade over a pre-holiday potluck and vent your frustrations to the (unlucky) person who drew your name.

Step 3: Bargaining

At the bargaining stage you'll wonder if you feign illness, do you still have to participate? (Elnur/Shutterstock)

This step is crucial because not only will it involve you actually shopping for bargains, it will have you bargaining with how malleable you can be with the pre-approved spending limit for the sake of both convenience and your sanity.

Depending on the swing of your holiday emotions pendulum, you will either dust off something from the back of your hall closet and pass it off as a gift, or pull a Michael Scott and buy your lucky recipient a new iPhone. There is no middle ground.

Step 4: Depression

The gift that keeps on giving: sadness. (RonTech3000/Shutterstock)

Depression will either strike as you walk by the accounting office and see Linda already drinking out of an "Accountants work their assets off" mug, identical to the one you just paid too much to get her…

Or it will come at the precise moment you open your own secret Santa gift and see that your personality has been distilled into a stuffed bear wearing the jersey of your 10-year-old self's favourite hockey team.

Step 5: Acceptance

By the time the exchange happens, you'll be begging them to open their gift, just to end it. (Shutterstock/InesBazdar)

Any gift-giving, and receiving, typically culminates in acceptance, that thrilling moment when you must watch as the person you bought a gift for feigns enthusiasm for something they vaguely remember mentioning a few months back. 

The key to this step is upon watching the recipient open your gift, immediately mention how it is "just stupid" and how "they'll probably hate it" and can "return it." This type of exclamation relaxes the recipient* and also serves to undermine the significant mental and physical energy you had to exert to get them their crappy gift.

*Or, often, not at all.

I am not even going to mention the swapping presents Christmas gift exchange (White Elephant, Yankee Swap, Dirty Santa, etc.) as I have no coping mechanisms that could possibly help anyone deal with it. It's barbaric and violent and I am still recovering from last year.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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Daniel is a writer and avid Instagram-er living in Saskatoon. When not leaving people on read he can be found enjoying a glass of wine, dining out, and taking a spin class — although he rarely does all three at the same time. Follow him on Instagram: @DanielDalman.


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