How Jewish Young Professional Wound Up In Charge Of Secret Santa…

Yep – That was my reaction too. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

When my former boss left the company to move back to his hometown last year, the department head of a larger department with whom we work closely “adopted” my little department so we wouldn’t be lost in the shuffle (the hiring process for Former Boss’s replacement took a long time). I joined my adoptive department head’s regular touchbase calls with her direct reports. This proved to be really good for actual cross-functional work, keeping up on office gossip, and socializing. It was such a good relationship that we kept it up after New Boss was eventually hired. So perhaps “foster” is the better analogy here.

Anyway, I was on one of these regular work calls with my foster department and the conversation shifted from actual work to celebrating the holidays.

Foster Dept Coworker 1: So how are we going to do our Secret Santa this year?

Foster Dept Coworker 2: We’ll have to get everyone’s addresses and mail the gifts since we’re not in the office. Then we’ll open the gifts over Teams Meeting.

Foster Dept Coworker 3: OMG [Coworker 2], I hope I get matched with you – I have the perfect gift for you!

(dissolves into discussion on gift ideas for different members of the department)

I should probably mention here that I despise Secret Santa gift-giving. Not because it’s Christmas related. I have nothing against Christmas. Heck, since everyone has off from work, my family would get together (pre-COVID of course) and enjoy a nice meal, so we’re basically celebrating it too. And I love Christmas carols, even the religious ones. Especially the religious ones, actually. (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen might be my favorite!) But I find gift-shopping and gift-giving awful in general and so much worse in a Secret Santa setting when you might barely know your recipient and everyone in the office is judging you silently.

The former coworker from a previous job I still hate (same coworker alluded to in this comment thread) started a Secret Santa tradition, and of course, this did not make me like her any better. So I sabotaged it to make her feel bad [I declined to participate and bought everyone, including her, gifts that appeared more expensive than the limit they set (they weren’t – I’m really good at discounts)] and it worked in my favor! The coworkers, including her, went in a group-guilt gift that I absolutely loved – gift card for karaoke private room with friends! So Sabotage was quite successful at Old Job.

JYP on a Secret Santa Sabotage Mission? Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

But I actually like these coworkers at Current Job and I didn’t want to use Tactic #1: Sabotage. So I decided to try Tactic #2: Suggest A Better Alternative.

JYP: I don’t know. Mailing the gifts sounds really complicated and maybe people will be uncomfortable with sharing their addresses. How ’bout a [Foster Department] & Friends Holiday Cookbook?! [Foster Coworker 3], you could put in your Skillet Pizza recipe!

Combining Tactic #2 with Tactic #3: Flattery. (I actually haven’t tried the pizza, but she mentioned it once during a leadership training).

Foster Dept Head (waves hand dismissively): Oh, we are already doing the cookbook for Thanksgiving.

JYP: Ah, I see. You thought of everything (to myself: Dammit)

Foster Dept Head: You, [New Boss], and [Direct Report] are invited. Are you going to participate?

It was time for Tactic #4: Graciously Decline.

JYP: Thank you so much for including us. It means a lot. I will extend the invite to [New Boss] and [Direct Report] and let you know what they say. For me, I am not comfortable with sharing my mailing address, so I must respectfully decline.

This is sort of true. I don’t want to share my address. But I actually already had to share my mailing address with Foster Coworker #2 because I had to review samples so her team had to mail them to me because COVID. Fortunately, she doesn’t remember this.

Foster Dept Head: Ok then. You will organize the Secret Santa assignments. And you will host the gift-opening on Teams. So this way you are included.

JYP: Perfect!

No, not perfect. That was a complete lie. But I had no more tactics because truthfully, I liked that she was including me and I wanted to be a part of this. I just really do not like Secret Santa.


Updated to add that Foster Dept Head set the 2 hour Teams Meeting for the gift-opening for 3 PM on a Friday afternoon in December. That’s the only part of this Secret Santa fiasco that strikes me as mildly offensive, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt as I think this is more lack of awareness on her part as oppose to actively trying to make life difficult for the semi-observant Jew. As ambivalent as I am about keeping Shabbat, I’m not ready to give that time back to work, especially for a Secret Santa that I didn’t want to do in the first place. This is going to be a fun conversation.



  1. Ach. Office politics is so complicated. Pardon me for calling Christmas politics but it kind of is, in this context. My husband told me he thinks he’s the only one in his department who just said “no thanks” to secret Santa. I agree with you totally. Buying for people you barely know with a sensitively assigned price limit just feels like consumption for consumption’s sake. But at the same time, it’s no fun being the “grouch”.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It really is politics though, as is anything in an office! Even (sometimes especially) in the workplaces that call themselves family, those are even more political. Good to know I’m not the only one who feels this way about Secret Santa gift exchanges

      Liked by 2 people

  2. In graduate school, I was the community service chair, and therefore in charge of the Christmas gift drive for the school, which we ran through the Salvation Army. That was the only year of my life when I ever put up a Christmas tree and hung little angels decorations all over it. The project went incredibly well, and I recruited a Catholic friend to help me with the tree – so even that went smoothly 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh I hate secret Santa stuff. Sorry you got this put on you. I just really hate giving or even receiving gifts from someone I don’t know with an impossible price limit. I hate family Christmas gift exchanges where because I’m poor people give me practical gifts. The only way I would ever want to participate is if every gift had to be a book. Does Hanukkah involve giving and receiving gifts? I apologize if this is a dumb question I live in the most nonJewish place and would know more if rubbing shoulders with Jewish people were possible. I’m finally becoming educated through the blogging world.

    Liked by 2 people

    • They set a reasonable price limit, but still, you never know someone’s circumstances. That said, everyone else except for me seemed interested in participating (or at least didn’t decline to participate). Chanukah has a gift-giving tradition. I always feel like Chanukah gifts are more for the kids, but that could also just be my circle/family. You’d have to ask ben Alexander if Chanukah gift-giving at the office is more of a thing in Israel. You strike me as plenty educated and you’ve clearly had a breadth of different experiences! Don’t apologize!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, ma’am! I am learning a lot quickly. I think gift giving being focused on the children is a good idea whether it’s Chanukah or Christmas.


    • That idea came up in a previous discussion. This department usually does a charity bake sale in December. They were thinking of another distanced charity drive, eg. donate $5 and Coworker #1 will run a mile; donate $10 and Coworker #2 will make you a drawing, etc. But the office already did two other charity drives and the thinking was that people would be put off by another request from work to donate to charity. I kinda get it, but I’m more stressed out by gift shopping for someone I don’t know personally.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Likewise! How the heck do you know what to give someone you really don’t know, and why bother, anyway? At least taking that same effort/time/money to donate would be doing some good, at less effort than shopping for a required gift.


  4. Hahaha, wickedly hilarious how the archetypal saboteur came into pure manipulation play. I use to love year end functions, and we could really cook up a storm in the summer near to Christmas down South. Secret Father Christmas was as a sweet favourite of mine because i use to get to see ge enchanted faces of my closest colleagues on opening their secret christmas special. It was a time to release and let go, get a little tipsy abd whatever the year was there will be new beginnings. Oh yes we found every reason to celebrate round this time, travelling to other cities for the official ball gown function accompanied by brass and jazz bands, how we lounged and soaked up the party. Those were the days, and they were just wonderful, a waltz, a tango sambo or free before Christmas eve.

    A wonderful read, surfacing so many memories.
    Zoom in and make lockdown secret santa a time to remember, it comes around once a year.

    Liked by 1 person

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