Is Secret Santa a waste of money? – Jason Sims

To many, Secret Santa is an exciting and hilarious annual event. For those who are unaware (thought I doubt there are any) Secret Santa is where you get a random person to buy a gift for and you receive a present from an unknown individual. Despite the nice intent, is not simply a meaningless exchange of capital, as suggested by Mr Hodson? 

On the one hand, of course it is. A price limit is set, usually £5-£10 and with that you are buying a limited range of presents, sometimes the first thing you can find in the price range. The typical gift that we all joke about is a box of celebrations, simply because it fits the price range, and it is hard to dislike. But does this not expose a systematic flaw in the entire process of Secret Santa? The reason we often fall to things such as food is because it is a ‘safe’ option. We do not want to give a bad gift, but the nature of the game means we cannot be certain that we get someone we know. As a result, we do not know what they like and dislike. For example, last year in my tutor group, I received a box of chocolate from a pupil in the year above, after gifting a box of chocolate. A poor effort. 

However, when participating in this with friends it seems to go one of two ways. 

  1. You cannot purchase nice gifts; they must be funny. 
  2. Struggle to purchase a nice gift that fits within the price range. 

While some might suggest I have just made a sweeping generalisation with that first point, I invite you to google ‘Secret Santa Gifts’. When I did this, a site titled ‘Prezzybox’ was the first to appear, this offers a range of nice gifts which are primarily food, alongside funnier, but often crude, presents. This suggests that for many Secret Santa does fall into one of those two categories. Considering this, is Secret Santa not therefore a simple exchange of capital, I spend £5 on you, and you hopefully spend £5 on me? The literal answer to that is yes, but we must explore the meaning behind this. 

Secret Santa ensures that each year you give a present. A small and simple token that hopefully makes someone smile or laugh and reinforces the importance of generosity to some extent. Surely this is a valuable experience at the cost of £5? I would like to think so. However, what complicates this is that the outcome of Secret Santa, as with anything, is a reflection of the input. If the group decides to spoil the names for Secret Santa, the element of surprise is lost. If the group put in a desperate effort to find the first thing online, then it is likely that the gift is rather impersonal and forgettable. 

So, what are my final thoughts on this? For the most part, Secret Santa offers so much potential to be a nice annual tradition, but it is much better when you’re doing it with people you actually know well. The reason I stress that is because, in my limited experience of this, it is hard enough buying presents for people you do know, and it becomes infinitely more challenging when you do not know them. The consequence of that is there is a risk that the gifts become forgettable and worthless, meaning Mr Hodson would be right in thinking it is simply an exchange of capital. 

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