Tis the season for secret Santa and holiday work parties. Most workplaces participate in secret gift giving and parties during this time of year to commemorate the holiday season and spread cheer among co-workers. The range of gifts, price limits and rules seem to be arbitrarily set by an organizer who either gets appointed or willfully volunteers to take on this role. Thanks to the organizers who likely never get fully thanked.
One of the best gifts I ever got was from a holiday office gift exchange. About four years ago I was gifted a safety strap for running, walking or biking at night. The contraption includes an adjustable LED headlamp along with a rear red flashing light to make me visible at night. I use it all the time. My boss nailed it, giving me something that I didn’t know I needed until I got it.
The art of gift giving, in my opinion, comes in finding or making an object that speaks to the giver and says, “I was made for _______,” even when it’s not a birthday or a holiday. When you find an object that says, “that is the perfect thing for (fill in the blank)” you are joyful in giving it to that person. A friend recently gave me a T-shirt because she saw it and thought, “Sarah needs that.” So very thoughtful! It wasn’t my birthday or any special event, she saw it and it spoke to her. Of course, you must know the person pretty well, which is why some people dread gifting things at Christmas time. It feels like an obligation.
When gift giving often becomes an obligation it steals the joy from the spirit of giving. Compulsory gift giving can force people to think about others in new ways and the joy can bubble up eventually. This is important and why we must practice giving. But, when you feel like you have to give something because you’re supposed to, it often feels forced.
One idea that might make the joy of giving a little easier when you are stuck is to form a gift group. Gather a few friends or relatives to exchange homemade crafts. I know of a group of women in the valley who started a crafting gift exchange that is now seven years in the running. Each person makes six homemade gifts. They come together after all the crafting is done, and they each come home with six hand crafted gifts they can keep to themselves or give away to others if they chose. It alleviates the pressure and fills them with the joy of creation, giving, and receiving.
According to the website whychristmas.com, the tradition of gift giving with regards to St. Nicholas dates back to the fourth century in what is now Turkey. The story goes that Saint Nicholas, born to a wealthy family, upon the death of his parents became a secret gift giver, dolling out his family’s inheritance through secret means to the poor. One legend has it that he dropped gold coins down the chimney that landed in a stocking hung by the fire to dry in the home of a poor man who needed money for each of his three daughters for their dowry. It happened twice and on the third night, the man waited by the fireplace to see who was dropping coins into the stocking. Caught in his act of generosity, he begged the man not to reveal his identity. But in time the word got out that Nicholas was the secret gift giver. And so, there you have the tradition of the stockings and St. Nicholas, the first secret Santa.