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Why Doesn’t Anyone Put as Much Effort Into Secret Santa as I Do?

Why Doesn’t Anyone Put as Much Effort Into Secret Santa as I Do?
Written by publisher team

I need help exchanging gifts for my family’s birthday celebration. Rules: All adults buy gifts for all children, and we also buy 1 gift (maximum $50) for an adult whose name we randomly choose on Thanksgiving. Each year, I spend a lot of time thinking about a gift the recipient would love, and I always spend the maximum dollar amount. The gifts I get in return are usually cheap and seem to involve no real thought. I find the exchange disappointing, and it makes me depressed because I still hope for more. Is there a better way to deal with this?


I got it: Your “love language,” as pop psychology describes it, are gifts. For your other family members, that’s another thing. You still hope for meaningful gifts, and every year you are disappointed. This is like regularly shopping for heirloom tomatoes at a hardware store. You will never find them there! Try to lower your expectations before the unpacking begins. Consider other ways your relatives show you care.

Now, let’s go further. I suppose you, like many of us, spend a lot of time thinking about the things that might enrich your life: a novel by Elizabeth Strout, quality olive oil, tickets to ‘company’. If you don’t feel like buying these for yourself, do so – and enjoy!

I’m also here to tell you that there may come a time when even thoughtful gifts fail to move you. Over the years, in my experience, the joy that came from gift boxes has been replaced by unexpected glimpses of sun-kissed papers or playing with a cuddly pup at an animal shelter. Look for these sensory experiences, too. Because our relationship to material culture is always changing.

My neighbors spend their winters in Florida. That day, a box of pears arrived on the front porch. I moved it to the side of their house so no one could take it. There was a gift message on the box from a friend, wishing them a happy holiday. I emailed my neighbor about the delivery and got a quick reply: She claimed the pears were a Christmas gift for my family mistakenly delivered to her address. Do I thank her for the pear or do I mention the gift letter from her family friends? I hate them not getting a proper thank you. (Also: pears are delicious!)


Remote undo has a high degree of difficulty. From afar, we can’t tell if the book was included with a personal message, for example, or if the damned pear came with a note. Gifts must be checked before being given to another recipient.

Your neighbor’s gesture was thoughtful, despite her little friend’s claim that pears were always meant for you. (She could have given them to any number of pear lovers who just had to pass by her house to pick them up.)

Spare her the embarrassment of drawing attention to her lies. Put the gift note from their friends along with the rest of the mail that accumulates in their absence. Your neighbors can send them a thank you note when they come back.

We have a generous client who sends us a big and new Christmas wreath every year. While we appreciate this gesture, we are Jews and are not inclined to display a symbol of Christian significance such as a wreath. Should we thank the customer and tell them that the gift was lost on us, or simply thank the customer and give the wreath to the employee who will appreciate it?


Fun fact: wreaths predate Christianity; Their roots go back to ancient Rome. With that, I take your point. Today, wreaths are associated with Christmas.

Since you felt strong enough about this issue to write it down, you should say something to your client. I wouldn’t tell him that “the gift was lost” on you, as you suggest. Thank him sincerely for his generosity and tell him that you gave the wreath to an employee celebrating Christmas. Who has to do the trick.

My friends invited my husband and I to spend the weekend with them at their home in their country. It was only supposed to be the four of us, and it sounded like heaven. Since then, I learned that our friends invited another couple to join the party. Unfortunately, they are vehemently against Covid-19 vaccines, and I don’t feel comfortable spending my weekend with them. I know I have to send our regrets. But it also seems inevitable that we will find ourselves in the company of unvaccinated people at some point. Am I too cautious?


Send remorse! If current vaccination rates indicate that we will inadvertently encounter unvaccinated people, that is an argument for taking extra care to avoid them when we are able to. It also argues for clarity and directness. Thank your friends for their kind invitation and tell them you don’t feel comfortable spending the weekend with their unvaccinated guests.

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