Secret Santa gift exchanges are a weird thing to me. At least modern ones are, because while the idea of losing the “spirit of Christmas” to corporate money grabs and our own material desires is not unique to the modern era, the technology and culture that now exist make it all the more shameless.
For the past few years many of the Secret Santa’s that I’ve been a part of go something like this:
Participants are randomly assigned a person who they are going to buy a gift for. There is a budget so that everyone’s gift is worth about the same monetary value and people make a wish list of something(s) they want which falls within that target price range.
Nowadays these exchanges have just become another excuse for us to buy things we want, ’cause that’s essentially what we are doing, just in a round about way. It makes sense though. We all want to give (and receive) gifts that we know the recipient (or ourselves) will actually use. Otherwise it feels like a waste. Not to mention there a few experiences more unpleasant seeing the look of disappointment on someone’s face when they open an “unwanted” gift. So we are very specific with our requests in order to ensure that we get what we want… oh and to make it easy on the person who is assigned to buy us a gift lest they have trouble finding something they think we would like.
With apps like Elfster, where the default option requires you to input a specific link for the item you would like to receive (inputting free text is an extra few steps), this is easier than ever. Gift givers don’t need to put an ounce of thought into their gift, just few mouse clicks. Then on the day of the gift exchange people pretend to be surprised and put on an awkward smile when they tear through festive paper featuring snowmen wearing scarves to reveal a box with a nice big smile of it’s own, and inside it find the exact thing that they wanted, and a gift receipt. A Christmas miracle.
When all is said and done, everyone’s net expense is the same and people (usually) end up with what they wished for. If you didn’t, the result is often (poorly hidden) disappointment, and what was meant to be an act of generosity is now an unmet expectation. All this begs the question, couldn’t we have skipped the fanfare and faux-mystique and just all bought what we wanted?
We all deserve to spoil ourselves once in a while. I’m all for that. To me it’s preferable to hiding our selfish materialism behind a façade of generosity in order to make ourselves feel better.
Sure the process of picking names and wrapping gifts is fun and the exchange itself is a nice excuse to get together, but that can all still be accomplished using gifts that haven’t had their souls sucked out by capitalism and in a way that preserves the sanctity of gift-giving.
Gift-giving should be another opportunity to show important people in your life that you care about them and that you are cognizant of the things they like and are interested in. Some of the best gifts I’ve received were the ones that I wasn’t expecting or that didn’t know I wanted until I had them, and getting to open them was far more interesting. Sure you may get one or two you’re not super stoked about, so its a good thing you already bought yourself the thing you actually wanted.