How fun is it to be a part of a Secret Santa gift exchange? You get to take the place of the mysterious, beloved, red-suit clad servant of holiday cheer! You spend countless time searching for the perfect gift to knock your randomly selected target's socks off! Then, comes the exciting moment at which your Santa brings YOU a gift... and it actually turns out to be socks.
Not every Secret Santa game turns out to be as fun as your office, school, or organization makes it out to be, especially if the gifts involved totally blow. The following stories come from carless givers, unlucky receivers, or witnesses, of gifts that give the holiday a bad name... or were, just, merely unfortunate to the given situation. Happy Holidays?
"The school where I teach does Secret Santa every year. I quit participating after about five years. For five years in a row, I bought thoughtful gifts for my recipient, based on what they put on their list of likes and dislikes.
For five years in a row, the person who got my name totally got me NOTHING. I freaking hate this. It's voluntary. Why the heck would you participate if you're not going to participate?"
"For the last five years, my husband and I have hosted our family and close friends for Christmas. We don't really want to do it because it's an expensive pain in the butt, quite frankly, but the only other couple with space large enough to fit all 25 people for dinner did it for five years before us. We felt it was our turn and took over. After dinner, we do a secret Santa gift exchange with a $40 limit.
One year, my gift was a 1 oz. jar of some anti-aging potion from L'Occitane. It is perfectly possible that a jar of one of these fancy (but, let's face it, ultimately useless) potions could cost $40. But, as I had just been in that store the week before, I was aware that that particular jar had been handed out as a free gift with another purchase over a certain amount.
I smiled and feigned graciousness, but I was somewhat insulted by the 'anti-aging' slant of the gift, as well as the fact that it had been free. I put it down on an end table near where I was sitting and rushed back into the kitchen (where I end up spending most of these Christmases) to get coffee and dessert ready for the next onslaught of hungry guests.
Later, once everyone finally went home, I went to bring my potion up to my bathroom, but couldn't find it anywhere. Eventually, my husband admitted that he had probably accidentally scooped it into a trash bag while I was in the kitchen and he cleaned up the wrapping paper from the secret Santa session. We didn't bother looking through the trash for it.
After spending hundreds of dollars on food and drinks for 25 people, plus doing all of the work involved in preparing the house and the meal and the clean-up, I ended up with a free gift that got thrown out while I was in another room. Worst deal ever."
"When I was around 5 years old, our babysitter did a Secret Santa for all of the kids. I gifted my person a Barbie doll. My Santa gave me coupons for Hardee's, of which her mom was the manager.
It was not even for a free burger. It was something like $1 off of a burger. At 5 years old, I was not buying my own food. I cried while watching the others played with their cool toys. This was the worst gift in my history of receiving gifts."
"I went to a high school church gift exchange. This butthead who considered himself a poet scribbled a poem on the back of a Walgreens receipt. To add insult to injury, he 'wrapped' it in another Walgreens receipt. Nobody realized it was a gift until the end, when one poor girl thought she got left out. In my humble opinion, she would have been better off getting left out.
When she opened it, the guy kept telling the whole crowd how he had been working on the poem in his head for a while and how lucky the girl who opened it was. He made her read it to the whole room. The cringe was tangible.
He had opened a Nerf shooter earlier and would shout when people tried to steal it from him, even though it was perfectly within the rules. His dad was the preacher, so nobody felt like they could do anything.
We never had another gift exchange."
"I will never forget the year when I was both the disappointing Santa and the disappointed recipient.
It was for my community choir, which was a big group of around 60 people, so not everybody knew everybody. Before we drew names, we all had to fill out a questionnaire about our likes, dislikes, interests, allergies, etc. It was kind of an indirect way of getting to know a new person and do a good deed at the same time.
The person whose name I drew had the most insufferable list of requests I have ever seen. The price range for our gifts was $5-10 for the first two, with the 'big reveal' gift at the end being up to $20.
Half of the things this wench asked for were things you could only find at specific stores in a specific part of town. Most of the things she asked for were way out of price range. For example, if the question was 'What kind of music do you listen to?' the answer would be 'Records from [hipster music store on the other side of town].' I could just tell that she was gearing the questionnaire toward her specific (and usually expensive) taste as much as she could.
I was a broke high school student with no car and a busy schedule. I got her candy canes and a box of tea, because they were the only requests of hers I could accommodate. I watched her open the gifts. She was clearly unimpressed.
Whatever, Becky. Get stuffed.
Whoever got me gave me crayons. There were not even decent crayons, but those super cheap four-packs you get for free at family restaurants. I did not ask for crayons, or art supplies at all, for that matter. It was such a crappy overall experience that I almost never participated again."
"A place where I used to work did one of those gift giving games where you either got to pick a new present or steal one from someone else. It was a hideous idea, but all the presents were just goofy little things.
I had the last number. Basically, I had my pick of any gift. Right from the early stages, I joked that I'd be taking the 'Dogs Playing Poker' serving tray. People kept stealing it back and forth. It became a running joke throughout the whole game.
When it got to the end, I did exactly as I said and went and took the box that had the serving tray in it. The person I stole from got up and picked whatever the last remaining gift was. They seemed satisfied.
Later, after they had left the party, I went to open the box with the serving tray in it and found out they had only given me the empty box. They had hidden the tray in their coat, and taken two presents. I was every bit as amazed that most of my coworkers just found it funny.
Even the next workday after the party, that person came up to mock me, saying, 'Hahaha! Got you! You got an empty box, idiot!' They continued to keep cracking jokes about how I had fallen for it for at least two more months. I would ask where File X was for a project, and they would reply, 'I don't know. Why don't you check in the box! Ahhhh haha!'
This person was a colossal imbecile. I didn't work there much longer. That was only one of a pile of reasons why."
"I did a Secret Santa with a club at my school. The budget was around $35. For my person, I went all out and basically got them a bunch of items they wanted.
The person who had me gave me a takeout box filled with broken cookies. The worst part was that those cookies were leftovers that she took back home from our Thanksgiving party we had a few weeks prior."
"I spent a long time thinking up something for my Secret Santa at work. She was a bit odd and a bit quirky, but I knew she loved these weird doll things. I found her one and some accessories to go with it. She gave me some paper napkin rings her that her 4-year-old son made at school.
We had a £20 budget.
I was so ticked off but, with a Secret Santa, you can't really say anything. I never contributed to her birthday collection ever again.
I wonder how she would feel about 'artwork' made by my cat..."
"We played White Elephant at work. I saw a bunch of cool gifts pop up and rotate around. Adult beverages, a breakfast set of special bowls, spoons, a variety pack of cereals, etc. Someone walked up midway through and opened up a half-eaten bag of chips.
The gift giver opened a bag of Lays, realized they didn't have a gift, folded it shut, and wrapped it in Christmas paper.
After the chip gift was opened, a super chill dude in the office stepped up and 'stole' the chips. This let the other person re-pick or steal, basically saving the event. At the end of the White Elephant, our boss gave the dude with the chips $25 as a thank you for being a stand up person.
The one who gave the chips was never identified. They tossed in the crap gift, probably got something cool, and stayed quiet long enough for people to not look for them again. We didn't do a white elephant the next year, though. We transitioned to a paired Secret Santa managed by our bosses."
"I have a friend who is terrible at gift giving. He is so absentminded and last-minute about things like that. He also refuses to care about 'materialistic things.' Good for him, but if you're participating in a Secret Santa, you are supposed to be thoughtful to your giftee. It's not about you.
The first time we ran Secret Santa for our friend group, he gifted his giftee a full boiled egg. The worst part was he passed it to her prior to the gift exchange. As she was waiting for dinner, she ate it, only to find out later it was her 'gift.'
The second year, he gave his giftee a book in a language she does not read. It was most certainly a book he plucked off his shelf. The third year, he got the same girl and gave her a coffee tasting experience at a cafe his friend owns. She doesn't drink coffee.
This year.... we'll see. We've all warned him to put effort in."
"I was in the first grade. At Secret Santa time, my mom had helped me pick out some sweet Barbie stuff for the little girl I had been assigned. She loved it.
When I got my gift, it was an unwrapped, old, used book. The pages had turned yellow and it had a coffee mug stain on the cover. I was the only one not playing with a new toy. 6-year old me obviously felt left out. I started to sob.
My mom told me not to behave that way and apologize for not being grateful. She took me to the side later and explained to me the girl's family may not have had the money to afford the gift. I felt bad after that, but was still mildly salty."
"One time I bought a crappy gift for Secret Santa. It was a big year for Himalayan pink salt. I had never heard of it until that year, but everyone seemed to talk it up. I went to a Ross store and found a pink salt grinder for a darn good deal. I bought one for myself and one for Secret Santa. I was so excited until the dude opened my present.
'What the heck?' he audibly exclaimed.
The look of disappointment on his face while everyone else was opening up blankets and card games and other goodies made me glad mine it was anonymous.
I'm so sorry random dude I didn't know. I thought the salt was cool...."
"I am part of a Secret Santa organized through a Facebook group. I bought this guy a beautiful Legend of Zelda print and he bought me a box of hot chocolate K cups from Aldi's. I don't even have a Keurig.
Funnily enough, I met him recently and he told me how much he loved my present and how he had it hanging up in his room. He asked me how I knew he liked Zelda. I said I looked at his Facebook page. There was a very long pause.
'Oh,' he said. 'I didn't think to do that for you. I hope you like hot chocolate.'
It was pretty funny. He wasn't a bad dude, just completely clueless."
"A senior-level guy at my company ended up being the Secret Santa for a low-level employee at my job. The two of them normally wouldn't interact, but he engineered running into her at the coffee machine, had some chit-chat, and found out she liked African wildlife. So, he got her a little collectible figurine of a gorilla or some sort of primate.
When she received it, she immediately took it the wrong way, thinking it was a comment on her Afro-Caribbean heritage and appearance. She went to HR and filed a complaint. It became a whole big thing in the office. After a couple of days of hoping it would blow over, the senior guy went to HR and said it was him, based on a conversation about wildlife.
The junior person was reminded of this conversation, she realized the gift came with only good intentions and that everything blew up entirely unnecessarily and that was that. However, the senior guy was so mortified that things were so misinterpreted that he quit shortly thereafter."
"Every year we do Secret Santa with my significant other's immediate family. Usually, we'll buy each other practical or consumable gifts, like a bottle of red or chocolates.
Two years ago, my significant other's aunt bought me a terrarium science kit in which you have to go outside and scavenge for the bugs you add to your terrarium. I am female in my late 20s who hates bugs.
When we got home, I realized that the kit had been opened before and partially assembled. I'm 90% sure she took one of her (now adult) children's toys and re-gifted it to me."
"In middle school, I coordinated a Secret Santa in my friend group. Of course, I went hard and got my match a great gift within the budget limit - around $15.
When the time came to swap gifts, one girl announced she got everyone a small something. I can't remember exactly what, but I think it was a small pencil and notepad, which was probably about $1 each. I thought that was sweet.
It turned out that she was my Secret Santa and didn't get me anything besides what she also gave to everyone else. Essentially, I got nothing. I did not actually care. I was just floored at how clueless some people can be. I never coordinated a Secret Santa again, though."
"In the fifth grade, my class played 'Santa is Mean' and each person brought in one gift. In the game, there is one difference: after choosing a present, people that come after you can choose to take your gift and you'll have to get another one from the pile.
Long story short, one kid brought in an empty tissue box that had some scribbles on it. I got that one after my original one was taken."
"I once tried to give a really funny gift. That was kind of the idea. The dollar amount was set low, so we had to get creative. I had the best one. It was all packed into little wrapped units in a big Disney Frozen gift bag.
Unfortunately, the person who took it from the pile wasn't one of the usual loud funny guys. It was the quiet girl - the only woman in an office filled with men. She was super quiet, hard working, and didn't seem too into all the joking and goofing around most of us did. I was pretty worried when she opened it.
The first thing she pulled out was winter gloves.
Not bad. It's cold here. Super practical.
Next item - a ski mask.
OK. Kind of weird, but might wear it when it gets really cold.
OK... Maybe it's for tying down ski equipment.
Then, a roll of garbage bags.
This seems super weird.
Finally, a toy hand weapon... It was a freaking crime kit.
Thankfully, she really enjoyed it. She kept the hand weapon to threaten us if we got out of hand around the office. Oh, there was also a gift card loaded into the weapon."
"I found a LEGO Christmas set, still in the box, from the year my giftee was born. They collected LEGO and mentioned that, sometimes, they would collect them in-box. I thought it would be a fun gift. Miraculously, I managed to stay under budget, except for shipping.
They also managed to get me...and didn't get me anything. It would have been forgettable, except they kept bringing it up every week or so. They finally 'bought me lunch' by bringing in an energy drink and a bag of chips."
"It was a Secret Santa for my swim team back when I was 10 or 11. Instead of making each person pick a gift one at a time, they decided it was best if everyone rushed at the table at the same time. Whatever everyone grabbed first was their gift.
Unknown to everyone else, one girl hand made an ornament as her gift. It was destroyed in the chaos of kids grabbing gifts. I remember her crying, holding her broken gift. To be honest, if the people in charge made us grab a gift one at the time, that would have never happened."
"In middle school, our homeroom class decided to do Secret Santa. We each received a list of the person's likes and dislikes. I got my person a bunch of art supplies as they said they liked to draw. When the teacher gave out the presents, I received nothing.
She pulled me and another girl aside at the end of class. The girl dug through her bag and gave me a tiny bag of animal bones that we had all received earlier that week while dissecting owl pellets."
"My Secret Santa didn't show up to the party. Then, the next day, he clearly forgot who he was getting a present for and got me books on clearance about Audrey Hepburn that another coworker would have adored.
The guy I was Secret Santa for also flaked at going to the party. I didn't really know what to get him. I went the route of a gag gift - a toy that pooped chocolate candies. I taped a Best Buy gift card worth the full $20 budget under it.
He opened it when I wasn't there and allegedly gave the toy away to a customer. I'm pretty sure he threw it away. I felt really crappy about that. But, it's not my problem."
"At one of the schools I used to work at, it was basically tradition that both staff and students participated in Secret Santa. The main thing was that this school, apparently, 'transcended the boundaries' (or some deep quote crap) because you could be matched with anyone: teachers with students, students with students, students with the janitor, anything. For three years, I got students I did not even know and got them stuff based on asking around.
One year, I matched with a student in one of my 11th-grade classes. The kid was a known HUGE Pokémon fan. After a week of prodding around, listening in on conversations in class and walking by during breaks, I finally heard him telling a friend that he really wanted a Ditto plushie. Boom! It was within our set budget of $30 so I got it. The kid was ecstatic.
I got a bottle of 'Liquid Butt Fart Spray.'"