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Secret Santa guide

Photo by Jill Hoffman

Photo by Jill Hoffman

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When students agree to gift exchanges, they often put the fate of their holiday cheer in the hands of their friends. They could end up heading home with candy, slippers or a pack of toilet paper.

As the seasonal cheer spreads, people everywhere look to show love and appreciation for the people in their lives through exchanging presents. One of the most popular ways of doing this is through a Secret Santa, an anonymous gift exchange. It’s fun and practical, so large groups of friends can share gifts and festivities without each person feeling responsible to get a present for everyone in the group.

Unfortunately, the holiday season is one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year for students, and all the studying and preparation for finals can make planning a holiday seem overwhelming. But there’s no need to fear: Here is a brief guide to help in taking part in a successful, stress-free holiday tradition.

Know your target.

If the group of people doing the exchange are not all close friends and do not all know each other well, consider having them write down gift ideas on the same piece of paper as their name. If participants do not provide gift ideas, try to at least get a general idea of his or her interests, likes or at least favorite type of candy. See if someone else in the gift-giving group knows the person better before guessing and giving someone a gift they won’t enjoy.

Be creative.

Part of the fun of a Secret Santa gift exchange is the gifts people come up with to give to their recipient. A gift that had thought put into it is much more special than a generic one that could be gifted to anyone.

“Make it personal, and make it original,” Amy Harrigan, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said. “Don’t just buy a gift card. That’s lame.”

Decide if the gifts will be more traditional or White Elephant.

It can be fun to keep the exchange light-hearted. Sometimes gag gifts are just as fun as traditional presents. Danny Yadgir, a junior in the College of Communication, recently did a Secret Santa Exchange with fellow resident assistants in Abbottsford.

“I got a really quirky gift. We just did a bunch of silly gifts… so I got toilet paper,” he said.

But it is important to clarify this beforehand, to avoid some people receiving heartfelt presents and others receiving toilet paper.

Keep it practical.

Think about giving gifts that are not going to require more work than the receiver wants to commit.

“Don’t get them like a plant or something because then they have to take care of it,” Barbara Sammut, a freshman in the College of Engineering, said.

Unless, of course, the receiver asks for one. Likewise, a gift that requires many directions to assemble usually doesn’t make the best Secret Santa present.

Set budget guidelines and stay within them.

Don’t be too cheap. No one wants a disappointing gift, especially after they’ve put time into giving a thoughtful, heartfelt present to someone else. Wesley Daniels, a junior in the College of Communication, is not a particularly huge fan of Secret Santa exchanges due to his disappointing experiences in grade school.

“I get like a candy bar, and then I get someone else something really nice and then it’s like, all right, I was kind of ripped off,” Daniels said.

On the other side, don’t buy anything too expensive, such as the infamous “The Office” Christmas episode (Season 2, Episode 10), where Michael Scott buys a $400 gift in a $20 maximum-budget gift exchange, spending extravagant amounts on one present will just make everyone else feel uncomfortable.

Plan on how gifts will be exchanged.

Will gifts be given at a party, or dropped off in their room during the day? Will everyone reveal their name on the present/card, or leave clues to make the recipient guess who was their Secret Santa? If not, explicitly decided ahead of time, the details of how the gifts are to be exchanged can become unclear and result in a confusion or ruined surprises.

Keep it secret.

Secrecy is a key point of Secret Santa, hence the name. Half the fun of the exchange is taken away if someone already knows who is giving them a present. In general, sharing the name of the person you drew should be avoided, because process of elimination can also ruin surprises.

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