You'd better watch out – Secret Santa's comin' to town

Not even Covid can stop the annual ritual of distributing ‘thoughtful’ tat among school staff, laments Sally Kawagoe
11th December 2020, 12:00am
You'd Better Watch Out – Secret Santa's Comin' To Town
Sally Kawagoe

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You'd better watch out – Secret Santa's comin' to town

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/youd-better-watch-out-secret-santas-comin-town

It's the Marmite event of Christmas but, love it or hate it, there is no escape. Linda, or maybe Karen, will be bowling down a corridor near you soon. She will be armed and ready. Surreptitiously, a piece of paper will be slipped into your hand - Covid be damned. There is nothing that will stand in the way of Secret Santa.

Your slip of paper will inevitably have the name of Margaret scribbled on it: a social introvert, teetotal and on a diet. Or if you're really lucky, you might get the head or deputy. What do you buy, for under a fiver, the person who's likely to be doing your annual performance pay review?

Whoever your allocated buddy is, your chosen gift needs to be a witty and thoughtful reflection of its recipient's inner characteristics and interests. Some people take this very seriously. Which adds to the pressure: you find yourself rummaging through Aldi's middle aisle at 9.55pm looking for something that doesn't suggest it could be found in the middle aisle of Aldi at 9.55pm.

You can't get out of it by being ill. I tried this once, only to receive a phone call in my sick bed from an irate head of year, demanding "Where is your Secret Santa gift for Sandra?!" When I weakly suggested that the gift that had been destined for me could surely be regifted to Sandra, I was screamed down with the response that "Of course that would not be possible, as all the gifts have been 'specially chosen' with the recipient in mind."

Later, curiosity got the better of me and I discovered that my gift had been…a packet of pencils. How would I have responded to the fact that someone believed the inner me could be summed up by a pack of watercolour pencils? Well, as with every year, I would have composed my facial features into a look of thrilled delight. And I would have exclaimed: how did they know? It's just what I've always wanted!

Covid will, of course, bring its own special twist to Secret Santa this year. Owing to restrictions on shopping, more purchases will be made online and the potential for the annual present-giving to escalate to the next level of random will be huge. Comedy beer mats, a mini screwdriver set, a fragment of Roman pottery, a green mankini…

At least the likelihood will be that these "presents" will have to be carefully quarantined, distributed to bubbles and opened during some hideous group Zoom chat. As such, I won't have to talk endlessly over glasses of wine about how, yes, they understood me so well and how yes, I really did love it.

And I won't run the risk of committing the most serious of Secret Santa faux pas: leaving it in the pub. Instead, it can sit happily in my bin and I can grin at all those little faces in their Zoom boxes, happy in the knowledge that there is a full 12 months before I have to do this again.

Sally Kawagoe is a primary school teacher in the East Midlands

This article originally appeared in the 11 December 2020 issue

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