in which I fish for opinions

So it’s that time of year again – Christmas party season. The past few years, the office has done a Secret Santa gift exchange. I participated for the first two years. The first year was when I discovered how straightlaced most of the folks in my office are, or at least serious about presents. At my old job, we did the “pick a gift from the table then maybe exchange with someone else” deal, which was always a blast. It was a nice mix of serious and fun presents and the “stealing” part always made things interesting. For the first year we exchanged at my new job, I didn’t think anything of buying a silly gift. The money limit was ten bucks so I picked up one of those mini book/kits from the bookstore. It was the Boss Voodoo one – the guy I was buying for has a good sense of humour. Anyway, people looked shocked when he opened it, although he did find it funny, as did his boss. From the looks on other people’s faces, you’d think he’d opened a bag of poo an inch away from a lit match. Needless to say, other than one funny-as-an-inside-joke gift for one person, the gifts were all tasteful and proper. And worth well over ten bucks.

The next year, I played along, and the present was well-received, although I was annoyed that my identity was revealed to the recipient by LBA. SECRET Santa, folks. That’s part of the fun.

For my part, one year I got some vanilla-scented stuff and the following year I got a cat calendar, so it was obvious people had asked what I might like. That’s fine, most givers end up doing that anyway. Well, of course that can only go so far. Last year, someone actually posted a list of everyone’s name who was participating and wanted them to write in what they wanted from their Secret Santa – needless to say, this piece of tackiness didn’t last long once a higher up saw it.

After the second year, I asked our HR lady, who I think helped set this stuff up, if it would be possible the next year to add a blurb about how we could ask for charity to be involved in some way since we are a very donation-friendly office when various things come up, and we participate in a pay-deduction plan for the United Way. She agreed that it would be fine if the recipient let it be known that they would like the money spent on them be donated to charity instead – after all, you’re asking others what you should buy this person because you want to get something they will like, right? Anyway, she suggested I bring it up with the employee who actually organizes the Secret Santa part of the festivities, so I did. I was shut down, no questions asked. We apparently do enough good things throughout the year, both through work and in our personal lives, that this was not an option for the gifts. Now, I wasn’t suggesting this be mandatory or anything, simply an option should the recipient want it. Nope, no way, no how.

Come the next Christmas, I chose to not participate in the gift exchange. We had our meal and then I left to go back to the office (the party was in a conference room on a different floor of our office complex). As well last year, they added what I considered to be some extremely silly games, and they also used money from our lunches throughout the year (we buy a ticket to a homemade lunch to fund the party) to buy enough random gifts (worth $6 each) so everyone would get one. This was on top of everyone getting the exchanged gift – double waste, as far as I’m concerned. There is no one hurting in that office that needs that $6 block of cheese or coffee card, sorry (you heard me, block of cheese). I think we can all agree that for the most part, gift exchanges do not work out in anyone’s favour, and the gift is most likely regifted anyway. Don’t try to change my mind on that – I’ve seen it happen more than enough times throughout the years. There are always exceptions, and there are here as well, but overall you will never get me to think otherwise.

Come early in the year, I got shit all over by a couple of people for not participating. Apparently the fact that I had contributed via the lunches all year long for something I didn’t even end up doing didn’t matter either. I should have sucked it up, gone against my own heart and mind, and participated. I felt hurt and betrayed by the way this was brought up to me by one particular person. I agree that, in hindsight, I probably did crap on the whole idea a little too much, but at the time, those people agreed with me. The same people who then heartily took part and practically denied they ever thought the same way as I do. I honestly have never noticed if there are some who don’t take part, but I assume there are at least a couple, even if it’s because they knew they wouldn’t be there that particular day.

The invitation for this year’s event came around last week and we have to let the organizer know by this coming Friday whether or not we are participating. I don’t want to. Hell, I’ll skip the whole thing and not think a thing of it if it bothers folks that I’ll go for the meal and leave before the stupid games (musical chairs, anyone?) and gift exchange like last year. Do I “suck it up” and participate and let a few folks who would be the ones asked about my gift that I want a donation made instead (the gift is up to $20 this year)? Do I smile and play along with whatever happens? That is so not me and I hate that I’m basically forced to take part in this ridiculous event. I should add that it doesn’t have to be ridiculous, but the folks who are the ones who always plan it make it that way. The first year wasn’t actually too bad – we all chipped in to order pizza and a bunch of us brought various desserts to share, then we opened the gifts, all on our own boardroom and reception area.

Ugh, I know I’m rambling, but this has been going through my head from even before the notice came around. Am I being silly and stubborn? Should I stick to my guns even if no one agrees with me (willingly and out loud, anyway) and I’m made to feel like the biggest grinch there is? Did I forget to add about how the food and animal shelter drives I held last Christmas (2nd year in a row) were even held against me because, although they are “generous things to do”, I do them on my own, not with other folks? I never connected one with the other EVER, and was astonished when this was thrown at me. One of the organizers has glommed onto the food bank thing and we have donated cash to them before from lunches, and will be tying them into something this year with the party, and I plan on approaching her to add my support to it instead of doing a food drive again this year (I received a request for another Christmas food drive from the food bank last week) since cash goes further for them than actual food donations.

This whole thing upsets me far more than it should.

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37 Responses to in which I fish for opinions

  1. My Mommeh always dreads that sort of thing, too. Too bad your coworkers did not like the charity idea for the gift exchange. One year, where my Mommeh used to work, instead of doing a gift exchange, the department “adopted” a needy family with several children, and they all bought presents and food so that family would have a happy holiday. Whenever there is a gift exchange, my Mommeh usually just gets a nice box of Godiva chocolates to give out.

  2. I’m with you and honestly, I think the whole gift thing sounds like it’s gotten out of hand and I’m generally against it especially since there’s already so much pressure within families with the whole gift giving crap, who needs to worry about gift for near or perfect strangers? Last year, where I was, we did the bring a gift, pick a number, steal gifts, kind of thing at private faculty parties a couple of times in the year. I rather enjoyed it more than I thought I would (because I truly am a Grinch). It sounds like your situation is getting a little too “The Office” like with some idiots turning it into something far more serious than it should be. But then, there is a huge portion of the population (not even always Christian) who turn the season itself into something waaaaaay overblown and lose sight of the meaning. And, by meaning (since I am an atheist), I mean that it’s a vacation time to concentrate, when possible, on family and getting together with friends, and good food and drinks, and yes, giving. But I think most of us should focus the giving on giving to those who can’t afford these luxuries (like time off, good food, time with others, etc.) and should give real cash money to decent charities or give time as well.

    So, given my obvious being-on-your-side and sympathizing stance, I’d like to play devil’s advocate for just a bit.

    Yes, there may be some who feel as you do (or who say so in your presence at least) but don’t admit it later because there are pretty strong social forces at work in the office place. The dynamic is such that you need to exert a certain amount of compliance with behaviours you normally find offensive or wasteful. Imagine if perhaps you had 5-10% of you who formed a band of Xmess gift exchange nay-sayers. Then what you end up with are the formation of “groups” within the greater group. This is always, always, going to cause conflicts that grow into resentments. And while it may seem ridiculous that it happens, nonetheless, it happens. So, my advice would be to reduce your own stress by going along with it and “pretending” that you’re on their side.

    This will have two effects. Number One, believe it or not, pretending you’re on board will actually make you feel better, despite your own feelings growing against this silly yearly event. Certainly, it should alleviate your resentments and anxiety that would otherwise arise each year if you continue to play the outcast. Number Two, you’ll be on the inside, part of the ingroup. This is the only place you can make changes from in a closed group like the workplace. I suggest that you continue each year to make the charity suggestions. Find new ways each year to frame your suggestions. Appeal to them in different ways each year (“As a sizeable group we all have so much to give”, “There was just that monsoon last month that we could help with as a group”, “Pooling our money as a group can make a big difference to one local charity”, etc.).

    As there it is, my professional psychological advice, given to you, my baby sister, for absolutely no cost whatsoever. Happy Xmess. 🙂

  3. leendadll says:

    It’s your holiday too… you should do whatever you want. Maybe standing against the stupidity will empower others to do the same. If not, who cares?!

    The only fun gift exchanges I ever intended were 90% bottles of booze. Once the new Director came in and killed that, I stopped attending – because it was boring and DEPRESSING.

    Xmas “parties” at my current job suck the most… no gifting. No party actually. Just a free lunch one day. We have canned food drives but that’s run by a different group. We used to have a Giving Tree (buy gifts for low income kids) but that was stopped around the same time as the off-site parties. Holidays schmalidays

    • lol well, usually there are several people who get wine as gifts

      The office complex does an angel tree, which sounds like the same thing as your giving tree thing, and now that I say that, I’m vaguely recalling someone saying we would do something like that this year. Hmmm…

  4. crankypants says:

    So you had suggested a few years ago (I remember these posts of course but am not 100% clear on the details) that instead of saying “I want you to buy me [XYZ junk]” as a gift suggestion you say “I would prefer a donation made to [ABC Charity]” and that was shot down?

    I can totally understand your frustration and dread. I dread Christmas every year and I don’t even work with people. It’s all the fricking hullaballoo that goes along with it. Really? Musical chairs? holy good god. I think if you suck it up and go along with it all, you might get an ulcer. I am at a point in my life where I don’t do stuff I don’t want to unless I REALLY feel like I can’t get away with it without hurting someone’s feelings or having to explain myself and probably will not be understood. But, I don’t know. It’s difficult because you are already seen as a grinch–which I really don’t understand. Give my gift to charity. Hey, food drive here. And they think that because you do that on your own (and don’t want to be forced to give to the United Way) that you’re a grinch? I don’t know. It’s good that you will offer support to the food donation thing, but did anyone else ever offer to help YOU with the food drive? I don’t know. I don’t get it. Maybe because you don’t participate in their reindeer games they just think that you are angry and unfestive, but seriously…you’re not trying to shut them down from doing their thing so why can’t they just let you be? I’d be with you, you know that, not participating in musical chairs and stuff. and obviously the silly gift you started out with proves that you have a sense of humor about it. But maybe that’s the problem, they are all too serious about Getting Gifts for Christmas. and you’re a grinch because that isn’t important to you. Also, the fact that it’s up to $20 when the economy is still in the toilet (it is, in Canada, still too, right?) is a bit telling. There is nothing wrong with a gift exchange and a party for the holidays, but it should be a bit more flexible like you have suggested. Ugh, this is why I am so glad I don’t work in an office like that.

    • Yes, all I wanted to do was put the idea out there. Inevitably, friends of the recipient get asked what the person would like. Well, feel free to say that person wants a donation to be made. How is that horrible, and where is the mandatory aspect? I might as well have suggested handing out Satanic bibles. The only reason I mentioned it instead of just doing it was because I thought we could use the notice to bring up the topic.

      I do contribute to the United Way, even though it’s not one of my choice charities. My deductions are not that big, but I know that a lot of people and organizations benefit, so I don’t mind. This year and last year, I stipulated on my form that my donation was to go to the Humane Society.

      Some folks only ever remember what they perceive as the negative stuff. I’m sure it just hit harder because of who came out and said the stuff to me. It’s probably not as bad as I think. I do remember now that the first year I boycotted, a colleague did the same because she agreed with me, but last year it was back to normal.

      Serious about the gifts is exactly it. They suck the fun out of it. And here’s a telling story – after any food drives I’ve done, I bring treats in to thank the office. One time, I got one reply about it, and that person said how surprising it was to thank people for something they should be doing anyway, and she figured it would be people who didn’t even participate who would be the first to go get some of the goodies. Our office can have a very “entitled” attitude sometimes. I don’t mean to make them sound horrible because they’re not, for the most part, but as I said, they suck the fun out of everything. Maybe it’s just the way people are up here, as opposed to back home.

  5. Lauri says:

    Ok, I was going to go with the “stick to your guns” portion of our program, too. But after reading B&W’sMom’s comment I see a great deal of sense in that.
    There’s a negative vibe from having to deal with stupid Xmess (love that!) overachievers. And a slight negative from having to “play along”. But, playing along, buy a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, with Exlax included….whatever…just get it over with and then forget about it….that seems to have the least long lasting negatives to me.

    We have enough people in the lab that it doesn’t matter..there are always enough participating and enough not participating that it’s cool either way. In a smaller setting it’s probably harder to say “You guys have fun, I think this is a pain in the ass.” (which it IS!).

    It just feels to me as if it would be easier on you to just “do eet”.

    So much for my two cents! 😉

    Either way, you certainly have the right to graciously abstain. Maybe revert to Jehovah’s Witness. The few JW people I know obviously did it to get out of giving their kids birthday gifts. 😛

    • You’re gonna give my sister a big head by agreeing with her. 😛

      We’re big enough that my not participating shouldn’t be a big deal. And as I just wrote to Cranky, maybe it just seems worse to me because of the messenger.

  6. Lauri says:

    “Revert” was not the right term. You weren’t JW in the first place that I know of.

    Maybe “pervert” is the word I was looking for.

  7. Kzinti says:

    As was explained to me once by a military theorist whom I went to for advice on how to overturn the local politics at work, once you draw the line in the sand and make your stand, you have nowhere to go. If you continue to engage them in guerilla warfare, from within, they will never really know where the strikes are coming from and you live to fight another day. Bascially, there are times when you suck it up and take the hit, lose the battle so that you are not out of the war.

    Now me, I’m more the blunt force type, to walk in with hand grenades that have the pins pulled and open up a can of whoopass on the group. Everywhere I’ve left, rather, the places I’ve been forced to leave due to poor working conditions, and have leveled the building so to speak, they still sing the Legend of Kzinti… And that’s no exaggeration. I’ve got references… LOL

  8. lurkertype says:

    I’m really torn on this. But definitely keep asking for donations. There’s a goat out there that needs buying. And under no circumstances play musical chairs. The hell? This is not kindergarten, people.

  9. lauowolf says:

    I think this is sounding like one of those not-really-voluntary voluntary things, and not worth agonizing about.
    Just do a Generic Gift, receive one, and wander off to sit out the games.
    Your basic Generic Gift = box of chocolate, fancy soap, calendar.
    I tend to like consumables for this kind of thing, just to cut down on the amount of clutter in the world.
    Or, heck, buy a chicken in their name for someone some were.
    Just cos the idiot running the thing doesn’t like the concept, doesn’t mean you can’t do it unilaterally.
    If only to introduce the concept publicly.

    • Dream on that I could sit out the games. We’ll see. Maybe they aren’t planning the whole ridiculousness that was last year’s do.

      I don’t think I would do the donation thing if the person didn’t ask for it. I’d probably be shunned.

  10. snoringKatZ says:

    I agree with stating that your preference for YOUR gift is a donation to (pick two or three of your favorite charities). You give the ‘giver’ a choice and you don’t end up with a WalMart fizzy bath ball set.

    Also, make sure your calendar is full that day – like you have a project to work on or a client to call or something that is absolutely ‘gotta do’ so that you can enjoy the food and leave. Explain it all with the sad apologies and such, “Especially looked forward to it all year every time I bought a lunch (*subtlety – or not*) blah blah blah.” You can even throw in “But I’ll get back down here to help clean up after 2:30 (or whatever time is sufficient to get the misery over with).”

    This gives you cover to get you out besides leaving because it’s ridiculous, it prevents you from getting a gift you’d rather not have, and it might inspire a few other people to give up the pursuit of office gifts.

  11. What you describe is almost exactly how I handled it last year, minus the helping to clean up – lol.

  12. Jaypo says:

    Fortunately, my office doesn’t participate in The Office activities like that. However, one thing I’d do is–pick your battles wisely! Sometimes jumping on board, even if you can “agree to disagree”, brings more peach of mind. LOL! I like peach of mind. It’s all fruit anyway.

    Lots of good words up ^there^ (above my comment).

  13. xeyli says:

    My method of avoiding the silly games is, “I brought my nice camera, so I’ll be taking pictures of everyone, especially of the game playing.”

  14. rossruns says:

    Late to the party here, but I would bring up that you had suggested the donation alternative, and when it was shot down by Ms. Dictator, you decided not to participate. Say that you’d love to be part of things, but would prefer that your “gift” be a donation, and if that is not possible, you’d prefer to sit out once again. If people can’t appreciate that, you’ve got bigger problems than whether they’re mad at you for not participating in Secret Santa!

    As for the games and stuff – in for a penny, in for a pound. If you’re a participant in the festivities, you’ll look like a spoilsport and alienate yourself by refusing to play. I think you can arguably refuse the whole occasion, but not pick-and-choose activities within it.

  15. aubrey says:

    Whenever I’m faced with games at the annual Aubrey’s Family Picnic-Reunion, I just claim that my old war wound is playing me up again, and will have to bow out.

    If you don’t want to, don’t. Say it laughingly – i.e. without a shiv in your hand – and people will accept. Can you not throw in a gift and then sit out the games?

    But in the end, really, you should do what you want and not feel bad about it.

    And ‘enforced jocularity’? I just get Really Drunk.

  16. Redscylla says:

    Man, I can’t believe I missed this! Because I got all kinda gimmicks and sharp retorts to get out of Christmas bullshit and gift exchanges in particular. Next year I recommend you start dropping hints about converting to Judaism or Jehovah’s Witnessism. Then very dourly with a hint of pity, you can decline to participate on religious grounds. This didn’t work when I worked at a church. There I just had to cite my extreme and insurmountable giftphobia.

  17. M-----l says:

    I think you should participate in the gift exchange and give a CD you won on the internet.

  18. leendadll says:

    I skipped my dept party and we didn’t have a company party, so it was pretty easy for me this year.

    No updates in a month… What decision did you go with?

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