Lame Gifts

Before I moved to a home office at my last job, I worked in an office with a “Secret Santa” exchange. Anyone could sign up, then participants drew names. Once you had someone else’s name, you were responsible for giving that person little gifts for the five working days before Christmas. The “secret” part of it means, of course, that you had to sneak the gifts to the person anonymously, then on the fifth day, you revealed yourself as that person’s Secret Santa.

I never participated in the program simply because I lacked interest, but one year, I got a lot of entertainment out of the Secret Santa event anyway.

My friend Joan signed up every year to be a Secret Santa. She enjoyed giving and getting small gifts, and she enjoyed guessing who her gift giver was.  She was surprisingly lighthearted about the whole process because not only was she was generally a serious person who did not particularly enjoy engaging in casual frivolity with co-workers, but she also was quite morose about her job. I guess this is the reason I always enjoyed seeing Joan at Christmastime in the office. She lightened up and smiled a lot. She liked Christmas.

My cubicle was about 20 feet from Joan’s, and we were good friends, so she often showed me what little gift she’d received that day, and sometimes what gift she was secretly giving to someone else. A typical gift might be a little bag of candy, a card, a small stuffed animal, a keychain, a magnet, or whatever.

One year Joan started receiving a series of gifts that made us absolutely shudder with laughter. We didn’t know who her Secret Santa was, so we couldn’t laugh openly, but my cubicle was quite private (salespeople were banished to cubicles that resembed the dark corners of caves) so she would sit in my extra chair and laugh hard, but quietly. Day after day, her gifts were something along these lines:

(Merry Christmas! Here’s a naked baby with wings.)



I remember seeing the tears rolling down Joan’s face as she laughed hysterically in my cubicle. I remember having to remove my glasses and clean them off after laughing, because they got so wet from my own irrepressible tears. And, like getting the giggles in church, a lot of the humor came from the fact that we couldn’t laugh openly. We certainly wouldn’t want to hurt the feelings of the gift-giver, in case it was one of our “neighbors” in the office.

Here’s the serious part:

To me and Joan, ceramic figures are junk. Or more succinctly, garbage. They do not serve a purpose; they are not aesthetically pleasing; they can’t be eaten; they do not help to accomplish a task; they hold no sentimental value; they’re fragile, so annoying to have around; they were mass produced on a different continent and they practically symbolize American gluttony—this is what you give when there’s nothing else to be given! These pieces of junk just sit there taking up space, making the space more ugly.

Here’s the funny part:

Someone else at our workplace found these items really cute and even thought they were charming gift ideas.


Fast forward to last weekend, December 2009. It’s five years later, at least. I stopped by our local Salvation Army thrift shop to poke around. I found a nice used fleece blanket for $2.00, and bought it for our outdoor cat (neutered) who loves a soft place to sit. In order to buy the blanket, I had to stand in a bit of a line.

In front of me, buying a cartload of items, was a woman, age 50-something, whose cart consisted almost exclusively of . . .  junk figurines like this:

And this:

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t really care that this woman was buying cheap junk at the Salvation Army. She wasn’t buying porn or liquor or drugs or even any of the gazillions of cheap paperback romance novels that the store has for sale. She wasn’t doing anything illegal, or even vaguely unethical.

It was the conversation she had with the clerk, who began ringing up the items, that got my attention. It went sort of like this:

Customer:  I’m so glad I found these cute things!

Store Clerk:  Oh yes, they’re so affordable, too.

Customer:  My Secret Santa person is going to love them!

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