Wednesday, 1 December 2010


"Secret Santa is a Western Christmas tradition in which members of a group are randomly assigned other members to whom they anonymously give a gift. Often practised in workplaces, or amongst large families, participation in it is usually voluntary. It offers a way for many people to give and receive a gift at low cost to those involved." Wikipedia.

One need not scroll far down to see my unbridled enthusiasm for Christmas. Reading Mrs Trefusis's latest post brought on a wave of nostalgia for the simple joy of baking Christmas cakes with my grandmother, running through her garden with my cousins and being frequently stung by bees hiding amongst the fallen jacaranda flowers (forget not that I grew up in the southern hemisphere). It often took several days before the swelling in my feet went down. But now that I have returned to the heat (and gosh it has been hot lately, hottest November on record) I am also nostalgic for peacefully white, wintry landscapes of my spiritual northern home. The pictures of Britain in a cold snap have left me in fits of envy. Though I remember fully the chaos of London snow last year, the memories I take from those days are of strangers playing together in the snow, reveling in a Dickensian world of white. Billions of pounds may have been lost, but after all, it's only money.

Which brings me to Christmas. I feel a miserly scrooge-type character, but I am entirely unhappy about a recent spate of Secret Santas pervading my nice quiet world. I am entirely opposed to the idea. I am a poor student and I object to being forced to buy complete strangers tat. Instead, I am baking gingerbread biscuits, and to hell with people's reactions. You will get what you are given and be happy I am bothering at all! I have long been of the opinion that gift-buying is a most inefficient function of money. We waste money on things people invariably do not, have never, and never will want. It is an inefficiency at both ends. And we all have to behave so politely about being bought such things as wallets. Now, I already have a wallet. I have had for many years. What on earth possessed you? Did you suddenly have an epiphany, Oh! The very thing. A Wallet. I'm almost certain that he will need one. Well, how do you think I have managed to carry around the various cards and monies I have done the past 10 years?

That said, I am always incredibly touched that people would think to get me anything, and feel incredibly guilty if I don't like something. But, I'm sorry. I am an increasingly old and bitter man. I want for nothing and need for little. If you want to show your affection, or to wish me a happy Christmas, write me a card (home-made), bake something, create something. Write me a poem. I want a piece of you, not of your wallet.

I worry this attitude will increasingly alienate me from friends and family. Mr London Street recently wrote of peer pressure. The same side of the family with whom I would always make Christmas Cakes at the onset of Advent has now moved away from the simple joys of Christmas, to a highly organised Secret Santa operation. All family members have strict instructions as to whom they buy for, how much they spend, and frankly, what they buy. I have ordered my mother (who is a reluctant member of the board) to opt our branch of the family tree out of the nonsense. I have told her if she doesn't insist on it, I shall. And of the two of us, she is the more likely to be tactful. Christmas should not be about brutally commercial organisation. It should be fun, spontaneous, well-fed amongst good company. It should be a celebration of life and family (and food). I think when children are involved, there should absolutely be plenty of beautifully wrapped gifts under a Christmas tree. The latest thing simply must be in a stocking, so long as children are giving a thorough appreciation for how lucky they are, considering so many other children have so little.

Am I hugely out of step with the rest of the world? Have I any right to impose my will on the rest of the family? Should I keep calm and carry on? Am I fundamentally wrong? Any thoughts welcome and appreciated.


  1. My mother hates gift exchanges and for a couple of years managed to convince her aerobics group to buy gifts for the local orphans instead. Eventually they decided to go back to their Christmas-themed salt and pepper shakers and garden gnomes.

    However, I sometimes regret not being able to get her something she might like (knowing she takes no pleasure in it). I love every chance for a Secret Santa, using it as an opportunity to find something anyone would like and that is entirely useful, wrapping it with great care - I take pleasure in the pure giving and absolutely don't care what I get back in return.

    (However, lest you should think I am altruistic, I have been known to mutter under my breath when someone gives me a newborn summer pants outfit for a boy born in January).

  2. I buy most of mine on Ebay so end up looking far more generous. I think it's vulgar to go mad this year with the recession so I am having a thrifty Christmas.

    I'm sure your gingerbread biscuits will be delightful, you could always be a bit a bit cheesy and do Christmas shapes. Better than a bit of old tat! And you can eat them. Hope all's good with you xx

  3. PS. I always think a handmade gingerbread man looks marvellous, I doubt anyone would mind that xx

  4. Lady Jennie, I do love giving for the sake of giving. I like to think I'm a generous person, I think it's the forcefulness of the thing I oppose. Let me show my generosity in my own time and way, is all I ask!

    Christina I'm so pleased you agree, now let's hope "Kate" does too...

  5. I adore Christmas, everyone says that don't they but really for me it is the summit of the year- the day to climb to and then hold on tight to because it's so prescious. It has nothing to do with getting a present from my colleagues or people I hardly know though.

    I would be thrilled to get some freshly baked cookies and think those are a far more traditional gift so you should carry on and ignore any nonsense.

  6. I have to say that even baking cookies isn't cheap. I just baked a double batch of chocolate chip cookies that took four cups of chocolate chips and four cups of walnuts, not to mention four eggs. The rest of the ingredients were pretty much staples, but if you don't already have enough butter you have to fork out for that. Don't underestimate the cost in the raw materials, YOUR TIME, the oven (energy), and the love that you put into your baking. xx

  7. Rose it really is something special to look forward to, a feast in the middle of a frosty world.

    Jeannie you made me laugh quite heartily, thank you!