The Secret Santa Shame

by admin on December 22, 2014

I was recently reminded of this story when I met an old friend, and decided to share my probably most shameful faux pas ever. I fully deserve Etiquette Hell, to this day I feel embarrassed about it.

From what I remember I was either 13 or 14 at the time this happened, which is old enough to know better. In my country secondary school starts at that age so I was in a class of people who newly started a new school, a class of complete strangers to me and to each other. Around Christmas we had a secret santa gift exchange. Being a school, the spending limit was very low, and with no one knowing their giftee the gifts were bound to be rather impersonal and boring- notebooks, calendars, little stuffed animals,etc.  After the gifts were handed out though, I felt that I got a particularly short end of the stick, as I received a pen. Later while chatting with a few classmates I started to complain what a lame gift I got, I mean, a pen.  Cue one of my friends frantically making the shut up face and me ignoring her.  Come on, this gift is terrible, everyone got so much better ones. Only later I found out the girl who drew my name was one of the people I complained to, a sweet, quiet person from a rather impoverished family. I apologized the next day and she never let it slip once that she was angry with me  though I was way too embarrassed to hang out with her after that.   1021-10

{ 112 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily December 22, 2014 at 3:21 am

Live and learn 🙂

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Jane December 22, 2014 at 3:56 am

Oh, I’m sure we all have a story like that 🙂 It’s all too easy to be a dork when you’re only 13. May I say that the real shame here is not your faux pas (after all, you apologised) but the fact you never hung out with her after that. It sounds like she was a lovely person and I’m sure her friendship would have eventually eased your embarrassment about what happened, and perhaps even led to you both laughing over the matter in months or years to come. In lieu of that, give yourself a friendly hug now – you momentarily did something dorkish, but you said sorry and certainly do not deserve to be consigned to Etiquette Hell in my opinion.

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Lex December 22, 2014 at 4:14 am

At that age we’ve ALL done and said things we cringe about now. I, too, did my fair share of etiquette fails at that age (and occasionally much older) and yes, you SHOULD have known better. Graceful receipt of gifts is something you should be taught by your parents at a young age and have the lessons refreshed constantly. In this case, though, you learned a valuable (and embarrassing) lesson. Personally I hate ‘Secret Santa’ and generally avoid getting involved because I find it dreadfully embarrassing when professionals in an office are buying their colleagues Candy thongs or blow up dolls. When a team gets into the spirit and buys things like stress squeezers or personalised mugs then it’s fine, but I just prefer not to open a package in front of my colleagues to find something distasteful. I’ve done it once and never again. Especially when I choose something fun and appropriate.

Ultimately, the best way to deal with something like that is to keep quiet. If someone gives you a horrible gift, I find the best way to deal with it is to say something like ‘How thoughtful, thank you.’ That way you aren’t committing to ‘liking’ it.

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jgm1764 December 22, 2014 at 7:42 pm

My goodness, that’s what your workplaces did for Secret Santa gifts? Any I’ve ever participated in were Starbucks gift cards or boxes of chocolates.

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Lady Anne December 23, 2014 at 11:45 am

It wasn’t her workplace. It was her school, and I doubt Starbucks existed, and probably would be appropriate for a 13 year old.

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jgm1764 December 23, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Lady Anne, I was responding to Lex’s comment about office colleagues gifting candy thongs and blow-up dolls, not the OP.

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Lex December 29, 2014 at 8:14 am

LOL when you work in IT you’ll find there are a huge number of ‘gag gifts’ that get passed around. Doesn’t mean I’d want to be on the receiving end though :-7

B December 22, 2014 at 4:27 am

The saddest part to me is that you never hung out with her again because you were embarrassed. I’ll bet she thought you just looked down on her too much, poor girl.

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B December 22, 2014 at 11:36 am

By the way, when I was a bit older than that I did such an horrific faux pas that I still cannot admit it to anyone. Let’s just say that someone with a VERY serious illness was involved. She pretended not to hear me. All these years on, I still look back in horror and cannot understand what the hell I was thinking.

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Reboot December 23, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Speaking of faux pas around illnesses… when I started high school, for some reason I still can’t fathom, the teacher running orientation announced to everyone that I had type one diabetes (probably because they’d been told by my primary school, who had held an assembly when I got diagnosed and told everyone about it while I was in hospital, because apparently it’s the sort of thing the entire school body needs to know? I digress). Another girl said she had diabetes as well. I found out about six months later that this wasn’t true, and that she’d only said it “so [reboot] won’t feel like so much of a freak”. While I could appreciate where she was coming from, finding out that apparently a chronic illness made me so much of a freak that I needed solidarity wasn’t exactly fun either, and I was never exactly comfortable around her after that.

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Anonymous December 24, 2014 at 11:31 am

@Reboot–That does sound rough. I think the school officials had their hearts in the right places, but they went about it completely wrong. I went to university with someone who had Type 1 Diabetes, and he told people of his own accord. In fact, I found out when I asked him if he’d forgotten his metronome in his pocket after practicing (which a lot of us did fairly often), and he pulled his insulin pump out of one pocket, told me what it was, and then proceeded to pull his forgotten metronome out of the other pocket. It actually helped that people knew, because it meant we could help him. For example, when he went low during theory class one day, the girl beside him offered him some cinnamon hearts that she had on hand. However, this was all on his terms. If there had been a huge public announcement, let alone an ASSEMBLY, to tell everyone, that would have been embarrassing.

Of course, university is for adults, so the university officials don’t act “in loco parentis,” so the rules are a bit different, but when I was in high school, they still respected privacy. The policy there was to tell all the teachers, and post a notice with the student’s photo, special needs, and treatment plan, in a place where teachers would see it, but students wouldn’t. That makes SO much more sense than effectively going, “Hear ye, hear ye, people of Blahblah Whatsit School!!! Reboot has Type 1 Diabetes!!!” Seriously, don’t these people realize that kids tease other people who are different from them? Also, in a big school, that could eat up a lot of time. I mean, suppose a lot of kids got diagnosed with a lot of things all at the same time, so the school ended up having to do a Reboot Has Type 1 Diabetes Assembly on Monday, followed by a Tommy Has Asthma Assembly on Tuesday, an Annie Has ADHD Assembly on Wednesday, and so on, and so forth, to the point that there’s no time to learn what’s on the syllabus?

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NostalgicGal December 26, 2014 at 2:25 am

In the early 70’s in elementary school, a classmate didn’t wake up one morning and spent a week in hospital, type I had shown. We didn’t have a full assembly but per class, a small session was held about her being Type I and what to do if she got really sick, and for those in her class a longer one about what she could and couldn’t eat, etc. The testing in those days was a lot more involved and the teacher had to learn how to do the test, and the two would have to do this (she needed adult supervision) for blood testing and administering her medications. Things are different now, a lot different. I could understand if they did the assembly announcement. For the rest of us it was mostly if she went dizzy (low) how to help her and get her help! (grades, there was one in entire school, high school there was one teacher as well). You didn’t hear about type II, it was all type I. Now type II is pretty common (holds up hand as I’m one)…

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wren December 26, 2014 at 9:50 am

If only the powers that be had done this when I was 12. A girl in my class had epilepsy. She was already unpopular because her family was poor and poorly educated and she dressed in dirty clothes and wasn’t smart. She would have grand mal seizures because she wasn’t taking her meds regularly (now I’m wondering whether her family just couldn’t afford them). To her classmates she was an outcast who had spazz attacks. We treated her badly. I just want to ask the teacher and principal why they didn’t educate us about epilepsy. And I know the teachers knew we treated her badly. I wish they would have given us a talking-to, or more. I think her name was Jan. I deeply regret my treatment of you, Jan. Forgive me.

NostalgicGal December 29, 2014 at 2:33 pm

@ wren, epilepsy was one of those hushhush class of medical conditions. Even into the 70’s, you didn’t tell. I can understand why they didn’t tell anyone, but it doesn’t mean it was right not to. Too bad that there wasn’t more help for her, and to at least admit that the gal was having seizures and how to help her if she did.

cicero December 22, 2014 at 4:36 am

Ouch. well, these things happen. at least you were young, you apologized and you learned from your gaff.

My ex husband, OTOH… we once had guests for a meal. guest (single person who was on a very tight budget) brought a nice bottle of wine. Ex took a sip and spent about 3 minutes going “ewww! this is Horrible! ewwww! how can anyone Drink this?” etc etc etc while I was alternating between cringing, kicking him under the table, and trying to change the subject. [and by the by – ex wasn’t a wine connoisseur (or any kind of gourmet for that matter) by any stretch of any imagination]. and no, he didn’t apologize, he didn’t learn from this and he was well in his 50s by this point.

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just4kicks December 22, 2014 at 1:51 pm

@Cicero: hey! Apparently my husband has a twin brother he doesn’t know about! 😉
Mine is a “beer and a shot” man, and has pulled similar stunts. He certainly had has his share of bruised shins from me kicking him. ….not that I’m the epitome of class and taste.

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Goldie December 22, 2014 at 4:17 pm

My last ex kicked me under the table once, and I’m still fuming, because it was a preemptive kick and he assumed too much. We were out having dinner with another couple and they were telling us about the small town they were living in. I wanted to tell them a funny story about someone I’d met from their town, a middle-school teacher, who’d bragged to me about how he’d done a standup comedy act at a club downtown, and the comedy act turned out to have consisted of that guy standing on stage and reading dozens of notes that he’d confiscated from his students over thirty years. But as soon as I said the town’s name, the ex delivered his under-table kick. I was super puzzled as to why; but figured that he was older than I, and had Ivy League degrees and a higher social standing than I did, and that he probably knew better than I about what’s appropriate and what’s not. It only dawned on me a few months later, when he was already the ex. Years ago, I’d stupidly shared with him another story about someone else from that same town, who had taken me to his place on third date and I never heard from him again. He thought THAT was the story I was going to tell at dinner table. Ugh. Come on! He’d known me for two years by that time and he thought I had that little class and tact? the man didn’t even know me after all that time together. And he just had to assume the absolute worst, didn’t he?! Moral of the story, kick the person after they have committed a faux pas, not before! I still feel insulted when that evening comes to mind.

Sorry, I know this has no connection to the OP’s story at all – just wanted to warn the under-table kickers on here to remember, the kickee is innocent until proven guilty!

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NostalgicGal December 22, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Kick me and the return is a knuckle sandwich. My DH has never kicked me in the shins. An ex BF did, and that was the end of that one. Keep your FEET to yourself and Don’t Call. So much for third date.

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Goldie December 23, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Now that you mention it, none of the other exes ever kicked me either. My ex husband somehow managed to never kick me in our 22 years together. I guess it can be done, huh?

just4kicks December 22, 2014 at 6:08 am

Oh, God! I feel for you OP. How awful, however, you were a young girl and these things happen.
I’ve pulled some doozies in my youth which still make me cringe, don’t beat yourself up!

My daughter who just turned 11 shared a story with me a year or two ago about one of her good friends in school. I don’t know all the particulars, but this girl had a single mom and money was VERY tight for them. This girl got free lunch because of their situation and was always very embarrassed about it and about other girls talking about the movie they saw this weekend, or the shiny new bike one of them got.
It was known among the friends this girl and her mom struggled. My daughter just loved this girl and they had a lot in common. They were talking about Christmas wishes one day, and this girl mentioned to my daughter that she really wanted a particular sweater she had fallen in love with, but, figured her mom couldn’t afford it. They come back from Christmas break, and guess what my girls friend is wearing?!? Her sweater!!! My daughter said she was just so happy she got this sweater, and had a wonderful holiday. At lunch time, a girl in their class who was a bully to everyone, stopped at their table looked this girl up and down and said, LOUDLY, “OH. MY GOD. That is the UGLIEST sweater I’ve EVER seen! Where did you get it?!? KMART?!?” This little girl was crushed and began to cry. It still makes me tear up when I think of it.
That was intentional cruelty…totally meant to hurt this girl.
What you did….not so much….I’m sure you never meant to hurt this girl’s feelings.
Happy Holidays to you! 🙂

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Mallomary December 22, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Oh, that story makes my heart hurt.

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just4kicks December 23, 2014 at 4:19 am

@Mallomary: Me too, And my daughter came that crying because she felt so badly for her friend, kids can be so damn mean!
Happy ending though! The girls mom got remarried to a man who has a daughter this girl’s age and they are thicker than thieves, and best pals. They are doing much better financially also. It cracks my daughter up at school, because this little gal no longer gets free lunches, and anytime someone at the lunch table comments on the snack selection that day, (“oh shoot! I should’ve gotten one of those cookies! They look awesome!), this little gal is the first one to jump up buy one for her pals.

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just4kicks December 23, 2014 at 4:20 am

….came HOME crying THAT day….it should read. Sorry! 🙂

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JO December 22, 2014 at 6:29 am

I was part of a secret Santa in school at around the same age. The girl who’s name I drew was a casual friend, and I gave her a little stuffed bear I thought she would like. Later that day, she excitedly took it out of her locker to show it off to me, and brag about how the boy she and another friend both liked had given it to her! I didn’t say anything at the time, but later she figured out I had been the gifter. It seems she had made the claim it was a gift from the boy in hopes it would get back to the other girl that he liked her better.
Bottom line, as adults we like to think that teenagers should know better; and probably they should. But facts are that impulse control and thinking ahead skills are not fully developed at that age. Chalk it up to a lesson learned.

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Ulla December 23, 2014 at 4:02 am

Yes, this is so true. I try to remind myself, that brains continue develop until 25 or something like that. A young teenager is barely half-way through! And in retrospect it’s so easy to project your now-adult thoughts and think that you were able to think like that as teenager! 😀 Though, I don’t know if any of that helps, I have my fair share of “ouch, what the potato was I thinking back then???”

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Ruby December 22, 2014 at 7:21 am

When my dad was young, he invited another boy over for dinner. Dad’s family was very poor, and all that was served was beans. The other boy made fun of my dad at school the next day.

You know what – my father doesn’t blame the other kid for it. He understood that they were young and both made mistakes. (Dad hadn’t realized that his family’s meals were scanty by normal standards, and the other kid was young and not really aware of how hurtful he was being.)

My point is that you should forgive yourself. You were young, and we all have done things that make us cringe when we think about them today. The girl who gave you the pen might not even remember the incident now.

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just4kicks December 22, 2014 at 2:48 pm

@Ruby: I remember my Dad telling me about neighbors he had when he was young, that had six or seven kids and were very poor. My grandma used to have all the kids from there over for treats after my dad came home from playing with them one summer day, and told my grandma that their dad had come with ice cream….And ate the WHOLE container by himself, in front of his children. The kids were pretty young and just devastated that their dad sat in front of them, smacking his lips with each spoonful saying “this is the best ice cream I’ve ever had!” My grandparents certainly weren’t rolling in cash either, but my grandma (God Bless her) made sure to make cookies or a pie or cake at least once a week and invite all the kids over to her house. This bastard had the gall once to come over one day while my grandma was hanging wash in the backyard and say “I overheard my kids talking about the delicious cookies you make for them….be sure to send some along FOR ME NEXT TIME!!!”

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NostalgicGal December 22, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Too bad she hadn’t been doing gardening. I definitely would have missed on purpose with the garden hose. He definitely needed a drink… Massively an SOB I agree.

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just4kicks December 23, 2014 at 4:25 am

@NostalgicGal: I used to ask my grandma to tell that story alot (boy, I sure do miss her…She was an angel), and once asked if she said anything to him when he asked where HIS treats were?
She said she had MANY things she wanted to say, but knew that while he was stingy with treats, he was very free with his belt and backhands across the kids faces, and she was afraid if she layed into him he would take it out on his kids.

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NostalgicGal December 23, 2014 at 11:49 am

I wasn’t there, but that’s what he deserved if not more. Hoping the Karma wagon dumped on him in the end.

just4kicks December 24, 2014 at 6:00 am

@NostalgicGal: Me too, I hope he did, one day, get what was coming to him.
My kids, hearing this story, asked if they couldn’t go to the cops because of the father’s beatings he doled out on his kids. My dad said he often saw bruises and self marks on one or all of the kids, all the time. Well, this was over 60 years ago, and that was considered “discipline”.
My mom used to beat us with wooden spoons, until she broke on in half over my sister’s backside one day. We silently did the “happy dance”, no more wooden spoon!!! Until my mom came home with a plastic one! Oh, crap. For very bad infractions, she used to make us kneel on uncooked rice on hardwood floors. I tell my kids, you think being grounded is just awful, try kneeling on rice for a half an hour!!!

just4kicks December 24, 2014 at 6:01 am

@NostalgicGal: ….WELT marks….not self. Oops.

Cat December 22, 2014 at 7:32 am

You are not alone in that faux pas. My principal stopped Secret Santa gifts because of the number of faculty members who were vocally upset that they did not receive a gift which they felt was as good as they had given.
It did feel that some people drew names of people they disliked and saw this as an opportunity to repay them. I once got a dirty “Strawberry Shortcake” coffee mug. I was in my thirties and “Strawberry Shortcake” was a character much beloved by kindergartners. The fact that it had not been washed was, to me, an insult. I said nothing, washed it, and gave it to a teacher who had a little girl who liked Strawberry Shortcake.

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Anonymous December 23, 2014 at 10:44 am

Don’t these people realize that Secret Santa includes a reveal? So, if you give a deliberately bad gift (or even a well-intentioned-but-disliked-or-unsuitable gift, like, say, a pair of pierced earrings for someone without pierced ears, or an item with Sports Team A for someone who likes Sports Team B), then you’re going to have to announce to a room full of people? Actually, I had that problem in reverse a few years ago–I participated in a Random Acts of Kindness exchange (so, same concept as Secret Santa, but not at Christmas time), and I received what was, to me, an awesome gift–a pair of beautiful ceramic penguin earrings. I wanted so badly to find out who my RAOK was, but he or she wasn’t present at the reveal, and the RAOK organizers had destroyed the list, so they didn’t know either. I still have the penguin earrings, and I still wonder who they’re from.

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Lera99 December 22, 2014 at 8:37 am

Yes, you were in the wrong.

But, I don’t think anyone makes it out of adolescence without at least one shameful memory like this, at least one memory that haunts you randomly at 3am, at least one memory where you wish you could go back in time and fix it.

I think that those moments that make us ashamed of our ungracious, thoughtless behavior are also the moments that help us mature into adults.

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Anonymous December 22, 2014 at 8:49 am

I think everyone’s been in that situation–receiving a gift from a Secret Santa exchange that’s not what you would have wanted……or even receiving nothing at all, if someone tries to cheat the system by putting in their name, but not taking one. The weirdest gift I ever got from a Secret Santa exchange was a metal brooch of a dog shoving a cat into a refrigerator. It was from a boy who played in my high school band, and I was polite about it, but all the time, I was thinking, “What is this thing?” I might even still have it. The following year, by some astonishing coincidence, that same boy drew my name again, and got me a Beanie Baby frog (early 2000’s, so Beanie Babies were still a thing then). My point is, sometimes, a bad Secret Santa gift can make a great story later, but that’s the key word–LATER, and in different company. You don’t start at the Secret Santa gathering, or even around the same people the next day, because the giver will be in attendance, or someone will spill the beans, and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

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admin December 22, 2014 at 11:10 am

A bad Secret Santa gift, in the right group of people, can actually become a funny repeat gift that circulates through the gift exchange every year. Monkey Butt Powder shows up routinely in our family Secret Santa/White Elephant exchanges.

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PhDeath December 22, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Hey, now! As a dedicated rider of horses and mountain bikes, I can attest that MBP is like powdery, white gold! 😉

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NostalgicGal December 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Or riding a tool stool or a kickstepstool for a day of finer exercises in knucklebust and library haunting. That stuff is priceless.

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Anonymous December 22, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Yeah, gag gifts were a thing in the high school band as well. Two memorable gag gifts were a potty-training book, and cheap off-brand soap, both obviously purchased from a discount store.

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Lera99 December 23, 2014 at 9:20 am

I have a friend who does triathlons and she would LOVE to receive Monkey Butt Powder in a Secret Santa exchange.

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beth0214 December 22, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Wow-the brooch sounds like a Gary Larsen cartoon! I think it sounds kinda cool!

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Anonymous December 23, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Anyway, my point is, play nice at Secret Santa, or else you’ll look thoughtless at best, and actively mean at worst.

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NostalgicGal December 22, 2014 at 9:16 am

I had one classmate poor as a churchmouse; we all knew it though; our class was prone to draw ONE person’s name for an exchange and the amount was low. A few handmade gifts went around and whoever got her for the giver usually got something like that. I think I still have the crocheted choker from fifth grade exchange with her, I was the recipient that year-blue and white variegated yarn, strip choker. Thought counted.

Embarrassment, yes. Good of her to be gracious enough to take your apology.

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LeeLee88 December 22, 2014 at 10:34 am

At least you had the good grace to be embarrassed by it, although I think you can start moving on, seeing as it’s been a while. I was also from a very poor family, and so I made my close friends these clove oranges that had designs in them made from the cloves, and the oranges were dried and tied with a fancy red ribbon I found to make them ornaments. I thought they were great, and yeah, handmade, but I was a broke 13 year old, so there you have it. I lost a friend over this because she informed me loudly on the school bus how unacceptable this “cheap and gross” homemade present was, and she hated it. I took it back and haven’t spoken to her since. No love lost, trust that. I don’t know if the others liked them as much as they said, but at least they had the kindness to not make me feel like absolute trash because I couldn’t afford to buy presents for all of them.

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Dee December 22, 2014 at 12:45 pm

You, and your friends, made a great team in that Christmas exchange. You made gifts that were the best you could afford, with care and attention and thought to the recipients, and your friends accepted them in the spirit they were intended, and thanked you for the care you showed them. With the exception of the one “friend” who was extraordinarily rude to you, everything was as it should be in a gift exchange. The value of the gift should never be the point.
As for the OP’s letter, it seems to me that gracious adults are rarely born that way, most often they are made. How do you come to such graciousness? You make mistakes that embarrass yourself so much that you learn well not to do that again. Nothing wrong with that, if appropriate amends are made at the time. Seems to me that the OP is simply a learnedly gracious person, and isn’t that a good thing? Life lessons are absolutely necessary, and often hurt, but the OP and the other party in her story both exhibited great character in the end.

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Wild Irish Rose December 22, 2014 at 10:49 am

We have a Secret Santa gift exchange at work every year. It lasts a week, with a small gift given each day until Friday, when everyone who participates gets together and guesses who their Secret Santa was. One year two ladies, “Mary” and “Kate,” drew each other’s names–unbeknownst to each other, of course. Mary gave Kate a lovely gift each day–which Kate regifted right back to Mary, not knowing that’s where the gift came from in the first place. Naturally Kate got found out and she actually thought it was funny, which really hurt Mary’s feelings. Kate was not encouraged to participate after that since she obviously couldn’t get into the spirit of things. And I don’t want to hear about how she might have had no money, etc. If you don’t have what it takes to play the game properly, then don’t sign up. It’s not mandatory.

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NostalgicGal December 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm

I’ve had that with club exchanges (my over 50’s does a Secret Pal, we reveal in March and draw names (voluntary participation) for the next year’s…) and exchanged with the person giving me gifts (7 years it’s happened 3 times). Though I didn’t gift back exactly to them… (one year the gal was into ‘frogs’ and I made a lot of the gifts, she really loved the hand crocheted hanger/cover with frog face and feet/hands, etc;) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t put the stuff I couldn’t use or wear in a drawer and regifted them later — a lot of inexpensive theme jewelry I can’t wear because of metal allergies so I would just wait and give to someone else. Oh well.

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kit December 22, 2014 at 3:16 pm

I think it is one thing to regift something you couldn’t use to someone whom you believe would love it, but quite another to pass everything you received on next day without bothering to think yourself. I doubt that “Kate” didn’t like anything she got, more likely she was just being lazy.

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Wild Irish Rose December 23, 2014 at 10:29 am

I think you hit it, kit.

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VanessaGA81 December 22, 2014 at 10:50 am

You were young and you apologized. I think it was an early lesson that you learned well. No she’ll for you!

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VanessaGA81 December 22, 2014 at 10:51 am

Er…no eHell. Thank you autocorrect!

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The Elf December 22, 2014 at 10:54 am

Yeah, technically you should have known better, but you were 13. This is how we learn; we make mistakes and we vow to never do that again. You apologized and that makes all the difference. Time to let this one go!

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Anonymous December 22, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Sure, the OP was thirteen, but at that age, hormones are going crazy, grey matter in the brain is multiplying at a rate only rivalled in infancy and toddlerhood, and all the early childhood messages that most people are taught, like “be kind, accept gifts graciously, do your best,” et cetera, get conflicted with OTHER messages like, “Brand X is cool. Generic Brand is lame. Formulaic Boy Band is popular. Susie is cool. Sarah is a geek. If I’m friends with Sarah, or wear Generic Brand, or let it slip that I don’t really like Formulaic Boy Band, then Susie won’t be my friend. She’ll also turn all our mutual friends against me. I don’t want that. Therefore, I’m going to sacrifice all of my opinions, interests, and values on the altar of popularity, because I don’t have the foresight or life experience to do otherwise.” Then, in a lot of cases, Susie gets pregnant and drops out of school, Sarah forgives everyone who shunned her, including Susie, because she’s a genuinely nice person, and everyone looks back and agrees that Brand X clothing was ugly, Formulaic Boy Band was terrible, and they all have a good laugh about their inability to act like proper human beings in earlier years.

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Anonymous December 22, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Anyway, my point is, Secret Santa exchanges can amplify that kind of thing–who has money, who doesn’t, who’s popular, who isn’t, how well people know each other (or don’t), et cetera. Even if there’s a spending limit set that’s manageable for most people (let’s say five or ten dollars), there’ll be one or two in the group for whom it’s NOT manageable, because there’s simply no spare money in the budget–that five or ten dollars has to go to buy food for the family or whatever. Then there’s the person who doesn’t really know their recipient, and of course, these exchanges don’t usually allow for switching…..although, our band teacher always volunteered to be the Unbiased Third Party Gift Advice Person, so you could go to her and say, “I got Stranger, what does he/she like?”; and she’d tell you what that person was interested in, so you could go from there. Sometimes, the adults who run these exchanges don’t even do that. Besides which, some young people deliberately WANT to stir up trouble, so they’ll bring in a “joke” gift that’s really not funny–like, say, Slim-Fast powder for the overweight person. In the end, the givers have to publicly announce to their recipients, “Sam, I was your Secret Santa,” and that’s basically announcing “I’m poor,” or “I don’t really know you,” or “Yeah, I’m kind of a jerk.” At that age, I’d steer clear of anything that could cause hurt feelings. So, take the kids ice skating, or sledding, or carolling at the old folks’ home, or stay where you are and have a party with games (Jenga, darts, etc.), and junk food, where everyone gets a candy cane reindeer (or whatever) to take home. Let everyone feel included, and equal, and SAFE, because they need it…..but they’ll never tell you that.

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Anonymous December 22, 2014 at 5:13 pm

P.S., I wouldn’t do a potluck with adolescent-aged attendees either, because that’s just another variation on the Public Display of Income Discrepancy and Cultural Differences theme. Even if all the participants are from the same income bracket and cultural background, kids that age will use anything as fodder for relational aggression, so the kid who brings the dish that nobody eats, WILL get made fun of, and kids will often deliberately shun perfectly “normal” foods brought by anyone who isn’t in the “cool group.” I learned this lesson the hard way in my YMCA leadership group. I contributed a Yule log cake from the grocery store. Nothing wrong with that, right? It’s chocolate cake. Well, since I was the “uncool” person in the group, most people said that my Yule log was “gross,” and “weird,” and refused to touch it. My point is, most people have memories of an incident like that, regardless of where they fit in (or didn’t), so yeah, what I said before–anything that can cause hurt feelings, just don’t. It might mean materially changing the gathering (so, eliminating the gift exchange, or doing snacks in the afternoon instead of a meal-based party at a typical meal time, or doing simple party games in a house or church gymnasium instead of a field trip to the tubing park), but if it’ll prevent someone from leaving the party feeling “less than,” I’d say it’s worth it.

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NostalgicGal December 22, 2014 at 7:21 pm

When my 50’s group does Secret Pal, you have a sheet to fill out, that gives some likes and dislikes, allergies, and a few sizes (like S, M, L, and write in how many X’s* *(that’s me)). So whoever gets your name has something to go by. It’s not very bad, maybe 6-8 things to fill out, then. The page is what you have to go by, and if the person filled it out right you don’t put a foot in it getting them a gift.

Lady Anne December 22, 2014 at 11:02 am

Oh, lordy! I went to a boarding school. My dad was a member of the denomination that ran the school, so he got a discount (clergy generally being underpaid), and I got a partial academic scholarship, but I was way out of my league financially. We had a Christmas gift exchange, and it simply never occurred to me to ask my parents for help. (I went to the school primarily because my dad wanted me away from my mother’s toxic personality.) I hand-made a gift, and after watching the other girls open their boxes, each obviously provided by their folks, I was ready to crawl under the floor, because what I had managed to concoct was soooo dreadful. The recipient was very gracious, and I later told her I didn’t know we could get our parents to help; I though we had to do it ourselves.

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Anonymous December 22, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Lady Anne, I’m just curious, what was the gift that you made?

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Lynne December 22, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Count me as also curious, if you are willing to share!

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J December 22, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Aw, I’m sorry for that. 🙁

I was on the receiving end of OP’s story in a situation similar to yours. My gift exchange was in an after-school program, and the price limit was $5. As the gifts started to be unwrapped, it was clear that a lot of kids (or their parents, really) had not stuck to that limit. I had (getting some stickers packs and colored markers), the girl who got mine vocally expressed her disappointment.

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Anonymous December 23, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I hate this. When people don’t follow the rules in this situation, it punishes the people who did.

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NostalgicGal December 23, 2014 at 9:44 pm

A few situations, the group said X limit but talking to the others (being newbie member) it was found out what they tended to do… so. One could not stick foot in it. Sometimes that helps prevent the issue, but being a teen or preteen you often don’t know to scope it out first or can’t get a chance to.

It’s especially bad when kid gift exchanges end up that way. (not knowing and being the low end giver or getting the low end gift).

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nannerdoman December 22, 2014 at 11:16 am

I made the exact same faux pas–and I was a freshman in college. It happens.

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Ashley December 22, 2014 at 11:52 am

Wow, lots of stories like that. I actually have one of my own.

Our school had a gift exchange, this was middle school and might have been in sixth grade or so, so I couldn’t have been older than 12 at the time. This happened at a time when Beanie Babies were ALL the rage. You couldn’t go down the hall between class without hearing kids talk about which Beanie Babies they had recently acquired. So the gift exchange comes around, and I pick the name of a girl whose name I know, but I know nothing else about her. I had seen her hanging out with people who frequently discussed Beanie Babies, and the monetary limit was right, so of course, what do I get her? A Beanie Baby. The day of the exchange comes, the teachers ensure that everyone has gotten their gift, and we all go to town opening things. I happen to be near the girl I picked and I see her opening it…and the look on her face was not the joy I was hoping for at all, but rather disappointment. She spent all of ten seconds looking at it, and I could tell she said something to her friend about how she didn’t care about Beanie Babies, and puts it down on top of the wrapping paper. I was sad that she was disappointed, and sad that she didn’t seem to think, what if the person who gave it was near by and could see/hear all this?

It ended up mostly working out, she later traded it for something she liked from someone who also got something they didn’t want, so the Beanie Baby went to a good home after all.

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kit December 22, 2014 at 3:31 pm

My 10-year-old son has in classroom such an exchange where everyone brings a present, and then they just choose a random one. Seems that they were exchanging presents after that, too. Appears my son got a toy car that he couldn’t exchange because nobody wanted it, and the Lego he chose went to a boy who also exchanged it. The only thing I could think was how horrible it must have felt, especially for the boy who brought the toy car!

My 12-year-old has Secret Santa, and it seems to be it is by far better, as then kids can guess much easier what the recipient would like. He wasn’t sure about his present this year, though (didn’t really know well what that girl liked or not), but he was definitely happy that in his package, there was a sweet bar or the kind he actually can eat (he’s gluten intolerant).

I participated in one “bring a present and then we’ll draw lots who will get what” and will have another soon. IMO, totally pointless exchanges, even if you know these are common interest type of groups.

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Princess Buttercup December 22, 2014 at 12:14 pm

At least you learned early on not to be so vocal about your displeasure.
Reminds me of potluck as church. Sometimes you find a dish that is just made badly. Maybe because they weren’t attentive and it burned some, or their tastes are quite different so seasonings are unheard of to them. If you then loudly announce to the whole table that “This is so gross! Man, I’ve never had something so horribly made!” you might unknowingly be sitting with the cook or family member of the cook. Much better to simply say “well it’s not of my taste” if someone asks why you’re not eating it.

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Anonymous December 22, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Potlucks are easier, because you can go through the available food on the table, and pick what you want. With large-group potlucks, there’s usually so much food, that it’s not feasible to take even a spoonful of everything, so if something doesn’t look appetizing, then you can always employ the “polite fiction” of being full if you’ve already eaten, or not having any more room on your plate if you haven’t yet. With Secret Santa-type exchanges, you get what you get. With Yankee Swaps, exchanging is possible, but nobody wants to be the person who brings the gift that nobody wants, like the toy car in Kit’s son’s class. I have to ask…..what’s wrong with a toy car?

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HotMango December 22, 2014 at 12:51 pm

I think the OP was a little too hard on herself. When she realized her behavior was not appropriate, she quickly apologized to the gift giver. But I agree, she shouldn’t have let that bit of embarrassment keep her from getting to know such a kind person better.

I have a similar story but with a much different outcome. I was in the 5th grade so probably about 11 or 12 years old at the time. In the late 70s, this certain kind of bubblegum was all the rage with the kids my age. After talking with my parents who controlled the purse strings and shopping in the household, they didn’t think this sugary treat would be a good gift and that I should consider something else. Instead, they bought this arts and crafts kit for me me to give where you could melt these glass pellets into a metal frame in the oven and create a sun catcher or a Christmas tree ornament. The date of the classroom Christmas party finally arrives and I (thankfully) sneak my wrapped gift into the big pile without anyone realizing what it looked like. Wouldn’t you know, the school bully just happened to pick my gift during his turn. Of course, he launches into a tirade about how ugly this gift is as soon as he tears off the wrapping paper. Why couldn’t it be that certain type of bubblegum like most of the other kids were getting? He screams, “I have no use for this!” as he loudly throws it in the trash can with a big thud. Not done, he demands to know who brought such an awful gift to a classroom Christmas party. The other kids start going down the list of who brought what and I’m trying to sink into the wall. I’m turning red with tears welling in my eyes because I’m scared to death I’m going to die of an embarrassment heart attack right there. He sees me and demands to know what gift I came with. I started to stammer but then the girl who sat next to me (I didn’t have any close friends in that class but she was nice to me) probably figured it out and said, “I think she brought the one with the blue wrapping paper,” which was probably her gift. I nod silently as if to affirm that yes, that’s the gift I brought. He never figured out who was the cause of the gift that offended him so much but I never forgot it. Looking back at it, I’m surprised the teacher didn’t try to wheel in his rage but she was on the whole pretty useless in defusing these situations.

Now many years later and I’m well into adulthood. Rationally, I know nobody is going to react the way an immature fifth grade bully would to a bad gift. But I loathe Secret Santa specifically and gift giving in general.

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just4kicks December 22, 2014 at 1:56 pm

@Hot mango: Goodness! Yes. My thought exactly, where was the teacher in all of this?
He/she should’ve put a stop to that immediately.

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Asharah December 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Did you tell your parents what happened?

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HotMango December 23, 2014 at 11:01 am

No, I never did tell my parents what happened. At that age, my world view was pretty small and I look at things quite differently now than I did then. I don’t know how my parents would have reacted had they known. I know they loved me and still love me but they weren’t necessarily the type to march down to the principal’s office and demand justice for their kid. I fought my own battles many times, which although painful makes me the person I am today. Childhood distracted teachers become indifferent bosses later in life. I learned how to handle conflict and stress better and I’m not as shy as I once was obviously. Plus at the time, I just wanted the whole thing to go away and if I told my parents I’d be reliving it all over again. I guess it’s taken pretty close to 35 years before I’ve mentioned it to anyone.

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Anonymous December 22, 2014 at 2:49 pm

That’s a really sad story, even if it does have a happy ending. I bet your parents were thinking, “Okay, bubble gum can be had any old time, so let’s get HotMango something special for her classroom gift exchange.” I bet they thought that the recipient would take home the ornament kit, use it, and have a keepsake from the school Secret Santa/Yankee Swap. Did they know that it was going to be a Yankee Swap (gifts go in a pile, everyone grabs one), rather than a traditional Secret Santa (planned in advance with people drawing names of recipients), or not? If they didn’t know, then that’s understandable, but the protocol for a Yankee Swap is usually “generic, unisex gift,” and in most cases, but ESPECIALLY with the pubescent set, a craft kit is NOT a “unisex gift,” especially one as fiddly as “place tiny beads, in tiny sections, of a tiny frame, as outlined in the colour guide, then melt them in the oven to make a sun catcher.” Most boys I’ve known don’t have the patience for that. I remember one Yankee Swap on student council in high school, where I gave a plastic snow saucer and a canister of hot chocolate, wrapped in a garbage bag, because traditional wrapping paper would have been awkward. It was the gift that EVERYONE fought over.

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J December 22, 2014 at 8:05 pm

How sweet of that girl, at least! Reading all these stories and thinking back on my own, it sounds like classroom (and adult) Secret Santas need to start with a reminder about good gift-receiving etiquette.

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Mojo December 22, 2014 at 1:11 pm

A hard lesson learned, but I bet you never did it again. It shows character that you realised you were wrong – some people never get that far!

Saddest Secret Santa ever? I knew my giftee was a keen hiker, so with our £5 limit, I bought him a pair of fuzzy walking socks. All the other 17 people in the office (including my giftee) bought £5 gift certificates. I suppose the fact they were from a variety of high street stores shows a modicum of thought however, seeing 17 people hand each other near-identical small envelopes was the saddest and most pointless gift-giving I’ve ever seen.

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NostalgicGal December 22, 2014 at 2:02 pm

I was in a mineral club and a lot of the activities included field trips; and one year I was kinda broke at the Christmas party. Going to the army surplus place I bought the nicest hiking socks I could find ($3, they were worth much more), and added an 8 oz chocolate bar, six layers of grocery bags inside each other and handles taped into comfortable, a specimen box with a generic rock from the parking lot (and labeled thus) and a map on where to find rocks (drawing indicating you were ‘inside’ and you needed to go ‘outside’ and ‘look down’ to find rocks.) It was the massive hit of the Gypsy Christmas exchange we did, and the socks were indeed treasured. (we had a ‘suggested limit of $10’ but you could go more if you wished, and a lot did)

Owie on a paper exchange for a Secret Santa. One club meeting we had a ‘white elephant bingo’ so bring something you desperately wanted to regift, and we played bingo. Win and you could pick something from the “treasures” we all brought. Hilarious and it lets you maybe send something elsewhere. (rules: box could be opened but it had to be unused. Remove wrapping paper if it was wrapped originally) This is great for a January meeting, trust me.

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just4kicks December 22, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Reminds me of the time my hubby’ s daughter from his first marriage came to our house on Christmas with her boyfriend at the time. We asked my daughter what he was into, sports teams he liked etc. We bought him a few small things, so he wouldn’t feel left out at present time. Our youngest daughter was maybe 7 or 8 at the time, and had taken seashells from our summer vacation and decorated one for each family member with markers, glitter etc, as well as the person’s name. She decided to make one for “Bob”, too. After all the presents were opened and we moved onto a late supper. I was throwing away the last of the ribbons and paper and saw, on top of the garbage, “Bob’s” seashell. Thinking one of us accidentally threw it away with all the trash, I picked it up and handed it back to him saying, “oops! So sorry, Bob, one of us accidentally picked this up with the wrapping paper and threw it away….here you go!” He looked at it, then said, “No…I threw it out. What the hell do I want with a seashell with tacky blue glitter and my name on it?!?” You have never heard the sound of an entire families necks whip around so fast to GLARE at him….if looks could have killed, Bob wouldn’t have made it to New Year’s!!! My step daughter at least had the presence of mind to take it and put it with her pile of presents.

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Jaxsue December 22, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Please tell me she didn’t date him for long.

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just4kicks December 23, 2014 at 4:33 am

@Jaxsue: unfortunately, yes she did for another year or so.
The next Christmas, he came with my step daughter and his sister, and both he and his sister were higher than kites. My husband and I were livid, and pulled our daughter aside and told her while she was more than welcome to come back, get them the HELL out of our house…..NOW! ….And, we noticed he was driving her car on the way there and she had better drive them home, because if we saw him or his sister behind the wheel, we were calling the cops. They beat a hasty retreat, and we haven’t seen him since.

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Marozia December 23, 2014 at 3:10 am

WOW!! What a king jerk!! I bet your youngest daughter never gave that creep another gift!!

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just4kicks December 23, 2014 at 11:24 am

@Marozia: nope….She did make handmade gifts the following year for everyone but him.
I was going to tell her not to waste her time making one for “Bob”, (she was around nine years old at that point), but as she put all her crafting supplies out on the table to start making them she called out to me. I said “yes, honey…what do you need?” And she said, “Do I have to make one for that a$$hole Sissy is dating?!?” Now, of course we don’t condone our nine year old cursing, but just that ONE time she did get a high five from me and I laughed until tears ran down my face. No, you don’t, don’t waste your time on someone who won’t appreciate it!

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NostalgicGal December 23, 2014 at 9:47 pm

High Five to both of you!

Glad she put it succinctly and glad that just once you let her voice it the way it needed to be!

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Anonymous December 23, 2014 at 2:35 pm

I hope your WHOLE FAMILY never gave that creep another gift.

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just4kicks December 24, 2014 at 6:09 am

@NostalgicGal: I laughed until I almost peed my pants that day!
It was so out of character for my daughter to say something like that, but she hit the nail on the head! Even my step daughter got a kick out of it when we finally told her a few months later.

@Anonymous: After a serious talking to our step daughter about her bf and his sister having the nerve to show up at home under the influence, (seriously runny and red noses and talking a mile a minute, not to mention them using the restroom together….my hubby and I aren’t that dumb!), and what involvement she (our daughter) may have in illegal substances, she admitted that was the one of many straws that broke the camels back.

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kingsrings December 22, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I did something similar when I was in the 5th grade. There was some kind of present exchange happening in my class where you didn’t know who gave you what. I opened mine and didn’t care for the little notepad thing and was visibly disappointed. When I looked up I saw the crestfallen expression of the girl who had bought it, she’d been watching me unwrap it the whole time. “Do you like it??”, she asked, in a crushed tone of voice. Oops. Lesson learned.
But I’ve also seen this behavior from adults nowadays at gift exchanges, so that’s even worse. Especially when you’re the one who gave the gift that someone doesn’t like!

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just4kicks December 23, 2014 at 5:48 am

@kingsrings: we went through that this weekend with my youngest son. My oldest son’s girlfriend of over a year (along with her parents) invited us all to Christmas eve dinner this year. My son’s girlfriend texted me Sunday to ask if “C” liked Teenage mutant ninja turtles? He said, (to me when I read the text) “no, not really”. I told him they may have already bought him something along those lines and when he opens it, he will LOVE it and say thank you, and that he had wanted one of whatever it may be for Christmas this year! He promised he would.

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flora December 22, 2014 at 2:40 pm

I don’t remember doing secret santas as a kid. I do remember the one and only time my girl scout troop did a weird gift game, the one where you pile all the gifts in a pile, then everyone sits in a circle and take turns either choosing a package or stealing one from another girl. Then once everyone has a gift they open it. I don’t remember the details of the “game” expect that I didn’t understand all the rules and figured I’d be safe picking a modest package from the pile. One girl choose the biggest, fanciest gift she could, then got upset when someone stole it. Even then (I think I was nine or ten) I remember thinking how she should be embarressed for acting like that. I ended up keeping my gift, which was a travel tic tac toe game and later the girl who brought it told me that that gift was suppose to go in her stocking. Urgh. Thankfully my troop never did that game again.

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Mara December 23, 2014 at 1:38 am

Flora, sounds like what we call around here a “Yankee Swap”. For the past two years my American Legion Auxiliary has participated in this game with a sister ALA unit and just learned about it when I first joined with them. 🙂

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Goldie December 24, 2014 at 9:16 am

This sounds like the White Elephant game that we played when I was married and we were friends with another couple that used to host Christmas parties. It can be a tough one even for adults in their 30s and 40s who have families and kids and should know better! It does get annoying when there’s one gift in the pile that everybody likes and it keeps changing hands forever. (Apparently there’s a 3-time steal limit, that was never enforced at our parties.) I used to try to either buy a neutral gift for this game, so people wouldn’t fight over it; or buy something specific that I knew one of the people at the party would especially like, something related to their hobby or special interest; so that again no one would try to steal it from them.

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MEH December 22, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I think we all have a story about opening our mouths and promptly inserting our foot into it when it comes to a gift, someone’s cooking, etc. The point is to learn from the mistake to ensure it never happened again. I tend to be a very thoughtful gift giver. I know what my friends and family do and don’t like and choose gifts accordingly. I learned to be this way thanks to my Father- who had a habit of being one of the most ungracious individuals I have ever known. As a child, maybe 9 or 10, I bought my Dad a pair of swim trunks for Father’s Day. I had my Mom’s help, but I pretty much picked out the gift myself. I was so excited to give them to him. Well, he HATED them and let me know it- even though I was just a kid. I was naturally devastated and ever since then I have made an effort to buy relevant gifts for people. He’s also the reason I am militant about being on time, but that is another story. (My father could be an ogre when he wanted to be, but he and I made peace many years ago, and have enjoyed a very good relationship for the majority of my adult life.)

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Jo Bleakley December 22, 2014 at 3:40 pm

I loathe secret Santa. It’s only an opportunity for oneupmanship and people ‘getting back’ at people they don’t like. All the above stories are prime examples. Nearly everyone who has participated in secret Santa’s has some sort of horror story.

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Anna December 22, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Yes, you were in the wrong, but at least you had the excuse of being young, and you also knew enough to apologize when you made a mistake.

When I was the same age, I started boarding school, and my dorm did a secret santa. Names were chosen out of a hat, and there was to be a dorm trip to the mall that weekend to buy gifts. Now, my only access to cash was through our school’s bank, which was open during school hours only. It just so happened that there was a huge snowstorm the Friday before our mall trip, and the school cancelled classes and closed all the offices, including the bank. As such, when our mall trip came around, I had only $8 cash to my name. Being only 14, I of course did not have a credit card or a debit card, and had not been in the school long enough to know anyone well enough to ask for a loan from a friend. I tried to make that $8 stretch as far as I could, as we had several days that we were supposed to give gifts, not just one. I bought a few little novelty candies, etc. I spent the whole $8 on my secret santa, and did not spend one penny on myself that whole weekend–not even a soda from the soda machine or anything. Well when the time came for us to give our first secret santa gifts, one of the teachers, who even knew I was the giver, looked at my gift and said “Wow, how cheap!” as though I were just some selfish teenager who didn’t want to spend money on someone else. Luckily, my giftee graciously accepted the gifts and did not make any complaints (at least that I knew about).

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SweetPea December 22, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Oh, that is embarrassing, but the fact that you felt (and still feel) bad about it speaks volumes.

Once, around the same age, I was being snarky with my brother and made a couple comments about how anything for Christmas would be great, as long as it wasn’t clothes. I hated clothes as a gift!! Well, as I’m sure you can guess, he had gotten me a sweater for Christmas, and spent the time upto Christmas worried that I was going to hate it. I felt so so bad!

And, as irony would have it, I absolutely loved that sweater.

I apologized, he forgave, but to this day anytime gifts are brought up, that memory lesson comes back to mind and I am sure to keep my mouth shut about things I would hate to get.

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Vrinda December 22, 2014 at 4:33 pm

This discussion has prompted another thought: What do you when you are plagued by memories of people saying or doing mean things to you, for which they never apologized? When I was in middle school (6th grade), kids started calling me this name – for no reason. A girl I didn’t even know made up the name, then many kids started calling me it. By the time we got to 8th grade, most kids stopped, but some kept doing it. These were kids I didn’t know at all, and the only memory of them I have is them calling me such a name. I’m 33 now, and I don’t see these people, but they are around.

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Dee December 22, 2014 at 7:48 pm

It is difficult to let painful things go, even if the perpetrators were children at the time. Can you spend some time imagining them as being ashamed of their behaviour as they grew up? This might help ease your hurt. It is entirely possible that they do feel shame, and since it isn’t clear how they feel it might also help you to assume the best of them. If you ever meet them again and get a sense of how they feel about you (good or bad) then you may get closure that way. We do not always have much in common with our younger selves, at least in terms of how we treat or see others. And, the post below (Bap’s) is a perfect example of how some people choose not to fix something they’ve done wrong because they don’t know how. Maybe, if those kids of your youth could, they would fix it now, as the girl in Bap’s story eventually did. Otherwise, try to remember that you are not the names that those kids called you, and you don’t have to dwell on it just because they intended you to (at the time). This is your choice to make, not theirs.

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Vrinda December 23, 2014 at 1:19 am

Thank you, Dee. There are times when I can forget these things, but times when they come back to haunt me. I don’t know what I would do if these people saw me or what they would say, and I would like to think that some of them remember what they did and feel sorry, and if they do, they would keep it to themselves and not bring it up in order not to open old wounds. I try to tell myself that I am made of better stuff than these kids were, and their nastiness was a result of their own stupidity and insecurity, and that it had nothing to do with me. At least with the girl in Bap’s story, she meant no harm, until she saw that Bap was being left out, and did what she could to make amends.

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NostalgicGal December 22, 2014 at 11:45 pm

I grew up in a town where we were not related to anyone (most everyone was 3rd and 4th generation of original settlers) and I was not well liked (blow the grade curve for one). I was heavily bullied and had to learn to fight (and got pretty good, the scars are still with me). The one time I’d act out I’d get caught every time, the hundred or thousand times others did unto me, never was. Teachers didn’t believe it and neither did parents. I finally settled to responding to a derivative of my last name that was better than some of the things I had been called; yes it was derogatory. I left that town after graduation; in the decades since, a FEW of them have looked me up and contacted me to apologize. I laid that burden down before I left though… and moved on with my life. Don’t let them live rent-free in your head. Maybe you need to talk to someone about it to let go and move on? I’m a few decades older than you but you need to take the shovel out and bury it… and no, it wasn’t easy. Either living it or moving on from it.

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B December 23, 2014 at 4:39 am

I was severely bullied at school (from another country and very academic) – it got violent. Two things put it in the past for me:

1. Accepting that I hated those people’s guts at the time, and that hating them *was absolutely allowed*. Too many people won’t let you be angry when you’re being bullied.

2. Inner child hypnotherapy. Massively helpful. It ended all of those issues within a week, and it felt like the greatest weight was lifted.

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bap December 22, 2014 at 5:05 pm

My story happens to put me on the other side of things and not actually Secret Santa, but more of a Secret Sis situation.
It was my first semester of college, I was living in the dorms and as I was at a school across the state from my home – knew no one. I took “potluck” on the roommate and all-in-all it was OK. Not completely great, but also not too bad.
The RA announced our wing would draw names for secret sis’s since we were mostly freshmen and she felt this might help us get to know one another. I’m always game for a new adventure and so I filled out the information sheet and put my name in the hat. I forget exactly how it was handled but I eventually learned my secret sis was a girl about 3 doors down from me that I had already visited with some.
Over the next few weeks I made sure I did all the appropriate “stuff” – small gifts, notes on her door, etc. I was having a good time with it and could tell up and down the hall that others were enjoying the game as well. Sadly, within about a month’s time I admitted that whoever had drawn my name (if anyone had and it hadn’t been left out) wasn’t going to allow me to enjoy this game. I received nothing – not even a note on my door.
I was discouraged that I didn’t get to enjoy the surprises but kept up with my part of the game. After a couple of more weeks I just accepted it for what it was. By that time I had met my then boyfriend (now husband of 32 years 🙂 and didn’t wallow in being left out.
As the Christmas break approached the RA began making plans for the end of semester party where we would bring a gift for our sis and reveal ourselves. I purchased a nice gift for my sis and made arrangements to be gone for the evening. I didn’t want to watch everyone else enjoy their gifts and feel sorry for me being left out. That afternoon I took my gift to the RA and explained why I would not be at the party. I could tell she felt badly about what had happened, but I let her know I had still enjoyed the semester and it wasn’t her fault. She apologized to me again, I gave her a hug and left for my date.
The next day the RA came knocking on my door and presented me with a beautifully wrapped gift set, complete with a signed card. It turned out there was a girl on the floor that had not wanted to participate in the original Secret Sis program. When she began RECEIVING notes/gifts, she then understood that her name had been put in the drawing and that meant someone that DID want to participate was not being taken care of. She felt horrible about it, but didn’t know how to make it right. She did the only thing she could and waited until the reveal party to find out who didn’t get a gift. When the other girls asked about me and the RA explained the situation, this girl realized I was the one being shorted and did the only thing she could at that time.
Although I missed the fun during the semester, I was touched that she attempted to make it up to me and I accepted that at some point it was taken out of her hands. Sometimes “stuff” just happens and you learn to roll with it 🙂

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babs December 23, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I had a Secret Pal in the office who gave me nothing during the year. It was just really weird because we always really got into it and had fun with it throughout the year. Then, on the day of the “reveal” I came into my office with vases and containers of red roses everywhere! There must have been at least 30 vases of red roses on every surface available. Turns out that my Secret Pal roomed with a girl who worked for a flower wholesaler and got the roses dirt cheap. I laughed and thanked her, and never asked her where she was during the year. Then about a week later, I was stuck emptying and cleaning out all of those containers! Pewww! She worked in another building in the complex, so I guess it was out-of-sight-out-of-mind. Well, it was the thought that counted… I think!

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Cheryl C December 22, 2014 at 10:07 pm

My husband just started a new job in August and at the Christmas party we were told to bring something for a “Dirty Santa” exchange and the limit was $15.00. So I went to a local shop that had, among other things, handmade pottery. So I brought two coffee mugs, both exactly $15.00. I thought I had done pretty good. I was wrong. Not only were they the last thing picked (because the packages were small, it was obvious they weren’t booze of any sort), but it was quite obvious as gifts were unwrapped and traded around that several people had spent way past the limit to the tune of $40-$50 instead of $15. The people who got the mugs were clearly disappointed too. One person even loudly announced he was choosing what he had brought and did, which is supposed to be against the rules. I was later told by someone who has worked there for a long time to bring something you wouldn’t mind taking home because if you have a high number in the draw, you may get stuck with your own present. I liked the mugs but we have a ton of coffee mugs, so I guess I should be happy we didn’t bring them home. Ah, well, live and learn. The most traded gifts were booze and gifts that had lottery scratch-off tickets with them.

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Emmy December 22, 2014 at 10:54 pm

I was on the receiving end in a similar situation, except unlike the OP, the woman in question was in her 50’s and should have known better. It was at a work Christmas party and we were at the same table. She picked my gift, a rather expensive scented candle, opens it and says sarcastically “Whoopie, a candle”. After the exchange is over, she goes on to say that the candle is a boring and unoriginal gift and she wishes she got X instead. I figured it best not to say anything and make things even more awkward.

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B December 23, 2014 at 5:34 am

All these awful secret Santa stories just make me grateful that my work doesn’t do it! Arranging a game where children get verbally slapped in the face and bullied without anything being done? Appalling. Notes and gifts for a WEEK? It’d drive me mad.

I remember my husband getting a revoltingly sexual secret Santa once – it was the kind of thing nobody but his wife should ever buy him (and I wouldn’t be caught dead). He was a very young married man, and the only man in the exchange, and the gift came from a much older, single woman. Possibly she was just trying to be funny, although everyone else assumed she was trying to humiliate him – and he was horribly embarrassed – or that she was after him. Safe to say it did her no favours, let alone when the boss found out.

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delislice December 23, 2014 at 6:15 am

I’m really, really glad I made it to college without encountering a Secret Santa exchange. I’m surprised at hearing all these stories of 12-year-olds and younger, often in school settings, doing this. The negatives are obvious: Kids that age are habitually ungracious and awkward, hurt feelings can last for years, some parents don’t have any money to spare, and some parents will ignore spending guidelines.

We have a modest Secret Santa at work, but everyone behaves — a small gift each day (under $5) and a gift of around $20 at the Christmas party. My recipient and I both really enjoyed the gifts this year, and everyone fills out a form to get some ideas. No one gives alcohol, sex toys, or lottery tickets.

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Anonymous December 23, 2014 at 11:18 am

Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying all along. With kids, take them to do an activity together (free or low-cost if possible), or have them over to your house for games or a movie and too much junk food, and if you’re doing favours, give each kid the same one. Done and done. I wouldn’t even do boy/girl favours, because some girls are tomboys, some boys aren’t super-masculine, and it can get awkward, unless you happen to have a group of 100% gender-conforming kids. If you do anything like a Secret Santa, or a potluck, where it becomes obvious which kids come from families with money, time, and parental involvement, and which ones don’t, then someone’s feelings are going to get hurt.

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Cat December 23, 2014 at 11:35 am

I have learned, over the years, to save some money to take advantage of post-Christmas sales. Lovely things that were expensive are marked down and, if not bought, are marked down again and again. When I come across something that is very nice and is now affordable, I buy it and store it in my guest bedroom closet.
When next Christmas comes around, I have a store of gifts from which to choose in case of a Secret Santa or when I have to come up with a gift on short notice.

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ketchup December 23, 2014 at 2:25 pm

We did a Secret Santa at my school as well. My name was either picked by my best friend or she traded for it (I don’t remember well). She bought me a teddy bear in a tin which would have very inappropriate from anyone else. It was a friend bear with lots of friendshippy texts on the tin. It was very weird… I had no idea who’d gotten me this personal bear. I was very happy with the bear after I’d learnt who’d given it to me.

At work we did an Advent Secret Santa: we did little things for the person we picked. Little things like small notes on post-its or a small treat. I liked that very much!

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lakey December 23, 2014 at 6:10 pm

When I first started teaching the classrooms would have this type of gift exchange. Fortunately, I don’t know of any schools that do this anymore. It leads to all kinds of hurt feelings and disappointment. One year I had a student who had no gift to give so he took a used, plastic ruler out of his desk and wrapped it in notebook paper. No matter what is said about price limits, there can be a disparity in cost of gifts, and even grade school kids can be aware. Also, some parents put a great deal of effort into coming up with something worthwhile, other parents are overwhelmed. Then there are families who, especially at Christmas, are financially stretched thin. Then there’s the problem of kids, being kids, sometimes saying exactly what they think.

After just a couple of years our school personnel decided not to do this anymore.

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Angel December 27, 2014 at 4:44 pm

I don’t like Secret Santa for kids. Because of stuff like this. Kids often say things without thinking. I am trying to teach my 9 and 6 year-old proper responses to gifts (saying thank you) there are other ways to celebrate the holidays besides exchanging gifts. What about doing a craft together? Drinking hot cocoa? That being said, it sounds like the OP learned a valuable lesson. And she apologized which is important. No harm done.

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MPW1971 January 10, 2015 at 3:38 pm

I was in 5th grade in 1980 when we had a Secret Santa. The limit was something like $8 – minimum wage then was $3 per hour. The only “rule” I recall was that we could not trade names, and I didn’t. The selection did not seem rigged by the teacher, but when the day arrived, some kids had brought very large gifts and they were invariably exchanging them with each other. Then I noticed – boys only exchanged with other boys, and girls with other girls. Our class was 50/50 or very near, so this worked – but I realized then that it had been rigged right from the start. Some of the more well-to-do boys had exchanged some very expensive gifts – models of cars or planes or Star Wars toys – easily in the $25 range and worth more than all the gifts I would get that year. My family was not wealthy and it was a struggle but my parents got me an appropriate gift in that price range and wrapped it. I was crushed when I got a small box – it contained a set of markers and a pen that looked like a filter-tipped cigar. It was worth maybe $1. I got an apology from the boy who bought it for me – he was honest in saying that his family couldn’t afford more. It didn’t help me to feel any better, and I would remain forever jealous of how the other kids – whose parents owned small businesses or worked as professionals – merely traded with others of the same social class. There was no joy for the poor.

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kgoklahoma November 25, 2015 at 12:35 pm

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and no one is doing any work (including me!) so I’ve been reading some of these old posts. This topic reminded me of the ornament exchange the ladies in my office have each year. Two years ago I made a set of four fused glass ornaments for the exchange. I put them in a little Christmas tin and not into a big bag or box. I was the last person to choose and I was afraid I was going to have to pick my own gift. Everybody was picking the big bags and boxes and leaving my little tin alone. The next to last woman had her gift stolen, so she ended up picking my gift and everyone was quite impressed with my work. Last year, I made a second set of ornaments and they were one of the first gifts picked and were stolen twice.

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admin December 29, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Oh, for heaven’s sake, where did you live in the 1970’s? I had petit mal epilepsy in my teen years and a friend had grand mal seizures and we graduated high school in 1977. There was nothing hush hush about it.

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