Call it the nightmare before Christmas—that one ominous event that lingers Grinch-like amid the holiday festivities.
It isn’t the year-end review, the forced interaction with your unbearable aunt, nor the paralyzing fear of being “the belligerent one” at the office holiday party. It’s the dreaded Secret Santa gift exchange.
Trust us. You’re not going to pull your best friend’s name, or the Whitney to your Lauren at the office. No, it always has to be that friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend you met in one hazy night out (who put her name in the draw, anyways?) or that co-worker whose shoes you once spilled your salad on (extent of interaction).
What’s supposed to be a delightful evening awash in mulled wine and Instagram filters is, without a doubt, crippled by the impending dread of handing over that Starbucks gift card (“a gift as average as you are!”). It’s all fun and games until someone throws something into the mix that’s beyond generic—or worse, offensive (“Uh, thanks, but I’m vegan,” your silent-until-now coworker mutters as he lowers the set of gourmet Empire bacon-mayonnaise back into the gift bag).
Nightmarish vignettes aside, stick with what you know and you’ll avoid the Christmas cringe. No matter how far removed, no one in their right mind would turn down an assortment of Mast Brothers chocolate bars in too-pretty-to-eat wrappers, a Diptyque mini-candle, or the Opening Ceremony coffee table book you can’t resist leafing through every time you pass its minty cover. If you’d love to open it, chances are they will too (exceptions including but not limited to: 20-year age gaps, gender divides, and She Who Hates Everything).
Still not sold? Think upscale versions of products everyone uses on the regular—Fresh grapefruit body wash for a morning pick-me-up, rosy Rodin lip balm to swap for their cherry Chapstick, or a Mario Badescu Revitalizing Enzyme Mask (because they’re probably just as stressed about the holidays as you are).
If they’re the gluten-free, sugar-free, fun-free type, think along the lines of inedible indulgences, like mini macaron jewelry holders for their miniature trinkets, or Homer Simpson-worthy donut ornaments. And if they aren’t? A gorgeous box of pink champagne truffles should do the trick. Now grab the liquid courage, position yourself in arm’s reach of the sugar cookies, and thank the big red dude this day only comes once a year.
— Chelsey Burnside