Human Condition: New twist on Secret Santa reignites Christmas joy _lowres


The cold front that brought relief from the suffocating humidity reminded me of the times we collected nuts that fell from the massive pecan tree in our neighbor’s backyard. After cracking enough to fill a quart-sized Mason jar, my mother would cook up a batch of pralines. The scent of cinnamon filling the air was an omen that Christmas was coming soon.

As a child, I reveled in the Santa myth and looked forward to continuing our family’s Christmas traditions with my own kids. The thought of a kind, elderly gentleman sweeping the globe to bring gifts to children was uplifting.

Imagine my shock when my now-grown eldest daughter confessed that the thought of a stranger sneaking into the house while everyone was asleep disturbed her. Though I had not been aware of her apprehension, I could empathize. It gave new meaning to seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child.

That same daughter excitedly shared with me the details of a Secret Santa custom that was started where she worked. This tradition was one she could fondly embrace.

On Monday through Thursday of a designated week, each participant anonymously leaves an inexpensive gift each day on the desk of the person whose name they drew. On Friday, the main Christmas gifts are handed out, and everyone tries to guess the identity of their Secret Santa. My daughter has been most creative finding themed gifts for the person she picks. She selected hand warmers for the day you had to give something hot for the coworker she knew walks to work and was always complaining about the cold. A candy lover got a chocolate snowman for something hollow. A lady frequently out of town on business trips received a travel sewing kit for something with buttons.

The gamut my daughter has received in return falls between perfect and bizarre. As a board game lover, she received Trouble for something that pops. As a vegetarian, she got a box of tofu for soft and square. For multicolored, she received an imported, embroidered coin purse. There was also the year pink and round must have been frustrating to the person who was her Secret Santa. My daughter walked into her office and found a circle that had been cut from a sheet of fluorescent pink paper lying on her desk. Nonetheless, it is a holiday tradition she has come to treasure.

After over a year of exhaustive working conditions, she finally completed the last assignment for a massive re-branding project. She began looking forward to Christmas — a time she might rejuvenate and could enjoy the Secret Santa tradition.

Hoping to offset any trauma I may have caused in her youth, I suggested we start a new family tradition. We are selecting 12 themes and will exchange mini gifts on each of the 12 days of Christmas.

What would you buy for something that glows (and it can’t be a candle)?

— St. Clare lives in New Orleans

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