12. Why Secret Santa is the worst

Put your hand in a (possibly sweaty) hat. Pull out a crumpled up piece of paper. Unfurl it. Read “Suzy”. Put the piece of paper in your pocket. Forget about it. Panic on the day of the office holiday party. Go to Paperchase, or worse Tiger, or even worse Sainsbury’s. Get her a diary, or worse a candle, or even worse a novelty bath plug. Wrap it – badly. Watch her unwrap it and feign excitement. Feel as disappointed as she does. Remember all the people you’ve ever disappointed.

And so ends another year of Secret Santa at the office, a tradition in which groups of people who may or may not know each other that well exchange gifts publicly, but anonymously.

Some believe that Secret Santa is an interpretation of the old Scandinavian tradition of julklapp (meaning ‘Christmas-tapping’ in Swedish), where neighbours would bring gifts to each others’ doors, knock and run away before their identities could be revealed.

Others believe Secret Santa was popularised by philanthropist Larry Dean Stewart, who anonymously donated $100 bills to Kansas residents for more than 25 years.

And others, like the writer of this article, never considered where Secret Santa came from or even what it was until they were presented with a piece of paper that said “Ali” on it in their first week at their first office job.

Office Secret Santa is supposed to bring the fuzziness and togetherness of gift giving to the workplace, but much like the Spice Girls reunion tour, which JUST ISN’T THE SAME without Posh, standing in a circle on a scratchy, stained carpet and exchanging tacky, awkward and downright offensive gifts that happen to cost £15 or under does not a magical Christmas morning make. In truth, Secret Santa is one of many terrible office rituals that we all endure, like passive aggressive notes, men (#notallmen, please don’t @ us) and meetings.

Why is Secret Santa so bad?

First, the gifts are bad, on purpose, which makes no sense. Go to Amazon, search ‘secret santa gifts’ and see for yourself.

Second, it’s expensive. A survey of 2,000 office workers in Britain found that despite gift price caps, workers manage to spend an average of £41.88 on Secret Santa gifts and £96.48 on Christmas parties and dinners. That’s £138.31, that would definitely come in handy come the week before January payday.

Third, and most importantly for us here at Do the Green Thing, it’s wasteful. Look, we understand why a plastic man with a Phillips head screwdriver bit for a penis is funny. And we also understand that sometimes your Secret Santa gift will not be offensively terrible; it could also be a smelly candle or a posh soap. But what we don’t understand is why 90% of workers in Edinburgh (the highest rate of Secret Santa practitioners in Britain) and 51% of workers in Southampton (the lowest) are being forced into a practice that piles on even more junk to the heap of unwanted gifts we give each every festive season – a tenth of which end up in a landfill.

Basically, Secret Santa takes the worst bits of Christmas – bad presents, extra spending and planetary woe – and exacerbates them.

So this Christmas, try a new way. A way that gives you something you actually want, cheaply and with little waste.

Luckily for you and your colleagues, that way exists and it’s called Ungifted. What is it? It’s a free-to-use global platform that allows people to do things with or for other people at Christmas, rather than giving them thoughtless and environmentally-harmful tat. Things like a surprise burrito, doing your timesheets for a week, complimenting you in front of your boss, making you the perfect cup of not-too-milky tea or anything else you can think of.

Convinced? Sign your team up to Ungifted. You’ll be doing them, and the planet, a favour. Not convinced? Do it anyway. Come on, what could be worse than what you do now?  


If you follow Do the Green Thing, you know that we’ve run Ungifted for the past two years.

This Christmas season, we’re going B2B with Ungifted Secret Santa, the imaginative alternative to all the awkward, unwanted and wasteful Secret Santa gifts we give each other at work.

All you need to do is upload your team members’ names and emails. We’ll assign ungifters, give them ungift ideas and, on a date you pick, let everyone know what they’ve got – anonymously of course.

Sign-up today.

Thanks for reading this issue. If you like it, please share.