One of the common suggestions for how to get holiday expenditures down is to suggest a Secret Santa or White Elephant exchange at the office or family gathering.
For those who aren’t in the know, the Secret Santa is where you put everybody’s name in a hat, and then each person pulls out a name. You are only shopping for one person.
The White Elephant is a gift exchange in which you bring in one gift, usually something humorous that nobody would want, wrapped in a package. Then a game is generally played in which each person picks a package from the pile or exchanges a package with someone who has already picked a package. (This is involves a lot of crying/screaming when it’s played at children’s parties.)
Jimmy Fallon mentions the problems with Secret Santa in this clip. Even when there’s a spending limit, these never seem to work out well. If you don’t know the person, you’re likely giving them something they don’t want. Chances are pretty good that in any pairing, either someone who doesn’t know you will get you or you will get someone you don’t know. So you’ll end up with junk you don’t want or you’ll give someone junk they don’t want.
The White Elephant is even worse– you have to buy something that is actually already junk and bring it in. Sometimes the rules state you bring something from home that you already own but don’t want, but if you own it and don’t want it, then why do you still have it? On top of that, sometimes the junk is truly junk, and sometimes the junk is actually something nice. More often though, some number of people bring actual gag gifts that get a laugh and then take up space, and some people bring things that are pretty nice, making others (who didn’t get the nice gift) feel jealous or (who followed the rules) uncomfortable. In the end, most people end up buying crap nobody would want and taking home crap they don’t want. It’s a very American sort of game.
I seriously dislike both these games and would rather not participate. I don’t see the point in anonymous reciprocal gifts. I don’t like being forced to give things to people who I don’t know very well who don’t need stuff. I’d rather keep my money and buy my own junk (or not buy it, as the case may be).
What suggestions do we have? We suggest that offices not have these kinds of games, and that if they do choose to have them that they be voluntary and neither explicitly nor socially mandatory. As for families, we really think it’s better that if someone is worried about money that adults not exchange presents at all rather than having one of these silly exchanges. But that’s just us. We still exchange presents with everybody. Maybe the joy some families get from having different senses of humor than we have outweighs the annoyance of crap being exchanged. Maybe it’s worth it to some families.
But it still isn’t frugal. At least, not as frugal as not participating would be. Still, if this is the only option for not having a full gift exchange, it’s better than nothing.
What are your thoughts on these kinds of gift exchanges? Do you participate? Have you participated? What’s your philosophy on anonymous gift exchanges?