‘Secret Santa Protocols’ by Christine Sneed

Secret Santa

Interoffice Memorandum

 Date:   December 1

To:      All Quest Industries Employees

From: Upper Level Management

Subj:   Secret Santa Protocols

It’s once again the time for one of our most beloved Quest Industries traditions: Secret Santa week, and this year’s exchanges will take place from Monday, December 11 through Friday, December 15.

A couple of minor adjustments have been made to the Secret Santa guidelines, as noted below.  We have also answered several questions that came to us from some of last year’s participants.

The longstanding $5 maximum per day/gift has been raised to $5.32, which we believe is a fair adjustment for inflation, although please note that none of us are trained economists and it is probable this isn’t a truly accurate inflationary adjustment.

One question that came up in the past year pertains to sale prices: If an item ordinarily costs $7.99 but is on sale for a limited time for $4.99, is it permissible to purchase said item at the sale price or is the Secret Santa breaking one of the game’s foundational rules?

Our answer: $5.32 is the maximum, and if your $5.32 is spent on a sale item in lieu of a regularly priced item, that is perfectly acceptable.  Needless to say, your Secret Santa pick will be the beneficiary of both your largesse and your sharp eye on the weekly sales flier(s) from the retail outlet(s) of your choice.

A question that wasn’t asked in recent months, but we can imagine it silently being asked right now: How will you know if we spend more than $5.32 on a Secret Santa gift?  Are you planning to police every Secret Santa exchange and scan the bar codes of our gifts the moment they are unwrapped?

No, of course not.  We are using the honor system, and we trust you will faithfully observe all of the Secret Santa guidelines.

Other questions we’ve received in the last year:

If our Secret Santa has very poor taste and we despise every gift we receive, would it be possible to request a different Secret Santa, mid-week? As in most, if not all, other areas in life, fortune smiles upon us on some days; on other days, alas, it frowns. We can’t permit changes to the Secret Santa pairings once all names are drawn on Wednesday, December 6 (and we have determined that no one has drawn one’s own name). You are free, however, to politely barter with a colleague if she, for example, looks with more favor than you do upon the 3-ring binder and bag of gas station peanuts you’ve received. But please keep in mind that your Secret Santa has feelings too, and he/she might overhear or eavesdrop on your trade negotiations. Thus, please be discreet when attempting to unload your substandard gifts on a less finicky colleague.

What if we contract the flu, for instance, or salmonella, and can’t deliver our Secret Santa gifts on schedule? We have decided to make it a requirement for every participant to designate a Secret Santa proxy at the outset of our upcoming clandestine gift-giving spree. One stipulation is that you cannot ask your own Secret Santa pick to act as a proxy gift-giver for him- or herself. Additionally, in order to make it easier for your proxy to carry out his/her duties if in fact you are stricken with a case of swine flu or salmonella during the week of December 11, please buy and wrap all gifts the weekend before the exchange begins and keep them in your desk, starting with the morning of the 11th. Your proxy will then easily be able to dispatch with his/her emergency duties if called upon to do so.

What if our Secret Santa gives us a gift we believe to have been stolen or purchased from a disreputable source? We debated even including this question in this memo, as it is likely to be a moot point. But just in case, here goes: we very much doubt anyone among us would be able to accurately identify illegal or contraband goods, barring exposure to a bag of fragrant, black-market cannabis, or a stolen, factory sealed bottle of Oxycontin, for example. If, however, in the unlikely event you are gifted with a dime bag or a bottle of purloined pharmaceuticals, please notify Ken Crickshaw, Jr., our new office manager, immediately. Similarly, in the unlikely event your Secret Santa gives you a wallet, one filled with money (and far exceeding the $5.32 per day maximum, needless to say) and/or credit cards with a stranger’s name on them, it is quite possible your Secret Santa has robbed this individual, and you should also notify Ken Crickshaw, Jr. immediately.

Are home-baked gifts allowed? No, alas, they are not. A few among us here at Quest Industries are gifted bakers and adventurous amateur pastry chefs, but in view of the potential for food poisoning and food allergies—those known and as-yet unknown to us—we can only allow for consumables that come prepackaged, with factory-provided ingredients lists. If you would like to make butter caramels, however, those we will make an exception for, especially if you draw the name of Miriam Quinlan or Harry Sanchez for your Secret Santa pick. (Neither Miriam nor Harry has any food allergies and they would be happy to receive your homemade butter caramels, the rectangular variety wrapped in waxed paper, in case there is any confusion about the kind under discussion).

What about non-edible homemade gifts? It is very exciting indeed that along with amateur pastry chefs and bakers, we number among us several high-level woodworkers and knit-crafters, and at least one of our colleagues has extensive experience with semi-precious rock tumbling. Naturally, some of us would very much welcome the opportunity to put our skilled hands to various raw materials in service of the Secret Santa festivities.

Therefore, non-edible homemade gifts will be allowed, though again, please keep in mind that the components used to create the gift should not total more than $5.32. We also think it would be a good idea for a potential homemade gift-giver to check with one of us first if you do decide to give homemade handicrafts to your Secret Santa pick. A desktop ant farm, for example, might be appropriate for a colleague who studied biology in college, or for someone who has confided in you a desire to acquire some of his daily protein from insects, but for most of us at Quest Industries, a handcrafted desktop ant farm, although no mean feat to produce, would probably not be a welcome gift. There is also the potential for infestation if any ants were to escape a farm built by less than expert hands. We must insist on no ant farms for anyone, though other ideas, especially those not involving live insects, you should feel free to approach us with.

Should we include receipts with the gifts we give to our Secret Santa picks in case they would like to exchange the items or return them for cash? Okay, you almost stumped us with that one. We spent more than an hour debating the pros and cons implicit in this question and finally had to resort to a blind vote on the matter. Our decision is no, no receipts should be included with your gifts. It is a privilege in and of itself to receive a Secret Santa cadeau. Let us all contemplate this notion for a moment and internalize the goodwill this team-building holiday tradition instills in everyone who participates each year. (Along with being a caramel aficionado, Miriam is a Francophile and lobbied for the inclusion of the French word for “gift” above. French-inspired gifts or cadeaux, if you will, from France, would be more than welcome if you happen to draw Miriam’s name as your Secret Santa pick—the “fleur de sel” caramel, for example).

What is the minimum one can spend on a Secret Santa gift? $4.05, which we are happy to inform everyone should cover the cost of a roll of wax paper and the ingredients for a batch of homemade butter caramels. Sample ingredients list: 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar; 6 tbsp (90 g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut up into 6 pieces; 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream, pinch of salt).

Lastly, we have decided to donate $10 to charity for each person who takes part in this year’s Secret Santa exchange. The charity we have chosen is the Housing Fund for Francophone Vagrants, Chicago chapter. Next year’s charity is TBD. Please send us your suggestions and we will be happy to consider them.

(Christine Sneed is the author of four books, including the novels 
“Paris, He said,” and “Little Known Facts,” and the story collections “Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry” and, most recently, “The Virginity of Famous Men,” published by Bloomberg.)

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