Questioning the secret

Finally, the dreaded moment has arrived once more. Twelve months after the last episode, you find yourself here in this familiar situation again.

The plastic soup bowl appears magically in front of your nose. You see haphazardly folded fingernail-sized pieces of white paper anxiously staring back from inside it. Reluctantly reaching in, your hand feels heavier than usual. Your blood pressure shoots up two notches, and the world around you seems muted despite Bing Crosby’s Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer playing on the iPod dock.

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After a silent prayer and two swirls of the pieces of papers, your hands comes out of the bowl with the chosen one. Another quiet prayer under your breath – if you are still breathing by now – you unfold the paper to reveal the scribbled letters of a colleague’s name.

At this very moment, you will find out if the next seven days would be the most disastrous week of the working year. More often than not, it would be. Perhaps, ‘Secret Santa’ is nature’s quaint way of getting us to atone for all our tittle-tattles and criticisms of those we ignored at the office’s water cooler during the year.

Most offices are no strangers to the traditions of ‘Secret Santa’. The dispassionate office administrator writes the names of participants – you play along out of necessity in ensuring that your pens and stapler doesn’t go missing over the course of next 12 months – are placed in a hat, and everyone takes turn to draw the name of a colleague for whom to buy a holiday gift.

The unsmiling organiser then brusquely utters: “Buy RM20 item. Write down the receiver’s name on your gift,” she warns before moving over to the next cubicle. “Don’t write your name. Then put under the tree before Christmas Eve.”

Two minutes ago, you were skimming through TripAdvisor for the perfect hotel accommodation for your Christmas holiday in Melaka. Blink, and now you are in complete agony for the next seven days of what to get the person whose name you just picked out.

If it is a guy, it’s pretty straightforward. If he’s a footie fan, go the nearest S&J gift shop and get him a Manchester United keychain or an Arsenal scarf. If he’s not, walk into MY Tie Shop and “eenie, meenie, miney mo” out one. With RM20, there are not many options. Less than 2 hours after drawing from the bowl, you are back now on TripAdvisor again. A no-brainer.

Hell starts when it’s a woman you picked out. The first and second day you walk into all the pink-coloured gift shops available in town. You walk out empty handed because they are too common or “girly”, and she most likely has one too many bears on her bedside.

The third day, you try your luck at the music and DVD stores. Getting her a Jane Fonda workout title may offend her, while you have no clue if she’s into Rihanna or Chris Brown. You walk out disappointed.

On the fourth day, go strut into a bookstore beaming with confidence that you will surely end up with something. After all, who wouldn’t like a good book? Does she likes thrillers or prefers romance? Would The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People give her the wrong impression of what her colleagues think of her? Would a cookbook end up as a doorstopper in her apartment? Four hours later, you have no idea if she even reads!

By the fifth day, nearing desperation, you go into the RM5.00 shops to hopefully grab anything decent. You toy with the idea of a washroom toiletry set, or perhaps a combination of cup holder, air freshener and non-slip rubber mat for her new car. Yet, you fear being ridiculed for being cheap.

On the sixth day, you know you are clearly desperate when you find yourself strolling along the women’s section in the mall. Lingerie? Too personal and besides you can’t imagine her being in “that” bra size. Perfume? Over-budget. Clothes? Don’t even go there unless you are willing to have a RM20 blouse used as linen for cat litter.

The seventh and final day available to fulfil your ‘Secret Santa’ role, you finally give up thinking and walked back into the pink coloured gift shop to quickly grab the next available coffee mug with the letters: ‘Merry Christmas to you!’


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