They go by many names - Secret Santa, White Elephant, Yankee Swap - but let's face it, they're all the same damn thing. At the end of the day, the powers that be (you know who you are, annoying lady in the office) have decided that you have to buy and present a gift to someone you very likely care very little about, or possibly don't even know who they are. There will be a price limit; it will be far too low to get anything good, but still way more than you want to pay. You spend your days tormented by options, and your nights awake with just you and your social anxiety in your ear whispering "what if no one even tries to steal my gift once in Yankee Swap?".
There are numerous ways to approach this. Do you play it safe, and get the boring, generic gift? Do you go the "I'm so hilarious!" joke route? Do you pull a reverse giver and just buy something you want hoping to get it back?? Are you the person that actually (gulp) tries?A few days ago, I (and several other commenters) posted asking for recommendations for our work parties, and as usual you guys came through with some inspiring ideas (I've tried to link to many of the original suggestions). Since many of us are in the same position, I thought I'd put together some of the best suggestions and ideas broken down by each approach in a Secret Yankee Elephant Gift Guide, for you!**
The Play it Safe Gifts
These are the ones that are so generic, they're going to apply to just about everyone. No one is going to be jumping off the walls to receive them, nor will you win any great acclaim, but no one is going to hastily correct their horrified facial expression as they stammer out thanks.
Best used for: White elephants. When you don't know who the heck is going to get your gift, playing it safe is not a bad way to go.
Worst used for: Secret Santa. When you know the name of the person in advance and make little to no effort to put any sort of personalized touch to the gift, it's not the nicest.
Shop at: Any drugstore, Amazon.com
The Jokester Gifts
So you've just decided to cope with the situation by climbing down into the crevasse. Why even bother trying to get someone something they would appreciate or use, when you can simply just buy something hi-lar-ious that will get the big awkward laugh at the company christmas party??
Best used for: Yankee Swaps. This allows people to get a big laugh, while at the same time, there's more of a chance that someone who might actually use the joke gift ends up with it.
Worst used for: White elephants. Seriously, if you don't know who your present is going to end up with, the joke could go horribly, horribly wrong.
Shop at: asseenontv.com, uncommongoods.com, Walmart
Okay, any product that has ever been on an infomercial or As Seen On TV
Inside joke gift mocking the recipient
Anything bacon themed
Funny seasonal items (i.e. underpants)
The Reverse Giver Gifts
You've given up. Your gift exchange pool sucks, and you've been burned too many times. The shitty bath salts you got last year are still in your bathroom, and you know Linda from accounting is going to say something bitchy under her breath when your present is opened no matter what you buy. This year you're going use this opportunity to just vicariously buy for yourself.
Best for: This really only works for Yankee Swap, where you can hope to steal back your own gift (it's all anonymous! no one needs to know!). Make sure the wrapping paper is unappealing, but distinctive. Hide it a little, if you can.
Worst for: Secret Santa. It's going to be reallllll obvious.
Shop at: Anywhere! Heck, go over budget even a little.
The Person that Tries
Much like the Boy who Lived, you are in for a long and arduous journey where you fight a constant battle to do good while wondering if the people you're doing it for even appreciate you and wondering why you were born feeling compelled to do this. This category really encompasses anyone who is trying to do one step up from generic to someone genuinely trying to find the perfect gift, but you're probably doing this for one of three reasons.
1) Either you genuinely care about the people you're exchanging with (or at least your Secret Santa) and want to do something nice
2) You grasp at the opportunity to spend the day online shop at work because, I mean, this is technically a work thing, right??
3) You're a competitive gift giver who wants to make sure that it is YOUR gift that everyone exclaims over or tries to steal.
Best used for: Secret Santa. The stakes are higher to have a thoughtful, appropriate gift when you know the person in advance
Worst used for: White elephant. You seriously can't try to get something amazing that everyone will love when you have 0 idea of who might get it and there's no stealing.
Shop at: amazon.com, local stores, Target, thinkgeek.com, gift stores of local children's museums
Thoughtful generic. A lot of the generic stuff makes a fine gift here as long as there is a connection. Get them a bottle of the booze you drink together on happy hour. Get them a gift card to a place you know is their favorite. Get them a calendar of their favorite artists, or cute cats for the cat lady.
DVD/Movie night kit (the specific example at the link is AHmazing.
Science kits (chemistry set, sea monkeys, ant farm)
The Gifts You Shouldn't Get
Look, most of these go without saying, right? Know your crowd. Don't get any gifts that could be offensive. Don't get gifts that have sizes. Don't get gifts that would be inappropriate in your office or group of friends. Don't shop at Spencers, just because I hate those guys and because you don't want to go to the mall anyway. Don't buy anyone a gun, tusks of ivory, or real fur. If you donate to charity, don't make it a religious or controversial charity. If there are children involved, confirm the present you get with a parent before you buy. Go with the rule of the lowest common denominator; it's not whether most people will be okay with your gift that makes it okay, it's if any person could be offended by it that makes it not okay. As commenters pointed out, without fail, your iffy gift WILL end up with the exact worst person it possibly good.
The Gift I Got!
And in case you're dying to know....WHAT DID I GET??
I finally decided! To preface, my work this year has changed from formal fancy dinner to doing a catered lunch with booze at the office. We have a Yankee Swap, and given that I work in an office that trends towards nerdy and that we'll be stuck there for several hours for the party I went with:
Chemistry set! We can all drink and play with this instead of making awkward conversations!
MiniBottles of booze! I got a white, red, and sparkling mini bottle of wine to go with and adult it up a little (note: the chemistry set I came up with after being inspired by a few other suggestions, but minibottles of booze came straight from Mistletoe Pants, so thanks!)
Good luck! Feel free to post more fantastic ideas below and I can update with the best!