The secret to great gift giving

How to survive Secret Santa season

By Sharon Miki, Senior Columnist

‘Tis the season for ugly sweaters, excessive calorie consumption, and holiday parties. Since most students are perpetually broke, Secret Santa gift swaps are often the most cost-effective way to ensure that everyone gets a little holiday surprise without filing for bankruptcy. Still, finding a great gift for just $10 or $20 can be tough—and you don’t want to disappoint your friend with a package of gum and a six-pack of AAA batteries (again). Here are some tips for becoming the best possible gift giver this ho-ho-holiday season.

The first step to successful Secret Santa-ing is to assess the price limit you’ve been given. Take this seriously: aim to give a gift within a dollar or so of the suggested limit. For example, if you’re given a $15 suggested limit, you will be a jerk if you give someone a $2 lottery ticket—but it’ll be no fun for everyone else if you give an iPhone or something else way over the limit. Think about ideas within the limit and stick to it.

Once you’ve set your dollar goal, try to figure out a little bit more about your gift recipient’s interests. A little bit of thoughtfulness and personalization can be the difference between a gift that’s immediately discarded and one that’s treasured forever. Don’t give your tough bro friend a pink scented candle, and don’t give me a sports almanac. If you’re in a big Secret Santa group and you don’t know the person who you’re buying for that well, consider a little elfish social media stalking to get a general idea of what they’re into.

Even if you know your giftee well, sometimes it can be hard to think of something amazing in a hurry. In instances like these, you can rarely go wrong with a thoughtful bit of liquor (if they are of legal age and drink—don’t buy a 17-year-old alcoholic a bottle of wine). Especially if the gift exchange happens at a party, the gift of vodka will be very much appreciated. If you want to go a more sober route, gift cards can be a fast and easy gift—as long as it’s tailored to their interests. For example, if you’re buying for a super hot make-up maven but don’t know the difference between lipstick and gloss, a Sephora gift card will be a treasured treat.

At the very least, be sure to avoid some of the most common misguided Secret Santa gifting mistakes. For one, if the exchange occurs in mid- to late-December, resist the temptation to give a plethora of Christmas-themed décor—the recipient most likely has already decorated to their own taste, so this sort of gift will probably go to waste. Similarly, don’t re-gift something that you received and hated: if you didn’t want it, what makes you think someone else will? The tyranny of bad Santa-ing can end with you.



Need more help? Check out my top five foolproof Secret Santa gifts for 2013.

1. Cineplex gift card, $25 at Cineplex. There are always plenty of big movies coming out around the holidays, so a gift card covering admission for two offers a fun night out for any cinephile.

2. An Astronauts Guide to Life by Chris Hadfield, $19 at Chapters. Help your giftee decompress from all of that textbook studying with a little pleasure reading over the winter break, like this out-of-this-world memoir from a Canadian space hero.

3. Howe Sound Carton of Coal Dark Beer variety pack, $19.95 at BC Liquor Stores. Like I said, it’s hard to go wrong with a fun pack of local beer.

4. EOS Lip Balm Holiday Ornament three-pack, $10.99 at London Drugs. High quality lip balms in a cute and festive package will be appreciated by any girlie girl.

5. Cards Against Humanity, $25 at If you’re going to give a game, this is the one; this twisted party card game will be fun at the Secret Santa swap, and will give your recipient fun all year long.