office holiday gift-giving stories: worst gifts and weirdest gifts

In the spirit of the season, let’s hear about workplace gift debacles. Did a game of Secret Santa end in tears? Did a coworker throw a tantrum when she didn’t win a raffle? Did your boss try to give you Hanukkah balls? Was your gift a sheet of tips on how to treat varicose veins? These are all real stories that we’ve heard here in the past. Now you must top them.

Share your weirdest or funniest story related to gifts in the office in the comments.

{ 879 comments… read them below }

  1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    The secret Santa where our then boss opened up their gift to reveal a novelty strap-on. She was fond of a joke but I’ll never forget her stern face and “whoever thought this was appropriate for me or for the workplace should go stand outside in the car park in the rain for 30 minutes. Now”

    Nobody moved, but we found out later on it was the gift from a young 20s guy on helpdesk who thought it would be fine because our boss was openly a lesbian married to a woman.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Unfortunately older does not always mean wiser – please don’t ask how I know……..

      1. Susie*

        I wish I knew how to code the shocked Pikachu face because WOW. I feel secondhand embarrassment just reading that.

        1. rookling*

          I hope this works–

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        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Yeah, although it was quite a while before our boss found out it was him. He was…how to put it…a prototype mansplainer. He’d acted like an authority on absolutely everything, and whatever medical issue you had he knew you were doing the wrong thing for it (he once tried to tell me how to ‘cure’ my endometriosis…).

          After this though, and a lot of us in IT telling him he was bang out of line, he became quieter. Which was a relief.

    1. PolarVortex*

      Oh nooooo.

      (Although if this sets the tone for what the rest of the stories are going to be like, well I need to clear some time in my day.)

    2. NotRealAnonForThis*

      While I’m off to find my jaw….

      Curious if the same young 20s dude would have purchased a sleeve for a cishet married guy, or a vibrator for a cishet married woman. Guessing 50/50 probability?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        We asked him wtf he was thinking and what he’d gotten for anyone else – and that started a while ‘oh dear god no’ conversation.

        (Blowup doll for the straight men, dildo for the straight women, lube for a gay man…)

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            “I’m holding up this store, give me all if your least work-appropriate Secret Santa gifts or the vibrators get it.”

          2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            If we weren’t in totally different fields of work I’d ask if you’d ever been my coworker because one of them actually said that to him!

          3. Heather*

            For several years, one of the managers adjacent to my then team used to take his team out for lunch on the day of the Christmas party. They would mostly get drunk, and then go to Ann Summers to get their secret Santa presents. Of course, they were often late to the party, and so if you arrived and found no gift on your table, you knew you were due something from Ann Summers.

            I’ve no idea why this happened more than once, but eventually they stopped it

          1. Esmae*

            Right, there’s a tiny part of me that’s glad this wasn’t about the boss being a lesbian. A very tiny part.

        1. Anya*

          Well, at least he believed that everyone should get gross and inappropriate gifts and it’s not directed to a particular orientation/gender etc. I almost prefer idiots that equally gross to everyone that ones that single out certain groups.

      2. bunniferous*

        A couple of years ago someone did indeed wrap and bring a “personal massager” to our office white elephant party. Held AT A RESTAURANT.

        One of the owners wound up with it.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            So thought my mother who gave me one when I was in college. My very naive ~60yo mother.

            1. Mannequin*

              Hahahahaha! My mom, who was similarly naive, received one of those as a Christmas or birthday gift from one of her close friends- a kindergarten teacher who’d taught both my brother & I when we were children.

              I found it in the bathroom cupboard when I was over visiting my parents (I was looking for TP or something else I needed to use, not snooping, lol) and the box it was in was like the ads- it pretends it’s for sore muscles & does not indicate it is for intimate use.

              My mom was the same age as my peers grandparents, and was so naive that when I was in high school, she once surprised me coming out of the bathroom by asking me “what’s a ‘pervert’?” LOL, so I’m SURE she didn’t know the intended use.

              But her friend? The kindergarten teacher? She was older than my mom, but most definitely NOT naive, so to this day, I really have no idea if she knew it was supposed to be a sex toy or not. ROFL

    3. Elielle*

      As an HR person in a lesbian relationship, I would’ve torn him a new one as soon as I found out who it was.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        It was a long time before our boss found out it was him (none of us were telling her!) and there was a ‘off the phones and into my office, Dave’ (not real name) moment when she did. Never found out what she said but he came out of that meeting white as a sheet and was quieter for a long time after.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            No idea! But given she was the head of IT and had the technical skills to track down the original spreadsheet of who was buying gifts for who..

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Nobody wanted to have that conversation with her because we knew it would turn ugly.

      2. pandq*

        Not to derail, but I wish we would discontinue the use of the phrase “tore him a new one”. Think of what we are really saying when we say it. Just like I don’t think any joke about prison rape is funny; to me this is the same category.

        1. Mannequin*

          It doesn’t refer to r@pe. It refers to physical assault, like the slang terms “kicking/busted their @ss”.

          When you’ve ‘ripped someone a new one’, you have (figuratively) ‘kicked (or ‘busted’) their @ss’ so hard, they now have a new hole to poop out of.

          Even ‘butt hurt’ does not refer to prison r@pe- that’s an urban myth. It actually refers to SPANKING- specifically, the person is being compared to a spoiled kid who whines about getting a spanking as a punishment for something they actually did wrong.

          I guess it could be argued that the phrase is bad because spanking children is abusive, but that’s not the same thing as r@pe.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        One of my superiors is in a lesbian relationship and I’m fairly sure “assisting in hiding a body” would become part of my job description.

    4. Future-Retiree*

      Not Christmas but… A long ago boss’s wife sent him a stripper for his birthday. We were living in a very permissive country and she stripped down completely in front of our whole office including our grand poo-bah.

        1. Catabouda*

          Secret Santa where the men brought a wrapped gift for a man, women brought a wrapped gift for a woman, and they built up two piles that you could pick from when your name was called. This was in the early 90s, and there was no gender neutral option at that time, in case you were curious.

          So, there wasn’t any way to figure out who brought… The XXX porn movie collection.

          The guy who opened it looked horrified about half way through opening it.

          They included rules the following year about gifts being workplace appropriate.

      1. The Smiling Pug*

        That entire scenario reminds me painfully of the whole thing with the stripper from The Office…

      2. Marjorie Phelps*

        I deliberately misread this as she stripped all the way down to her grand poo-bah and I’m not sorry.

      3. Media Monkey*

        in my first “proper” job, i was invited to the leaving do of the guy who i was replacing. didn’t know anyone about from the people that had interviewed me but good way to meet new coworkers in an informal setting (a bar). his coworkers hired a stripper who was older and on the larger side. you can imagine how well this went down with the bosses (also older and on the larger side). we were asked to leave the bar…

    5. londonedit*

      I was going to tell a similar story. Everywhere I’ve encountered Secret Santa in the UK, the rules have been the same – you pull one person’s name out of a hat and that’s who you buy for, small budget of £5-£10, no intentionally mean or ugly gifts, no swapping or stealing or anything like that. It’s just a straightforward gift swap and people reveal who they bought for after everything’s been handed out and opened.

      However one year very early on in my career, it became clear that one of my colleagues, around the same age as me and therefore quite junior at the time, either hadn’t encountered a Secret Santa or else had only encountered a version where the gifts were meant to be stupid/embarrassing/ridiculous. So everyone opened their gifts – things like a scented candle, a scarf, chocolates, mini bottle of wine, etc. We get round to the head of the Production department, and he opens…a bright pink fluffy thong. He had a good sense of humour and it was obviously meant to be a joke, which is the spirit in which he took it, but the poor woman who’d bought it for him was absolutely mortified as she realised she’d completely misunderstood the point of the exercise! As I recall she went out and bought him a bottle of wine the next day to make up for it.

      1. Zephy*

        Ah yes, and we see again why it’s important to set expectations around office gift exchanges. My office is also doing a Secret Santa, we put our names on slips of paper along with a wishlist or suggestions to help guide our Santa. My recipient listed specific items, which I got for him; I gave my Santa more general suggestions, more along the lines of “I like coffee, cats, and colorful pens, go nuts.”

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Lol – my office is the same. I went with “happy dragons, bookmarks, and funny lidded coffee mugs.

        2. SeluciaMD*

          This comment just immediately brought to mind a very recent AITA post. And what I learned from that post is that if an awful, snotty, elitist person is your Secret Santa, no gift list in the world will save you. You will get a book you never wanted to read, Baby Yoda socks, and pedestrian tea AND YOU BETTER LIKE IT.

          Appreciating that you and your coworker both understood how Secret Santa works, Zephy.

            1. Mannequin*

              The AITA post is from the gifter. They gave their giftee things that THEY liked instead of what was on the giftees list, because they were being elitist snobs about the coworkers personal tastes (the items on the list were inoffensive + inexpensive and enough to give the gifter a choice.)

              The gift giver wrote in themselves because they thought they had a right to be butthurt that the recipient was “rude” – she only schooled her face into a socially acceptable polite expression instead of expressing real, genuine joy over an unsuitable gift, and was overheard her making a very mild remark about it to another coworker later, and gave away the socks, both when she thought snobby coworker wasn’t around.

          1. Rob aka Mediancat*

            There are very few books I won’t at least give a chance to, so unless this person’s passing out hate literature or How to Worship Trump books, I’d be good.

            1. Sapholia*

              The gift receiver put down that she liked to read romance books. The gift giver was horrified by such despicable taste in reading material and decided she was going to educate her in proper reading material by giving her a fantasy novel and other geeky items. And then wanted to know if they were the asshole for doing so because the gift receiver was not impressed.

              1. Mannequin*

                Even better, the gift giver acted like her utterly pedestrian pop culture gifts really were some exciting, niche, underground thing she was excited to introduce new people to.

              2. Princesss Sparklepony*

                If I recall that AITA the fantasy novel that she gifted was exceptionally dense. Not something you could dip into and enjoy.

                But the gifter did get her attitude handed back to her on a plate by the commenters. And that was a fun read.

          2. Who doesn't like kittens anyway?*

            I know the one you are talking about and my judgement was YTA so hard. What a judgmental awful person.

          3. Kicking-k*

            Yeah, the most recent Secret Santa I have been in, one of the organisers said to me “Everyone wants you because you’re the only one who’s filled in anything on the wishlist spreadsheet.” (Which was probably exaggeration, and my own partner did fill it in shortly after.) And then I got something perfectly nice and non-embarrassing… but not one of the three very easy suggestions on the wishlist…

      2. Dr B Crusher*

        Imagine being that woman as all the nice gifts are opened and you slowly start to realise how you’ve fucked up but can’t really do anything about it.

        1. KateM*

          That’s the time to tackle your recipient before he can open your gift and say you had accidentally mixed it up with your partner’s and you are very very sorry and will bring his real gift tomorrow.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            That was me!! My poor friend is still traumatized by the fact that I almost opened his BF’s holiday themed butt-plug in the middle of the office. Quite possibly the only time rugby tackling a co-worker was actually the least bad option

            1. KateM*

              See, it’s too bad the bright pink fluffy thong gifter didn’t read your story before that gift exchange!

            2. The Smiling Pug*

              That’s one of my favorite stories! Thank you for sending it in, although it sounded pretty traumatic at the time.

      3. EvilQueenRegina*

        That’s been pretty much my experience of Secret Santas (same country) – when I read about the ones where people steal gifts or deliberately give absolute rubbish I mostly feel relieved that’s never really caught on here yet partly disappointed I don’t have decent stories to share here!

        1. UKDancer*

          Me too. I don’t think I’d like the stealing things part. The only times I’ve done it was in my last company. We had a £5 limit and you pull a name from a hat. My current company doesn’t do it but I’ve always quite enjoyed it.

        2. Jaybee*

          You don’t steal gifts in Secret Santa anywhere. Stealing gift games go by a different name (many of them…but none of them are ‘secret santa’).

          Personally I prefer the stealing gifts sort of exchange because you don’t have to try and figure out what to buy for one specific person you barely know. Apparently other people feel this way too, since our department head cited it as why we’re doing an (opt-in) Yankee Swap instead of Secret Santa this year.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I feel the same. But it helps that in my office, the gift swap rules are clear, sent out ahead of time, and consistent from year to year, so everyone knows what the expectations are, and everybody has a good attitude about it. The stealing is what makes it fun, because people get playfully upset about it–they might actually be a little disappointed that they lost the gift they wanted, but any outward appearance of it is just in good fun. I can see how it can go wrong depending on who you work with (and you hear about it here), but any office gift exchange can go horribly wrong depending on the people.

            1. the cat's ass*

              Totally this. You pull a name out of a hat, limit is 25$, and the person lists 3 things they like. My Secret Santa draw last year was my own MA so i had a good idea of what to get her anyway-it was a specific kind of wine, scented travel candles, and a certain kind of gourmet cookie. We were both happy!

            2. Princesss Sparklepony*

              I can’t remember where I read it but there was a yankee swap one that lead to terrible feelings over possibly a unicorn themed present that someone wanted for their granddaughter maybe and the eventual winner of the item wouldn’t give it up because granny’s attitude was so obnoxious over it. I’m guessing granny is still upset to this day – it sounded that intense.

          2. Bridget*

            SECRET Santa – draw the name of a person and purchase them a nice gift within the communicated price range.

            DIRTY Santa – everyone buys a gift, either nice or funny, and through a series of drawn numbers people select and/or steal gifts.

            Words matter. :)

          3. Kicking-k*

            I’d find it deeply impossible to buy a gift that would do for any recipient… I’d have to sit it out.

        3. Daune*

          One white white elephant 2 Michael Bolton sweatshirts were going around. I’m not a fan of his music but I stole one and made my partner steal the 2nd one. I wore those for years. So comfy.

          1. Miss Muffet*

            We had THREE tortilla blankets going around at ours this year. I was pretty psyched to end up with one, after a couple of rounds of stealing (and getting stuck with some weird things in the interim)!

      4. Thunderingly*

        That happened to me! I had brought a Golden Girls Board Game I thought would be hilarious…and then people started opening up actual good gifts…I never revealed what I had brought.

          1. Thunderingly*

            Well I’d gotten it on clearance, though they didn’t know. They didn’t seem upset, just not enthusiastic or amused like people were for the other gifts. I also felt like many of the people were showier about their money, so I might have felt more awkward than it actually was.

      5. rnr*

        That reminds me of an old job where I had forgotten to get a gift for the white elephant exchange, so my boss’ boss told me to participate and she would sit it out, since she had bought a gift. I felt bad about it so I brought her back some specialty hot fudge from my travels, hoping that would make us even. And I’m not sure if it was that, or something else, but she never did seem to like me and would make life uncomfortable for me in the most petty ways… I should have kept the hot fudge for myself!

        1. ZebraNeighbor*

          I had a coworker that forgot one year so she wrapped a $10 bill in one of our product boxes. Apparently people liked that so she’s just kept giving cash.

    6. AnonInCanada*

      Hooboy, if this is what I should be expecting in this comment thread, I better get some popcorn. And something to keep my jaw from falling to the floor. (O)-<-(o)

        1. AnonInCanada*

          And I guess there’s going to be a lot of “Scroooooooooge” references in some of these posts as well. :-D

    7. SaffyTaffy*

      I’m in the LGBT+ community, and it’s a known “thing” that cis hetero dudes overstep sapphic women’s boundaries “because she likes girls like me!” The best example I had until now was on a reality show about gym employees. The owner was a married gay woman, and her new male employee bought her a lap dance coupon for a local strip club.

      1. Mannequin*

        Fixer clarifies that in this case, the gift giver bought inappropriately sexual gifts for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation: “Blowup doll for the straight men, dildo for the straight women, lube for a gay man”

        Which is obviously STILL terrible, but way better than singling out the lesbian because “we both like women!”

    1. You can call me flower, if you want to*

      I love this idea! You don’t spend a ton and you might get a book that you wouldn’t have picked yourself. I received a book of poetry for Secret Santa this year, and I’m so excited. It’s something I wouldn’t have picked myself, and I love getting a good book recommendation!

        1. NervousHoolelya*

          Oooh, a book yankee swap sounds amazing. I wonder who in my life I could convince to try that…

        2. Storm in a teacup*

          Yes this is definitely the best part of it, finding a new author to read whom you wouldn’t normally

    2. CoveredinBees*

      I had a manager who also owned a bookstore. She always gave us books for end of the year gifts. They were always excellent matches.

      1. anne of mean gables*

        one of my favorite things about my now-ex boss! the first year I worked for her, she walked into my office before Christmas and said something to the effect of “I am your supervisor, and Company rules state that employees cannot gift their supervisors. However, supervisors can gift their employees gifts under $20 in value. So, I am giving you a book, and you are absolutely not to reciprocate.”

    3. ferrina*

      One year the person I was giving gifts for wrote as “Suggestions”: “I like trying and learning new things, so whatever your favorite book is, your favorite music is, or your favorite movie is!”
      I loved that idea so much.

      1. Mannequin*

        This would be so awesome! I’d love to be able to share some of my more obscure favorites with new people.

    4. Olivia Mansfield*

      We have a gift swap of the stealing-gifts type (which we call white elephant but they’re mostly nice, new gifts) and my boss always puts in a gift card to our local bookstore and a bottle of wine. It’s always one of the most popular gifts.

    5. Azure Jane Lunatic*

      The local NaNoWriMo group had a post-November meetup with a book swap with a twist: wrapped book, with a tag that didn’t have the author or title but did have information on the themes and plot, so you could pick something more or less to your taste. It was very fun! I guessed the author of the book my partner picked.

    6. Radio girl*

      I had a truly awesome boss in the way back times. For the holidays each year, she gave us a day off to do our shopping. We did not do time sheets so it was not recorded. She also gave us a nice gift like a silver pen, pefume, or a very nice serving bowl from Tiffany’s. I would have stayed at that place forever had not my little bundle of joy not arrived.

  2. Dragon_dreamer*

    For several years running, my “secret santa” gift was a basket of soaps. Most of which were heavily perfumed or otherwise unusable by me. It stopped when I heard the giftgivers had been “encouraged” by one particular supervisor, who said I LOVED that kind of thing. (I had been donating or regifting them.) She told me it was her way of telling me I “stank,” an odor no one else could smell.

    For the absolute strangest “gift” I ever got was worse, though. There had been this creepy older male customer who had been fixated on my slightly ratty sneakers. They were comfortable, not falling apart, just a bit worn.

    I thought little of it, until on Christmas Eve, my boss called me into the office, sounding concerned and slightly upset. He said someone calling themselves my “boyfriend” had dropped off a package for me. I told him I wasn’t in any relationships at the time, and he seemed relieved. I opened the box, and inside was a pair of tennis shoes. USED and stained tennis shoes in worse case than my non-slip sneakers.

    The customer was banned from the store, and I, unable to think of anything else, dropped those suckers in the local church’s donations bin. I later found out, that was where he’d gotten them from!

        1. Anon4This*

          Can confirm. A friend of mine was married to a foot fetishist and sometimes he’d bring home shoes he’d found in the trash or whatever.

          The thing she actually thought was the weirdest was that she wouldn’t have cared at all if he’d said he’d found them, but he’d make up weird things like “a strange woman came into the store I work at and gave me her old shoes”

      1. Your Local Password Resetter*

        That’s just regular old cheapness on top of being creepy. No props for that guy.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I think you mean the customer SUCKED. Sounds like the supervisor was great for banning the customer from the store.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Oh, wait, my bad, you meant the supervisor in the first story. Yes, that supervisor SUCKED, I agree. The second supervisor was great, though.

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            Same workplace, actually, the 3 letter pharmacy. Supervisor was a shift lead, boss was my store manager. That shift lead was nasty in general. She once left a long list of “things to say to DD before the end of summer.” It included things like comments about her car, a reference to my (at the time) huge chest and how I should invest in pushup bras, and other really nasty things. All “anonymous” of course, and left where I was sure to find it at the beginning of my shift.

            My boss drove from his house an hour away to let me know he would deal with the issue. It was pretty obvious who she was, as some of the comments referenced favors I had done for her. She was NOT fired, but pretty much left me alone and was not in charge of my shifts after that.

    1. The Bimmer Guy*

      So, a supervisor uniquely (and probably incorrectly) thought you stank and, rather than tell you so herself or gift you personal hygiene products herself…created an elaborate multi-year scheme to encourage other people to give you such things around the holidays?

      Wow. The annals of some people’s minds.

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        In her mind, it was a way to “convince” me that the problem had been noticed by more people than just herself.

          1. Mannequin*

            It’s a pattern I’ve seen before in toxic/abusive/controlling people.
            They want someone else to do something completely unreasonable, so they lie that “everyone” agrees with them and the person should just do whatever unreasonable thing the toxic person is insisting on. The toxic person assumes that if “everyone” agrees with them, then naturally their target will succumb to this ‘peer pressure’ and the toxic person gets their way.

            I had an ex in the early 90s that tried to pull this crap by telling me that how allll of my close, longtime, ride or die friends had approached him to discuss X, Y, or Z ridiculous/unreasonable thing he thought I should change about myself, as if I’d just say “oh well if *all my friends* think that, I’m going to *have* to change to do what crappy BF wants!” :ROFLMFAO:

            Reader, my friends were/are adult women with the emotional maturity to come to me directly if they had an issue, any issue, large or small. This guy was a fun-guy party time BF I’d dated for a handful of months with zero intentions of getting more serious than that. He didn’t know any of my friends personally and never spoke to them unless we were all hanging out together. The idea that any of them would ever have anything other than the most superficial conversation with him is so beyond ludicrous it didn’t warrant even a moment of my consideration. I LOL’d in his face. (Yes, I should have dumped him, but I was 23 and it was the early 90s)

    1. Rich or Poor...*

      Those xmas popcorn tins… seem to just magically appear on the counter at work. No one ever sees who brings them!

      1. Princesss Sparklepony*

        Elves. It’s elves. Santa does the kids gifts, elves do the popcorn tins. They are quite fond of the 3 flavor option.

  3. Brandine*

    I am still scarred by my first White Elephant gift, more than 20 years ago. I picked my present with great excitement, only to unwrap an empty VHS case, occupied by a couple dead D batteries. This was not a “someone was too poor to participate” situation, this was an act of malice. I’m 99% sure I know who the culprits were and it was very on-brand for them.

    I must not have hidden my disappointment and shock very well, because one of my managers took pity on me and stole my gift. I hugged him and later bought him a gift card as thanks. (I know, don’t gift up, but he deserved a nice gift too!)

    1. FunWithResearch*

      One year, my Secret Santa gave me a package containing drink coasters. Each coaster had some sort of profane message on it – I mean really crude. We opened gifts and revealed “Santas” publicly, and my Secret Santa gleefully exclaimed, “It’s funny, because you don’t swear!” I just said, ” Well, not at the office. Thanks, though.” The coasters magically disappeared (I’m not into crude humor), but Secret Santa continued for months to tell everyone that her gift was the funniest of all because I “don’t swear.”

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            Due to having worked in a call center for a few years (where there was absolutely no swearing permitted because of the chance of it going out over an open line and getting us in deep trouble) I do not swear at work by default. So where I might say something more spicy in the rest of my life, at work it comes out as “fudgemuffins” and the like.

            In a later job, my grandmanager started to get a little weird about swearing around me. The standard there seemed to be no swearing around people outside of the department, but anything went when it was just us chickens. Now, flexible standards like that make me nervous, because sometimes those lead to me being able to say things in a group of ostensibly all women (I am AFAB but non-binary), and in groups where it’s “just the guys” (honorarily including me), but a group that mixes the two can get offended because I have said something very crude in “mixed company”. So I try to just not.

            This grandmanager would apologize every time out of a belief that I would be offended or that I was judging him for swearing. He also dropped F-bombs like a millennial who has been influenced by New Jersey, so he was apologizing a lot. I told him that wasn’t necessary, but he kept doing it until I had occasion to let off my signature swear, which contains no fewer than 5 F-bombs, most in different formats. After that he chilled out.

            (Bleepity-bleeping bleep on a bleeping bleep-stick.)

          2. SeluciaMD*

            But also there are people who don’t swear for personal reasons and who would have been really, REALLY offended by that gift. One of my dear work friends is like that. She just does not curse. If she got that gift? She would not have been even remotely amused. And while I curse like a sailor, I would have been righteously pissed on her behalf because COME ON.

            Side note: Her versions of “curses” are just freaking hilarious though and I love them so much. My personal favorite is “What in the ham and cheese sandwich?!?” There’s also “Cheese & crackers!” though I think that one is more designed to rhyme with a curse taking Jesus’ name in vain (which she absolutely would not be OK with). But when she says them I am always tickled.

            1. Anon4This*

              A friend of mine used to say “cheese and rice!” because she thought it was funny (she still cussed like a trucker)

        1. Sharpieees*

          Yes. I can’t remember how the conversation started, but my coworker of 10 or so years couldn’t believe that I ever swore. I swear all the time at home, in the car, watching the news – basically when I’m on my own. One time I stopped to get gas and the news was playing a sound clip from a certain controversial former president. I broke out in a series of swears but forgot myself and said them while I was getting out of the car. I got some weird looks from the people at other gas pumps. I sounded like a lunatic to them.

      1. Rayray*

        Oh man, as a woman who also looks younger, everyone always assumes I’m a sheltered, naive person with the innocence of a five year old and I can just imagine having this happening to me. Even the most boring jokes that are just slightly PG and people think I’m going to faint or something. I honestly can’t stand people who think they have to be crude at all times and anyone who keeps their language and demeanor more clean must be a Ned Flanders or something.

        1. PT*

          I’ve had this happen at work. I am very appropriate at work because I am a professional. I actually have a wildly inappropriate sense of humor and am not easily fazed by things that are obscene or off color. I’m a very good choice for handling creepshow situations at work, because they don’t fluster me the way they bother other people.

          No one ever expects it of me, and I’m like, yes, it’s called having judgement…

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, I agree. I sometimes swear in private, but I try to avoid doing it at work, and so far I’ve succeeded pretty well. There are always euphemisms you can use to avoid the really bad ones. I also don’t swear at people, but at circumstances or misbehaving equipment.

        2. Blue Horizon*

          My mother is very well brought up and socially aware, and never swears in polite company. She is more relaxed around friends and family, but still doesn’t use swear words by choice (she has her own made-up words she will use as placeholders).

          This does not mean either that she is easily offended or that she won’t use the words given the right context. I still remember the time when she was with a work placement service for the unemployed, and one of her clients gave a profanity-laden rant about how he was being made to do this and couldn’t be bothered. She came home and repeated it to us, in its entirety with all the swears, wearing an expression of wry amusement the whole time. The thought of her looking at him with the same expression while he delivered this outburst (as I’m sure she did) was highly amusing.

          1. Kicking-k*

            Yeah. I’ve never heard my parents swear. But my mum taught for several years in a tough high school and she was rather amused at the thought that my (then-teenage) siblings thought she didn’t even KNOW these words. Of course she did!

            Oddly, years later my little brother was asking me for advice about poetry reading at his wedding, and I pointed out that one of the 16th century poems we were considering had a… C-word joke… that might be more obvious read out loud. I don’t think he was expecting that from me either. I never swear, but I have a postgrad degree in Renaissance drama… where that kind of thing abounds.

        3. Claritza*

          At the first school where I taught, we were told, when referring a student who had used “inappropriate language” to the office, to document the student’s exact words. Asst principal looked at me, youngest, newest, and female faculty member among mostly male vocational trades teachers who were retired military and said “We don’t want anyone to think she’s too much of a lady to do that!” Wow!

        4. CatDancing*

          I work with military personnel at times, and there was one guy who could not open his mouth without swearing a blue streak. I had my then-boss completely buffaloed — for some reason he thought I was an uptight church lady, and every time Capt Pottymouth showed up, my poor boss just about turned inside out. “Omigod, omigod, she’s gonna hear him, omigod — ”

          What I never told him was that I thought the guy was hysterically funny. I mean, if every phrase you utter has the word “_uck” in it, you start to sound like a chicken. “Cluuuuck, cluck cluck cluck cluck cluck,” and it was really hard not to burst out laughing at the Chickenclucker and my poor anxiety-ridden boss.

      2. yala*

        I don’t even get why it’s funny? Just seems kinda mean to me. If as far as you know, someone doesn’t swear, they may be uncomfortable with swearing? I dunno, just sounds like a tedious person.

        1. Turtlewings*

          I agree — I actually *don’t* swear, ever, and though it doesn’t usually bother me when other people do, I would be extremely uncomfortable having those coasters in my home. I wouldn’t find it funny at all.

    2. WellRed*

      I wouldn’t have tried to hide my dislike. Drop on table, raise eyebrows, give wtf loser gave this shrug and leave it behind.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’ve never participated in a white elephant exchange where you don’t eventually find out who gave each gift. Is that a thing?

      1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        If it’s a big enough group we don’t always bother interrogating. But this is with family, so most of them get mentioned as they go, and even if they don’t, we don’t need a rule of accountability to keep people from putting in malicious gifts.

      2. Adds*

        It can be? It probably depends on the atmosphere and intention of the party?

        At most of the “white elephant” exchanges that I’ve attended the gifts were wrapped and placed anonymously on a table and then folks just pick a gift off the table when it’s their turn. Sometimes people told after the fact what they brought, sometimes not.

        1. JustaTech*

          Sometimes people tell after the fact, and sometimes it’s just really, really obvious. Like, the gift of a case of Red Bull was obviously from the guy who kept his Red Bull empties on a shelf in his cube.
          At yesterday’s White Elephant I know who three of the gifts were from because people told me after – including my coworker who had just gotten that heat-shrink plastic that’s used to wrap fancy gift baskets. He was so excited to use it that he made a huge gift basket that was 50% nice things to eat/drink and 50% company swag he didn’t want (but was unused).

    4. Blue Horizon*

      I’ve seen the ‘pity steal’ before as well. I think the potential for unexpected acts of grace like that is one of the few good things about that gift format.

      1. La Triviata*

        I was once able to do that – my boss at the time had brought in a weird candle (I don’t think it was scented, but it was a soy candle). It got passed by, passed around and people were pretty obviously avoiding it. My turn came, we had a gift exchange where “stealing” was acceptable, so I stole the candle … and the person who’d gotten stuck with it got something nicer, or at least to her taste. (I took the candle home, lit it and it turned into a flamethrower – flame shooting up about eight inches. I snuffed the flames, let the candle cool down and discarded it … and never mentioned it to my boss.)

  4. Future-Retiree*

    My former grandboss who had a cotentious relationship with his deputy, thought it would be funny (?) to make a sweatshirt with the deputy’s picture on it photoshopped with a Santa hat. And then wear it to the Ugly Sweater contest at the holiday party. What?! Fortunately, he lost his nerve but when he left he gave the deputy the sweatshirt.

    1. it's-a-me*

      If they had the right sort of friendly but antagonistic relationship this could have been a funny prank. But not when it’s done with genuine malice…

  5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    I’m pulling this over from yesterday. To date it is my 2nd favorite workplace gifting story (#1 was come-hither parrot portrait guy)

    “One place I worked had a fruitcake of undetermined origin which had been passed around for at least 10 years (longest tenured employee remembered it at her first holiday party, but it had been there prior to her). It had a name (Phillippe). Whoever won it built a shrine to Phillippe in their cube and proudly displayed it until the next year…. Might have been [a] cheap gag gifts, but dang the competition for that and Phillippe was intense.”

    Personal Favorite Phillippe shrine: A replica of the Louis Phillippe I portrait where he is standing by a desk with a tricorn hat.

    The end of Phillippe’s story: An intern won it one year after I left and hadn’t realized that this wasn’t supposed to be eaten. Apparently Claxon Fruit Cake is still edible after at least 13 yrs. She brought Phillippe II for the next gift swap, even though she didn’t know she would be there. She won Phillippe II who is still going strong. All interns are now warned not to eat Phillippe II

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          He was toasted with the non-adult beverages of our choice at the beginning of every holiday party thereafter. I’ll have to ask if they are still doing it

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      I wonder how much longer it would have been edible for. Mum has two fruit cakes in her cupboard, Christmas presents from Grandad. One is best before 1998, other is age unknown but the packaging has the contact details for Harrods as being a number with the dialling code 01, and 01 hasn’t been the dialling code for London since about 1990. I for one do not plan on trying any.

      1. Artemesia*

        I think ancient fruit cakes being preserved indefinitely are supposed to be watered from time to time, year to year, with a little brandy to keep them moist and mold free.

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        There was a letter in the Guardian recently about a Christmas pudding* dating from the World War II era that was still edible in the 1990s. It was apparently the best Christmas pudding the people who ate it had ever tasted. I suspect it’s the amount of alcohol they put in those things that helps to preserve them for so long!

        *Similar concept to Christmas cake, but spherical and more dense.

        1. Bagpuss*

          I immediately thought of that!

          I think the sugar and alcohol both help.
          I haven’t ever had a really old one but we did have a Christmas cake that got mislaid and was about 5 years old when we rediscovered it, and it tasted absolutely amazing. (It was home made, so no best before date!)

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Just found one of my MIL’s fruitcakes in the bottom of the deep freeze from 2 years ago. It will NOT make it to 3, that sucker’s on the menu about a week after I add more amaretto .

      3. Dust Bunny*

        It’s the alcohol. Eternal fruitcakes need to be pickled in alcohol regularly to keep them “unspoiled”. They do have a lot of sugar probably not enough to keep them safe.

    2. London Lass*

      I love this. Just went and searched for an image of “Louis Phillippe I tricorn” in order to fully appreciate the story.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      Having made a homemade and highly alcohol-infused fruitcake for my mother (at her request), I can guarantee that well-made fruitcakes will indeed be well-preserved. And almost certainly fairly flammable when fresh.

    4. Phony Genius*

      I hope you pronounce it “Phillippe the Second.” It sounds so much better than “Phillippe 2.”

      1. ShysterB*

        As someone who purchased 47 pounds of dried fruit and nuts this year (Nuts.com, I love you) to make and gift fruitcakes to nearly 70 friends and family, I have to say — yes, fruitcakes are supposed to be eaten.

        I love it. I will now have to start naming each fruitcake after some long-dead member of European royalty, and include an announcement card of said fruitcake’s name with each shipment.

        1. Let it Snow*

          I adore fruitcake (especially with marzipan), and I will definitely now also name my fruitcake after defunct European royalty. This just makes my day!!

        2. Anhaga*

          Are you my aunt? She does this and her fruitcakes are so good that when the “brick” arrives in the mail I have to beat my children away to prevent them from eating it and then hide it in a cupboard so that it makes it until Christmas.

          When people start posting on her Facebook feed that they got their fruitcake, everyone who hasn’t yet received theirs frantically messages her to make sure they’re still on the list.

        3. Princesss Sparklepony*

          If you are making them in one batch or so, I’d suggest naming each year’s batch instead of individually naming them. While there are a lot of royalty out there, you don’t want to spend your time looking up vicounts and dukes.

          And then your recipients can wax lyrically on how special the Marie Antoinette year was…. and compare and contrast to Charles the 1st and Ethelred the Unready.

      2. Morticia*

        My ex-husband makes fruitcakes every year that are much sought after. If I can manage to save some for New Year’s Eve, I consider it a win. He starts soaking the fruit in booze before summer.

        1. allathian*

          Now that’s dedication!

          I haven’t had a taste of proper English Christmas cake for years. We lived in the UK for a year when I was a kid, and for the next 20 years or so, one of my dad’s former coworkers sent us a small homemade cake for Christmas. I’m amazed they survived the trip through the mail, with marzipan and icing and all.

    5. Littorally*

      Oh, that’s delightful.

      I’ll admit I would have been in the intern’s position — it’s a minority taste anymore but I really like fruitcake! (I guess you are what you eat….)

  6. teensyslews*

    So my partner had a Terrible Boss. The Christmas they worked together I told him to buy her a cheapo box of chocolate for Christmas. He was opposed until I explained that Horrible Boss would never in a million years get him a gift, even though it was common in their office for bosses to give gifts, and he’d get to experience the joy of handing her a gift while she awkwardly stood there with nothing to return. And it worked! He got to give her the chocolates with anonsense platitude about the spirit of giving while she stood there red faced. His only enjoyable memory of a year of working for the devil.

  7. Charlieee*

    A few years ago my team did a (fully optional) Secret Santa with novelty calendars as the theme. Some highlights were a “nuns having fun” calendar and one featuring Cliff Richard. I got my most annoying coworker a “cute kittens” calendar as I knew she was allergic to cats.

      1. Laura Petrie*

        My mother in law loves Cliff and gets his calendar every year. I’m just thankful he now seems to keep all of his clothes on for the photo shoot. Topless Cliff is a sight nobody needs to see.

          1. UKDancer*

            I think they’re the same person as my childminder growing up (a family friend). She also gets the Cliff Richard calendar every year and was most put out when her husband and sons suggested she might want a different one now he’s getting on a bit.

                1. Laura Petrie*

                  My mother in law used to look after a friend’s kids after school and she has boys so I wondered if it was the same Cliff Richard calendar!

                  I’m originally from the other side of the Pennines too

        1. Anon-for-this*

          One of our graduate students had a Cliff Richards calendar towards the end of the topless shots included era – unironically (she clearly liked older men as she ended up in a relationship with a prof at least twice her age). We really did not enjoy that calendar all year in the shared office…

    1. londonedit*

      Don’t even joke – my mum gets a Cliff Richard calendar for Christmas every year. When dear old Cliff turned 70 we did try to suggest that perhaps it was time to retire the Cliff calendar, as surely it wasn’t seemly for a man of his advancing years to be pictured with his shirt unbuttoned, certainly not in my parents’ kitchen anyway, but as it stands Cliff is 81 and the calendar still makes an appearance every year…

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I know someone who had a conversation with an employee about how creepy Anne Geddes photos are. While they were talking, she opened a present someone had left on her desk. An Anne Geddes calendar!

      1. Beth*

        Oh, geez, Anne Geddes is a full-body cringe for me! Ewww.

        On the other hand, as someone who is horribly allergic to cats, I would love a calendar of cute kittens. The best I can do is enjoy the pictures, since I can’t have a real one. :(

        1. allathian*

          Mmm same. Our son gets a kitten calendar every year, and my parents get a calendar with adult cats. My sister and I used to make photo calendars of my parents’ cats when the cats were still alive. My son would really like to have a cat or two, but my husband is allergic and my MIL is extremely allergic to cats.

    3. LPUK*

      I bought my friend a ‘hot vatican priests” calendar from a gift shop in Rome. It was full of lovely Italian Priests smouldering under their birettas and obviously vatican approved – despite the fact all these guys had taken a vow of celibacy. Deeply weird, but I thought if I didn’t buy it, no one would ever believe me

      1. UKDancer*

        The area around the Vatican has some most hilarious tacky souvenirs. I was in Rome on business some years back and bought one of my friends who was culturally RC a “pope on a rope” which was soap on a rope carved to look like the Pope (which at the time was Benedict). I knew she’d get a kick out of it. That’s not something I’d ever use as a work present for anyone as you have to really know the audience.

        1. My dear Wormwood*

          I know a very firey Presbyterian minister who would take great delight in washing his ass with that.

        2. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

          Once when I was in Tijuana, I decided to get a friend the tackiest thing I could find that cost less than a dollar. So many choices. When I told him my theme, he was afraid to open it.

    4. Fushi*

      As a person allergic to cats I’d actually love a cute kitten calendar. It’s the only way kittens will ever be in my home… ;-;

  8. The Manifesto*

    My husband received a self-published manifesto from a coworker one year.. Full of conspiracy theories about how vampires have taken over congress, former president Obama is Lucifer’s puppet and that once time travel is invented, we should go back in time to bring Hitler back to the present because he ‘knows how to run a country’. Weirdly enough, my husband doesn’t miss that job!

        1. The Manifesto*

          I wish I could say it was! This job was a filler job for my husband to have some income while he waited to start his new job. HR was essentially nonexistent despite it being a nationwide company. Apparently they also had on staff someone who had previously been convicted of trafficking drugs across state lines and someone who had a conviction of vehicular manslaughter (they drove quite often). Safe to say he didn’t stay long!

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Well, someone convicted of a serious road offense wouldn’t often be considered the best candidate for a job requiring lots of driving.

            2. The Manifesto*

              Not in the slightest. I have worked with former prisoners before and I think giving them opportunities for working is extremely important and beneficial, not to mention most of them aren’t bad people. However, this particular company is a security company whose duties often involve driving and properly disposing of controlled substances. They have rules about hiring people with offenses that directly relate to their duties so for me, it didn’t seem wise to hire those two particular people. Especially given one of them went on to cause an accident on duty and eventually threaten to shoot up the workplace before being fired.

      1. The Manifesto*

        Amongst other things, yes. I was unfortunate enough to meet this coworker once. Whatever you’re imagining him to look like and act.. you’re probably pretty on point.

      1. JustaTech*

        Compartmentalization. Though as the conspiracy thinking gets worse these folks tend to lose the ability to hold a job.
        One of my spouses’ former coworkers was into everything: completely believed in Y2K (bought a compound to survive it), black helicopters, everything. Eventually the guy lost his marriage, his job, and I think only barely managed to not lose a leg to gangrene due to some very strange ideas about medicine. It’s really pretty sad.

        1. Fiddle_Faddle*

          Y2K was a real thing. A large tribe of programmers, of which I was one, spent the 18 months leading up to it frantically rewriting software and fixing problems as they surfaced (usually at 2 AM, and since the internet wasn’t the integral part of any business that it is now, that meant getting into your car, driving to work, and coding like a maniac so that the online systems would be up and functional by 7 AM). People outside of the professional didn’t hear much about it because what company is going to announce that some crucial bit of their software blew up – they didn’t want to stampede investors or the general public. I spent New Year’s Eve 1999 watching the new year roll in on TV and breathing a sigh of relief when Australia, Japan and surrounding countries didn’t suddenly go dark. Good times, good times…

          1. SeluciaMD*

            Man, the things you DON’T hear about! I wish I’d known this 20 years ago and that it had been talked about more. Feel like the common narrative was “oh, everyone’s fears were overblown” or that it was all hype somehow.

            Fiddle_Faddle, I salute you and your programmer bretheren for your efforts lo those many months to spare us all from the computer apocalypse. Sincerely, thank you!

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              It’s amazing that how quickly such a big deal was forgotten! We were all scared. My boss paid us in advance because he was worried the bank transfers wouldn’t go through, and he also filled his basement with emergency supplies. In France there as a huge storm just days before that meant that millions of people would be seeing the new century in without electricity, it seemed like it might be the end of the world.

              But then I was somewhat relieved because the French electricity company had contacted us to find an interpreter for their “victory speech” to be delivered at midnight on 1 January 2000. Like, they were confident all would be well.
              They really laid it on: this was when they first introduced the sparkles on the Eiffel Tower, so basically the tower burst into sparkles at midnight, then the electricity CEO made his speech. It was quite hard finding someone prepared to translate his speech, I think she was paid the equivalent of about ten days work for those 15 minutes! And of course she was then allowed to help herself to the complementary champagne and foie gras once she’d finished.

          2. Anonymous tech writer*

            Pretty much every conputer-controlled fire alarm system and elevator in the US had an upgrade for the same reason.

          3. Radio girl*

            There’s an on-line company that kept it’s legacy system running for years after Y2K and, according the word that went around later on, the system admin boasted in an on-line forum about how the pre-Y2K system was still operational for the business ten years or so on and include details on some of his patches. I know about this because I was one of the customers whose credit card was hacked long after the company had learned that the system had been breeched. Rather than pull their system down to fix or replace it, the company kept it running for three months because it was their busy time. I suffered no loss because my bank prevented the fraud from going forward but I was left without a credit card the night before a business trip. Others who paid by debit card were less fortunated and had bank accounts cleaned out. The company briefly acknowledged a system issue in a post quickly taken down and never apologized for the harm caused. I will not ever buy from them again

          4. Freya*

            Yep, my first job was basically being the short term intern documenting what software all the computers onsite had so that IT could source patches and then installing what they have me. Doing the grunt work so that people with more experience and skills could focus on ensuring that the essential service provided by the company wouldn’t falter.

      2. Robin Ellacott*

        We have someone who we all thought was quirky but essentially rational until she gave another manager a long explanation of how the illuminate were going to fight and defeat the forces of darkness (or maybe THEY were the forces of darkness?) and then release a lot of secrets which would crash the internet. She explained this so we’d know the internet would be gone soon.

        She also told me a lot about aliens in my Christmas card, apropos of nothing.

        I assume she compartmentalized well, until COVID, when her conspiracy theories began to overlap with policy.

        1. Princesss Sparklepony*

          I refer to those as the functionally crazy. They can usually hold it together enough to keep a job but on their off hours the make up for holding it together… And eventually they end up on a street corner with The End is Nigh sign in hand.

    1. Calamity Janine*

      “vampires have taken over congress”

      don’t threaten me with a good time, conspiracy theorist guy…

      1. Calamity Janine*

        the rest of it is bad, but i’m here for the vampires. we can at least get some new sexy and exciting congressional issues that way

      2. Mannequin*

        Years ago, had a roommate that tried to to tell my husband that Prince Charles was part of a secret vampire coven.

        My husband (who is very funny): Sooo, you’re saying that he’s a Twihard?

        He never brought any weird conspiracy crap up ever again LOL

  9. Purely Allegorical*

    My first real job out of college, I worked at a think-tank. We were a staff of 3 (Big Boss, Boss, Intern); I started as the unpaid intern for a year and eventually took Boss’s role. In order to make ends meet during that unpaid year, I worked nights and weekends at a fancy liquor store. My first year in the paid Boss position, I got my Big Boss a gift of a nice whiskey bottle, using my newfound knowledge about whiskey from my time at the liquor store and thinking it was a nice gesture after our year working together.

    He said thanks and got me … nothing.

    1. Retired Prof*

      I have so many questions. This was a think tank of two paid employees and an intern? Seems like your org chart would be more of an org line. Or you were a department of a think tank with two paid employees and an intern? So does each department in a think tank think about something different? Does the intern think on a entry level?

      1. R*

        They probably say stuff like, “I THINK I would like a cup of coffee,” and then stare meaningfully at the intern.

  10. megaboo*

    For one Yankee Swap, we had a price limit and it was fun…until the “heavy” gift bag turned out to be a bag of potatoes and a peeling. Potatoes are delicious. Another coworker gave me hotel soaps and shampoos she had a store of somewhere.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          At a Yankee swap years ago, one item was a plastic stencil of Australia, wrapped in a really pretty light-weight tote bag. My girlfriend happily took it home, while other people were saying things about not wanting to decorate a cake with a picture of Australia, “Tasmania to be drawn free-hand.”

          1. womanaroundtown*

            Was this in Australia, by any chance? Because it is so much funnier if it’s not (still funny if it is, though!).

          2. My dear Wormwood*

            We just had to ask a logo designer to rework their logo idea for an Australian society to include Tasmania. We’d neverhave heard the end of it otherwise.

          3. Kicking-k*

            Ha! My sister once did make a cake with a picture of Australia, for a friend who was moving there. She dyed a lot of coconut in green and sand-colour and copied the colours off a satellite image… that’s dedication. I don’t think she used a stencil!

    1. Elenna*

      Honestly I would quite like a free bag of potatoes as a Christmas gift! Potatoes are, indeed, delicious. (Granted, I can get a 10lb bag around here for 3-4 bucks, so it’s a bit of a cheap gift, but depending what the price limit is that might well be perfectly reasonable.)

      1. Engineer Woman*

        The peeler probably makes up a large portion of the total gift cost. This is actually a really nice Yankee swap. Part of the fun is the guessing of what present is a good one and such a surprise that the hefty gift are potatoes! And with an undoubtedly useful peeler (I mean… who can’t use another peeler?)

        1. Freya*

          Family of four, and no matter how many potatoes mum put in with the Christmas roast duck, there’s never enough. We always would continue to eat them even after we were full… Now I’m an adult and doing my own, I have no idea how many are appropriate to assume other people will want to eat!

    2. lost academic*

      I would be over the moon about potatoes.

      For hotel soaps – if they were the ones from the Ritz, they are heavily sought after and I would also be delighted. (Not others, but these are high end fancy things where we’ve actually gone and purchased the regular sized varieties of cologne and lotion for home use after falling in love with them.)

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          I just brought my SO toiletries from a few cruises (it’s part of my job, not as glamorous as it sounds).
          Bulgari and L’Occitane en Provence in travel sizes (3oz) are always welcome.

    3. IndustriousLabRat*

      That’s awesome. I got a 50 pound sack o spuds as a housewarming gift many years ago from the farmer down the road. Better still, they were some special potatoes that he grows, to this day, under contract from a VERY large chip [crisp] manufacturer… which explained the annual caravan of company branded 18-wheelers chugging up our tiny twisty hilly only-two-lanes-if-you-squeeze street every fall, laden with the promise of salty crunchy things to come. They were good potatoes. It was a good gift!

      ***sets Outlook reminder to buy a giant bag of potatoes if my company ever institutes a Secret Santa again***

      1. KateM*

        I should do the same if our art class will ever do that again! We usually have that kind of swap where you buy a generic gift, each gift gets a number and each person draws a number. Now if I knew who will receive mine, I could buy a tube of white paint or something like that, but with generic gifts, I don’t know if the receiver uses oil or acrylic – or maybe coal or pastels, so when they ask for a 2€ generic art-themed gift, it’s difficult. But I could buy a sack of potatoes and say it’s so they could paint/draw a still life…

        1. Ashkela*

          Basic three ingredients – powdered sugar, mashed potatoes, and nut butter (I grew up with it being peanut, but I have a friend who swears by almond).

        2. I Herd the Cats*

          I’m not the OP but I assume this is what we’re talking about, I think it’s more a Southern US thing? My mom used to make it. I like it but is VERY sweet, I’d put it in the “peanut butter fudge” category for taste and texture. It’s no-bake and super easy.

          https://sugarspunrun.com/potato-candy/

      1. Can’tAdultToday*

        Mashed potatoes and powdered sugar, right? My mom used to do that with leftover potatoes. My family never has leftovers now, all potatoes are immediately devoured.

    4. Mimi*

      One of the better things we got in a work Yankee Swap was a fancy wine bag containing a dozen avocados. Though the poor guy who opened it had flown in from the UK and was flying back the next day, which made it less ideal for him. We were happy to steal it, and while the other presents were perfectly nice, there wasn’t anything we wanted as much as the avocados. They were all perfect, too — we didn’t have to throw out a single one for being gross inside.

    5. LPUK*

      We did a Xmas f=ift and the heaviest and most stolen gift was a gift boxed champagne… except when opened there was no champagne – instead it was full of sprouts

      1. Gracely*

        Oh I love that. It’s a bit evil, but at the same time, I never feel bad for anyone who steals a gift from someone and ends up with something they thought was something else.

        1. Mannequin*

          I don’t like “steal a present” games in general, but it still seems really mean-spirited to not feel bad that the person who thought they got a nice gift ended up with some kind of totally different junk.

          People aren’t stealing gifts AT each other or to be meanies, they are *playing the game as it is supposed to be played*. The whole POINT is stealing gifts, and nobody deserves to be punished for taking one they thought was going to be nice, regardless of whether or not any of the other gifts are as good or have similar value.

  11. SRF*

    One year, my team lead made a big deal out of a secret Santa gift exchange. The whole team worked out in the community independently, so we only ever saw each other for these team meetings once per month or so. We drew names, set a money limit and got multiple reminders. The day of the meeting where we were supposed to exchange gifts, we were notified by text that the meeting was cancelled. It was never rescheduled or brought up again. I never did find out what happened.

      1. SRF*

        I was actually really good friends outside of work with the person I drew. I wrapped his present up and gave it to him at his Christmas party later that month. He was super excited about it :)

  12. Elle Woods*

    One of my co-workers had gastric bypass surgery. About a year after her surgery, her secret Santa gave her skin firming lotion as a gift. My co-worker accepted it gracefully but it wasn’t too hard to tell that she was hurt by the gift. Her secret Santa later apologized and gave her a gift certificate to a spa instead.

    1. Tara*

      What personal growth prompted the apology? How did they not realise how gross that was at the time of purchasing, but then realise enough to apologise and buy a new gift?

      1. Jake*

        Some of us are really bad at giving gifts, and with no malice make bone headed decisions. Then, upon seeing the reaction, realize it was bone headed and then do what we can to make it right.

        I’ve never done anything like in this comment (and frankly this particular situation seems pretty obviously bad), but I could see myself making a different but similar mistake and trying to correct it in the same way.

      2. Eden*

        I imagine someone talked to them or they just saw the recipient was hurt. Thoughlessness isn’t the same as cruelty.

        1. Rayray*

          I agree. I could understand how someone might not realize it would make someone feel bad. Maybe they honestly thought it was something they could use. I would be surprised if it really was malicious in intent.

      3. PT*

        They might not have paid too much attention to the descriptors on the lotion. I tend to ignore the descriptors on a lot of beauty products, because a lot of them are BS. They all have these long winded descriptions of things they allegedly do to your skin and very rarely do they actually do anything. They’re just plain soap or lotion.

        So they might have been like, “Oh I love this lotion/this lotion is in a cute Christmas bottle/this lotion smells so delightful/my neighbor gave me this nice lotion but it’s scented and I only use fragrance-free I should regift it!” and then was like OH CRAP when they realized how, to this one specific coworker, it’s going to come across as a dig and not just a pretty bottle of lotion.

      4. JSPA*

        Could be a tech fail…

        Googled for gift suggestions, added one of the few facts he knew about coworker, got a result that only an algorithm could like? Or coworker had their Amazon “save for later” list set to public access, and this was something they’d once considered buying?

      5. Elle Woods*

        A third co-worker brought it to the Secret Santa’s attention that the gift was inappropriate and hurtful. In Santa’s defense, she was young and fairly naive. Santa’s own mother had had the same surgery and loved this lotion, so she thought my co-worker would as well.

        The one good thing to come out of the mess was the the following year, each person who wanted to participate had to include some details about what kind of things like they liked (like a particular coffee shop, restaurant, store, sweet treats, musical group, etc.) or activities they took part in (biking, running, knitting, fantasy football, reading, etc.) so that gift givers would have more insight into what to get. It was a fairly large department–about 40 people–so not everyone knew each other very well.

        1. yala*

          I figured it had to be something like that–meant in kindness because someone they know much more personally had liked the product. But not an appropriate thing to get a coworker or someone who doesn’t specifically say they would like it.

          1. allathian*

            Absolutely. But I think the Santa learned her lesson, and at least she apologized and gave a gift certificate to a spa instead.

        2. Mannequin*

          This makes me feel really sad for both of your coworkers.

          My best friend had gastric surgery some years ago, and I know from her experience that QoL life things like special firming or scar reducing skin creams are HELLA expensive. She had a friend that worked for a plastic surgeon and could get them for her at cost, but it was really shocking to know what they regularly retailed for. Santa really was trying to be kind! This was just too personal a gift for a coworker.

          1. Vanellope*

            Agreed! It seemed like it might have been a thoughtless “oh I bet you’re flappy now, lol!” gift but since it was someone sharing a product that helped her mom it was really genuine. Definitely way too personal but I bet she really felt bad after realizing it was a misstep.

    2. Ailsa McNonagon*

      I received a similarly thoughtless Secret Santa gift about 8 years ago. At the time I was struggling quite significantly with my mental health and studying for a Master’s at the same time. There were only 10 people on my course, and it was a super-intense psychotherapy course (learning to be therapists) so we all became quite close and shared a lot about our lives. We drew names and got each other anonymous gifts- mine was a mug bearing the legend ‘Being bitchy and unstable is part of my feminine mystique’.

      I had to run to the toilets to cry, and my Santa (a very lovely chap who was one of my closest friends on the course) was mortified. He explained that it related to a throwaway comment I’d made that he thought I would remember when I saw the mug and laugh, but OMFG…

  13. PTC*

    Going back a decade or so, I worked in a group of about 20. Our manager at the time had been transferred from another group that had been disbanded and her skill set and work experience didn’t match up well with the people she was managing. So .. she wasn’t well respected.

    At holiday time we had a party and an elaborate Secret Santa ritual that this manager organized. We sat in a circle, with all the wrapped Secret Santa presents in the middle. We picked a name out of a hat and that person got to pick a new present or pick a present that someone had already chosen. And the presents were a fun combination of novelty and practical — so the “game” was lively (for an office game with no alcohol involved).

    When all the presents had been selected (so MOST people had settled on something they liked) the manager then told everyone to hand their gift to the person next to them (so now most people had something they didn’t much care for).

    And when THAT was done, she stood up and said, “As manager, I get to make the last pick” and she went to the person with the nicest gift (it was a collection of wine or a gift card … I forget which) and took that gift.

    Not a very endearing move. She wasn’t manager of the group for much longer.

    1. JustForThis*

      Wow. It’s like a Secret Santa performance of feeling displaced and having something you liked taken from you.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Did everyone then give their gifts back to each other so they had something they liked? What a dumb thing for the manager to do.

    3. ecnaseener*

      Wow! Normally in a yankee swap, the person who goes first gets to go last since they didn’t really have a choice on their first turn. I’ve never heard of someone just randomly claiming that privilege for themselves, yikes.

      (Btw, that’s what this was – a yankee swap or white elephant. Secret Santa is the one where you get a gift for a specific person with no swapping.)

      1. ecnaseener*

        Oh, but the forced passing of gifts to the person next to you isn’t part of a normal yankee swap / white elephant either. Terrible rule!

  14. Former Fed*

    Years ago, my boss suggested we all get a pair of holiday socks and do an exchange of those at our Christmas party. I think she was thinking that would be a reasonably cheap gift. It was optional to participate. The number of my coworkers who complained about being asked to, optionally, pick up a pair of socks from the dollar store was truly enlightening.

    1. Rayray*

      While a $1 pair of socks probably isn’t a huge sacrifice, I could see how some people may simply just not be interested in doing so. I don’t know if I’d particularly care to participate honestly. I wouldn’t kick and scream against it but I might politely bow out.

      1. Mannequin*

        Former Fed mentions twice that this was optional, so these coworkers were complaining about a thing they had freely chosen to do.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Honestly, that doesn’t sound too bad. I’ve drawn more than one Secret Santa co-worker who I was completely clueless about buying for. I would have appreciated the “out” of being able to just pick up a pair of socks somewhere!

      1. Mannequin*

        It’s convenient at least, because so many non-clothing places still stock holiday socks around Xmas that most people could pick up a pair without even having to go to a store they don’t normally shop at.

  15. NylonPug*

    A former boss once gave me a scented candle (that I could smell through the box and wrapping paper) that had a manger scene and in big, bold GirlBoss(tm) font is said “Best Day Ever!” I’m an atheist and routinely would joke about how I don’t go to church. Sigh.

    1. Msnotmrs*

      I’m a Christian and I would still consider that a pretty weird gift. Reminds me of the people who get a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas.

      1. Isben Takes Tea*

        We did a “birthday” cake for Jesus for a while, but only because one of the young children was quite pointedly outraged (on Jesus’s behalf) that we couldn’t have a birthday party without cake, and as the logic was pretty airtight, it just sort of became tradition. (Though we didn’t blow out candles—it was just a cake in addition to the traditional pies!)

        1. Msnotmrs*

          That’s pretty cute. Any time I’ve seen the birthday cake thing, it’s usually foisted upon everyone else by weird fundie adults.

          1. Mauvaise Pomme*

            My aunt does this every year at Christmas while making aggressive eye contact with the non-religious family members.

      2. womanaroundtown*

        Is that a weird fundamentalist thing? I know someone whose family does it, and I always thought it sounded cute and hilarious, very tongue-in-cheek. Now I’m rethinking…

      1. NylonPug*

        Lol! It was so stinky I just pitched it. I thought about donating it, but didn’t want it in my car that long.

        1. Anon4This*

          No one else at work wanted it?

          Sorry it’s just always bothered me when people throw unwanted but perfectly usable items in the trash.

    2. UKDancer*

      I misread this as “a manager scene” and was wondering which particular manager it was.

      Then it dawned on me and I burst into laughter. That sounds hilariously tacky and odd.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah. Hay barns smell nice. Cattle barns, not so much… But I have a fairly sensitive nose for smells, and most strong scents either simply smell bad to me or give me a headache.

    3. KateM*

      So… she gave you a Christian symbol to BURN. Maybe she thought that’s what atheists do for Christmas?

    4. Anon for This*

      I’m atheist and don’t even mind manger scenes, as long as they involve at least one well drawn angel. I don’t think even I would have appreciated this…

      1. La Triviata*

        One year I gave my mother a sweatshirt with the stable, a star overhead … and it said “it’s a girl!” … confused the living daylights out of a friend of hers who was quite religious.

  16. Hills to Die On*

    Had a security guy on site who was a bit of a bully (Bif). Beefy guy, muscles for days, would challenge anyone about anything type of guy. He was also in charge of facilities.
    Enter my department’s management (Rick, Derek, and Nancy), who love practical jokes at anyone’s and everyone’s expense.
    We all go to the company Christmas party where many pictures are taken and shared electronically. Monday morning, Rick, Derek, and Nancy have a hoot of a time photoshopping everyone’s faces onto other people’s bodies and sharing with just a few team members. Including Bif’s head onto a woman’s body who was wearing a gorgeous navy sparkly evening gown.
    Being that I was in my 20’s and kind of sick of Bif’s and Derek’s BS for various reasons, forward the chain and picture from Derek to Bif with the comment ‘Hey, do you recognize this pretty lady?’
    Next thing I know, Rick and Nancy, followed closely by Bif, rush into Derek’s office. Through the office window, I can see that Derek has gone beyond red and it moderately purple and very flustered. There was much apologizing and laughing to get Bif on board (and probably talk him out of going to HR) before it was all settled. A good 20 minutes of showing Bif all the other pictures and laughing. Derek vowed revenge in a good-humored way but never did get me back. Fortunately.

    1. Hills to Die On*

      This didn’t have a lot to do with gifts but I wasn’t awake enough when I read the title. lol. sorry!

  17. Higher Ed*

    Years ago a former boss gave me a gift bag of bath products that were clearly from the clearance section of TJMaxx. They were different, random brands, and some had been opened and were partially used.

    1. Lizzie*

      That reminds me of a former boss who gave me this “bath set” it was a teeny soap in a shell, a small bottle of shower gel, and maybe one other small thing? in a giant pink plastic shell. Pretty sure it was walmart or dollar store. Same boss used to bake, and freeze stuff, and would pull it out months later, and gift us with it. I mean, its nice to get home baked stuff, but not that’s been frozen for a while!

    2. The Bimmer Guy*

      I once got a jar of used Vaseline in a Yankee Swap. With a single red curly hair in it. And no one in the room, as far as I could tell, had red hair.

      That was our last Yankee Swap at work.

  18. Adrift Overseas*

    We do a White Elephant gift exchange with a hard $10 limit. One year, one of the gifts was in a huge opaque thick plastic storage container and was extremely heavy and everyone wondered what the heck it was.

    Turns out, it was a custom full sized corn hole set that the person had built from scratch. Everyone just sort of stared, dumbfounded because the materials alone were obviously worth way more than $10 let alone the time and effort the person put into it. So it was awkward all around because everyone else’s gifts were paltry in comparison and the person that wound up with the gift had a hell of a time hauling the thing home.

    This was the first of many occasions where the person embarked on ill-advised and poorly received attempts to impress the rest of us.

    1. Delta Delta*

      That’s awkward. I once gave someone a quilt I made in a secret Santa. The limit was $30 or something, but I made this out of legit scraps I had hanging around in my scrap bin. I was trying out a new pattern so it wasn’t perfect by any means. It did me a favor to get the stuff out of my house and it was something I would have ended up doing anyway. The recipient felt like it was too much (despite my description), but ultimately ended up using it to make blanket forts with his child, so it all worked out in the end. Point being – I can see how something handmade can land the wrong way even if it’s not meant to. (Although it sounds like this person missed the memo)

      1. Mauvaise Pomme*

        For what it’s worth, I would be speechless with joy if someone gave me a handmade quilt in an office Secret Santa! (Or for any reason at all!)

    2. Msnotmrs*

      What a weird gift to give if you don’t know people’s living situations, or their preferences for entertaining. Imagine you were an apartment dweller who never threw parties?

      1. ecnaseener*

        FWIW, cornhole is a 2-4 person game. You don’t need to throw a party to play it.

        Hauling it home is the real problem. Other than that, enough people enjoy lawn games that you could regift it if you don’t. You’re never going to find a perfect gift that everybody likes.

        1. Msnotmrs*

          I suppose it is a 2-4 person game, but I’ve never seen it played outside of the context of a BBQ, church carnival, etc. It’s like darts or pool, it’s something you do in group socialization situations, nobody busts out cornhole while they’re just chilling at home.

          1. Mauvaise Pomme*

            Yes, agreed, I’m actually amused thinking of a couple sitting around the house just like, “Nothing new we want to watch on Netflix, dear? Let’s break out the after-dinner cornhole!”

        2. ES*

          I think they were referring to the outdoor part, it’s not really feasible to play cornhole inside your average apartment.

        3. Adrift Overseas*

          Yeah it was mostly awkward because the value of the gift and the time and effort they spent on it was exponentially greater than any other gift so the rest of us were just like wtf dude. Some of the new people were panicking that the gifts they brought weren’t appropriate until we explained that the person just went weirdly above and beyond.

          Akin to when Michael Scott brought the iPod in that episode of The Office.

  19. No Name Today*

    In the mid-eighties, I worked at a startup with about 20+ others. Our Christmas party was at what was then the ritziest hotel in town. We had exchanged names. One VP ordered a stripper as his gift to the company president. The other VP had drawn my name and he got me a book about cucumbers being better than men.

    Thank goodness this would not fly today. It was so embarrassing. It was my first job out of college.

    1. Always in the background*

      I am way past college and your book comment took me a sec… “kinda boring but hey, vegetables are healthy, can be eaten alone or in a salad… OH. NEVER MIND”

  20. awesome3*

    One year in addition to candies or whatever, I printed out Onion articles about Tim Duncan to give to my secret santa. The articles were over 5 years old at this point, and every day I would include one of them in his mailbox with the gift.

    1. Mauvaise Pomme*

      This is hilarious, and I’m stealing this idea (Onion articles related to a person’s specific interests) next time I do a Secret Santa.

  21. Jessica Ganschen*

    When I was in the Air Force, everyone who lived in the dorms on base was gifted a bag of cookies each year around Christmas, made by the spouses’ club. I definitely enjoyed those, but they were still a close second to the times we got sent home early or told we didn’t have to come in at all.

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      I have a friend-couple who are both in the Air Force and when they lived near me, they’d come over every December and we’d all bake about 12 dozen cookies for the dorm Airmen on Beale. Such a fun tradition!

  22. kelmarander*

    In my first “real” job out of college, we held a Yankee Swap-style gift exchange. The unspoken rule was that you brought alcohol or a coffee-shop gift card. I selected a small bag, thinking maybe it held some of those little airplane-sized liquor bottles.

    Instead, it held a bottle of edible massage oil, aptly named Love Potion No. 9. This was especially hilarious because at the time I was known in the office as a bit of a tight-laced goody-two-shoes.

    Despite my best efforts, I could not shake the gift loose. It became the highlight of our office party to tease that you were going to take the bottle off my hands only to get my hopes up for naught.

    After the party an employee at least 20 years my junior confessed privately she brought the gift to “mix things up a bit.” Mission accomplished! I took the bottle home and it smelled minty. My boyfriend was not interested but my cat was (disturbingly) intrigued.

    For at least the rest of the winter, it was common practice to greet me by singing, “Love potion number nine….” At first I was mortified but it quickly became old hat. Fortunately this office had crazy-high turnover so the joke died once a few party attendees had moved on.

    1. kelmarander*

      That’s an employee 20 years my SENIOR. More like the office mom. Definitely not someone with whom I’d discuss any sexual proclivities.

    2. KoiFeeder*

      Cats are supposedly interested in all sorts of mint relatives because they smell like catnip.

      (That being said, I doubt there was any catnip in that mix- replacing mint with catnip in any food gives it a sort of musty, bitter taste in my experience.)

      1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        Yes, mint and catnip are related plants! Cats also like just straight-up mint leaves. Don’t know if they should be given them, though.

        1. starsaphire*

          True! I had a friend who had to switch from menthols to regulars, because her cat was forever breaking into things to get out cigarettes, then shredding them and rolling in them.

          While grinding the shreds into the carpet, of course.

          Once she switched, it never happened again.

  23. The Seven*

    My worst office Christmas gift? Absolutely nothing! After years of giving me gift cards, the group of three attorneys that I worked for gave me absolutely nothing. The year I was sick, had to take a lot of PTO for three surgeries, fought cancer successfully but felt horrible most of the time. The year I really could have used a little extra money around the holidays. I was let go about 2 months into the new year under the guise of a RIF. I had heard grumblings about me taking too much PTO so I guess they were unhappy with me. I had worked there for 14 years. Am not bothering to hide the details because I don’t care if they read this. And if they do read this, you know who you are and you SUCK.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      If you’re not actually my friend IRL, then there are TWO suck @$$ small law firms out there who’ve done the same bull$hit. And that angers me on both your behalf.

    2. Gumby*

      Either you are the same person as an imaginary internet friend I have from another website, or there are *two* law firms who are similarly horrible. I suspect the latter, and I am sorry that happened to both of you. (Probably more than two, but still, an awful way to treat anyone much less a long-term employee.)

  24. Dame Judi Dench*

    So I worked in supply chain for a legacy publisher at my first job. It was a pretty fun gig. My first year one of the older coworkers clued me in that everyone just gets booze for Yankee Swap and a good time is had by all. I ducked out to the packie during lunch and grabbed a bottle of this Godiva + Starbucks white chocolate coffee liqueur. It looked great.

    When the swap rolls around, I draw a number in the middle. Great. When my turn comes, I grab a gift, open it, and there’s a nice bottle of wine. I’m happy. We go through the rest of the Yankee Swap, just about everyone has a bottle of nice wine or liquor, and the last number comes. She opens the gift and it’s… Yahtzee. And at first, this is hilarious, but then you remember, she can switch with anyone. Can you can see her eyes sweeping across the room like a Cylon centurion, deciding who to leave sad. And she picked me. So I had a box of Yahtzee in my desk for six years, untouched. No idea what happened to it after I left.

    1. Funbud*

      Love that term “packie”. In my New England childhood we called them “Package Stores”.

      Where I live now, no one knows what I’m talking about!

      1. Hlao-roo*

        For those unfamiliar:

        packie = package store = liquor store

        (As Funbud notes, this is a New England regional term)

        1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

          for the use of the term in its full glory, search YouTube for “Real Housewives of South Boston,” one of whom operates “Jackie’s Packie, we got ciggies and beeah, what else do you want?”

      2. anonymous73*

        I’m in MD and one of my former co-workers moved down here from MA. I walked by her one day and she told me my shoes were “wicked cute”. We used to have full on discussions about what we called certain things. Some I remember were “johnie” for a hospital gown, “bubblah” for a water fountain and “directional” for a blinker.

    2. Laura Petrie*

      I had to google the shop you went to as it means something very different in the UK and I was surprised to see someone using that term so casually! Every day is a school day!

      Yahtzee is great but I’d definitely rather have wine.

        1. Euripides Pants, Eumenides Pants*

          Yes, I’m from Mass. and once horrified someone with a more cosmopolitan background by using the term. She was convinced I was being racist against Pakistanis, when to me it just meant the place you get your bottle in a brown paper bag. Awkward.

          1. YetAnotherKate*

            Yeah, after going to college in New England I thought of “packie” as “small liquor/convenience store that doesn’t card.” Thankfully the first time I used it outside New England (and first heard that it sounded the same as a slur) it was NOT in front of my close friend who was born in Pakistan!

            1. UKDancer*

              It’s a slur used against Pakistani people by racists in the UK as well as against those who look like they might be from Pakistan. The word only has 4 letters in that context. I’ve at least one colleague who grew up hearing it as a term of school playground abuse.

        2. Mauvaise Pomme*

          Interestingly enough, I’m from the southern U.S., and I know the slur, but not the package store abbreviation. If I heard someone drop the term in casual conversation, I would probably be horrified unless the context made it really clear what they did and didn’t mean. Just another data point!

        3. Nina*

          I’m in New Zealand and while the slur is in common use here, it’s usually pronounced PAH-kee and in my head Dame Judi Dench’s word is more like PAK-kee.

    3. Nynaeve*

      Too bad everyone didn’t just open everything then and there and play drunk Yahtzee! That could’ve been hilarious.

    4. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I got a game for tonight’s party and gift exchange. Let’s hope it goes over better than that.

    5. Mannequin*

      It doesn’t sound like your coworkers were even playing the game correctly, because doesn’t everyone whose had a gift stolen get paid he chance to ALSO swap away the gift they got stuck with? You should have had the opportunity to steal a present from someone else.

  25. Peppermint Moksha*

    In the weirdest gift department, at our office’s last Christmas Party pre-pandemic, our White Elephant part of the shindig had one gift that threw everybody for a loop when it was revealed. Like the others it was in a decorative gift bag, but the contents were an as yet unused roll of toilet paper, a single used crew sock, and a small stub of a pencil with the eraser broken off. With other relatively nice, inexpensive gifts, what was the single prank DIY gift seemed to stick out like a sore thumb.
    No one fessed up to being the giver of this gift, but my strong suspicion goes to one of the younger guys in our office that I knew was capable of a mischievous streak like this.

    1. Aitch Arr*

      Yeah, I got one of those one year.

      A co-worker clearly had forgotten about the Swap and popped by the nearest CVS (pharmacy/drugstore) on her way to the luncheon.

      I ended up with a People magazine, an eye patch (?!), and a VHS tape of some B-movie.

      1. Clorinda*

        Why though? For under $10 at CVS you can get some perfectly nice bath bomb thingies or some chocolate or a winter hat and scarf or various other good things. Getting a bad gift from CVS is a choice.

    2. Hills to Die On*

      I’ve gotten that before. We had a table where people could put free stuff and there was a giant pile of old, dust-covered stinky teddy bears wearing lace outfits. Nobody wanted them. Someone grabbed one and put it in a gift bag and that was my secret santa present. :/

    3. Not A Manager*

      Shortly after that party it turned out that a roll of toilet paper was worth its weight in gold, so the joke’s on him.

    4. tsumommy*

      Oh lord, you just reminded me of the year I got the one gag gift at the Christmas White Elephant. Everyone else got chocolates, cute Christmas plates, scone pans, etc. I got a handle you put TP on to help one wipe one’s butt when one has mobility issues. I had a hard time acting amused.

    5. AnonOK?*

      Washed-but-well-used toilet plunger. New hire HAD asked if we did “funny / amusing / joke” or “straight” White Elephant gifts.

      Several of us had confirmed that plenty were, “funny / amusing / joke,” and that a regifted thing was fine.

      (We had things like a “world’s best granduncle” mug, a light up unicorn horn “princess” headband, a big rock with a $3 coffee card taped to it, a Victoria’s Secret box with a plain black cheap T-shirt inside, a mis-matched salt-and-pepper set of the interlocking sort that didn’t interlock–but still held salt and pepper–bottles of crudely named, intentionally-too-hot-for-even-spice-heads hot sauce, a sequinned hat with dangling coins and shamrocks saying, “go get em, tiger!,” “brick of the month” calendar, etc.)

      We had not considered the possibility of a stained plunger…

      …which was (by Murphy’s law) opened by someone much loved, and known to be particularly germ averse (whether through medical necessity or phobia, who knows / none of our business to ask).

      The giver was loudly upset over being misled.

    6. ZebraNeighbor*

      Oh! I had successfully forgotten the year that I got a lottery ticket and a roll of office toilet paper at the white elephant. Damn it, now I have to be mad again.

  26. Future-Retiree*

    I shared this above in response to another comment but it seems to have attracted some laughs so I’ll share again here:

    Not Christmas but… A long ago boss’s wife sent him a stripper for his birthday. We were living in a very permissive country and she stripped down completely in front of our whole office including our grand poo-bah. (Edit to add: we are all Americans (read: comparatively uptight) so this was not expected by anyone!!)

  27. Storm in a teacup*

    A few years ago I got a colleague whom I knew well some chocolates and a cheeky novelty mug. It had a fireman on the front and when you filled it with a hot drink his uniform disappeared leaving him in his undies. It was an inside joke and working in a sexual health clinic what is considered NSFW is probably skewed versus the average workplace.
    The next year her best friend decided to get me a penis mug. It was beige and the handle was a penis (very detailed carving of it including the base). It bypassed cheeky and embarrassing straight into NSFW territory and sat in its box on a shelf in the team office for years. When I left it was passed onto my successor and apparently years later is still there on the shelf in its box

    1. TimeTravlR*

      A former coworker gave me a penis-handled mug as a bridal shower gift. It went straight in the trash. I am no prude (I think) but those are too much even for me.

    2. Covid Cassandra*

      when I worked in public health, I got a ‘Sexual Elf’ tin from a colleague (about the size of a mint tin) – I kept the condom with a snowman on the wrapper for years and would tack it to my computer screen when everyone else started decorating. Because nothing says Christmas like novelty condoms!

          1. Nina*

            oh I love those, they’re basically just a plushie of what the virus/bacterium looks like under a microscope.

            1. Kicking-k*

              NOT the STDs. I think most of them were viruses like rhinovirus, mono or ebola, but Bro had done a specialism in parasites so he got a liver fluke as well.

  28. Part time Professional*

    At one of my workplaces coworkers are trying to talk us all to help buy the boss a locket with both their deceased parents’ fingerprints.
    This would end up being over $200 and none of them seem to understand how this is inappropriate and hobestly kind of creepy.

      1. liquidus*

        I’m not sure what would be worse. Never knowing the answer to this question, or learning the answer to this question.

      2. Part time Professional*

        Apparently the mortuary where the father was at (somewhat recently) is happy to provide the prints.
        I assume my coworker explained why but it still seems like a bad thing to do.

    1. Office Icicle*

      Those sorts of necklaces are actually pretty popular. But I agree it’s definitely weird for coworkers to give such a gift. And also, how on earth would they obtain the fingerprints for the necklace in the first place???

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      How would one actually obtain the fingerprints of a boss’s deceased fingerprints?

      Are they in law-enforcement and boss’s family happens to have a bit of history with the department?

      Will there be a caper-movie sort of excursion to the cemetery where they will move the card off the grave and then dig up mom and dad for a bit of wholesome fingerprinting?

      1. Part time Professional*

        I wish! That would be much more exciting than the real answer, which is the funeral home is happy to provide the father’s. But I’m not sure about the mother’s.

      2. machinedreams*

        They’re probably on file with the funeral home, if it’s recent — after my mom died, they kept hers for… a year, I think, in case a memorial necklace like that was something I wanted to do.

        1. Part time Professional*

          I didn’t realize it was that common!

          I think the mother hasn’t been around for a few years though so there’s still a mystery!

          1. machinedreams*

            My thoughts are if it’s only been a couple years maybe the funeral home still had them — I honestly don’t remember if they kept my mom’s for one year or two — but anything more than that and I hope the answer is that they had a fingerprint around the house. (Which would still be weird if they had a fingerprint on some random card or something.)

            Which means now I’m also sharing the hilarious thought that it involves the police department. Or the gaming commission — I remember when I was working at a casino hotel, I had to have my fingerprints taken even though I was working in the hotel and not out on the casino floor.

            1. Part time Professional*

              Sadly no! Nothing as exciting as that. Although we joke about our own fingerprints ending up on a ton of scanned documentation

          2. No Name Here*

            I can answer this one! I work in a funeral home, we started keeping prints around 15 years ago and a hard copy goes in my files. we keep them in our file storage.

    3. a tester, not a developer*

      As a gift from a close friend or family member? Probably sweet. From your staff? Definitely creepy.

    4. KateM*

      Hah, I read “locker” instead of locket and wondered whether it was fingerprint-openable and what was the point of that when the fingerprint-owners were dead.

  29. Seriously?*

    My first few years of teaching were at a private school teaching 3rd and 4th grade. So many gifts it was crazy. My favorite is as when I got a regift because 3rd graders can’t cover worth a darn. The best – a cow candle dressed as a lifeguard!

    1. ferrina*

      Haha! This brings back memories from my few years as a teacher! I appreciated but didn’t expect gifts. A few gifts were really nice! One parent got me a very nice wallet that I couldn’t have remotely afforded on my teacher salary. It was extra appreciated because their kid was a handful (a nice kid, but needed a lot of energy and attention).

      1. KoiFeeder*

        One year my dad tried to get one of my teachers a bottle of whiskey.

        Mom shot him down. (but I think the teacher probably could’ve used it after dealing with me)

    2. Eeyore is my spirit animal*

      A former boss’s wife was an elementary school teacher and he would set out the gift overflow every year. We could take anything that looked good. I know the college interns made some decent gift baskets for mothers/girlfriends over the years.

    3. KateM*

      See, and I was teaching after-school group for ten years and the only gifts I ever got were chocolates from one certain family where both parents were after-school teachers themselves. Much appreciated.

  30. Cold Fish*

    There was one memorable Secret Santa exchange where all gifts were piled up and chosen one-by-one as the game went on, so, purely by chance:
    1. The office atheist got a very nice nativity figurine
    2. Coworker A who everyone teased about becoming “The cat lady” got a truly hideous cat themed Christmas platter
    3. An award was created based on an on-going office joke about an annoying customer who was primarily handled by Coworker B; award was wrapped up for Secret Santa and was chosen and opened by Coworker B.

    Lots of laughs and no hurt feelings were had.

  31. KatieHR*

    Yay! One I can finally answer. We do a gift exchange with our HR department each year. $20 limit but not a white elephant so nicer gifts but nothing over priced. Everyone is told in advance and given suggestions (i.e. gift cards) for the best gifts to bring. We had a newer guy to our department that year. He brought in this really nice wrapped gift. When it was my turn I picked that gift and it was…..a usb plug in fan for your desk. He got it at the dollar store becuase he thought it was supposed to be a joke gift even though tons of emails went out. This was the 3rd year I go screwed over during this stupid gift exchange that I vowed never to participate again.

    1. Tara*

      It’s really tough competition in summer for the few of those in my office, so that would have been really coveted!

    2. Justice for Jorts*

      Sounds like the year my company had a similar gift exchange, $20 limit, things like gift cards, etc. I received a tiny pack of chocolates from the store across the street that still had the $3.99 price tag on.

          1. Bananagram*

            Oh man, multiple internet cat references in one comment! I’m impressed. (Signed, a fellow Patricia Lockwood fan)

      1. What Angelica Said*

        I’d suggest you toss them in the bin, but that might cause another trash can mishap. ;-)

    3. Rayray*

      This is why I’m not really into gift exchanges. Some people cheap out while others go overboard. Sometimes someone picks a name of someone they don’t know and they end up getting something the person won’t even like. I’m all for just skipping gift exchanges and doing a team lunch or something. One company I worked at had stopped going a secret Santa before I got there because of this kind of thing happened, specifically the organizer of it all ended up with a $20 bill as her gift so instead they did a gift drive for children in need and I loved that!

      1. it's-a-me*

        The one and only time I participated I took care choosing a nice necklace (chain and pendant) which was worth well over the price limit if I’d bought it retail, but I knew a wholesaler who sold really nice stuff super cheap to my family (we used to own a business and be major resalers of theirs). I’d chosen the chain and pendant to match the sort of jewellery I’d observed her wearing often.

        My giftee traded my gift with another coworker for their novelty light up reindeer antlers.

        I decided that I was too much of a bitter person to continue participating in years after.

    4. Mr. Shark*

      Huh, a USB plug in fan for a person’s desk would be like gold at the office I work at, when it’s hot in the summer. I don’t know what the other gifts were, but that doesn’t sound that bad.

  32. FunWithResearch*

    One year, my Secret Santa gave me a package containing drink coasters. Each coaster had some sort of profane message on it – I mean really crude. We opened gifts and revealed “Santas” publicly, and my Secret Santa gleefully exclaimed, “It’s funny, because you don’t swear!” I just said, ” Well, not at the office. Thanks, though.” The coasters magically disappeared (I’m not into crude humor), but Secret Santa continued for months to tell everyone that her gift was the funniest of all because I “don’t swear.”

  33. Delta Delta*

    I have a couple:

    Workplace had a Secret Santa, as engineered by Office Manager. Everyone drew names and gave gifts at the holiday party. People wanted to know who gave the gifts so they could thank their gifters, and the gifters wanted to express they hoped the recipients liked the gifts. Office Manager became really animated and yelled that nobody could ever know who was drawn because it was a secret. She stomped around and yelled a bit. Recognizing it wasn’t a huge deal, people just sort of blandly said “thank you” into the air and left it at that. Over the following weeks, people talked to each other and figured out that Office Manager had set up to draw herself so she could buy herself a gift she specifically wanted.

    Number 2: I participated in a distance Secret Santa in a group I participate in. Everyone exchanged info, except the person I was buying for refused to give his address. I got a nice present and had it ready to go, and the person simply refused to say where to send it. Then he complained he didn’t get a present.

    1. Clefairy*

      Ok but like…if you’re organizing it, just don’t include your name??? And buy yourself what you want outside of the context of a work gift exchange??? The mental gymnastics Office Manager went through on this one is ASTOUNDING

    2. Xena*

      I cannot understand her thinking here. Why not just buy herself the gift she wanted? Was it coming out of the office’s budget? Did she not want to seem greedy? What?

      1. Elenna*

        Generous interpretation: Maybe she couldn’t afford to buy herself a gift and also buy her Secret Santa a gift? Granted, she could have just left herself out of the Secret Santa entirely, but maybe she thought leaving herself out of the event she was organizing would seem weird?? IDK, it’s a weird thought process but I can see someone overthinking it, panicking, and just setting herself as her own recipient.

        1. Delta Delta*

          So, I think a couple things happened:

          1. She and The Office Bully had been sort of squaring off for a couple years about Highly Petty Things, and I think she was really afraid they would draw each other. (The Office Bully later confided in me that if she had drawn Office Manager that she would have gotten her a bad -smelling candle. Oy.)

          2. She bought herself a scented candle. A few weeks earlier she made a comment that her husband was annoyed with her that she was buying so many of these particular scented candles at about $20 each. (You know the brand; they come in a glass jar and are very highly scented) That way she could justify making a purchase at the candle store and say it was Secret Santa for work and he technically couldn’t be mad. And since the gift exchange was at the office at lunchtime, no spouses were there. Husband would later have learned that ha ha, she got a scented candle, and no one’s the wiser.

          1. pancakes*

            Funny to think of The Office Bully spending the holiday season searching high and low for the world’s worst scented candle . . .

            1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

              I… may have, in my misspent youth… ahem, applied some high school chemistry to scented candles for a relative. Not sayin’. Butyric acid is rather… smelly.

    3. Regular Reader*

      With Secret Santa we never revealed who gave gifts. But we put a flip chart up in the kitchen with a couple of pens and people wrote a thank you note for their gift which they signed.

  34. KateDee*

    My old job did a calendar exchange. When names were drawn, my office best friend pulled the rudest, grumpiest sales manager in our office. He snapped at everyone, took credit for everything and was generally insufferable.

    She got him a Grumpy Cat calendar, and glued different candids of him scowling into the calendar, next to grumpy cat.

    He was furious and threw it away, demanding to know who did it. She never confessed, but did fish it out of the trash and hang it in different office cubicles for the entire group to see.

  35. RussianInTexas*

    This thread reminded me of something I read only couple of days ago.
    Summary: a person got a coworker in Secret Santa. The coworker specified some things she would like to get. The LW decided to “broaden the horizons” of the giftee and got her something the coworker didn’t like. The coworker swapped the gifts. The LW is upset.
    Google “AITA for giving my coworker a fantasy novel for Secret Santa to try to broaden her horizons?”

    1. Aarti*

      I saw this one. The scorn and disdain on the part of the letter writer for ALL of the things the poor Santee liked was so evident.

        1. Mannequin*

          I’m not either, but if that’s what my giftee wanted, they’d absolutely get it! Presents aren’t about me!

    2. Dr B Crusher*

      Oh wow, I did, and the gifter sounds insufferable. Romance novels are cringe but fantasy novels aren’t? FTR I don’t think either are cringe, but, like, culturally, both of them have historically suffered from being considered low-brow trash. Weird how the gifter can’t see the hypocrisy, but then hypocrites never do.

    3. Catalin*

      Why does ‘broaden (their) horizons’ always seem to mean, “Get them to like what I like, as I am obviously correct/superior to their preferences”?

      Reminds me of the LW who disabled the Caps lock button of their coworker, because how dare someone use CL instead of shift for a capital letter?!

    4. EPLawyer*

      I saw that one. Gee.

      And the person tried to claim they had put a lot of thought and effort into the gift. Well, no you didn’t if you just got something YOU liked instead of thinking what the recipient liked. You know like they told you.

      Thanksfully Jorts was the next one and that made up for everything. Reminder: Do not butter your coworkers.

      1. Lego Leia*

        One of the parts that killed me about the post was that the Santee listed “tea”, “candy”, and “socks” as ideas, and the Redditor went with “unlisted books”. Got a Secret Santa that wants tea, candy and socks? I can put thought and effort into those!

    5. Just Another Zebra*

      Oh, I saw that! As a book lover, I was annoyed for the giftee.

      If you want to broaden my horizons, and see I like author A and B, go to a bookstore and ask for author C, who is similar to the other authors. Or, you know, just buy the books I specifically ask for. Or a gift card, so that I may purchase what I want for myself.

    6. Ama*

      Ugh this happens to my mom all the time because she is a preschool teacher who doesn’t really like a lot of the things women (and particularly teachers) are “supposed” to like — i.e. anything remotely frilly or lacey, anything scented (skincare/perfume/flowers — her allergies are terrible), supposedly feminine colors like pink and purple, etc. So she LOVED when her boss finally took her up on my mom’s suggestion to distribute gift idea lists as part of the Secret Santa — and it drives her crazy when she gets someone who doesn’t bother to read her list at all, and gets her scented lotion she can’t use or a picture frame that’s decorated in a ton of lace and ribbons that says “Blessed” on it (no shame if that’s your thing, but it is very much NOT my mom’s thing).

      The weird thing is my mom, despite all these restrictions, is not hard to buy for — for one thing she loves both Christmas and Snoopy/Peanuts and especially loves novelty socks that are either of those two themes. She also loves chocolate. Her favorite year was the year she got a coworker that just gave her a new pair of Christmas Snoopy socks every day (I think she’d found them on sale somewhere so it stayed under the price limit), and capped it off with a huge box of malted milk balls (her favorite).

      1. Quack Quack No*

        For your mom’s love of malted milk balls, check out nuts.com if you haven’t already — they have several flavors, and sell them inexpensively by the pound.

    7. Nea*

      Flames. Flames on the side of my face, as a lover of books and a romance reader/writer. Most people would weep with joy if given a Secret Santa list that specific, but nooooooo, not LW!

    8. Bagpuss*

      A friend of mine had that scenario but with her then partner.
      He suggested they each provide a list, she duly gave him one, with a range of options and prices so he had a choice, and bought him some thoughtful gifts from his list.
      He ignored her list entirely and gave her a boxed set of Lord of the Rings because ‘she ought to read it’.
      (She was, and is, a reader, but fantasy isn’t her thing)

      1. allathian*

        I bet the then-partner’s unwillingness to accommodate her preferences is a big reason why he’s an ex…

  36. Brian*

    The district where I used to work did a ‘White Elephant’ gift exchange (everyone brings a gift; after you unwrap one, the next person has the option of stealing that gift and replacing it with the one they brought). We had set a $20 spending limit. I unwrapped a nice bottle of wine. I was already making plans for it, when the president of the school board, who went next, decided to swap my wine for the present he brought. In full view of my coworkers, I unwrapped his $1 (it still had the dollar store tag) child’s pedicure set. I was a childless bachelor at the time. I had to grin and pretend to be amused because he was my boss’s boss’s boss, but in reality, it really annoyed me.

    1. The Dogman*

      Personally I would have just said no to swapping. If he made a big deal out of it I would have suggested he stop making a scene and grow up a bit.

      Lol, can you tell I don’t usually get along with bosses?

      And this is another reason I (and almost all managers) feel I am better off self employed! ;)

      1. ecnaseener*

        You can’t really refuse to have your gift stolen in a white elephant without looking like a brat; that’s the main game mechanic.

      2. Jaybee*

        So you would take a gift but decline to actually play the game? That would alienate more than just the boss.

  37. Doug Judy*

    Years ago I worked at a car dealership. Out boss said our grand-grand boss was coming by on the Friday to give us our gift because he “wanted to see the look on our faces when we opened it” this was majorly hyped up all week.

    It was $10. The look on our faces was disappointment.

    1. T. Boone Pickens*

      That’s brutal! That takes me back to the line from Trading Places that Ezra says to the Duke Brothers after they give him $5 as a holiday tip. “Thanks! Maybe I’ll go to the movies…by myself.”

      1. Doug Judy*

        Yeah it was such a slap in the face. If they had just given the $10 without saying anything, it wouldn’t have sucked so bad. But to act like we should be overjoyed by $10 was ridiculous.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      wtf. Said boss probably owned like four luxury cars and got his employees 10 bucks for Christmas? Gross.

  38. Quality Girl*

    Recently, I grabbed my breakfast from the cafeteria and took it to my office to eat. I opened my drawer to get the reusable silverware set I keep in there, started to reach in, and there was a MOUSE scurrying around ON TOP OF MY SILVERWARE. I work in a hospital so this was certainly unexpected and word spread quickly among my colleagues to be on the lookout. I cleaned out my office from top to bottom and the mouse was caught the next day.

    The next time I was back at that location, our admin assistant came into my office with a gift bag. Inside was a Christmas tree ornament that was a mouse writing a list for Santa. She had seen it at a different hospital gift shop and couldn’t pass it up. I wrote the hospital name and year on the bottom and hung it on my tree. I’m still pretty grossed out by the whole ordeal so it was great to laugh about it together and I appreciated the kind gesture.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      I was working in a healthcare setting and our ground floor (offices) were undergoing major renovation so unfortunately odd critters were sometimes finding their way in. One day I sat down at my desk and saw a furry little gray creature peeking out from behind my coffee mug. I don’t think my feet hit the floor on the way out of my office. It wasn’t until I was in the hallways that I realized the mouse was wearing a pink ribbon around its neck. The peals of laughter from the pranksters could be heard across the campus!

      1. Quality Girl*

        Oh nooo! Haha, it’s so disconcerting! I screamed, slammed the drawer shut, and sat there in shock until Facilities came down so I could show them which drawer. I did not return until well after lunch!

      2. Mannequin*

        Don’t feel bad! I love rodents and used to keep mice & rats as pets, yet I still did the old cartoon “EEEEK! A MOUSE!” listed skirt & tiptoe dance when I walked into the bathroom of an antique house I lived in & a mouse unexpectedly shot out from under the bathtub.
        You don’t expect a critter to be there and it’s startling, that’s all.

  39. Nannerdoodle*

    Oh man. I’ve got 2 good stories.

    There was one coworker (who always gave great gifts) a few years back who always seemed to get the worst Secret Santa gifts. It didn’t matter who picked him; they got him crappy gifts or just gifts he would never in his life use. One year I remember someone got him an old timey phone receiver with cord that had a USB plug in to attach to his cell phone. As in, you could plug something into your phone so you had a cord phone receiver to talk on. The next year he’d gotten picked by the one older lady on our team, who had worked with him for YEARS. So we hoped that he’d finally get a good gift. He got 8 cans of peaches. To be fair, they were nice peaches. But still…peaches. The older coworker explained that when the guy had started working at the company he used to eat peaches every day for lunch, so she thought it’d be a nice call back. I was promoted after that, so idk if he ever actually got a good gift.

    Another one was actually my bad. At the same company, on a new team after my promotion, we did a white elephant exchange for Christmas with an ~$25 limit if you had to buy rather than regift. I tend to not keep anything I’m not going to use, so I went to the store and found a fuzzy poop emoji piggy bank that was the size of a basketball. I also bought basically every kind of hershey’s kiss you could imagine and filled it with them. Why I thought this was a good gift for that team, I’ll never know. We started the white elephant, and when gifts were starting to get opened after they’d been stolen 3 times (which was our limit so it didn’t go forever), we found out that 4 of the team members who’d gotten married in the past year had all brought the duplicated wedding gifts. So they were things like a really nice waffle iron. And I’d brought a poop emoji. Of course the one really nice no nonsense guy on the team picked my gift. It was stolen twice, but he got it back and opened it. I’ve never seen such a look of shock and bewilderment on someone’s face before or since. The rest of the team was dying of laughter, but I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. Thankfully, he really enjoyed all the chocolate, and had an 11 year old daughter who appreciated the piggy bank, but I did make sure to give a better gift the following year.

    1. Siege*

      I am in the same position as your coworker in the first story, and let me tell you, it is weird that it sticks to you regardless of switching companies or whatever. Though I would say that the gifts I get tend to be more like “weird and disappointing” but not actually trainwrecky, so I don’t feel like anything stands out enough to put in the post. Though the gifts I get outside the office are also insane, and much more trainwrecky.

  40. marvin the paranoid android*

    I may still be annoyed about this. When I was a young, broke intern, our office did the kind of exchange where everyone picks a gift at random, and my boss absolutely roasted my contribution.

    Most of the gifts were of the scented candle set or mug filled with hot chocolate mix variety, and I wanted to put in something practical, thinking of my fellow interns who could barely afford to participate. (The rule was something like $30 minimum per gift.) So I just spent the money on a gift card for our local grocery store. Apparently this was a ludicrous thing to do, because what can $30 even buy at a grocery store? Three bananas? My boss wouldn’t let go how cheap and useless he thought this gift was, but the other intern who actually received it told me privately that she really appreciated it.

    1. irene adler*

      You did an excellent job of gift selecting.

      Your boss is one tone-deaf SOB.

      I’d be thrilled to have a grocery store gift card too! And, 30 dollars does go a long way (I cook from scratch).

      1. The Dogman*

        $30 probably gets a half a weeks food for 2 if you are smart about it… or frees up $30 to go to a restaurant for a change perhaps?

        That boss was an idiot!

    2. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

      amazing how out of touch people can be and $30 *min* is insane
      a friend told me that while interning all the interns got the little wooden crab hammers and got excited thinking they were going to get crabs for lunch – but no, they just got the crab hammer. None of them made enough money to go out to eat crabs or even buy them to cook/eat at home.

      1. ferrina*

        The minimum is already a bad sign- I’ve never worked somewhere with a minimum, but there’s always a maximum to be sensitive to people’s budgets.

        1. Lego Leia*

          I don’t mind a range. Such as $15 to $20, so that you don’t get the $19.99 bottle of wine vs a dollar store pair of socks. But, yes, $30 minumum and no upper limit is ridiculous.

      2. JustaTech*

        Randomly, a coworker I didn’t actually like very much got me a pair of meat pounders for Christmas one year. (We didn’t do individual gifts, so it was quite odd.) They’re not very good meat pounders (too light), but I still have them and I still use them.
        The next year he gave me a Vogue knitting pattern book, because I’d given him some advice when he picked up knitting as his new hobby.

        (He also thought that a quarter of the tray was an acceptable size brownie to take and was rude and frankly unsafe in the lab.)

    3. pcake*

      I’d love to get a $30 gift card for the market. So much more useful than yet another mug I wouldn’t buy for myself or scented soaps or candles. With the gift card, I could get whatever I wanted.

      Your gift was a good one. Your boss was a jerk.

  41. JJax*

    One year, I was The Pickle Lady. I was obsessed with pickling, especially lacto-fermented pickles. I pickled anything I could get my hands on and, since my pickling was so prolific, I often shared the fruits of my labours with people in the office. I also talked a lot about pickling and would happily offer guidance to anyone seeking the way of the pickle. This also expanded into talking about making vinegars and kombuchas, and I freely offered bits of my SCOBYs to anyone who would ask. I often joked that I was the Queen of Controlled Rotting. In retrospect, I was probably a little obnoxious, but it was all in good fun.

    One sweet, lovely coworker watched all of this happen without engaging with me about it much, so she must have misunderstood how fermentation works. She picked me for Secret Santa that year and when the office got together to open gifts, I ended up opening mine near last. It was this beautiful gift bag, just to my taste, and I pulled out my gift to find… A jar of mold. Just grey-green fuzziness throughout the entire jar. I was deeply confused and not originally sure what it was, so I tentatively opened the jar. The smell was eye-watering to say the least, and it quickly spread to those around me. They reacted with a mix of polite confusion, low-key revulsion, and concealed amusement. After a few jokes and confused noises, we all made nice, set the jar of life aside, and moved on with the party.

    Later the coworker came to me, red in the face and with tears in her eyes, asking why everyone had hated her gift. I asked her to clarify what it was supposed to be. She said she knew that I loved all this “controlled rotting” business, so she had put some of her favourite foods in a jar and let them go bad in the hopes that I could use the mold to make my own treats. That way it would be like we were making them together. It was so adorable, so endearing, so loving, and so misguided. I thanked her for her intentions and we were eventually able to laugh about the misunderstanding.

    Now I love to tell the story of the time I was gifted a jar of mold.

    1. The Dogman*

      That is pretty funny, but she clearly knew nothing and sought no knowledge about the mysteries of the pickle… Oh dear!

    2. tsumommy*

      I had a year of kombucha-brewing obsession. A coworker hated the word “mother” for a SCOBY, so I just made sure I said it a lot :)

  42. middlemgmt*

    my father’s story. from a good 25 years ago…. one time he’s telling us about what gifts they bought for all the staff. it was perfume (don’t get me started on the gendered nature of it, that’s a whole other thing), but one he didn’t recognize, that the sales person from somewhere like Macy’s had “recommended” to him. he’s telling us this, and says it’s called something like “plah-sen-tay” like it’s French, he thinks (shades of A Christmas Story here). My mother and i start snickering. really dad? she recommended it? and you said sure, sounds good? and he’s saying what, what? as we started laughing so hard we were crying and falling out of our seats at boston market… because he apparently had no idea he’d bought every woman on his staff PLACENTA perfume. like something that had that in it, and it was maybe supposed to be a beauty aid? it was unclear, but we surmised that the sales person had a truckload of this stuff to unload and could tell he had no idea what he was doing. he sits there horrified, and reflects, “huh… i was wondering why people seemed a little weird about it. there was a lot of talking in hushed groups afterward.”

      1. Robin Ellacott*

        OMG, same. On the plus side they all had a story they could tell for years, and doubtless did.

    1. PhysicsTech*

      This is both terrible and wonderful at the same time. I hope someone kept it, and I’m so glad your dad realized because damn that would be a terrible gift once, but twice would be way worse.

  43. squirreltooth*

    I once got an office friend for Secret Santa. She asked for a cute coffee mug, which I bought, but instead wrapped one of the cheap company-branded mugs that were plentiful throughout the office. When she opened it, she blurted out, “What the HELL is this?” in absolute disgust and accusingly shook the mug at the table full of coworkers (and then I promptly produced her actual gift). Her reaction was so delightfully strong that for a few years it became a tradition for whoever pulled her for Secret Santa to wrap up a company mug in addition to an actual good present.

    1. ferrina*

      Oh man, you really need to know your audience for this. I had a family member that would sporadically did this, and I never knew when to say “Gosh, how nice” and when to say “oh, what a funny joke”. It was hell to get gifts from them.

      1. squirreltooth*

        I felt like in this case giftee hit a sweet spot in having a strong reaction but not being genuinely hurt by the prank. There were plenty of people at the company I’d never dream of doing this to, either because they wouldn’t enjoy it or because it’d be punching down on the org chart.

        1. Ashkela*

          I think it’s also important that you didn’t just let your friend suffer and/or be upset. You immediately produced the real one in such a fashion that even to someone who didn’t know you were friends could see that it was on purpose, not malicious, and you’d come prepared rather than it just being ‘I forgot, let me foist this off on someone’.

          Also I’m going to do this to a friend for her birthday I think. She’ll crack up. Thanks for the idea!

  44. Anon for this*

    About 10 years ago we had a fun white elephant gift exchange where you were suppose to bring silly gag gifts. I got a pair of as seen on TV socks made out of mop material. You could wear them and mop the floor by just walking. Playing along I put them on and proceeded to “mop” the tiled break room floor. I slipped, slid, and fell, breaking my ankle! It was considered a workplace accident and reported to OSHA. My company’s policy for workplace accidents involving broken bones was automatic 45 days paid time off. So we joked that I was gifted 7 weeks free vacation and a little pin that will remain in my foot forever.

    1. Gumby*

      I don’t know whether to be surprised that the company has a policy specifically for broken bones or confused that it takes no variables into account like which bone and what role of the person with the broken bone has. I might enjoy the vacation, but I could absolutely do my job with a broken ankle or leg or whatever with very little problem work-wise.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        My former co-worker Susan had something foot-adjacent broken at one point, and thought “well, I work with computers, I can do this just fine!”

        Unfortunately, the card locks on the doors of the new building her team had recently moved into were unnecessarily far away from the door, so by the time she’d actually hopped over to the door on her crutches it had already re-locked. It took some very pointed messages to facilities about accessibility and how people were supposed to be able to actually access their buildings, before the timeout on the lock was increased to something a little more reasonable.

        This was the same facilities team that populated a newly overhauled cafe space with a mix of extremely flimsy, extremely expensive chairs that didn’t look like they’d be able to safely hold anyone over a very low weight threshold, and bar stools. My opener to HR on that one was “When I walk into an on-site dining room, what percentage of the chairs do you think I should be able to sit in?”

  45. Just Another Zebra*

    Our company does a version of Secret Santa where you list three things you’re interested in, but not specific items. My go-to’s are always tea (my one drawer is nothing but tea and tea accessories), Disney, and Harry Potter. As force of habit, I wrote on the sheet that I have a coconut allergy. Gift limit was $20.

    My SS gave me a tropical tea blend sampler, which had 5 loose tea jars. All 5 contained coconut. They also got me a Harry Potter “snowy owl” treat – which was just a coconut snowball with an owl face piped on in chocolate. My third and final gift was a mix for Disney’s dole whip, to make at home (alcoholic or not).

    I wasn’t… upset, per se, but I definitely couldn’t keep the confusion off my face.

    1. Dragon_Dreamer*

      I hope they simply misread it, but otherwise that sounds like someone who doesn’t believe allergies exist. I would have been upset, to be honest.

      1. Agnes*

        I’m guessing a misreading. I’ve submitted multiple forms where I say, “I’m available for any of the tasks except x” and promptly been assigned task x.

        1. Mannequin*

          Or when people say “I’m available every day except X” and of course they get scheduled on day X.

          Brains are funny sometimes.

    2. Elenna*

      I, uh, wow. I’m going to hope that they somehow skim-read your note and thought coconut was another thing you were interested in and would have been mortified to realize the truth, because I’d rather keep some faith in humanity.

      1. londonedit*

        In the spirit of Christmas goodwill I can totally imagine that they skim-read it, thought ‘OK, tea, Disney, Harry Potter, coconut – great’ and then went out of their way to find tea, Disney *and* Harry Potter gifts that also had something to do with coconut. Nailed it!

      2. Mannequin*

        I’ve had the misfortune to be acquainted with or related to an unusual number of personality disordered assh@les, and I’m still leaning towards “specatacularly misread/misunderstood what allergic means”.

        The description of the gifts & how well they fit OP’s interest list show that these were very carefully thought out and chosen- especially the Dole Whip! This is so Disneyland/World specific, and a real favorite amongst regular Disney goers. It’s not the kind of thing a tourist or casual visitor would think of to give as a present for a Disney fan. And to be aware they contain coconut! I’m a longtime Disneyphile & have drunk them many times, and never even THOUGHT about that fact.

        In my own experience, I’ve found that anyone who is a big enough a-hole to even consider pulling off this kind of carefully orchestrated malice, is SO big of an a-hole that it comes out in every aspect of their lives- they will always, 100%, without fail, have a history of being a jerk to all kinds of people. If nothing about the rest of the gifter’s everyday actions set off any potential Red Flag warnings, then it’s pretty safe to assume it’s an enormous misunderstanding.

        (Coworker could have skimmed the list, misread “allergic” as a different word that means “partial to”, thinks allergic DOES mean “partial to”, remembered the ‘coconut’ part but completely forgot the ‘allergy’ part- four reasonable explanations right off the top of my head and I’m sure there’s many more)

  46. sparkle party*

    Every year my organization did a white elephant gift exchange and also had drawings for small gifts at the Christmas party. I have never once been picked in a drawing for a door prize or anything else for add long as I can remember (elementary school) and was not expecting big things, I even mentioned this to my coworker who was pulling names out of the basket as a funny aside and she told me they definitely had more than enough for everyone there, but wouldn’t it be funny if my name didn’t get drawn until last. At the end of the party all of the drawing prizes had been given out and my coworker holding the basket with names in it looked at me with big round eyes and said, “oh! weird! there’s only one person whose name didn’t get drawn!” and that was the end of the party. That person was me.

    1. Nannerdoodle*

      That’s awful! If they’re going to have that many gifts for a party, they need to make sure there’s actually enough for everyone. Just one person being left out is significantly worse than any other way of doing door prizes.

  47. Policy Wonk*

    One year my boss (a bit of a sexist) gave to me (a feminist who was one of the few employees who’d stand up to him) a framed plaque that says:

    Three wise women would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, brought practical gifts, made a casserole and cleaned the stable, and there would be peace on earth.

    Still a favorite and I hang it up every year. Brings back good memories of helping to make changes in the workplace.

  48. quill*

    Disclaimer: These are not mine, but they are from the era where my mom worked in a school that was a very small hellmouth. I’ve never worked anywhere that has gifts that aren’t edible.

    – The year the principal “acknowledged” everyone’s stressful year by giving them a dollar tree “zen garden” which was a 1×3 inch plastic tray, a faux pebble (plastic) and a baggie of sand with a warped and misshapen rake. Upon further inspection they cost 85 cents apiece.

    – Christmas candles. Not a terrible move, except that they were all fairly generic (winter themed) or culturally christian but not explicitly religious (holly and ivy, bells, etc.) … except one, which read “Joyous Nativity.” Which the principal gave to the only Jewish teacher in the school.

    – Eventually the principal abandoned all pretense and celebrated christmas by “allowing” the use of colored paper for printouts again. Since the school secretary took inventory and ran the copier, nobody had realized that she’d banned it in the first place.

    For a change of pace, my best holiday gifting story is the time the only people who were in-office the week beween Christmas and new years were the contractors. We appropriated a cube and had a cookie exchange, which was delicious.

  49. Raine*

    Two White Elephant gift exchange gifts stand out from a few years ago – the same year someone brought an unused toilet seat lid leftover from a home renovation, I got an unbaked take-and-bake pepperoni pizza from a local chain of such establishments. Mind you, this pizza had beeen sitting in a warm ballroom for two-and-a-half hours, unrefrigerated, so it was pretty much inedible and gross. Had to institute a “nothing that requires refrigeration” rule to our gift exchange as a result.
    I’ve also gotten a black satin nightgown as a going-away present from one of the security guards at the place where I worked. We weren’t friends and I didn’t really interact with her other than saying hello and being generally friendly, so I was super weirded out that she chose to give me that.

  50. __ID__*

    I posted this earlier under a different thread… but in case you didn’t see it, here goes:

    I was working at a temp job at a very small company (less than 10 people). They were having a Christmas party with a gift exchange, and they invited me – but then uninvited me because I was “just the temp”. (Classy!)

    Here’s what happened at the gift exchange that I missed: One of the new guys in a very male-dominated company got the gift of nipple warmers for a woman executive. (Yes, you read that right: nipple warmers.) these were obviously a gag gift, but when he saw the look of horror on her face he said, “well I don’t know you very well and I drew your name in the exchange. The only time I met you I noticed that it was really cold in the office.”

    This was 25 years ago and obviously now he would’ve been perp walked out the door! But probably the worst part is that all the spouses were at this party too.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Wow, there are about 10,000 other things he could have bought to keep her warm but of course he jumped immediately to nipple warmers??? Wtf.

      1. Mannequin*

        The most confusing part is that if you have to get a gift for someone you don’t know well, every store you step into this time of year is jam packed with generic gift sets/ideas in every kind of price range. And that’s been true for as long as I can remember!

        But nipple warmers? That’s a specialty item you have to hunt for, whether brick & mortar store or online. You have to *make an effort*! What could he have POSSIBLY been thinking to decide that would be a better idea for a gift?!?!

  51. Necronomnomnomicon*

    I had a co-worker give me a couple of canisters of pepper spray for Christmas. Is it a good holiday gift? Probably not. But I also used to live in a sketchy part of town at the time, so maybe it was the best? I haven’t had to use them (knock on wood), but I do keep them handy.

  52. W. W. Witchiepoo*

    We did a White Elephant exchange at work and I’d opened a box of tackle. Since I don’t fish, I was more than happy when the last person decided to steal. I realized with great horror which gift he’d opened: a fanny pack printed with a realistic image of a hairy bellybutton. (Googling “bellybutton fanny pack” will bring it right up if you dare.)

    It’s honestly horrifying to look at and I shoved it in a drawer in my office with an intent to give it away at the next year’s White Elephant.

    Oh, did I mention this happened in December 2019? Yeah, we haven’t had a holiday party since, the fanny pack is still in my rarely opened desk drawer, and it surprises me every time I open in.

    1. Nannerdoodle*

      I’ve gotten that fanny pack for 3 of my friends on purpose (they specifically asked for it). It really depends on what crowd you’re with for that gift.

      1. W. W. Witchiepoo*

        Oh, for sure. It’s just not my thing, and I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed simply because I generally do not personally bring gag gifts to White Elephants and just about everyone else got stuff they could use/enjoy. It’s all in good fun. But I do find it jarring to look at and I often forget it’s in that drawer, so on the few occasions I’ve opened it, I’ve had a surprise :D.

  53. Cookies for Breakfast*

    I’ll have to split this in two comments, because one of the stories could get quite long.

    These are both from a Secret Santa exchange where the only rule (aside from a low budget) was to pick an object that started with the same letter as the recipient’s first name.

    From a colleague with a wacky sense of humour, to someone who lives in a flat: a huge, cumbersome garden maintenance object they would have had to lug home on public transport. Most of us found that pretty funny (it was in character for the gift giver to just pick the most random object). The recipient had a huge WTF written on their face. They left it at the office, and it’s now the star of our holiday celebrations. It’s always in the mix whenever there’s a game or prize draw, and we all make a big deal out of seeing it crop up again (though I hope the people who draw it get privately asked to pick an alternative gift they like!).

    From someone whose judgement I used to trust, to me: a very common household object, but in a phallic shape. I fake laughed when I opened it, because what else could I do in public? The gift giver bought it: they said they were sure that I’d “understand it was all in good fun”. But let’s leave aside for a second that i was a workplace party. Let’s leave aside that sexual innuendos are my absolute least favourite kind of humour. Everyone who has spoken to me for all of five minutes knows that I have one big, very mainstream passion that begins exactly with my first initial. There are literally hundreds of low-budget gifts in that area – I should have been the easiest person to please in the room!

  54. Cute Li'l UFO*

    My last year in department store retail my supervisor pulled my name in our gift exchange. I opened one of those gifts that feels like you would admire but never get for yourself no matter the cost. She got me some microwave and dishwasher safe pizza slice containers! She always told me I made myself the best lunches and these had my NAME on them. These have had some of the heaviest use and even about 9 or 10 years on I’m still using them. She also had a round of a traditional “surprise” white elephant/Yankee swap where I brought home one of the Target x Neiman Marcus Tory Burch lunchboxes… also still in use. One of my coworkers stole it and ended up giving it back to me after the game was over because I just handed it right over. It is just a lunchbox but I love it. :) Beats my first year there where a coworker offered me one of the flatbread/meat concoctions his wife had made for our party… unrefrigerated and about a week old. and spotty. I suppose that served me right for not carefully inspecting it, but I honest to GOD did not realize he’d just LEFT them on a shelf… sitting there. He didn’t understand why I was so livid.

    At the luxury leather goods corporate office we had an opt in exchange and received a little idea of what the giftee wanted. I filled a clean shoebox with all kinds of Belgian beers, wrapped it all nice, and let my recipient find it. He was blown away. Our limit must have been $20 or $30, people gave some fun gifts. I got a Starbucks gift card attached to a candy cane big enough to club someone with for mine!

    Hilariously I can’t remember any other office gifts, I think mostly because they were inoffensive and best of all useful. My new job shipped me a box of our greatest hits plus a big tote and stainless mug, but I saved one cookbook to regift, gave a book on crystals and stones to my mom (great photos!), and gifted the rest to Buy Nothing neighbors.

    This year I moved on from my design job of 7 years and I’m on great terms with my ex boss. I started collecting and restoring cast iron last year and after showing him my finds, the process, the result, and of course the food. I sent him a picture of my most recent pick up and he started waxing nostalgic about the blackened catfish his Momma made but he’d never pulled the trigger on buying a skillet. I picked up another vintage skillet for him that needs minimal work done and I’ve been plugging away at it day by day.

  55. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

    My husband’s story from approximately 15 years ago when he worked at a very shambolic non-profit that was “like a family”, with a charismatic ED who certainly saw herself as the matriarch. He’d worked there quite a few years, and the annual Christmas party with a nice catered lunch, copious wine, and riotous Secret Santa gift swap was his favorite day of the year. Until the year the ED ruined it, by capping off the festivities by giving each employee a special gift. For the women, it was fancy lotion. For the men, it was Santa boxers. Yes, she gave her employees…. underwear.

  56. survivor of aa&co*

    I was working on short term assignment at the head office’s training facility when they had their holiday party, which included a Yankee swap gift exchange. Limit was $20, I wrapped up a nice bottle of liquor. Game starts, people are picking & swapping nice gifts, it’s finally my turn to go and I end up with a rusty license plate that says MERDE (shit in french). I was gobsmacked and they told me ‘oh, that’s the gag gift that gets passed around every year’. So I wasted $20 to end up with a piece of trash. Noone offered to swap with me to keep their traditional shitty gag gift for another year so I threw it out on my way back to the hotel.

    1. Sun in an Empty Room*

      Not going to lie… I would totally have gotten a kick out of that license plate and hung it up in my garage.

  57. Holiday Plug*

    One year an admin, who was at least 60 and rocking the ‘sweet little old lady’s vibe gave a coworker an adorable gnome figurine… Only it was a butt plug. No one had the guts to tell her, and she kept giving people them for the next few years. Turns out that company also made leprechauns, ghosts, cupids, and more. She even bought a few for herself and kept them on her desk. At her retirement party, she finally admitted she’s known all along and thought it was utterly hilarious.

    1. Siege*

      I get that I’m in a cranky mood today, but I don’t think I’d find it funny to get a sex toy for a gift, and certainly not finding out that I had been INTENTIONALLY gifted a sex toy by someone who was playing off that she couldn’t possibly know because she’s Old.

      1. Mannequin*

        I was curious do I did some googling on novelty figural butt plugs, and I can easily see how a naive person might think they are just a kind of odd shaped collectible toy or figure. And she was giving them as gag gifts, not “here is a personal gift I expect you to use”, unlike the terrible office gifters who bring in strap ons, flavored lube, blow up dolls, or whatever.

        I totally understand your point of view & its 100% valid, but I don’t see the 2 types of gifts them as being in the same category at all.

  58. Anon for this*

    As a library student worker, one of the then-secretaries, who was legendary, gave us all lint rollers for the holidays so that when she needed us to lint roll her back, we would be able to do so.

  59. Aitch Arr*

    My former employer had many Skankee Swap gifts that resurfaced every year among our HR team.

    One was a poodle purse: a kid’s purse in the shape of a poodle.
    Of course it was an obnoxious pink and sparkly combo, but that thing was coveted.
    Unfortunately, one year the winner left it on public transit after the Swap.

    I made sure that the next year was Poodle II: Purse Boogaloo.

    1. Mannequin*

      I don’t even like punk, but if I won the pink sequined poodle purse, it wouldn’t go back into the mix til I’d used it to my hearts content, LOL

  60. Joanna*

    This gift wasn’t bad but I did think it was weirdly creative and worth mentioning! My department’s junior staff had a secret santa in my first year. The person who was my gift-giver was a person who was less involved socially — most of us ate lunch together, he tended to only join once every couple weeks. His solution to not knowing me was pretty funny in retrospect (though at the time I was a bit disappointed at his lack of effort): He got me a DVD of the movie Clueless and one of those metal tools that look kind of like spiders you can use to scratch your scalp. Clueless and scratching his head about what to get me!

    1. anon4eva*

      lol very cool gift, hoping not only watching this movie ‘sporadically’, Clueless is such a classic and a nice 90’s take on Austin’s sleeping pill novel “Emma”.

  61. PieAdmin*

    Oooh I have one. Back in the days when I worked in retail, we had a few women working the back who happened to be Deaf. They unpacked the clothing when it came and did some other non-customer facing work. We would have a nice Christmas party at a restaurant every year, and one of the Deaf women always attended. One holiday season, our managers did a gift raffle where everyone picked a number from 1-20 out of a jar and we got a wrapped mystery gift that corresponded with that. Guess whose mystery gift that year was headphones? :P

      1. Gumby*

        The gifts were passed out essentially randomly – they drew numbers to determine which gift. It would have been better had that gift not even been one of the options, but that she pulled that number was happenstance, not purposeful.

  62. machinedreams*

    One time when I was working retail, my team each got our boss a gift. All four of us got her booze. We all selected independently of each other, too.

    Then there was the year a bunch of us did a Secret Santa. We wrote down three things we’d want on a piece of paper (that way everybody had specific ideas, since some of us didn’t know each other well) and tossed it into a hat. We drew, went on to buy our gifts, yadda yadda.

    Well, the person I had to buy for… I forget what her other two were, but one was a bottle of Grey Goose vodka. What did I do? Get her the bottle of Grey Goose. She was not actually expecting it lol.

    1. Mannequin*

      But a fifth of Grey Goose looks like it’s about $20? That seems pretty reasonable/within the limit of most gift swaps to me?

  63. Rage*

    This wasn’t so much an office gift-giving situation, but it was during my earlier role at my current organization as Executive Assistant to the CEO. CEO – let’s call him Levi – received a LOT of gifts around the holidays from the parents/families of our clients. And since it’s Christmas, a lot of these gifts included (or were simply made up of) CANDY or CHOCOLATE. Now, he wasn’t opposed to chocolate necessarily, but he did limit his sugar intake pretty significantly, so he wound up with an office full of sweet stuff he wasn’t going to ever get through.

    So he came up with a genius plan: give it to his hard working assistant. I’m never one to turn down chocolate, a fact of which he was aware. So one afternoon, just a few days before Christmas, when it was fairly quiet and there were no parents popping into the Admin building, he walked out of his office with his arms FILLED with chocolates and caramels and all sorts of tasty delights in festive holiday wrappings.

    “Hey, Rage,” he said loudly, approaching me, “how would you like some sugar?”

    It was hilarious enough as it was, but to his utter embarrassment, our HR director, Micki, just happened to be walking by and did the most Oscar-worthy dramatic full-body double-take. She may have pinched a nerve in her neck.

    Levi turned as red as Rudolph’s nose. “Ah…I mean…uh….this chocolate and candy and stuff….uh….”

    I had stopped laughing by that point and said, “I will gladly accept the holiday and chocolate candy you are presenting me. But you can keep the sugar for your wife.”

    Levi has since moved on to another organization (as has Micki), but I will never forget it. (Or the chocolate – man, it was really some good stuff.)

    1. DrRat*

      Reminds me of the time I was asking a manager about where he liked to play pool. Someone walked by, did not know the topic of conversation, heard only his reply, and reported him to HR.

      I had to explain all of the above to HR when he was called on the carpet after saying “Nice Rack” to me. (That pool hall is closed now, sadly.)

      1. Rage*

        Another story involving Levi and Micki – but not a gift (well, the conversation itself was a gift): Micki & I were discussing the merits of various pest control methods.

        Micki: I have ants in my kitchen and it’s driving me mad.
        Me: Oh, for ants I like to use diatomaceous earth. It’s a fine powder, non-toxic to mammals and birds, but will kill any insect. I order mine on Amazon.
        Levi (walks up): Dia-what?
        Me: Diatomaceous earth.
        Levi: I don’t know what that is. Is that a Harry Potter thing?
        Me: It is now.

        And thus was born the pest control spell “Diatomaceous”. It’s diato-MAY-ceous, not diatomay-SHUS.

  64. What's in a name*

    During my studies I worked part-time at a start-up. Both the owners and ~15 part-time employees were all in their early twenties, and all seemed to enjoy the relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. Work banter sometimes included NSFW topics.

    One coworker mentioned that her boyfriend worked at the mother company of a well-known adult toy brand, and was able to get free samples. I enthusiastically suggested for her to make use of that benefit for the upcoming secret Santa event. It turned out she drew my name for secret Santa, so in addition to the nice serving spoons I asked for, I received a variety of vibrating items, flavored condoms and tingling massage oil. I was overjoyed, as I knew the store-prices of these items far exceeded the secret Santa budget and as a poor student I appreciated the bargain.

    It took many years, and reading this website, to realize this was not appropriate.

  65. HannahS*

    In my old lab, where I was the only non-Christian (and my supervisor liked to hold hands and say grace before lab parties which was…perhaps an odd choice for a prof in one of Canada’s largest universities in a very diverse city in the early 2010s but whatever), I participated in the gift swap. I got an unwrapped Christmas tree ornament and gift card to Tim Hortons. Not the worst thing ever, because I could use the Tim’s card, but like…tell me how little thought you put into this.

  66. PleaseNoMore*

    At a previous company, the assistants did an exchange with a $20 or so gift value. We wrote out some suggestions of things we liked and then pulled names. When we exchanged the gifts, we’d find out who was our Secret Santa. I put down simple suggestions like a candle, chocolate, coffee. What I got was not even close, one of which was an obviously open & used container of International Instant Coffee. I always thought that I had a good working relationship from the gift-giver, but after that I always wondered if this was some sort of passive-aggressive action. Now in my current position, my boss has given me & my coworker the exact same piece of serving ware for three years in a row. Must have bought out the stock at a store closing or something.

  67. Irish girl*

    i have been working at my company 15 year and last year was the first year i received a gift from my manager. In the past, we have received “group” gifts ranging from a plate of cookies or Keurig pods of coffee or hot chocolate. The cookies would come from collectively our Sales Managers who would give it to the 4 of us who worked with them but each of them (3) would get an actual gift for the other person they each worked with individually. Other manager in our department would gift something to each person. It was just our manager who didnt do individual gifts. New tem last year with a new boss and all of a sudden i got a gift.

  68. Just call me KV*

    I had a co-worker who tried to convince our management team that I, a very high performer with much more seniority than her, should be fired so that she could hire her friend to work with her. For Christmas that year, she generously gifted me a single bottle of clear nail polish. No brand name. No gift bag or bow. Just set it next to my keyboard.

  69. DarthVelma*

    I think I’ve told this story before, but it really is my best work gift exchange story. :-)

    My last year of undergrad we had a xmas gift swap at my internship. One of those where you draw numbers, and when your number is called you pick a gift or you can “steal” one someone else has already opened. Anyway, I got a pretty low number and grabbed a pretty good sized box that everyone before me had been joking about not taking.

    Anyway, it was a set of glasses in several different sizes. I was getting ready to move into my first place once I graduated and while it might not have been the perfect gift for someone else…it was perfect for me. Something I really needed and wouldn’t have to buy. I was ecstatic.

    Everyone who picked a number after me teased me about “stealing” my glasses, but no one actually did. It’s been 25 years and I actually still have a couple of those glasses. Every time I use one of them it brings back good memories of that internship and the wonderful people I worked with and how sometimes you get the gift you didn’t know you really needed. :-)

  70. Anonymous Luddite*

    I live in a state that has legalized cannabis for recreational use.
    At the last holiday party for my former job, the ($20) “yankee swap” gift table included an envelope sealed with a sticker from the shop down the street from our office. It was a hotly contested item, but no one opened the envelope because everyone assumed they knew what was in it. Finally, the “winner” opened the envelope to find… a $20 gift card to the Subway sandwich place that was also down the street from our office.

    1. Anon4This*

      Wow, that person really didn’t know how to do a joke gift- it’s supposed to look crummy from the outside but be good on the inside, not vice verse.

      I’m a medical cannabis patient, and can only imagine how awful it would feel to swap for a gift that I thought would benefit me in that way, only to have it turn out to be a different surprise that was completely useless (I don’t eat at Subway, I can’t stand their food.)

  71. Leelee*

    The self appointed Office Manager invited a select group of employees to a meeting room for secret santa. He and his cronies, all men, had bought glow in the dark rings (…not for your hands), aprons with giant inflatable breasts on them, a kind of joke S&M kit, an inflatable sheep (with holes!), and the list just went on. Just the worst ‘The Office’ style gifts that they found utterly hilarious. The only women invited were young and intern-level.

    He made each person open their gift in silence and show it off the group. It was 12pm on a weekday in a client meeting room, in our very conservative office.

    I can’t detail what happened next without giving myself away, but suffice to say as soon as the women returned and headed straight to my office to complain it was VERY firmly dealt with. Oh, and I organised for unwanted gifts to be put in a designated box and the company would trash them. Secret santa was banned the next year.

    1. DrRat*

      I worked closely with an agency years ago that was staffed by people who had to be very open minded about sex, as it was part of their mission to talk about safe sex, get sexual histories, etc. They had a Yankee swap/Dirty Santa one year and there was an inflatable sex sheep (yep, like a sex doll) that was brought, and it was THE hot ticket. Everyone wanted that sheep!

      But in a conservative office…not so much. Know your audience, people!

  72. Leslie Knope 2.0*

    I was once a supervisor of aquatics, AKA an army of teenaged lifeguards, and we had a blast with our Christmas parties.
    After we had all played some very intense water polo and ate colossal amounts of pizza, there would be a white elephant exchange. It was an almost unspoken rule to bring nerf guns as gifts. There were usually a few other items sprinkled in, but the nerf guns were the hottest commodity.
    Everyone would then fight/steal to get the biggest nerf item, which varied from bow-and-arrow type of nerf shooters to giant rocket launcher pump action nerf guns. We’d then take over the whole facility (this was after hours, so no one else was on the premises), and have an all out nerf war. Me and the other supervisor were usually “battalion leaders” for the first few rounds before we would sideline ourselves and witness the chaos. There were nerf darts sprayed down hallways, employees ambushing each other from around corners, and lifeguards were literally sliding across tile screaming Rambo-style to shoot the opposing team. I think there were even hostages taken at one point.
    I to this day don’t know what the rules were, but it was glorious to watch. All staff who participated would stay to clean up, and most guns were either re-gifted to younger siblings or circulated back for next year’s Christmas war.
    No lifeguards nor facilities were harmed in the events of these Christmas nerf parties.

    1. My dear Wormwood*

      This sounds even better than the one last year about the IT team that locked themselves in for a giant LAN party when management had demanded they work all night instead of going to the company party.

  73. Cookies for Breakfast*

    This is several moments I can’t unsee rolled into one. I routinely forget it, and when it pops back up every few years or so, I still can’t believe I’ve witnessed it.

    I used to work at a small company with ambitions to create the dreaded “family” feel (they got the dysfunction just right – nothing I’ve experienced since comes even close to what working there was like). We’d usually have a Secret Santa gift exchange at the office and then head out for a restaurant meal.

    On this occasion, someone had received a book of jokes titled something like “Creative Insults” (it was from a close work friend who knew them well). It went round the room, some of us had a laugh, and we thought that was the end of it. And then, the owner (a much feared man with mood swings that bordered on dangerous) caught sight of it. He found it so hilarious, he thought we should play a game during dinner.

    The game: at the owner’s signal, one of us should stand up, pick a page from the booklet, and read it out loud…as if they were really insulting him.

    This was a guy who would throw a tantrum if a report got sent to him with punctuation he didn’t like. But he wouldn’t let it go until all of us had a turn, so we went along. He absolutely delighted in hearing each and every one.

    His spouse, co-owner and right-hand psychopath picked a joke with the premise of “your mum is so fat”, and read it with a stone-cold serious face. The owner’s mother had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment.

    I made sure to pick something mild, that I’d have felt comfortable with someone throwing at me. I was smiling while reading, to make it super clear there was no confrontation involved. The owner considered my delivery for a second and said “I bet you mean every word of that”. Well, no, not quite. If I could have said words I really meant, they would have been miles away from anything that makes it to the “humour” shelf the at the bookstore.

  74. Currently Hiding*

    I don’t remember what time of year this was, but a colleague at my old employer was very proud that she had “won” a free day of 10-minute massages for everyone at the workplace. She advertised it through word of mouth, email, and even more word of mouth, and it was very clear that she thought this was an Awesome Gift that she was giving to us all. And a free massage? Heck yes! We were all excited.

    On the day of the Awesome Gift, I and a couple of friends headed to the room that had been reserved for everyone getting their free massages, and what we encountered was, in fact, not awesome. It was a 10-minute hard sell of chiropractic services at this (expensive) chiropractor’s office and a listing of everything that was wrong with my skeleton. (It was a lot. It’s a miracle that I’m able to type this.) There was some cursory massaging, but it did nothing to offset the new muscular tension created by being a captive listener to a hard sell. I left with a brand-new headache.

    Needless to say, most folks were not grateful, but my colleague didn’t, or wouldn’t, understand why we weren’t appreciative. We had to hear for *weeks* about how what she did for us was so nice and that people really weren’t grateful enough for what she had done for us. I got to hear a lot of this because she was a loud talker and our offices were right next to each other.

    1. New Job So Much Better*

      Years ago I won a tv station contest that sent a therapist to give seated massages at my office. At first I thought you were one of my coworkers, but nope, ours was real and not a chiropractic salesman. And they brought bagels, too.

  75. aamezz*

    Oh man, I have been waiting for a prompt like this one. The gift was not to me, it was to my husband. Eight years ago, my husband’s coworkers did a secret santa gift exchange and his secret santa gifted him a…kitten. Who does this? His coworker said, and I quote “the only thing I know about you is that you like video games and have cats.”

    At the time, my husband worked in DC, and so he had to take the cat home on the metro. I offered to metro home and drive back to get him, but he said he checked the WMATA rules and as long as the cat was in a carrier, it was allowed. I pointed out that in 6 years of living in DC, I’d never seen a cat on the metro and assumed it was forbidden, and I imagine a lot of people would make the same assumption. His job at the time required he wear ACUs to work, so I imagine the uniform just made people quietly wonder who the weird guy with the cat was, but not approach him. The cat apparently did not like the metro and was quite vocal about it, so people definitely noticed.

    This was just a few days before Christmas and we had plans to travel to see family and two other cats at home. We had to go to the vet because this was essentially a stray kitten (someone’s mom’s friend’s cat had kittens and we were gifted one) so the cat had no shots, wasn’t fixed, etc. We had to get the cat tested for feline leukemia, which is contagious and we had two cats already. We had to get the cat vaccinated. We had to keep the cats separated and hire a cat sitter while we were gone, something we would not have had to do for a couple of days with our two existing cats. Then when we got back, we had to have the cat neutered.

    8 years later and we still have the little guy – he is a very sweet, giant cat who grew to be 18 pounds.

    1. Dragon_Dreamer*

      Kitty got very lucky with you! Some people would have just dropped the poor baby off at the nearest SPCA. Pets are NOT presents! I hope the coworker was educated that this was NOT an appropriate gift.

      1. Aarti*

        WTF agreed. Pets are not gifts, especially to a coworker. I have never owned a cat and have no facilities for a cat and dont even want a cat.

      2. aamezz*

        Yes – our vet’s office was both horrified that a cat had been given like a gift like that and grateful that it had done to someone who would care for him properly. We debated refusing the gift but ultimately didn’t feel comfortable leaving the cat in the hands of someone so clearly irresponsible with animals.

    2. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

      i really love cats (i have thirteen) but O_O gifting animals is not something you do willy-nilly

    3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      That is an expensive gift to receive! But I’m glad you gave him a good home and took good care of him.

    4. Xenia*

      I have no words, except that I’m really glad you gave the poor baby a good home and that you ended up with your very own gentle giant of a fluffball.

    5. an IT worker*

      I had to look up ACU, and I’m so glad I did. The picture of a soldier in camouflage on the metro carrying a kitten is priceless.

      1. aamezz*

        It is definitely a key part of the story. My husband was in the national guard and was doing IT work but I tell him that folks on the metro that day just assumed that poor soldier had seen some shit and needed his emotional support cat.

    6. Quack Quack No*

      Well that hearkens back to the original meaning of White Elephant! I’m glad he grew up to be a sweet companion.

        1. Quack Quack No*

          Yes indeedy. The term comes from a past practice by kings in what is now Thailand. White elephants were rare and sacred, automatically property of the king, and forbidden from doing work or coming to harm. So they were very expensive to keep. Sometimes the king would give them to particular nobles as a present which was really a disaster, because their upkeep could drain away all noble’s wealth.

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            And the king knew it, so the “present” was usually reserved for people he *didn’t* like.

        2. Quack Quack No*

          Yeah, the origin of the term is pretty memorable, and involves actual elephants. It comes from a past practice by kings in what is now Thailand. White elephants were rare and sacred, automatically property of the king, and forbidden from doing work or coming to harm. So they were very expensive to keep. Sometimes the king would give them to particular nobles as a present which was really a disaster, because their upkeep could exhaust a noble’s wealth.

    7. Aunt Piddy*

      OH NO! Pets are not presents! Thank goodness your other cats were chill, my cat would lose her tiny MIND if I brought another one home.

    8. Verde*

      All the WTF to this, but thank you for being an awesome cat family and taking care of the unplanned “little” guy. (Typing this while our 15-pund dude hides from our 4-pound rabbit.)

  76. anony-whom*

    I worked for a university for a long time, and because we had many student employees if we did gift exchanges we always did them on the cheap. This usually resulted in white elephant style exchanges.

    One year, on a team of mostly students, one student submitted their white elephant item: a white plastic grocery store bag filled with oranges that had clearly been taken from the campus dining hall. It was so odd that the person who opened it just said “oh” and then set it aside and we moved on with the game…

    Another year we did something similar with our full-time staff, but we traded names so everyone knew who they were buying for. A 50+ year old man on the team got a slightly rusty pogo stick. And someone else got a homemade clear glass globe ornament full of little plastic babies. It was…weird.

    1. Retired Prof*

      In our office Yankee swap an ornament full of plastic babies would have been stolen many times.

  77. sumpto*

    Worked at an office that had a Secret Santa every year where you received and secretly gave one small gift a week for the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Had a co-worker who received nothing the first three and a half weeks of the gift-giving until the very last day when she received four wall calendars from the Dollar Tree. Her Secret Santa handed them to her in person and she tried her best to act grateful but the whole thing was a train wreck to watch.

  78. JustaTech*

    The weird and the bad: why I have very specific rules for White Elephant now.

    The weird: My company had a former CEO who’s last name was the same as a precious metal (we’ll say Silver). One of the more tenured employees got as a White Elephant gift a “bag of Silver” that included chocolate coins, plastic bead necklaces, a CD of our early promotional material and several framed photos of the former CEO (Headshot, ground breaking ceremony, first lot, etc). And a Starbucks card. The recipient thought that this was hilarious, by far the funniest gift she’d ever gotten. (Newer employees were just confused.)

    The bad: Our brand new CMO brought as his White Elephant gift a well-used laptop backpack from his former company (our closest competitor). When the recipient opened the wrapping and saw the beat up bag he assumed that there must be a Starbuck card inside, so dug around, finding a charging cable that the CMO promptly retrieved, saying “Oh, that’s where that went!” The recipient was Not Pleased and I ended up giving him one of the backup gifts.

    And this is why, when we do White Elephant, I make a point of clearly stating well in advance that gifts must be new or in like-new condition.

      1. JustaTech*

        White Elephant is the regional name. We wouldn’t dare have called it Dirty Santa in the past because some people would have taken that as license to be very inappropriate, and until reading this thread I’d completely forgotten about the name “Yankee Swap”.

        (Where I grew up a white elephant was a jumble sale.)

        1. Anon4This*

          Lol! Where I grew up a jumble sale is called a rummage sale, but was also called a White Elephant when I was a kid. Schools & churches did them as fundraisers.

    1. Rich or Poor...*

      A WE gift is meant to be something you ahve lying around the house, so… there’s some dissonance here.

      1. Dragonfly7*

        I also know White Elephant as gifting something you already have around. Dirty Santa and Yankee Swap are for the new gifts that you can steal from one another.

  79. First Time Commenter*

    I was fresh out of college working for a group of doctors as their assistant. Invited to my boss’ house for a white elephant gift exchange. Did not realize it was a “dirty Santa” exchange and brought a nice gift. Opened a gift set of men’s axe body products (I’m female). Was the first to go so I had no idea what was in store and must have looked very disappointed. Got my pick of any present at the end (I’d never done a gift exchange like this at the time – 15 years ago – and didn’t know it was coming). Panicked since I thought it would be rude to take my own gift and chose a very gaudy crystal bell. I hate tchotchkes. Lol.
    On the bright side, that year, and every year I worked there, the doctors would lavish me with nice expensive gifts at Christmas time!

    1. Jaybee*

      For future reference, it’s not rude to take your own gift. It’s a good idea to bring something you’d like in case that’s what you end up doing.

  80. Rusty Shackelford*

    One year I was working as office staff in a food service setting, so there were a lot of people who work hard, have early or late schedules, and don’t get paid much. We had a week-long Secret Santa exchange, where you would provide a gift for five days and find out who gave them on the last day. Our awful boss commandeered the exchange and decided a theme for each day’s gift (i.e., day one had to be homemade food, etc.), which were announced the week before. But mid-week she decided the last gift, a Christmas ornament, had to be something we made ourselves. So, you folks who don’t make a lot of money? Who came to work at 5 am or aren’t getting off until 7 pm? You get to come up with a handcrafted Christmas ornament in the next couple of days! What, you already bought one last week? Oh well, this will be fun, and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy! I didn’t stand up to her very often, but I’m glad I did that time, and said “I already bought my ornament, I’d rather just give that.” Once I spoke up, the others did too, and she bowed to the pressure. It was a Christmas miracle.

  81. Bored Lawyer*

    I changed law firms and had a start date (as a partner) of December 18. Which happened to be the day of the office gift swap. I had not been informed. Everyone bought me gifts (including subordinates, which made it even more awkward). I did not have anything to give anyone.

    I ended up buying a bunch of (equal value!) gift cards to Starbucks, Target, Best Buy, etc. and going around to let people pick what they wanted.

  82. Ghost*

    One year, at a place where I was know to be sensitive to the cold (it was an old, drafty building) I put “something to keep me warm” in the questionnaire. I expected a scarf, fuzzy socks, tea…

    They signed me up for Match.com.

    This was also when Match was know for not being LGBTQ friendly, and I was very out at work.

  83. the Skeezo incident*

    I learned that one of the partners at my law firm wanted to start an affair with me via the office holiday party.

    To be clear, I’m very friendly and nerdy and warm, and as a woman, I find that men – especially older men – read my friendliness as flirting. I am also slow to pick up on some social cues, so I have a lot of trouble realizing when men think we’ve gone from “friendly” to “flirting” when I’m just nerding out over one of my fandoms with them. I really, truly don’t flirt – literally just talk effusively about Lord of the Rings or Star Trek or whatever, generally while also talking about how my HUSBAND and I share a love of these fandoms. They invent the flirtation from my friendliness and enthusiasm, as best I can tell. It’s led to me being much more reserved around men, which I dislike, but … well, I’d rather be reserved than have this repeat.

    So, with that background set, let me introduce Skeezo, the older partner in a different legal area than I worked in. He had interests in the same nerdy fandoms as me, and we had (I thought) a friendly office relationship. At the time, I kept snacks at my desk, because I and others in the office often didn’t have time for lunch, Skeezo included, so people often stopped into my office to grab something to eat and maybe chat briefly about work or Star Trek or whatever interests we might have in common. That was literally the extent of our relationship – chatting about Star Trek while he grabbed a snack once or twice a week.

    It was around Christmas, and Skeezo had told me he had a fun Christmas suit he’d wear to the office and then the office Christmas party that evening (it was colorful, apparently, and had a funky tie or something – I don’t remember exact details, but I love ugly Christmas sweaters, etc., so I was genuinely looking forward to seeing an ugly Christmas suit!). However, Skeezo didn’t wear the suit to the office the day of the party, as I learned when he stopped by my desk for a snack. I said something like I was sad I didn’t get to see his ugly Christmas suit. Skeezo promised he’d change into the suit before the party, so I just said I looked forward to seeing it then, and then he asked if my husband was coming to the party. Of course! Families were invited, and why wouldn’t I want my husband at the office Christmas party (to alleviate boredom, if nothing else!).

    Skeezo started cursing and said he wouldn’t be coming to the Christmas party then, which – at that moment – confused me greatly. It was only later, when he showed up to the party drunk, talking about how he skipped an important family Christmas event to be there, and introduced himself to my husband and me while talking to my cleavage that I put two and two together and came up with “skeezy attempt to initiate an affair.”

    This was fairly recent – in the 2010s – but luckily another partner kicked him out of the party (told him to get a cab and go see his family). Don’t worry, that partner was skeezy in the end, too, but at least in this one instance he had my back.

    1. Gumby*

      If “I plan to wear a colorful suit to the office party” is supposed to somehow indicate “to start an affair with you” then the problem isn’t you being unaware of social cues. That is some next level subtlety. I still don’t see how anyone is supposed to interpret that as a come on unless the tone of voice was really obvious and there were comically exaggerated winks involved.

    2. Rich or Poor...*

      After that buildup, I was expecting the punchline to be “…and Skeezo reappeared totally nude in the doorway of my office!”

    3. Klem*

      OMG what is it with dudes in their 30s-40s and their weird fixation on nerdy younger woman? Why do they feel like making conversation on shared interest is a sign of romantic/sexual interest?

      I also often have a hard time with social cues (or I’m very naive), but the whole “oh I’ve made a new friend!…nevermind he just want to f*ck me” scenario happened to me multiple times. And in one specific occurence I’m starting to suspect that it led to retaliation because I didn’t want to play along.

  84. guest*

    When my office decided on a Secret Santa gift exchange, we all filled out short questionnaires (clearly labeled a sbeing for the Secret Santa) that gave us an opportunity to describe things we like and don’t like. I drew my coworker’s name and was curious to know what she’d put about her likes/dislikes. This coworker, despite being very good at her job in many respect, was known around the office as someone who occasionally needed to be reminded to slow down and listen to or read the entirety of what someone was saying before speaking/acting. So I should not have been surprised to see that she’d listed her likes as “walks on the beach” and “sunsets,” or (my personal favorite) “making love.”

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I think this is the best one! did you give her a jar of sand?

  85. I Hate Pyramid Schemes*

    I have a friend who had a spot at a small local salon. The salon owner was trying to branch out into doing makeup and hair for weddings, and instead of going the cosmetology training/license route got mixed up in a cosmetics MLM. They gave everyone baskets of these overpriced crappy cosmetics for Christmas. My friend rolled her eyes, shrugged it off, and threw a lot of it out.

    A whole YEAR later, she gets a 1099 form from the MLM showing that she supposedly made several hundred dollars in income from this MLM, and so did one of the other stylists. They’re flabbergasted, so my friend calls the MLM to find out what’s up. The MLM gives her the list of people who supposedly bought from her, and a list of what she had supposedly bought from the MLM and surprise! They are all salon clients, and the credit card on the account is the salon’s credit card. She asks the salon owner about it, and it turns out they knew they could rank up and make a higher commission if they recruited salespeople under them, so they had opened accounts in my friend’s name and the other stylist’s name using their social security numbers but the salon’s credit card and address. They had been operating them as strawman accounts for the whole year. The Christmas gift was actually a starter kit! It had never occurred to the salon owner that taxes would be involved or that they would ever find out.

    My friend was understandably furious. The MLM gave her the run around and tried to charge a bunch of fees for closing the fake accounts. It took a letter from her lawyer threatening legal action to get the accounts closed, and when the MLM finally realized it was all fraudulent, they booted the salon owner’s account too. The owner paid my friend’s excess taxes, which were fortunately not much, and my friend had her lawyer give them a stern talking to about the jail time that can come from screwing around with other people’s social security numbers. Needless to say, my friend and the other stylist moved to a different salon.

    1. Anon4This*

      “It had never occurred to the salon owner that taxes would be involved or that they would ever find out.”

      This woman already owned a business and knew how taxes and employee compensation and everything else worked…and she STILL thought this?

      I…no words.

  86. tessa*

    I recall the office secret Santa where we (a team of 7) agreed to not spend more than $20 on our gifts. I obliged, yet showed up to my fellow coworker Secret Santas having purchased high-tech gadgets, $50 gift cards, expensive jewelry, etc.

    On top of that, I got looks of disdain and there was an awkward silence when my gift-ee opened her gift (a $20 movie theatre gift card). Beyond frustrating and unfair. Happy effing holidays.

    Fortunately, I am in a new department now, and my new boss gives us thoughtful gifts each year (except last year because WFH) but insists we don’t give her anything; and we don’t have a secret Santa.

    I love my boss!

  87. IYKYK Yet Anon Here*

    I worked at a mining camp, with people who are miners.
    The Christmas gift for working on Christmas Day was a yoga mat for each of the miners, with the company logo stamped on it.
    Unfortunately it was a very poor quality yoga mat, so the people who tried to regift the logo’ed corporate yoga mats to spouses, daughters, neighbours, etc. were unsuccessful as thin, slippery yoga mats can be dangerous.

    The previous year the gift was a disposable camera for each miner. The gift did not include the cost to develop the film in the camera, if you could find a place to develop film (the cameras were really old stock).

    One year it was a homemade CD per miner.
    If you’re reading this and you recognize the company — yeah, those were the days…

  88. Indie*

    One year I was working in this bro-club type of startup full of 20-30 year old (male) developers. The only women in the the office were myself and the HR person. She wanted to organize something fun for the holidays, so she planned a nice lunch (paid by the company) and a Yankee Swap. We set the price range to something like 15-20 dollars and I thought that was that. As a big tea drinker I got this tea sampler with 12 varieties (think David’s Tea or Mr T), it was a really nice box with tiny little canisters that held about 3 tea spoons of loose leaves. Put the box in a nice package and left it in the break room early in the morning. What was my surprise to see that the rest of the packages were enormous and definitely outside of the price range that we set. At the end of the game my tea samplers got stuck with the recruiter (young 20 something) who started complaining about the “garbage tea”, how nobody drank tea nowadays, how tea was for girls only and how unfair it all was since one of the gifts was a nice set of beer glasses and he REALLY wanted that one. A few months later this same guy was bringing small gifts for everyone (don’t remember the occasion). Everyone got one of those flashlights that change color. I got two bags of tea. Not even a nice tea, just something he probably found lying around. I didn’t last long at that place after that.

  89. ms cellophane*

    We had a big pull-names-out-of -a-hat gift exchange at a school I worked for. We wrote our names on the slips, so if you didn’t want to participate, you just didn’t write a slip. I pulled a coworker, E. And got chosen to start the exchange, handing the gift over. We went through the whole faculty, and then someone gives E a second present.
    Well, her last name sort of rhymes with mine, and the giver was told the last name only? over the phone. No one noticed that I was skipped since I’d gone first. That…. still stings. I don’t do secret santa any more.

  90. Sandy Squirrelllll*

    Not at the office, but at a party with my SO’s work unit we did “Dirty Santa.” We play by drawing numbers (order of choosing gifts.) If you are second you can choose a gift or steal #1’s gift. #1 can steal any gift at the end. Gifts can be “stolen” 3 times max. This is why we call it “dirty” …. New fiance of one of the unit members brings a really nicely packaged gift. I choose it. It’s was vibrator. And lube. I laughed it off and sort of just set it down and tried to keep things moving. Turns out she thought “dirty” meant something else. I wasn’t really embarrassed but more confused that she spent a lot more money than we were supposed to. Turns out – it gets worse – she re-gifted it. She had just had an engagement shower and someone gave this as a gift to her. Pretty sure it hadn’t been opened, but… No one ended up stealing my gift so later when we were cleaning up and I decided to go ahead and put my new gift away / hide (kids in the home) I realized – it gets worse – the lube she included WAS open and was NOT FULL. OMG. Her and her fiance didn’t work out. I almost reached when they split to see if she wanted her gift back. :)

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Sounds like someone at that engagement shower was prescient. Also, who has an engagement *shower*? Party, sure, I kind of get that, but are you supposed to buy someone an engagement shower gift, a bridal shower gift, *AND* a wedding gift? That seems a bit grabby.

  91. Seal*

    Years ago a work colleague and I swapped gifts. My grandmother was an artist who specialized in ceramics, so I gave my colleague a small hand-painted ceramic Christmas tree. My colleague gave me a candle holder that was made out of a moldy birch log and decorated with ratty tinsel garland and 3 mismatched candles. Worse, it wasn’t something she made herself (her lack of artistic skills was semi-legendary); she actually paid a fair amount of money for that ugly thing and went on and on about how cute it was. I went out of my way to thank her and be gracious about the gift since it’s the thought that counts, but I didn’t think twice about chucking that thing in the trash after the holidays.

    1. Freddy*

      This story doesn’t make you sound very nice. What happened to ‘it’s the thought that counts’?

      1. UKDancer*

        I don’t think that means you have to like and keep the gift, just be appreciative of it and recognise the thought that went into it. I had an elderly relative gave me really ugly China ornaments for me to display each year. I always thanked her, said nice things about them and took them back home. They all wound up in the charity shop. I appreciated the thought but I didn’t want them taking up room in my tiny flat.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Seal “went out of (her) way to thank her and be gracious about the gift since it’s the thought that counts” so ‘it’s the thought that counts’ definitely had its moment in the sun there and Seal was definitely not only nice but gracious.
        Undeserved criticism often reflects badly on the one dishing it out, did you know?

  92. Evelyn Carnahan*

    I used to work at a library that would do a white elephant book exchange every year. That’s not a terrible idea, although not everyone who works in a library loves to read. There were no requirements for what types of books to bring, but most people would bring a brand new copy of a book that had been popular that year or that the bringer particularly loved. My first year there, I discovered that this activity was not optional. The Associate Dean would bring a box of books so that everyone “could” participate, not recognizing that some people didn’t want to. And the worst part was that she would always bring books that seemed to come from a 10 for $1 pile at Goodwill. One year there were a couple of hot items, like a boxed set of the March trilogy by John Lewis, and then other people were left with stained church cookbooks. The real kicker is that the Associate Dean was one of those people who *really* loved Christmas, and if you didn’t participate enthusiastically enough it would come up in your annual review!

    One year I was wearing a sweater with reversible sequins on it, and she made me stand up wiping the sequins back and forth for her. So I was basically feeling myself up in front of all of my coworkers.

  93. Venti vanilla latte breve*

    Several years ago, I worked for a very dysfunctional team at a large company. We had some folks who loved party planning (including the head of the team) and insisted on having a White Elephant exchange. Although I normally dont like to participate in stuff like this (because inevitably, someone always get mad or upset), I gave him because I was a new employee.

    The game starts off okay – no weird or crude gifts. My direct boss picks a gift bag and it’s filled with literal trash – gum wrappers, used Post-its, bent paper clips, and an old sandwich wrapper. She laughed a bit and kept digging, thinking there was possibly a gift card hidden inside. Spoiler alert: there was no gift card – just trash.

    The head of our department starts erupting with laughter. Apparently, he had brought the gift and thought it was hilarious. This guy made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, so its not like money was an issue. It wasnt like he forgot about the gift exchange either – he was the main instigator of it – he just thought giving someone literal trash was funny. In fact, when he surveyed all of his employees on what they wanted to do to celebrate the holidays, every employee picked the a. Have a catered lunch and go home a few hours early option – except him.

    I guess i shouldnt be shocked by his behavior because he would also encourage his direct reports to buy very expensive liquor for him for his Xmas present. :/

  94. GOOD TIMES*

    Office white elephant exchange a couple of years ago:

    Nothing outrageous, just most of the gifts sucked or were just boring. A basic generic photo frame. A candle. A mug. A book of inspirational sayings. The limit was $25 but I swear everyone just half-assed it at the dollar store. Nothing interesting, unique, Christmassy, or even funny. A sad reflection of office morale at the time.

    But there was one present – a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine in a gift bag – that everyone in the office wanted to steal. It went around to everyone at one point and the last guy who’s turn it was to steal got to keep it and got cursed out by the others. Then it turned out that the guy who got to keep it, was the one that originally brought it in the first place! I don’t blame him for stealing it back!

    It just so boring and lacklustre. Everyone hated everything and everyone left disgruntled.

  95. Sylvia*

    I worked for a family-owned business and it was customary for the owner to invite extended family members who weren’t part of his staff to the annual Christmas party. The family had their roots in a small village in the mountains that was notorious for strange behavior. I had seen the owner’s cousin a couple of times when he came to the city. Impossible to miss, he was about 6’5″, had a big black beard and long flowing hair, and often wore a weathered hunting jacket. He looked very intimidating from afar, but seemed friendly enough.

    The party was held in a private banquet room of a restaurant and my co-workers were seated at long tables, having cocktails and chatting. It wasn’t long before I noticed my boss’s cousin flitting around to various groups of single women. I couldn’t hear what he said, but the women were looking at each other across the table and smiling uncomfortably. He made his way over towards our direction, where my female co-worker and her elderly mother were seated. In a hopeful-sounding voice, he asked if either of them would like a massage.

    They didn’t understand at first, and asked him to repeat. That was all the encouragement he needed. He began to massage my coworker’s mother’s shoulders. My boss suddenly appeared and shooed him away, saying, “I’m so sorry, he’s harmless.” The cousin went back to my boss’s table with him and sat down.

    The new office manager had organized a white elephant gift exchange, with all the gifts purchased by her on my boss’s behalf. The first few gifts seemed normal enough–I got a nice serving dish which I immediately hid under the table. Then a young woman unwrapped a gift– it was a silk rose. The office manager said, “Pull apart the flower!” The woman did, and was suddenly holding up a pair of red silk panties.

    Everyone laughed, and my boss’s cousin shouted, “Let me help you put them on!” The woman gave an embarrassed laugh, and then the gift exchange moved on. A minute later, I heard him say again, “Let me help you put them on!” I turned and saw that the cousin was now standing behind the woman, saying excitedly “I’ll help you put them on,” over and over again.

    Once again, my boss appeared looking exasperated and led him away. He must’ve told his cousin to leave the party, because I didn’t see him after that. Surprisingly (and amazingly), my co-worker and the massage recipient didn’t seem traumatized by their experiences. They stayed and enjoyed the rest of the party.

    1. Yessica Haircut*

      Something about a 6’5″ sexually aggressive lumberjack with no boundaries gives me the absolute heebie jeebies. I can’t imagine having to deal with that at a work function!

  96. Venti vanilla latte breve*

    I once had a boyfriend give me an audiobook on CD on self-improvement as a Christmas gift. Worse yet, it wasnt even a new book – he had one of his assistants copy it from the original book. Money was definitely not an issue (he owned quite a bit of real estate and several businesses at the time). Shockingly, he was also a pretty terrible boyfriend and we didnt last too long after the holidays.

  97. Jonaessa*

    My old boss was very jovial but could be extremely miserly. If flowers needed to be sent, he never contributed. Those of us who made less than half what he did would always contribute more to cover the costs. (I promise that we did not mind because the team cared about each other long before he came along and long after he left.) What was odd is that he constantly bragged about paying off his house and how much he had in his retirement account and how he couldn’t wait for his vacation property to be built, etc. I have never met someone so obsessed with money and talking about money.

    He also liked Christmas and wanted to do Secret Santa every year. Sure, why not? We set up the exchange via a website so everyone could make lists of what they wanted or were interested in, and the givers/recipients were notified via email any time there was a change. As the administrator of the exchange, I knew who was assigned to whom. Big Boss draws Secretary. Great! They actually went to high school together and had known each other for 30 years or so. The limit was $5, but we talked amongst ourselves that whoever chose Secretary would probably get her a bigger item on the list and no one minded because she was a great person. (You can add anything to the list and even if you had higher-priced items, it just gave people an idea of what you liked. Plus, anyone could view wish lists so we kept those items in mind to give people birthday presents later and things like that.)

    The week before Christmas, Secretary had to take off work to help her ailing mother. Everyone else had given and received their gifts, and Big Boss had told people whose name he drew. Because she wasn’t there, he said he would give her a gift later, along with something to help with her mom. He never gave her a thing. Not when she returned to work the next week. Not the next month. Not the next time we got paid. Occasionally, I would send out emails along the lines of, “Hey, if you didn’t get your Secret Santa gift yet or give someone their gift or want to know who chose you, please let me know!” He never responded to the emails. When I would mention it to him in passing, he would always say, “Oh, yeah!” and then change the subject. I’m best friends with Secretary so we would talk about how notoriously cheap Big Boss could be. I would ask her every so often if she ever received the gift. Nope. Here we are years later and still nothing. I find it really speaks to his true character. He always wanted people to think he was a good guy, but really he was a cheapskate. Like dude, you can’t get your Secretary–who basically runs this department–a $5 Starbucks gift card? I definitely do not miss him.

  98. Eeb*

    This isn’t a holiday gift story, but still an office gift story. I recently had a baby, and my office/CEO of my organization sent me a really lovely silver picture frame engraved with my child’s name and date of birth. The problem is…they got the birthday wrong! The frame’s date is one day earlier than the day my baby was actually born. I have no idea how that happened, I went back and double-checked the text I sent my boss after I had my baby to make sure I hadn’t sent the wrong date in my postpartum haze, but I sent the correct date. So now I have no idea what to do with this frame.

    1. ferrina*

      Keeping it as is is an option. I still have a custom stocking that my mom got made when I was a toddler that has the wrong birthdate on it. I don’t care- I still know when my birthday is :)

    2. Pikachu*

      LOL! This reminds me of my mom… one year she bought my sister and her husband one of those giant wood monogram signs that you might find on etsy. It had their wedding date on it, something like Est. May 15, 2009

      My sister got married in 2010. My mom thought I was insane, until I pulled out the novelty shot glasses they gave out as favors that actually had the correct date. Luckily it was from a local crafter who could fix it! I’ll take that little secret to the grave.

  99. Lots more where this came from*

    My first holiday at a new job, the boss gave us all the same toy dancing hula girl as a gift (something from Archie McPhee, for those familiar). I thought it was funny but noticed coworkers were grumbling. Turns out the usually holiday gift was a bonus check. But that year, the boss had hired his girlfriend and was spending a good bit of company money traveling with her.

  100. Ann O'Nemity*

    My last company did white elephant exchanges, and gifts spanned the spectrum from trash to treasure. The company usually added a few high end gifts (Fire tablet, Ninja blender, $100 gift cards, etc), so leadership could gleefully watch us fight over them. Meanwhile, employees were asked to contribute $15-20 gifts. Bottles of alcohol were a popular choice, as were “humorous” gifts like singing toilet seats. Some employees wrapped literal trash. I always received things on the trash end of the range.

    My first year I got a broken ice scraper. My boss had “forgotten” to bring a gift so he wrapped up his backup ice scraper from his car. Supposedly he felt bad, but if that was the case why didn’t he give away his functional scraper instead of the broken one? I prayed he or anyone would take pity on the new girl and steal it back, but they were too busy fighting over flat screen TVs and Beats headphones.

    Another year I got a very used and dirty parrot toy. It had a battery compartment, so maybe it talked or moved? In any event, it no longer worked. The fabric on one side was also singed; it looked like it had been through Some Shit. Accompanying the down-and-out parrot was a container of monkey butt itch powder. Apparently this dynamic duo was re-gifted every year in the exchange, and its opening reveal was greeted by rounds of jolly laughter and pats on the back.

    My last year I got a home waxing kit with packaging straight out of the seventies. I thought for sure the box was a joke. Like there had to be a different gift in the box, right? Right?! Nope, it was in fact a waxing kit. Might as well have been a lump of coal.

    1. PhysicsTech*

      That sounds like the worst of all world, it’s fun when it’s consistently good or bad gifts, but a mix of trash and nice things? Many people are going to leave disappointed.

  101. Judy Seagram*

    I’d been working in an office that would do the yankee swap/dirty santa style of gift exchange, where folks could steal a gift from each other. One year someone had found a photograph of a couple of water buffalo in their office. It was a BIG photo, framed, close to three feet wide. The water buffalo were pretty scroungy and dirty looking. It was not an attractive photo! But wrapped up, it looked like an impressive gift. As someone found out the hard way when they “won” it.

    I thought it was pretty funny in its awfulness. So the next year I deliberately took it, and hung it with pride in my office.

    The next year I hid the photo behind a couch in the party room, and then added my “gift” to the swap: A small, wrapped box, that held a note, “You won the buffalo photo.” I can’t remember who won it, but they were not amused.

    I went back to visit, years later. There were the buffalo, hanging over a colleague’s desk. Everyone who had gotten it since had signed and dated the back.

  102. PT*

    I worked somewhere where the bosses normally got the whole team each a token gift. My boss would make little goodie bags of cookies, with fancy sprinkles that were relevant to our department’s “theme”. But the last year I was there I was shared between two teams, so I got a gift from another boss. He gave his team a Dollar Tree travel mug, the kind that is made of the cheap rubbery plastic that you can smell from 10 feet away and thus you do not actually want to drink out of because you know it will poison you, full of Hershey’s kisses and some of those cheap Dollar Tree stretch gloves that don’t keep your hands warm.

    I ate the candy and dumped the gloves and mug at Goodwill when I moved. But I felt guilty about that. I’m not sure Goodwill even wanted those.

  103. Opalled*

    The sneaker gift from above reminded me of this one. Years ago, I work in Human Resources for a company that provides services to a variety of different age groups including some at a senior center. One year, we had a young female staff person who became a fixation for an old dude at the senior center. He left her a creepy heartfelt letter that included a proposition for her to star in a romantic comedy idea he had, flowers and one Justin Bieber Christmas CD that explained the CD as “what young people like you must listen to”. This was quickly dealt with so that she didn’t experience anymore of said unwanted creepiness and I being in HR ended up with said Bieber CD that got filed away in case we needed it for follow up (with police, security, etc.). Many years later, I found the CD in a file cabinet and it promptly became part of a White Elephant exchange at the office (as well as a Barry Manilow record found in the depths of an old office supply closet).

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      I know the actual situation is creepy but the idea of a Justin Bieber Christmas CD being “a police matter” is killing me

  104. Fern*

    The joy of working somewhere for a long time and having a boss who is basically family – in any other office this would be horrific and inappropriate but I promise he’s excited about this – I bought my boss a bidet and told him it was because he is full of shit.

  105. MissAgatha*

    This isn’t really at work but it is bananas and I am still haunted by it. In college, a student group that I was involved with had a white elephant elephant gift exchange. One of the guys in the group had been in a farming accident over the summer that required a skin graft. Apparently when you get a skin graft, they give you a little silicone patch to wear over the wound site, so he had this patch that he had been wearing under a gross sweaty glove all semester. Yeah I’m sure you see where this is going … he presumably forgot about the gift exchange and instead of running to the grocery store and getting $5 worth of ramen like a normal person, he got a piece of paper from the host and wrapped up that nasty piece of silicon. I don’t think he specifically meant for me to get it, but he thought it was hilarious and never apologized even when he saw I was very obviously trying not to burst into tears after I opened it. After the party he came up to me and asked for it back. Thankfully he didn’t return the following semester and I never had to see him again but man, screw that guy.

  106. Properlike*

    I worked for a customer-facing company with several different locations spread across a large metropolitan area. I’d volunteered to make a three-hour, roundtrip drive out to one of our far-flung locations on a Friday to pick up some time-sensitive materials for the local office group. Two days beforehand, all employees got an email from the Regional Manager calling us into a MANDATORY Friday meeting due to a “very serious situation” involving “customer complaints.” When I reminded him that I was supposed to do a pick-up for the company, he said I still had to attend this meeting “because it especially applies to you.”

    The best-case scenario is that we’re going to be yelled at for a couple of hours. This is the guy who gives performance reviews based on what he’s heard, not on anything he’s observed directly (who’s also rarely on-site). The type who always believes the customer is telling the truth, no matter the evidence proving otherwise. Because I love my front-line colleagues, I schedule the trek for Thursday instead and end up driving through a horrible windstorm threatening to blow my car off the highway all the way there and back.

    Friday meeting, hundred-plus employees gathered at the central office in a decidedly unfestive mood. Regional Manager stalks out from a back office, does a circle giving us all the stink-eye, and thanks us for coming. As he said, it’s very serious. Corporate has gotten too many customer complaints, and there’s one that’s so bad, he’s going to read it out loud. He takes out a piece of paper, pauses dramatically, and then breaks into a huge grin. “Just kidding! You’re all doing great!”

    That’s right: he’d led us to believe we were all in trouble so we’d gather at central office and then be “happy” to find out we weren’t actually in trouble! Hahahahaha! But wait! There’s more! The company is so pleased with our performance for the year that they want to recognize our efforts with a special bonus! Silent bafflement turns to murmurs of delight as the assistants hand out identical gift bags to everyone.

    The Regional Manager comes up to me. He’s thrilled he managed to fool me and clearly expects me to praise him or do that “you got me” chuckle. “Yeah, so glad I almost died yesterday so I didn’t miss this,” I say, holding up our “bonus”: a plastic, corporate-branded travel mug and a Starbucks card worth five dollars.

  107. Provolone Piranha*

    I’m a high school teacher. 90% of kids (let’s be honest, parents) give me gift cards, sweets, mugs, and nice notes. The weirdest gift I’ve ever gotten was a box of body sprays. They all came in pink and purple bottles and had names like “Pretty Lady.” The student was very normal; I know that his parents were immigrants so I’m guessing it was a cultural miscommunication. I threw the box away. If you are wondering what to get a teacher this year, Starbucks, Target, and Amazon gift cards are always a safe bet—they’re popular because we do actually use them!

    1. PhysicsTech*

      I once got a massage gift card from a parent who was also a teacher I worked with, and that was my favorite but you gotta know the person imo.

  108. Can’tAdultToday*

    Last year, my boss got all of us Christmas ornaments with the company logo, 2020, and #essential printed on them. First gift she had given in 4 years.

    I was not amused, but some of my coworkers acted as if they’d been given the Hope Diamond.

    And yes, this was definitely from the boss, not the company.

      1. Can’tAdultToday*

        What’s nuts is that some other coworkers, not in my department, heard me complain about it, thought I was bragging, and several said they would love to have one!

        This was all out of earshot of management so it definitely wasn’t sucking up, it was just weird. I’d have gladly given mine away, but I was sure it would turn up at work sometime where my boss was confused how not-her-employee had her employee gift.

        I looked around where I keep such stuff earlier, and I’m pretty sure I pitched it. I have no need to be reminded in perpetuity of the ESSENTIAL year of overtime and aggravation.

  109. Murphy*

    We had one today…white elephant/random swap rules, but not “bad” gifts. Rules were “under $20.”

    I ended up with a single bag of jalapeno cranberry pork rinds.

    Someone else ended up with….steaks. Not a fancy steak set, but like your standard steaks from the grocery store. (It was in a cooler bag with an ice pack and a bottle of A1.)

    Was this exchange meat or food related? NOPE. Other gifts included Star Wars Legos, wine, a candy dispenser, cocktail mixers, fancy chocolates, lotions, etc.

    1. KateM*

      At least that steak was in a cooler bag. I remember reading long time ago from etiquette hell about someone who put a steak under tree just wrapped in paper. (And as it later turned out, for a vegetarian.)

  110. Popinki*

    After I graduated from college I worked at a department store. One of my coworkers was a lady in her 70s who tended to treat me in a grandmotherly kind of way. She also hoarded paper products (paper towels, TP, and tissues) and underwear. Specifically women’s Jockey briefs in three-packs. She had about a hundred unopened packs of undies stashed away in one of her closets and bought more every time Jockey went on sale. She was so attached to them that when we had a flood scare and had to evacuate, she refused to leave her home without her undies.

    At Christmas we usually exchanged small gifts with everyone in the department, so one year we were gathered around the register handing off packages when she gave me hers. So in front of a bunch of coworkers I opened up a three-pack of Jockey underpants. At least I know she bought them new because there was a gift receipt in case I wanted to exchange them, instead of a pack out of her hoard. We all knew about this coworker and her undies so it wasn’t shocking, but it was sort of mortifying.

    (Although I’ve worn Jockey underwear ever since. They were a lot better made and more comfortable than the cheapo ones I’d worn up to that point.)

  111. Terrible, but technically not at work*

    Thankfully NOT a work story; I have two horrific gift exchanges that occurred in university though, that fit the bill here.

    One was with a group of people who were…transhumanist enthusiasts is the nicest way of putting it. Objective definitions for EVERYTHING, and worshipping a certain inventor who needs to log off of Twitter because of bad posting choices. You can guess by context. They brought things well out of the price range for White Elephant ($5) including lingerie and a year’s supply of Soylent. We barely knew most of them (my friends who were participating) and were confused by the whole thing. I have a mild soy intolerance (like lactose, but with soy protein; I have many foods I can’t eat, sadly) so when I won this, I was like WTF. Nobody understood how the game worked. A friend accidentally got lingerie clearly intended for someone else’s partner. I gave the Soylent away and donated the book as soon as I could get rid of them.

    The other one was a university’s unofficial “club” white elephant. Over half the gifts being given were cannabis. I don’t recall the year but my State has legalized cannabis over a certain age, so it’s not illegal (I think) but I also wound up with cannabis. I can’t have cannabis unless I want a one way ticket to the ER, AND I was considered underage at the time, so I was a) mortified and b) feeling very awkward for the remainder of the party. So I wound up with disgusting Tabasco chocolate because someone took pity on me. I threw it out after trying one bite (after the party).

    Thankfully, all of my gifts have since been Starbucks cards or other things that I CAN use legally without risking death, hospitalization, illness, or arrest. And I no longer talk to the people that tried to gift lingerie. They turned out to be truly horrible, abusive people.

    1. KateM*

      In a high school Secret Santa, I got a box of vodka-filled chocolates. I don’t know whether this would officially count as an adult buying alcohol for a minor, but the gifter had just recently turned 18, while I was still 17. And I didn’t drink.

  112. Sassy*

    Weird only out of context but one year for Secret Santa my supervisor gave me a ton of the cardboard tubes from toilet paper and paper towels from her house.

    People were confused but I knew it was because a couple weeks ago we had been discussing this homemade puzzle set up I wanted to do for my dog that required tons of those tubes but since I live alone I don’t go through paper products quickly. Her family of five was more than capable of helping me meet that goal!

  113. CoffeeCoffeeCoffee*

    A few years ago, I worked at a small Catholic school; where I was one of only the (very few) secular employees in the finance office. My boss was a nun, as was her boss. For my first Christmas there, we did a Secret Santa gift, valued at $10 or less. I was really unsure what to bring- so I brought a box of local chocolates. When it came time to gift-giving, the nuns in our office burst into laugher at my gift- literally every other person had brought wine or liquor. In one instance, one sister had brought an entire handle of vodka. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought to bring alcohol to a work exchange, let alone at one at a religious university- but after that first year I learned quickly. My last year there, I bought a giant bottle of champagne and the sisters kept trading to see who got to keep it.

    1. Ohé Matelot!*

      My high school French teacher was an ex-nun. I lived in San Francisco at the time and one year, during Fleet Week, the French Navy had a shipped docked in one of the piers in the Bay.

      On the Friday of the end of Fleet Week, she excused class early and told us to go down to the piers and practice our French with the sailors, followed by, “Especially you young ladies.” AND THEN SHE WINKED.

      As we hurried out of the classroom, my friends and I were like, “Did Ms. M just tell us to go get laid by some French sailors???”

  114. Anhaga*

    Okay, this seems like an appropriate time to share this one. If any of my co-workers from that job read AMA, I’m probably going to get some Facebook messages, but I’ll try to obscure some details just because.

    When I was a graduate student, I worked in a specialist library inside the main university library. The library was a collection focused on a specific period of English and European literature, and was absolutely excellent. Our boss there was (and still is) an internationally known expert on a subset of literature from that time period that focuses on the life and times of a particular legendary character. He was also known to his grad student employees and colleagues for collecting pretty much anything and everything that referenced that character and the character’s legend. Because of this, our staff gift to him every year was something that he could add to his pretty substantial collection. We were all poor grad students, so this was usually some sort of cute tchotke rather than anything really substantial, but we always had fun trying to find something clever. Our boss would open it in front of everyone at the holiday lunch we had at a restaurant.

    One year, my partner, who also worked there, had been tasked by our boss with doing some research on modern uses of the legendary character in, well, pornography. In the process, my partner found an entire feature-length very NSFW movie that used the legendary character and his social context as the “trappings” for some very exciting activities. When my partner learned that our boss did not actually own a copy of said video, he knew that we had found our staff gift for the year. Everyone approved and thought it was going to be hilarious, as it was–when our boss unwrapped it, he just started laughing and passed it to his wife, who also started laughing. It was probably our most memorable staff gift of my entire time working there and despite it being utterly inappropriate for just about any other context, it was actually fitting and right for this very specific one.

    1. My dear Wormwood*

      Please…please tell me it was Robin Hood and some extremely merry men.

      Or perhaps King Arthur and his knights. The adventures of Sir Lance-a-LOT?

    2. Anhaga*

      All I can say is that you’re on the right track. If I got specific, it would very likely be possible to at least ID my boss! Though he might find that funny. :-D

  115. curtangel*

    I work in a very small office and most of the gifts are from the boss to us at a special meeting we have before Christmas and maybe someone will bring breakfast for everyone or a treat for everyone to snack on throughout the day in the week leading up but nothing special.
    Well a number of years ago (when Trump was first elected president but hadn’t taken office) my coworker gave everyone a small gift. Most of them were normal stuff but he gave me a pro-Trump shirt that was collar to bottom hem covered in text and had a term I had to Google to learn. It’s under my bed somewhere in case I ever need a shirt I feel comfortable painting in.

  116. Dawn*

    I can’t top any of those but I can share one nonetheless.

    I’m a teacher, and I started my career working at an alternative high school for boys with emotional disabilities. This was an intense job on its best days: Most of my students had significant trauma in their background, many lived in poverty, and many were in “the system” and didn’t have families beyond a rotation of foster and group homes. The holidays were a particular fraught time, as the students’ anxiety around whether they’d get a gift or spend time with someone who loved them ramped up. We, the staff, were dealing with constant emotional crises from students, as well as more garden-variety escalated behavior in the classroom. We were a “hands on” school, so many of these crises ended with having to restrain a student, which is physically and emotionally taxing for everyone involved. After a month of this every day, we were done by the time the holiday break rolled around.

    Our school director proudly called herself “the diva” and ensured that everything centered on her. Our normal schedule was that we stayed an hour past when the students left. The day before the holiday break, she had the power to send us home when the students left. We were exhausted by this point and hoped for this every year.

    What usually happened instead was she would keep us hanging after the students left. There was no work to do because we were about to start break, so everyone would mill around, speculating when we might get sent home and grousing that we hadn’t been sent yet. Around 3:30, she would saunter into the school and only then invite us down to the conference room to give us a gift that was whatever made-for-TV junk she could get on the cheap. All of us would have much preferred being allowed to leave at 3:00 and getting to start our break an hour early, but I guess that didn’t center her enough in the whole affair.

  117. Twisted Lion*

    I worked at a mid-sized regional credit union in eastern Texas because my husband (military) was stationed nearby. One year for Christmas my boss gave everyone in the department bibles. Personalized bibles. I was so shocked, I looked around the room at everyone to gauge their reaction because I felt this was very much not okay (Im catholic FWIW but still… not okay). My department (about 10 people) were very excited and grateful. I was speechless. Then they had an impromptu bible study during out staff meeting. Tried to go to HR about it but…. well… east Texas is a different place. I ended up donating the bible hoping there was someone else with my name who would enjoy it. Remains the most bizarre holiday moment of my career!

    1. DrRat*

      Oh, yes, East Texas is so different from “city” Texas – last time I was there they had worked their way up to the year being about 1957.

    2. Chris K.*

      Here in Tennessee a male gynecologist gave me a paperback bible at my office visit. I left it there and never went back.

  118. Laura*

    At my last job, we had a Secret Santa that lasted all week the last full work week before Christmas. We each had a stocking, and you were supposed to buy a different gift for your assigned coworker each day costing no more than $5 each, and sneak it into their stocking when they weren’t looking. To help people buy appropriate gifts, we each filled out a little slip of paper listing our favorites in certain categories, like foods, scents, and beverages, as well as things that we absolutely didn’t want. Some people were not very good at filling these out with the $5 per gift limit in mind, so they’d list things that were absolutely outside that price range (like that their favorite restaurant was a steakhouse). One year, the other member of my two-person department, who was a well-meaning but slightly clueless guy in a workplace full of women, drew the name of a woman who wrote that her favorite food was salmon. So he bought her two big cans of salmon, like what you’d use to make salmon patties. I thought it was hilarious, but oh man, she was so mad.

      1. DrRat*

        Maybe you ask for them from everyone you know, and then when you go out for a nice steak dinner and the bill comes, you shove over a giant stack of $5 gift cards?

        1. KateM*

          Well, I understand there were $5 per day for a full work week, so that would already be $25.
          But what I was thinking was that if the receiver won’t give any cheaper options than steakhouses, they have nobody but themselves to point at if they end up paying for most of their meal in steahhouse themselves.

    1. Just Me*

      Oh god, I had a coworker once who requested brand-new ski gloves for the Secret Santa and we had a $25 limit. I had to buy some clearance gloves somewhere and still went slightly over the limit. His girlfriend happened to draw my name (we were doing Secret Santa with spouses/partners) and she got me….a $10 bottle of wine.

  119. Azure Jane Lunatic*

    I was expecting the hot pink Nerf crossbow to be the funny gift at the white elephant, not the hotly contested and fought over one that was eventually claimed with satisfaction by one of the more popular and outgoing team members. It had been on discount, so I’d been able to fit in a set of extra darts (sadly in orange) under budget.

    For a distinctly non-work exchange (it was a local dungeon) my partner and I brought some relatively tame items, but I made sure to wrap them in penguin paper. One of the guys there had a particular grudge against penguins (not a phobia), and his girlfriend thought it was funny to expose him to penguin-themed items for scenes that challenged his dignity. She hadn’t been able to make it to this party, so he thought he’d be safe from penguining. I had the second-to-last turn, and this guy had the last turn. And wouldn’t you know, there were two things left: the large rectangle with the penguin paper, and something else. So I had to pick the something else, and he got the penguin package, much to the delight of everyone else present. It was one of the novelty-size versions of Trader Joe’s Pound Plus chocolate bars (over five pounds of very decent 65% chocolate) so he was ultimately pleased: his girlfriend loved chocolate. I wound up with a novelty rainbow striped sour gummy lollipop in a shape you might expect from the venue. It had been regifted around a few times already, as I’d seen it the previous year. I eventually sliced it up, since I do like sour gummies, just … maybe not as THAT large of a lollipop.

  120. JessicaTate*

    At one job, the CEO and his assistant picked out the official staff Holiday Gift each year. This one year they had the brilliant idea to give different gifts to men and women because they wanted to give the ladies something “extra special” that wouldn’t work for the fellas.

    So, the wrapped gifts were dropped off at everyone’s desks early one morning. I worked in a cube farm that was entirely women. We all open our gifts and it’s this garish, bedazzled purse. We stand there puzzling over this god-awful object, not remotely related to our company, its work, our branding, and wondering what the guys got. Then one of the men from another department comes sauntering in wearing his gift — a completely gender-neutral fleece blanket with the company logo in the corner. He worked in a mixed-gender department and saw how this had played out when his team opened their gifts. He thought it was HILARIOUS, and came up wearing his blanket like a cape to stir the pot in our Department of Ladies, which had not yet realized that the dudes didn’t get a super-gendered, ugly, and useless gift. (He continued to wear that blanket as a cape all day long.)

    Consider the pot stirred. Complaints were directed to HR, the CEO’s office, and on and on. It became a THING.

    Later that day was the fancy, sit-down Holiday Luncheon Party, which involved staff, some donors, community big shots, etc. Said luncheon even included a fashion show with a local designer, in which several female staff served as models, and one male staff member was their tux-wearing on-stage escort. (All voluntary – but, in retrospect, it was presented as another “perk” offered to the ladies by the CEO’s party planning strategy.) After the fashion show, the CEO gets up to the mic, and gives his holiday speech. It’s all of the normal CEO holiday platitudes until he gets to the thank-yous. Once he’s says the word “gratitude,” he pivots to a whole speech about how some people today are so ungrateful. And people should be grateful for any gifts they receive, even if they don’t like it, you should just say “Thank you,” be grateful, and shut up about it. It was clear to the staff who he meant. For the donors/guests, it was, at best, confusing — although I’m sure their tablemates let them in on all the drama. And it was very awkward.

    The next day, an all-organization email went out to reiterate the public shaming message about gratitude, and how they were just trying to do something nice for the ladies, but clearly we were too petty accept that. So if any women hated their gift so much, they could exchange it for a fleece blanket. To do so, they would have to come to the CEO’s office and sign-in/out with the Executive Assistant to document and get their gift exchange between hour X and Y. It effectively made it a public Walk of Shame for a lack of appropriate gratitude.

    I almost didn’t take the Walk of Shame (I was young and started to think maybe we WERE being ungrateful). But a wise woman in my department helped me see this was not a gratitude issue. They made a ridiculous, sexist assumption and we should go get that damn blanket with heads held high. Well, I waited until the last minute, but I did go upstairs and sheepishly exchange my purse for that blanket. I still have it to this day. It was a nice blanket.

      1. Catalin*

        I was hoping they conspired with the men to swap blankets for purses and then the MEN can go deal with swapping purses for blankets.

        1. JessicaTate*

          That is genius!! If only the men had been such allies. Instead, they roared with laughter over the whole thing for days. (Not maliciously, just “not my circus, not my monkeys” attitude.)

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      I would’ve wanted to make a really big show of being SO GRATEFUL for the blanket and how much I APPRECIATE being able to trade in my horrible purse

  121. Souvenir Mug*

    This is pretty innocuous compared to a lot but I’ve wanted to share this for a few years.
    A few years ago in college I volunteered for an organization that ballooned between the first and second year. The first year there was about 1o of us and the next year there was over 20. The first year we did a Secret Santa and it was great! So I figured I’d do it again for year two.

    Turns out in year two instead of a Secret Santa, there was an anonymous gift swap during our December meeting. Turns out only 7 or so people participated (myself included). So there was a little table with wrapped gifts and one unwrapped gift (we’ll get to that). Everyone who contributed picked a number out of a hat and that decided the order and when it was your turn you got to pick a gift. I ended up with a generic throw blanket which I was happy about. The other gifts were what you’d expect: a board game, some recent best selling novel, a scarf and hat set, a coloring book and crayons because coloring books for adults was all the rage.

    Where is gets weird was the unwrapped gift. It was a souvenir mug from Puerto Rico. None of the volunteers chose that one so the coordinator (who was also participating) bit the bullet and took it. Even weirder, the guy left before it was over! I think he took a gift and bailed right after because I remember when the mug was left everyone looking around and really confused because we all knew who it was from.

    I don’t know but I think there something may have been up with him. Once I was washing my hands in the bathroom and he came in ( I’m female but the bathroom had stalls and was being treated as unisex. No issues with that), entered a stall, didn’t close it all the way so it the door was half open, peed, and then left without flushing.

  122. The J*

    Mine will seem relatively tame, I think – I received a (used) Starbucks gift card (it had a dollars-and-cents balance, so clearly someone had made a purchase with it) and some dollar-store Halloween candy that had been in our office in October that the office manager had pleaded with my Secret Santa to take home for their kids so it wouldn’t be hanging around anymore (no one else wanted it).

    I sent the Sbux gift card off to a friend and trashed the candy, and resolved to avoid Secret Santas from then on.

  123. It's_not_me*

    One year, we had a prosthetic leg in the White Elephant/Yankee Swap. It was rather sought after.

  124. Angel M*

    I once received a pair of dice and a magic 8 ball in Secret Santa, because as an HR person my hiring was always based on luck.

  125. DrRat*

    Like most people, I have some horror stories, but this is actually about an especially clever gift present in an office gift exchange. It was the Yankee swap/Dirty Santa where you bring a wrapped present, one person can choose, others can steal, etc. One woman picks a present, tears off the wrapping paper, and finds…a bedpan. A clean, unused bedpan, but…a bedpan.

    She was totally confused, but even more so as someone’s eyes light up and the bedpan is stolen. And stolen again. Half the room is completely befuddled, and half the room is fighting for this bedpan like it’s the last helicopter leaving Saigon. People. Want. That. Bedpan.

    What half the room didn’t realize was…the person who gave the bedpan had taped 20 lottery tickets to the underside of it.

    The person who ended up winning and keeping the bedpan did win something from one of the tickets. Not a ton, but I think about $60. Definitely better than most office Christmas gifts!

  126. Industrial Tea Machine*

    Our office has a fun White Elephant gift exchange with a long-standing rule that a gift can be stolen from the original opener and then one more time, and then is permanently stuck. I am generally pretty easy come, easy go about these things, except one year there was the Perfect Gift for Me: a jigsaw puzzle that, when completed, was a board game of Nellie Bly’s trip around the world! I love jigsaw puzzles, board games, and most especially Nellie Bly, so I stole the gift immediately, but it was still possible that it could be taken away! The stress!! Every time someone walked toward me or even glanced in my direction, I loudly and cheerfully informed them of a Nellie Bly Fun Fact.
    To this day I regularly work my delightful puzzle, and a surprising number of people in my office remember their Nellie Bly Fun Facts.

  127. whoops*

    Good timing on this post: we actually had our Dirty Santa earlier today, and I ended up being the third (and therefore final) person to steal a collection of lottery tickets! I ended up winning $72.

    I cheerily thanked our accounts manager after that (thinking she was the one who had brought the tickets), but, uh… she was actually just the first person who got them in the gift exchange, aka the person I ultimately stole them from. Our publisher brought them and she literally mentioned that early on in the game.

    But my semi-tired mind didn’t make the connection until after I left, and I realized I probably sounded like an absolutely obnoxious ass who was bragging about her win to the person it would be the worst to do that to. ‍♀️ This is my confession!

  128. mhmaven*

    I will never forget at my first “office” job we did secret Santa and the person I got requested underwear, like a 6 pack of fruit of the loom from Walmart with the correct size!!! It was another woman but we worked with men and all I could think about was what if a guy got this person.

  129. Chocolate Milk*

    Long time reader, first time commenting!

    As a junior lawyer in my first year of work at a small branch of a major national firm, I was excited for the Christmas party. It was at a fancy restaurant, no expense spared. I had good relationships with everyone at work – about 60-odd lawyers and support staff. We had a Secret Santa with a $10 gifting limit. I can’t remember what I bought my recipient; I think a nice mug or something. One of the older male partners had dressed up as Santa to hand out the gifts and some of the lawyers jokingly sat on his lap for photos; being a young woman, I obviously didn’t and just accepted my present with thanks. I returned to my seat and opened it, to find… chocolate body paint.

    The packaging was fairly discreet but contained enough references to erotic play to make it VERY clear what it was. I was absolutely mortified. I tried to play it off as a joke and those sitting around me also laughed it off.

    Another junior lawyer had been responsible for setting up the game so I tried to ask her later in the night who my Santa was, but she claimed she couldn’t remember and said she was sure it was an innocent joke or mistake by someone. I certainly hope that was the case.

    I left that firm several years later and am very glad I did, as it wasn’t a great working environment for many reasons… that gift was the least of it, but I’m reminded of it everytime I have a workplace Secret Santa (thankfully, never had anything so inappropriate since!).

  130. DiplomaJill*

    Our office (prepandemic) had a white elephant each year which have always seemed to be appropriately quirky for our culture. There are usually 3-5 bottle of alcohol on the table which are the most sought after gifts, despite exceeding the dollar limit. I’ve started messing with the folks who pick up the gifts to see how heavy they are, searching for those liquor bottles: I buy a nice glass bottle of olive oil, and drop it in a wine bag. Muahaha!

  131. Ashkela*

    I had a boss who decided to give everyone in the office large, expensive smoked salmon packages one year. As a non-salmon eater with a stepfather who loved the stuff, I was ecstatic to be able to regift something this expensive as a 23 year old. Unfortunately, the boss’ executive assistant actually went to HR over this. She’d worked for this man for 15 years and been vegetarian for over 20. She decided it was a deliberate insult and tried to have him fired for it.

    In the end, I honestly think he was just clueless, given that his reaction to the confrontation was that it wasn’t meat, it was fish. He was not fired, but he never again gave out food for holiday presents.

    1. Miss Curmudgeonly*

      His EA tried to get him fired? I can’t imagine they had any kind of decent working relationship after that.

  132. All the rules!*

    We’re doing our gift exchange virtually for the second year in a row. The suggested range is $15-$20, and it really brings home the bald economics of the deal. I contributed a $20 electronic gift certificate from a bookstore last year, and the person whose gift I ended up with sent me $15 by Venmo. So I was out five bucks!

  133. it's-a-me*

    Pretty mild in comparison to many here.

    We have a very domineering manager at my office, and a new intake of staff shortly before christmas one year. This manager decided all of the new staff would participate in the secret santa, if they said no she pushed until they agreed. Team bonding, after all!

    Well, new staff = knowing nothing about the people in the office, so one of the new staff bought a nice safe gift of a giant Toblerone as her gift… for a diabetic staff member with a nut allergy.

  134. Mainer*

    The best gift I got at an office white elephant was a novelty oven mitt made to look like a moose. It was actually a very good oven mitt aside from the antlers, which got in the way when you put your hand in the oven. (The grippy part of the mitt was the moose’s mouth, the antlers were two pieces of fabric on the top of the wrist.)

    Ironically, the worst gift was from that same year, from the company. Our branch manager decided to give us all t-shirts with his face. Worse, the t-shirts weren’t even made professionally— he got his assistant to photoshop a Santa hat on him, and then got that photo of his smarmy-red-eyed-face-plus-Santa-hat made into an iron-on decal that the poor assistant then had to iron onto a pack of plain white Hanes t-shirts she had to buy from Walmart. The assistant wasn’t great at craft projects like that so the hat looked very bad and still had a white border on it that cut into the manager’s forehead, the manager still had red eye, and the iron-on patch was on a different part of everyone’s t-shirt. I kind of wish I’d kept that t-shirt now because it was so weird, but I threw it out before I got home since I thought it would scare my toddler if he saw it!

  135. ZebraNeighbor*

    We did a white elephant exchange every year. There a $10 suggested value but some people would wrap a case of beer or really nice chocolates and others would bring a humorous but still usable gift. One year I stole a “World’s Okayest Employee” mug and loved it. Our awful boss wrapped an assortment of dollar store crap, including a can of generic fruit cocktail. My team mate who got it already disliked him, and after this she full-on despised him.

  136. Baffled Teacher*

    Completely mild compared to some of these! At an old job our program director rented out a beautiful space for the night with this huge like, Nancy Meyers movie kitchen. We had a great appetizers and wine time in this dream kitchen, sitting around a huge table—and then the director decided to take charge of the white elephant/Yankee swap…and ran it exactly like a staff meeting. At 10 pm. On a weekend. At a party.

    The admin assistant cried.

  137. Julia*

    My friend “Rory” was a new associate lawyer at a small local law firm. There were a handful of other lawyers –a mix of associates and partners– all of whom were men. The admin and support roles were all filled with older women. Around the holidays, the head assistant Lorelai came to Rory and told her that they were “collecting money for Christmas gifts for the guys.” When Rory pressed, curious about the office holiday protocol, Lorelai said something to the effect of “the women in the office get the lawyers gifts every year.” (Insert eyeroll about lower-paid employees buying gifts for their highly-paid bosses).

    But yes, Rory was being asked to contribute to a gift for the “lawyers in the office” while herself being “a lawyer in the office.” There is no way Lorelai was confused about Rory’s job; she was the tiny firm’s first female lawyer! Young, confused, and too embarrassed to assert herself, Rory handed over some cash and wondered if maybe she’d also see a “lawyer” gift that season. Nope, all the male lawyers received their annual ties from the women in the office, and Rory, surprise surprise, received nothing.

  138. Nervous New Grad*

    Actually just had a White Elephant at work! The rules were joke/gag gifts only, with a $15 limit, and it was pretty clear most people had just googled “joke gifts under $15″…there were multiple yodeling pickles, and in the end one person ended up receiving his own yodeling pickle

  139. WorkingForMyselfNow*

    I worked at a company in a management role a few years back. It was Secret Santa time, and the whole office gathered round to see everyone’s gifts (it was a small division, 20 people or so, of a larger company). When I opened my gift, everyone burst out laughing. It was chocolate body paint – apparently this was a ‘joke’ gift that was given to a lucky (female) member of staff each year, and it was apparently my turn. I don’t have a poker face, so I guess my reaction was pretty clear; the laughter soon died down and my ‘real’ gift appeared ( I don’t remember what it was). Left the company soon after (it was one of multiple red flags in my time there). Oh, and I left the body paint at the office, too.

  140. What in the world?*

    My name was “accidentally” left out of the secret Santa gift exchange two years in a row. The same person ran it every year, and it was well known that she disliked me with the fire of a thousand suns.

    It’s okay, though. She later got fired for repeatedly threatening me and spreading rumors, which was the best present I could have asked for. Much better than anything with a $25 limit.

  141. A.J.*

    my weird/worst one was at my old job. my team did a limited yankee swap – pick a present and then decide to keep or steal a present but you could only steal once. anyway the weird-ish on was a photo frame with a pic of our CEO with the fake print signature on it. The frame was nice and it was in the mix ( same pic different frame) for a few years.

    the worst part was I’d gotten a nice box of green tea and my boss decided to swap with me for this really awful “hot chocolate kit” – expired powdered hot chocolate a mason mug that had a tiny opening that would be so hard to clean and a little spoon. I nearly cried.

  142. Bellis Perennis*

    At an old job we had an optional secret santa, with a budget of £10 for the gifts, which would then be opened at the work Christmas party. Everyone took it in turns to open their gifts, and they were all pretty standard ‘generic secret santa’ type gifts- nice chocolates, fancy bath products, etc – until one poor colleague opened theirs to find it was a past-its-expiry-date, single stale Twix bar. Not a Christmas selection box type thing, just a Twix. Funnily enough, no-one did ever confess to being the gift giver, and the next year the bosses decided not to do a secret santa again.

  143. Happy Grinch*

    We where a very informal office with a tight knit team of 15 people, 6 men and 9 women.
    When our supervisor retired, we got a new supervisor who didn’t do anything to get to know us and had already estranged most of us after the first six weeks by blatantly ignoring protocols, roles, common sense and laws of physics when giving us tasks. Overall we just tried to work around her as much as possible since we’d learned she’d never listen, didn’t bother to find out why we did what we did the way we did it and make promises to departments that couldn’t be fulfilled because of that. She had a strict idea on how things could be done that had nothing to do with reality because that’s how it was done at her last assignment no matter that this was completely different from ours. It was her way or the highway.
    Then chrismas came and she announced she’d now make an effort to get to know us better and invest into better team dynamics.
    She then spoke to all of us separately in a forced familiarity that rubbed us just wrong. But we all really made an effort to get along with her. At least she was trying, right?
    She asked a lot of sometimes rather personal questions and announced she had a small budget for gifts and wanted to use it to finally make a connection. Find out what to give us to open the door to better understanding each other etc. bla bla. (we thought it was an extra budget she got somehow but later found out she used the budged granted to all teams to organise their team chrismas gatherings)
    We found that strange but ok, let’s be open and give her a chance.
    As it so happened, the whole team was into two major topics: pets and food. So it should have been fairly easy to find something nice for each of us. The similarities in our interest was what made us click and could easily be spotted when just entering our space. The whole office was decorated with pictures of peoples pets (mostly cats but we had the one or other dog lover too and an equestrian) and the newest foodie-trends. We had a special pool folder accessible to the whole team including our supervisor dedicated to recipes and videos of cooking sessions.
    Last thing: we were IT admins. All of us. Some had studied that field, some had learned the ropes within the office and we where pretty nerdy in private too.
    Then Christmas came close and she called us all in her office for a ‘party’ and gifts.
    The party was store bought cookies and tea from the office kitchen which was provided anyway for everyone.
    And she gave us all cheap IT stuff like extremely small USB Sticks, USB ventilators for summer (also extremely cheap) and gimmicky stuff like almost useless USB hubs or adapters. Nothing anybody of us could use or would need. The few things useful we already had to our disposal whenever we wanted. Then she gave all of us potted plants, which wouldn’t have been so bad if they’d not been poisonous! She gave the whole team poisonous plants despite knowing we all had pets after her lengthy interrogations and couldn’t bring home poisonous plants. The last thing where canned meals with the comment that now we could take a one day break from stressful cooking.
    Also everyone got exactlyly the same. The gifts felt randomly thrown together. Not at all even slightly personalized.
    After that we had to linger around cramped into her small office and awkwardly making small talk, eating store bought cookies instead of the homemade ones everyone had on their desks and sipping tea no one wanted.
    Had she just announced a potluck and left the organisation to us she’d been better off. The other teams had used their budged to order food for everyone or a cake and we had seen them gathering in one of our conference rooms for potlucks and chatter. Hell, we were the people to make the reservations for those rooms in our system when their supervisors boo