Ho ho ho! You know Christmas is lurking around the corner when malls start hanging up (fake) dried pinecones and giant Styrofoam snowflakes. Or maybe, you know when you start getting asked to draw out a Secret Santa name.

Ah, the joy of giving! The look on the faces of friends and what’s-his-name when they unwrap your presents to reveal a…free mug you got from attending an exhibition two years ago. Good job.

Secret Santa parties shouldn’t be a chore, even if you end up drawing the name of someone in the office you’ve never spoken to in your life. The trick is observation. So, in the spirit of spreading joy, here’s a quick guide to gift-giving!


There is probably something you got for your birthday this year and didn’t like, like a Chucky doll (yikes) or a William Hung CD.

Like passing the torch in the Olympics, you want to pass on these lovely presents to someone else who’d probably enjoy it more. Don’t get me wrong – regifting is perfectly fine if you know for a fact that the receiver is a Chucky or William Hung fan. Regifting is NOT fine when you’re treating the next person as a dumpster to take on your unwanted goods.

Lastly, regifting is an outright sin if it has your name on it (a mug saying “Best Alicia in the World”, and you’re giving it to a David) or if it is a consumable with an expiry date (Yusuf Taiyoob, anyone?)

Practical gifts

Laptop cleaning kits, blenders, stationery. Gifts that you can actually use are the best. Or are they? I give this category a verdict of “only if it was specifically mentioned or requested” or a very hesitant “maybe”.

Unless you have taken the time to notice recurring habits, special hobbies and favourite past-times, practical gifts can be a downer. Cat toys for crazy cat people and baking utensils for domestic goddesses might work. A pack of J-cloths and a calculator? Perhaps not so much.

Beauty products

Ah, the mother of all shortcuts to gift-giving. When in doubt, walk into The Body Shop and grab anything you see. Everyone showers, so they need toiletry sets, right? WRONG.

Personal care is well, personal, and many people tend to stick to one favourite brand. But if you absolutely have to, avoid buying facial and hair products, and perfume/cologne, unless you are 100% sure of the brand that they use.


There are too many pitfalls in getting someone even a simple shirt. Do you know what size he/she wears? Even then, is the cutting right? What about the colour, would he/she like it? Then there’s the “joke” T-shirt option, which involves some joke that probably nobody else finds funny.

Safer options are accessories such as jewellery, bags, scarves, and less common items like name card holders and mobile phone casings.

Lazy gifts

My personal rule of thumb is to avoid walking into hypermarkets or gift stores and getting Vochelle chocolates or key chains. It’s easy, it’s lazy and completely devoid of imagination. So: reserve these gifts for those colleagues or friends that you actually, secretly, really hate.

Ching Yee

Photo: Andrew Malone, Creative Commons.