The Secret to Secret Santa
We scrawled our names on thin papers and folded them to resemble fortune cookie messages. They were all then chucked into the same cupped hands – pre-nuptial confetti – before we picked out another’s name at random.
My message was this – ‘Laura’. Her forename written as she was always treated, with care. Not because she was fragile, but because she seemed fragile. Her handwriting was small and employed gingerly – the pen only making enough of an impact on the paper to affect the ball rolling. I mean it was hardly calligraphy, but I doubt it would be looked down upon in high society. This was Laura; small and gingery (sorry) and just middle class enough to be fascinating to me. In my head, Laura perpetually wears a gilet and stands just out front of a marquee in the quintessential act of quaint village living.
It was for this reason that I baulked at the prospect of buying Laura a Christmas gift, as that was all I knew about her; her physical attributes, her background, how I liked her very much, but nothing that could be exchanged for a gift receipt. Though this was not her fault. The consensus amongst the general population (I think) is that this phenomena can be pinned down to me being male, and she female, and whilst I’d hate to tune into stereotype may be this is the only way of explaining why I struggled so seismically to buy someone I consider a friend a present. Despite the numerous clauses and exemptions a generalisation based on gender throws up, in this instance, for me, stereotype seems to be the easiest road to redemption.
If the errand of seasonal Secret Santa shopping wasn’t disheartening enough, there were also footnotes to be considered; mainly, a £10 spending cap. Knowing that the chances of finding a suitable, saleable something for exactly £10 would be nigh-on impossible, my fingers were crossed that I’d be able to tape change to the inside of her card, rather than having to overspend by a couple of quid.
With the termination of term in the air like the smell of Christmas puddings and chestnutty Glade plug-ins, I had taken the conscious decision to stop the procrastinatory labour of thought. It wasn’t getting me anywhere. I was to write Laura a poem and paint it onto canvas. I had been taking a course in the Practise of Poetry and now thought that I was Keats reincarnate, equally, I had once copied a convincing otter in a Year 9 art class, which remains my Citizen Kane. I was self-assured, very little could go wrong.
I bought a stretched canvas (11X14 in size, £7 in price), a pair of paintbrushes (£10), and a carton of colours (£6.99), overspending by £13.99. If I were on Ready, Steady, Cook, Ainsley Harriott would have hammer-thrown my pepper-emblazoned plastic bag at my person and told me in certain terms to cook off out of his kitchen (it can be a very loud studio). Anyway, I had decided that it was no longer decent of me to be more concerned about the present’s price than its quality, that was neither in keeping with the spirit of Santa Claus or consumerism.
I covered that coarse cloth with every last bit of imagination, and by the finish, was feeling pretty pleased with my creation. It’s only now that I cringe.
that kid from Harry Potter,
the one thing that you have in common
is your hair of terracotta.
Terracotta red. That happens to be the hue of my cheeks as I recall the poem in its entirety. I cringe at the lack of, well, the gift lacked a lot of things; humour, tact, talent. Mostly though, I cringe because she accepted the gift, typically, with grace, ignoring its humongous dimensions of taunting.
The secret behind Secret Santa is not to partake in it. Sure, buy someone something if you’d like to, but not because you’re somehow contractually obliged. I still love Laura, she’s a diamond, but I’d still struggle if this scenario were replayed a year later. Students neither have time nor money to waste. So don’t. And on that note-