Office secret Santa nightmares

It's the time of year when many offices celebrate Christmas with 'secret Santa'.

For the uninitiated, secret Santa involves people picking a colleague's name out of a hat and buying the person a gift with a capped value - $20 or less, typically. The idea is for the present to be anonymous.

Last week I asked readers to send me their best/worst/funniest secret Santa, with hilarious and also disturbing results. I'll play the best card in the pack first. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Alice wrote about the time her boss received a haemorrhoid doughnut, with a note attached saying, "since you're an a@#&hole, you're a pain in the rear and you've been the butt of all office jokes this year, you might need this." Ouch.

Miles writes: "Back in the 80s we had an office dolt. Nice kid but seriously, the standing line was 'get a brain'. At secret Santa it was me who drew the dolt. In an Einstein moment I put half a sheep brain in formaldehyde in a glass jar. Then I presented it with the words: 'now Drew can use this, let his own rest a while, and we won't have to think for him'. These days it would get me arrested and he would get compo, but back then I was famous."

Anne tells a story she says she recounts most Christmases. "At a company I worked for we did a Secret Santa among around 80 staff - a great opportunity for anonymity. The nasty and controlling personal assistant and her weak boss received a nutcracker and mini plastic spine, respectively." It's no surprise secret Santa was banned at Anne's former office after that.
Donna sent through a list of pearlers, the best of which was a coffee mug that said 'office bitch'. "This came as a shock to the lady as she wasn't aware her colleagues thought of her that way. It goes without saying it's totally wrong in an office situation."

Others included Playboy bunny shot glasses, a giant pair of full brief ladies undies, and a blow-up doll for the guy who talked to himself, so he'd have a 'friend' to talk to. A framed photo of two colleagues on an office drinks night out also made her list. "The wife of the recipient didn't really appreciate it," she says. No doubt.

Leon wrote of an experience that scars him to this day. "I was working as an IT guy in a security business. I was allocated a co-worker I thought was a nice guy. I knew he was a vegetarian, so, silly me, I thought he'd think it was funny to give him sausages wrapped up in gift paper. I thought the response would be laughter all round and what am I meant to do with this? I ended up missing the gift-giving, but all I heard about was how disgusted he and his mates were.

"I subsequently left an anonymous note on his desk apologising and explaining no offence had been intended - along with a little toy wooden boat. I don't know if it did any good."

Nancy received a wind-up jumping penis with feet, given to her with the explanation that she liked telling rude jokes. "My colleagues were wide-eyed innocent girls who then proceeded to demonstrate how it worked. I don't tell rude jokes at work anymore."

Then there's Lauren's experience. "Secret Santa gifts were given out and opened in front of everyone at the office drinks. Mine was chocolate body paint. Cue much hilarity from my mostly male co-workers. This was the joke gift they gave to one unlucky female every year. Everyone, including senior management, witnessed my embarrassment. To make it worse, I wasn't an office junior (not that that would have made it any more acceptable), but the creative production manager. I left the company soon after. I laugh about it now but at the time it was infuriating."

Jana's horror secret Santa was "sex dice. I am a happily married woman and I got them from a guy ... scary."

What lessons should you take from this - that secret Santa is a form of condoned humiliation? That sex toys and offices should never mix? That you can go for your life with risque gifts because it's anonymous? That people lose their sense of humour at Christmas?

Whatever your take away, I hope it's given you inspiration for what you should - and shouldn't - do when it's secret Santa time.

Tell us your best or worst secret Santa stories.

Sydney Morning Herald