Secret Santa Sucker.

All right, let me just get this out there. I don’t like doing Secret Santa. I’d go so far as to say I absolutely HATE the whole Secret Santa process. Before you brand me as a giant scrooge with a big scrooge head and dumb scrooge breath, let me explain…

There’s a reason.

Let’s roll back to the clock, shall we? It’s December of 1978. Little Tommy Troupe is in 1st grade at his Catholic school, minding his own business, wearing his required uniform, consisting of a light blue shirt and navy blue corderoys. He’s fresh-faced, well-behaved and impressionable. Since this is the 70’s and it’s a Catholic school, we can say forbidden words like Christmas and Jesus and stuff.

My first grade teacher, Ms. Gazda (who I had the hots for) thought it would be fun to do a Secret Santa thing. Since I was 6, I had no idea what she was talking about. She of course, had the smarts to explain it to us in nice and simple terms.

“You pull a name out of the hat. Buy them a present, wrap it and bring it in. Don’t tell anyone what name you got and the idea is that you’ll get a present too. The fun is in figuring out who bought you the gift.”

Wait a second…. We get to be Santa? Awesome.

I pulled a name and luckily got a boy’s name. I think it was my friend Mike (still friends to this day) so I knew it was going to be easy. The little dude loved cars and trucks. He was going to get a truck. Simple pie.

At home, I told Mom all about it. We went, post haste to the nearest store to buy the gift and I spent much time picking out the perfect truck. I think it was a pick-up with sweet rims and flames on the side. It might’ve even been motorized or something. All I know is, it was absolutely the best truck a kid could ask for.

Back at Troupe Central, I wrapped the gift, made a little tag that said ‘Ho ho ho Mike!’ or something like that and I was ready. The night before the big gift exchange day, I sat and wondered what I was going to get. Hmmm… Maybe a Star Wars guy? Or how about one of those sweet Tomy Pocket games? Either way, I was sure that I was going to get something awesome.

Exchanging the gifts came. Ms. Gazda, in all her 1978 hotness, passed out the gifts and I watched as people opened their loot. Jenny got the Barbie that she always wanted. Brett got a cool Looney Tunes puzzle. Mike went absolutely nuts about his truck. His eyes widened behind his thick glasses and you’d think he won the lottery. I was stoked. I was the ULTIMATE Secret Santa. I got my box. It was flat and in typical Tommy Troupe fashion, I shook it, trying to pull the trick of guessing what my gift was before I discovered for myself.

There was something loose inside. Hmmm… Did I end up getting a puzzle, too? That wouldn’t be bad. I was good at putting those suckers together. Maybe it was a model car or something. Judging from the cool stuff that everyone else got, I was sure I’d get something equally cool.

I tore the elaborate wrapping off and opened the package up. Inside the box were little brown pieces. Among the pieces were little strips of red ribbon. Also, there was glue. I think I did a double take and looked again. The pieces were broken pretzels. The glue had been used to hold them together. After many theories, I figured out what I’d gotten as a gift.

Someone made me a wreath…out of pretzels. The problem? The damn thing was smashed to bits.

“What’d you get, Tommy?”

I stared at the box of pretzels I couldn’t even eat (because of the glue). I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful, but at 6 years old…you really don’t think about all those ‘it’s the thought that counts’ horse apples. I could only see that everyone else in my 1st grade class got awesome gifts and I got the equivalent of a wrapped turd.

Somewhere in the room was the person responsible for this.

There, at the tender age of 7 (or so), I got my first taste of how rotten Christmas could be.

And no, I never did find out who made me the Pretzel Christmas Wreath From Hell.



I’m 28 years old. I work in a busy office in Minneapolis, calling appraisers and making sure appraisals are getting done on time. It’s not a great job, but it’s easy. I tend to get done with my work about 1/3 of the way through the day and I spend the rest of the time writing short stories and have begun dabbling with my first novel: TRAVIS & THE MAGIC SANDBOX.

Life isn’t too bad, plus there are a couple women that work there that I’m attracted to.

(Lest you forget, I didn’t meet my future wife, Laura until 2003 or something)

Since I get really bored really easily, I sort of perk up when I hear someone talking about doing a company Secret Santa. It’s optional, but it’s a fun way to get to know people on the floor and who couldn’t use a couple extra gifts?

Somehow, I’d blocked out my past Secret Santa nightmare and I thought: This might not be so bad.

It’s different this time around. Instead of a ‘one and done’ kind of gift, you slip your secret person a gift once a week. Then, of course, on the final week, you hit them up with the best gift. The grand finale, if you will.

Sweet. Four gifts. I was in.

I grabbed a name out of the hat and I ended up with the name of a new girl named Mari. I didn’t know her from Adam (or Eve) but I thought I could do it up right.

So, I went all out. I opened up a fake Yahoo! e-mail address and made my name Santa. I bought a bunch of cool little retro gifts like metal wind-up robots, a Slinky for the desk, a Magnetic Poetry kit for the office, and the grand pooba was the stuffed Grinch doll that was all the rage.

Each week, I sent Mari an e-mail and revealed the location of the gift she was to receive. Of course, the e-mail address didn’t give away my identity and she may (even to this day) think that Santa had truly pulled her name.

Let’s just say, she was lucky to have me as her Secret Santa. I took care of ol’ Mari.

Whoever the son of @#%^& is that pulled my name better watch his back. Since this post is long enough, let me run down what I got from my Sh—y Santa:

Week 1: An orange. (I’m not kidding. Somone brought me an orange. Now, I love me some oranges, but as a Secret Santa gift? C’mon!!!)

Week 2: Nothing. (not a note, an apology for the orange, nothing.)

Week 3: A Snickers bar. (I guess they thought I wasn’t going anywhere for a while)

Week 4: A tub of homemade fudge. (Talk about getting a wrapped turd!)

I remember getting the Glad Disposable tupperware thing as it was set on my desk and I literally felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I opened it up and there, inside, were little individually wrapped chocolates LOADED with nuts. Of course, they weren’t the ONE nut I like (peanuts), but friggin’ walnuts.

And here’s the clincher: I don’t even like fudge.

Suddenly, all the memories of the pretzel wreath came rushing back to me and I realized that I wasn’t meant to participate in these reindeer games. Everyone else was high-fiving and showing off their cool gifts: CDs, desk games, calendars of their favorite things, Santa Claus bobble-heads.

Me? I had a box of brown sludge that just sat at the end of my desk. I was so mad, I took the whole container, pulled my trash can out from beneath my desk and fired the whole works into the garbage. Outta here.

An hour or so later, the culprit responsible for ruining my 2nd (and final) attempt at Secret Santa made himself known. It was Charles, the bow-legged guy from the distribution center. He moseyed over and smiled.

“So, did you get the fudge?” He was all smiles and I could see him looking all over my desk for the box of brown. Suddenly, I felt like Veruca Salt at ol’ Bill Wonka’s Chocolate factory. That is to say, I felt guilty for being such a jerk and a half.

“I sure did, Charles,” I said.

“My wife made that,” he said proudly. “She makes the best fudge there is.”

I bit my tongue. I knew I couldn’t tell him I tossed it in the garbage, or that I was completely ticked off that I’d gotten a one-way ticket to brown-town. Instead, I crafted a white lie that I still feel okay about to this day.

“Yeah,” I said. “It was great. I actually shared it with some of my co-workers around here and it was gone instantly.”

Like Poe’s Tell-Tale heart, I could almost hear the fudge in the trash can calling to me:

Liar! Liar!!!!!

Ol’ Charles just smiled his goofy grin and nodded. He wished me a Merry Christmas and off he sauntered, back to the room where the mail is always going in as fast as it’s going out and the printers are never quiet.

After he was long gone, I fished the fudge out of the trash and saw that the container was intact. I looked around at my co-workers, already back to work and I pulled the lid off the top. I held up the container and offered a piece to anyone who needed a chocolate/walnut pick-me-up.

The fudge went like hotcakes.

If you’re wondering, I didn’t eat a single piece. It had walnuts in it…remember?

Anyway…Merry Christmas, everyone! May you get all the pretzel wreaths and tubs of fudge you could ask for.

Your lovin’,