As a rookie teacher at my school, I decided to partake in the office Secret Santa exchange. Since we have a large staff and include all teachers, admin and counselors in the draw, we fill out a short survey to give our gift-giver some hints on what we might like.
That year, I drew the name of another teacher in the office, Rina. She wrote on her questionnaire that she loved food and all things related to cooking. She noted “Kitchen Stuff Plus,” a Canadian housewares store, as her favourite store to shop. Having recently moved out at this time, I was quite familiar with the store too. So I went there for inspiration for her gift.
I walked up and down the aisles until something caught my eye. It was a beautiful fondue set with adorable ceramic ramekins and matching forks and spoons. And it was on sale! The whole set came in just slightly over the budget. I figured it was worth it, after all, the best gifts are gifts you’d buy for yourself.
I decided I wanted to have a little more fun with the gift. I wanted it to be an experience for her that day. I decided I would drop hints before the big reveal. I bought her a block of Gruyere cheese, a Lindt milk chocolate bar and a card. I wrapped the three gifts separately and on the card, after wishing her a happy holiday season, I wrote, “what do cheese and chocolate have in common?” On the big fondue set box, I attached a little note that read, “they’re both delicious when melted!”
The night before the gift exchange I was beyond excited. My gift was so fun! What could possibly go wrong?
I guess it started to slip when I decided the cheese would be the first gift she received. At most, I thought it would be funny. First thing in the morning, I slipped the cheese into the office fridge, wrapped with a bow on it. Soon, another teacher found it and asked, “Rina, is this yours?”
“No…” Rina replied staring at the package distrustingly.
“It’s got your name on it. I bet it’s your Secret Santa gift!”
“My gift is in the fridge?” She asked, her voice oozing with contempt. She took the package and opened it slowly at her desk. She cried out, “ewww! Is this a joke!? I don’t even like cheese!”
My stomach dropped. Never in my planning had I considered that some people don’t like cheese. I myself am lactose intolerant, and I eat all the cheese I can manage. This was a shock to me. A major oversight.
“Cheese?!” The other teachers exclaimed, crowding around her desk to see the atrocity that was her Secret Santa gift. Rina was utterly dismayed. Near inconsolable.
“Cheese as a gift.” The other teachers said.
“Who would do this!” They cried.
I sank lower in my seat, ignoring the commotion, staring straight ahead at my cork board. What a disaster.
“You should complain to Percy,” one of the teachers suggested shaking her head for justice. Geez. Go to the boss for receiving cheese? I felt like I had committed a hate crime. What kind of person loves food and all things cooking and freaks out about a block of cheese?! I would love to get cheese as a gift. And I would be logical enough to assume it was not the only aspect of the gift. A block of cheese does not cost $30. Unless it’s really good cheese. Which would in turn make it a really good gift.
I wanted to give up on the gift. The whole thing was so stupid. I wanted to pack up my stuff and quit my job completely. This office was unreasonable! Give the cheese a chance. But I had no choice. I was committed to the gift. It was too late to turn back.
I slipped the chocolate onto her desk during the first period. She came into the office in a hurry and dropped all of her binders atop it without noticing. She grabbed her items for her next class and disappeared, not acknowledging the chocolate that was crushed beneath her things. Strike two.
At this point, I scrapped the card. I couldn’t do it. She hated cheese and disregarded chocolate. This wasn’t fun anymore. What ever happened to being gracious and appreciating any gift you receive?
I angrily left the fondue box in her next class. After class, she brought it into the office beaming, holding the unwrapped package. She discovered the chocolate bar then too. She fucking loved it. Now everyone ooed and ahhed. The other teachers gathered around her desk to see her marvelous gift.
“I love fondue.” They said.
“What a great gift idea!” They cried.
My co-workers all wanted to know who the mystery gift giver was. I avoided eye contact and tried to fade into the background. The teacher who sat beside me had noticed a change in my disposition, though. When she asked me directly if I was Rina’s Secret Santa, I admitted it. I couldn’t lie.
Oh, how Rina showered me with gratitude after that. For weeks, the fondue set was all she talked about. She used the fondue set at her holiday parties, and it had been a great hit. She even bought some of her own friends their own fondue sets for Christmas too. Because it was such a great gift idea.
I’m a bit of a Scrooge because it did all work out in the end, but the story still upsets me a bit. I’ll never get over the big stink she caused when she found the cheese.