“This Christmas”, said Darth Vadar, “Luke Skywalker will receive an Xbox 360, a High School Musical lunchbox and a Mr Frosty frozen treats maker. How do I know? I have felt his presents.”
Law One: Secret Santa, that most beloved staple of institutionalised festive merriment, second only to the obligatory union of body part and photocopier or stationary cupboard and the accountant with mature acne who believes he has a future as the first white gangsta rapper of Nuneaton, will never end satisfactorily. You will overspend the £10 limit to buy Denise in Marketing a lovely bit of something from Accessorize, and in return you’ll unwrap a bag of novelty pasta shaped like genitalia.
So the next year you’ll buy Boris in HR a £2.99 Little Book of Fart Jokes and then be hugely embarrassed to receive yourself a pair of cashmere gloves or maybe a crystal sherry decanter, about which you will mutter arbitrary things about ‘taking the fun out of it’ while dodging Boris’ requests to know who thought his IBS was a comic matter.
Law Two: Gift vouchers are not a nicer way of giving money, they are a way of saying ‘I’m not going to buy you something you’d like, but I’m sure as heck not letting you do that either’. It is the official unspoken law of the universe that the shop for which you have a gift voucher will be the only shop in the world with absolutely nothing you want in it. Sure, last week H&M was full of lovely frocks - but go back tomorrow clutching a gift voucher in your sweaty palm, and I guarantee you they’ll be selling nothing but garden trowels. Other shoppers will be flitting about buying the lovely frocks, but for you, oh piteous possessor of the voucher, there will exist nothing but garden trowels.
Law Four: We may all have been faking present enthusiasm since we were able to support our own heads - ‘Another rusk, mother? However did you know?’ – but there comes a time to reign it in. For all we feel the pressing need to weep joyful tears over our M&S loofah set, there is always the danger you’ll be really convincing. Thus, you and loofahs will be inextricably intertwined in the giver’s head for all eternity, and every year you will unwrap loofahs of increasingly startling volume and have to adjust the magnitude of the performance accordingly. On the plus side, you’ll be well exfoliated.
Law Five: Elderly relatives of equal weighting, such as grannies or aunties on parallel branches of the family tree, must always be given completely equal presents. They will compare. You may believe they have no contact with each other, one living in Nepal and the other in Bognor, but I promise you they’re secretly emailing to see how their distressed wire soap dish compares with the other one’s Tiffany tiara.
Law Six: Thank you letters. “Dear blank, thanks so much for the loofah set. Could I request the gift bag that I know you got free? Many thanks. Hope you loved the voucher – I gave Auntie Marjory exactly the same one and she was thrilled, she needed a new trowel. To fill up the rest of the page, here is a large picture of me with a bag of novelty pasta, just before the firemen arrived to cut me out of the photocopier. Lots of love”.
*Here the false promise and disappointment begins already, it being clear that the following is not going to be a Big Book but actually a rather short list adhering to a scrooge-like word limit. And I’m afraid I haven’t kept the receipt.