I’m not a big Christmas person. Actually the thought of a big Christmas person terrifies me. I like my people normal sized and non-denominational. My family are Jewish vegetarians so my Christmas day tends to consist of eating copious amounts of nut roast and then retreating to my childhood bedroom to sneeze uncontrollably because nobody’s been in there since last Christmas and everything is coated in dust. My untouched bedroom looks like a weird shrine to a dead teenager who really liked Green Day. In a way I suppose it is.
Christmas is also a rubbish time to be a comedian (as opposed to the rest of the year where it’s an endless conveyor belt of adoring fans and money being thrown at you like confetti.) The shy retiring audiences who enjoy my stories about microwave meals and self-loathing are replaced by high spirited office parties looking for a good time (how dare they.) There tends to be a Steve from marketing who is used to being “the funny one” because he does that thing in morning meetings where he makes two paper clips mime a sex act, and he is liable to interpret my presence on stage as the throwing down of a comedy gauntlet. I have nothing for Steve, short of pulling endless crackers and reading out the jokes while he plays with the small plastic toys and hopefully swallows some of them.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm, this year I’ve vowed to get into the spirit of things at work. The Post Office is in dire straits at the moment and I figure we could all use some festive cheer. Whereas last year I spent most of December arguing that technically any jumper you wear at Christmas is a Christmas jumper, this year I’ve decided to take part in the fun wholeheartedly. Like an elf reluctantly agreeing to work an extra shift, I’ll be there with bells on.
Our work festivities centre around an annual Secret Santa. Despite the fact that it should clearly be renamed “Non-Disclosure Claus”, I like the concept of Secret Santa. As a stingy introvert, the combination of thrift and anonymity appeals to me greatly. It’s also possible to win favour with all of your colleagues by approaching them individually afterwards, asking if they liked their present, and then saying “Sounds like someone has great taste” and winking. In 2015 I managed to convince 12 separate people that I’d bought them a great gift.
This year, however, I came dangerously close to ruining the whole thing. I forgot who I’d chosen. Or to be more precise I knew that it was one of two people but I couldn’t remember which. A less anxious person would probably buy a present for one of them and hope for the best. After all, the mistake could never be traced back to me. But I’m simply not built for that sort of reckless behaviour. The guilt of choosing the wrong person would be unbearable. I began to have nightmares in which the victim of my carelessness sat empty handed on Christmas morning (Or December 13th in the case of my workplace) while the lucky beneficiary greedily opened two presents at once like some mad medieval king.
I had to come up with a strategy. The worry was keeping me from sleeping anyway so I had plenty of time to formulate a plan. The first step was to buy a present for both people, wrap them in two different types of wrapping paper and address them with different hands. I know one of the people well and I bought them a thoughtful gift. I struggled with the other person and ended up getting them cider and chocolate. With these gifts wrapped and ready to go, I began phase two of my plan- the observation phase. Our Secret Santa presents are kept in a box in the staff room and I figured that, if a gift appeared in the box for one of my potential recipients, I would know who I’d got via a process of elimination. The problem was finding excuses to be alone with the presents long enough to have a good old root around. In the early days the box was relatively empty and I could read all of the tags simply by pretending to drop something, or tying my shoelace nearby. However, as the box filled up, it became necessary to sort through the presents by hand. I began going into work early to snatch a few minutes of present-time before my colleagues arrived.
The tension began to grow as the day of the gift giving approached with no sign of either of the names. I worked late on Secret Santa Eve, allowing myself a final opportunity to go through the box after everyone had left. I waited in the toilet until the sound of my colleague’s voices disappeared and then I made my move. I rifled through the presents, at this point all but resigned to giving both gifts. Then I saw it. Tucked away in a corner of the box was one of my names. And it was the one I’d struggled to buy a present for. Everything was going to be fine and I had cider and chocolate to celebrate with.
The next day the present giving went off without a hitch. I’d been so hung up on getting my part right that I’d forgotten that I would also be receiving a gift. I tore off the wrapping paper to find a bumper book of Christmas cracker jokes. Maybe this year Steve from marketing will enjoy my act after all.
Read more from Martin: ‘Do we need the Post Office anymore?’