The holiday season is a wonderful time for friendship, family and community. But, nothing can cause as much stress and overall joy-reduction as the anxiety and fear of gift shopping. I love working alongside my fellow teachers, and nothing excites me more than that finding that perfect gift for someone. Seeing that, Secret Santa is understandably something that I am looking forward to in the workplace.

However, that same fun event can go the wrong way down the chimney if you don't know what to do. Secret Santa gifts can be especially hard if you don't know the recipient. Even choosing whether to go with a handcrafted or store-bought gift can be tricky. The holiday season also lends to a feeling of expectation and desire. Adding both of those together can make for less of a very merry experience. However, what I have before you is a collection of jolly good tips and present ideas from my own toy bag of experiences from the last few years of being a Secret Santa. I ho-ho-hope they help you out! (Take a sip of hot cocoa every time I make a terrible Christmas pun.)

1. Learn just one new thing about your person

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I learned that just knowing one little fact about an acquaintance or coworker can change the trajectory of your Secret Santa gift-buying. In the past, I've had a couple of recipients who I have not known quite as well as my friends who might have been in the mix. However, I calmed my frustrations by remembering or figuring out just one little tidbit about them. I learned about a favorite book here, or a favorite album there and crafted an idea around knowing just that one thing.

Then, you don't need to know their entire biography and still whip out an unforgettable present.

2. Opt for a gift card

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I know that there are some out there who fiercely resist the idea of giving a gift card as a present. However, especially when you don't know someone and don't want to make a choice for them as to what they'll receive, a gift card is a no-brainer. It actually shows some thought, as well, because you made the smart choice of allowing your recipient to have some freedom with what they really want and need. A standard Visa or Amazon gift card can go a long way and you can even monitor exactly how much you spend on it.

3. When in doubt, be practical

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I personally love practical gifts with a bit of thought to them. I am an amateur hoarder and have a lot of, just, things. I don't mean that I particularly have a lot of clothes or electronics. But, I have too much random stuff kept from how many years of "Well, I shouldn't throw it away so soon." Therefore, I have grown to particularly love pragmatic presents.

I have spoken to a lot of my other friends and coworkers throughout the years and they concur. Getting a practical gift, based on noticing what someone is in need of or picking out something that we always require in the day-to-day is incredibly thoughtful.

4. Figure out what they can eat

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When I say figure out, I mean just know if they have any allergies or intolerances regarding food. Then, go for it! I know very, very few people who would say no to some lovely snacks or even a gift card (hint, hint) or voucher to a nice restaurant. If you even know your Secret Santa recipient well enough, you can treat them to a meal and surprise them.

5. Almost everyone likes the movies

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I know that I love going to the movies, especially in the winter when everyone has come back for the holidays and the big blockbusters come out. Receiving movie tickets can be essential to this, and actually gives someone an incentive to go to the theaters. This could be an otherwise impossible fun because it's easy to argue out of going with how expensive tickets can be.

And really, this could work with tickets to other events, too. I believe that some other ticketing sites have gift cards (hehe see the theme?) or vouchers that could allow someone to rationalize spending the money.

6. Ask a mutual friend

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Be a secret agent and a sneak. If you have a mutual friend or a co-worker who may have worked at your workplace longer and knows your recipient, then you could extract some information out of them.

7. Find something in common

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I love figuring out when someone else that I know loves Buffy, Harry Potter, Parks and Rec, or Jurassic Park. I also love when I learn how much someone loves to bake or read as much as I do. When I figure this out, regardless of how well I know someone, I feel like I have made a new friend. Applying this same (weird, I know) logic to gift-giving works so well. I know that I will be able to give a great gift if it is related to something that I love, too.

This information can be obtained through the above-mentioned "mutual friend" tip or from the below-mentioned "eavesdropping" trick.

8. Think about the children

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Okay, what I really mean by this is think about their children. This may not be the case necessarily if you are not yet in this stage of friendship type, but as an almost Adult™ I now have friends and co-workers with children. This may be much more applicable if your recipient is in the workplace and if you are aware that they have children. If you do know this information, you could always end up getting something necessary for parents or parents-to-be. This can be super helpful for parents who might not have the priority or, really, the energy to want anything for themselves.

9. Then think about the pets

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There's always the other kind of child that you can consider, and this is the fluffy or scaly or four-legged (most of the time) kind. If you know that you work with or are friends with someone who has a pet (in which case, isn't it the best ever?!) you can always opt for getting their pet something special.

10. Consider their career

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This mostly applies to those of us that are part of the Adulting™ persuasion who are working with other people in jobs and such. Sometimes the easiest guess to make is that your recipient will always need things for work. This could result in a gift related to fancy stationery or even a nice briefcase (depending on the budget and the Secret Santa rules).

11. Be an eavesdropper

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For this case, and this case only, (mostly) stay aware of what your recipient might mention to you or someone else. May keep track of what they express interest in or disinterest in. (Although, don't keep an actual log of that because that could be really weird.) For the most part, this is just a simple practice of awareness. If you stay aware of what your recipient seems to want or need, you have ready-made ideas for a killer Secret Santa gift.

12. It's the thought that counts

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This is always the most important part of not just Secret Santa, but the whole holiday season. Regardless of the handmade quality or the on-the-shelf price, ignoring the pressures of elitism, and most importantly, ignoring your own doubts and fears, your gift will always be appreciated.

Secret Santa has an additional heaviness to it because of the nature of opting in. It can seem that way because you chose to give and receive a gift, that your contribution must be brilliant and unique. But, in reality, this is isn't always the case or in any ways reasonable. So, if you have truly tried to be the best Secret Santa you can be and you love the thought you have put into your gift, that's all anyone wants to know and feel.

So, this lovely holiday season have a peppermint bark and an apple cider on me! (I don't like eggnog. I know it's an unpopular opinion. Don't @ me.) Have a beautiful wintertime regardless of how you celebrate, stay warm, and enjoy that break coming up soon. Also, good luck to all those out there with those last remaining finals. You got this!