Every year we do the Secret Santa thing in our school despite the fact that it spins all the kids into a tizzy. This year the negotiations began in early November when two speakers for the 7th and 8th graders approached a few teachers with their requests to start earlier and change the established rules. They wanted to raise the price limits for presents and allow more frequent giving. They argued that our “once a week and maximum of 1 Euro” rule was too rigid. They quoted the prices of various candy bars and bags of gummi bears. Furthermore, they argued, the 10 Euro limit for the final present was too low and that was why so many kids were faced with the dilemma of either breaking the rule or disappointing their gift recipient.
We agreed to discuss their demands at the next team meeting. The speakers went back to their class happily, rumors of possible changes started spreading like wildfire through the school, and dozens of discussions, all including the word “Unfair!”, could be heard everywhere. We teachers realized with a sigh that we would have to re-discuss the whole system repeatedly – first among ourselves and then with various groupings of kids. Hours of our lives would be spent on a subject that has been clarified 100 times before. Meanwhile the younger kids were having pre-emptive arguments about not keeping the secrets of others (“Unfair!”) and suggesting possible punishments for spying and bean spilling. Others were complaining in advance about potentially drawing the name of a kid they don’t like out of the hat (“Unfair!”), while others worried about drawing the name of their own sibling. Various ideas about trading names were discussed, all of which turned out to be “Unfair!” And then there was the problem of kids who didn’t write any suggestions on the “Wish List” hanging in the hallway (“Unfair!”) because it made it harder to choose the right gifts. There should be a new rule that everyone has to write something on the list.
In the team meeting, we didn’t seriously consider the proposals and complaints; we simply came up with a strategy for getting the kids to come to the same conclusions and guidelines as always. This began with Mark asking them to work out how much money the parents with two, three, or four kids in the school would have to spend all tolled. Ann talked with them about the Christmas spirit and asked them if introducing punishments for wayward Secret Santas was really a good idea. Another team member I haven’t mentioned yet – I’ll call him David – was tasked with suggesting a few compromises, including allowing gift giving in the final week rather than starting a week earlier. My job was to bring up the difference between telling your own secret and someone else’s secret (“Unfair!”) We managed to get everyone on the same page – or so we thought – and prepared for the drawing.
With 28 kids and four teachers all assembled and sitting in a circle, I stood up with the bag of names and was just about to let the first kid pull out a slip of paper. That’s when little Moritz announced that he had one more thing to say. Apparently he was still upset about the betrayal of a classmate last year. He had passed his gift to his chosen messenger who then delivered it to the recipient. There was a witness and, unfortunately, that witness had blabbed. (“Unfair!”) Moritz vowed to get revenge this year. It took a while to talk him down.
Eventually the 32 slips of paper found their way into someone’s hands. Some of them elicited audible exclamations of delight or disappointment, but luckily no exclamations of “Unfair!” We all went back to work and the promises “not to tell anyone” began. Entries were made on the wish list . . .
But not by everyone.
The name I drew, for instance, has a big empty space next to it. I bought some jelly beans to sneak into this kid’s desk next Monday, but they cost more than 1 Euro, so I opened the package, ate a bunch of them myself and put the rest in a little box. I have no idea if he even likes jelly beans, but if not, it’s his own fault. What I should really do is give him some broccoli. That will get him to write something on the damn list. And then I have to find someone to be my go-between and make him/her promise not to tell anyone, or else. That means choosing not the most trustworthy kid, but the one I can threaten (or bribe?) most effectively. Difficult, seeing as how we don’t give grades in our school. I think I’ll have to choose someone in my drama group. I can hint heavily that if my secret gets out, she might just find herself with fewer lines to say in the Christmas pageant sketch . . .