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Secret Santa Practical Gift Guide

Forget Thanksgiving; it’s been Christmas since November 1st, or so it seems in stores and in the fast pace of this month. Everyone I talk to feels like the season is flying by, and we’re all trying to keep our heads above water. There’s no more prepping for the week ahead; you must plan a month out just to stay on track, let alone ahead of the game. I used to consider myself an organized and prepared person, but nowadays, if everyone remembers their lunch when they leave the house, I consider the day won! All of this is to say it’s never too early to start thinking and buying those obligatory gifts to exchange for the holiday season. The office Secret Santa is one of those gifts that is actually an easy one to knock off your list, even if you don’t know the co-worker whose name you drew all that well. Here are a few gift-giving ideas for your Secret Santa exchange.

For typical office settings, there’s very little more functional than a coffee mug. Whether there’s a cabinet full to choose from or folks bring their own from home, a mug comes quite in handy. To personalize this gift, consider an initialed mug for your colleague. Pottery Barn’s Mason Stoneware stackable mugs are minimal and, if you’re buying for your whole team, are affordable on sale at $4.99. The bold letters make it clear whose cup is whose. For something a bit more joyous, check out Anthropologie’s Festive Bistro Tile mugs featuring reds, greens, and gold etching. Whether it’s a first or last name letter, having cups that come already labeled can make the work mornings run more smoothly. If Lester, with his “L” mug, has a go-to vessel for his cup of joe, cup of noodles, or pungent tea, then maybe there will be a little less drama in the company kitchenette.

On the flip side of coffee is water. A water bottle for your Secret Santa can have a life outside of work. Workplace pals could use it at home, in the car, on the job site, or when exercising. Free People’s Movement Collapsible Carabiner bottle holds up to 24 ounces, folds up when empty, and, with the hook, can be taken anywhere well beyond the confines of work.

And what would the holidays be without puzzles? And quite frankly, what’s a good way to take a ten-minute break while keeping your mind moving and your eyes off a screen? Over at, they have 250, 500, and 1000-piece unique puzzles from landscapes to cityscapes to outer space pictures and everything in between. Granted, puzzle building at work may not be feasible for most, but having a masterpiece puzzle waiting at home to unwind from the workday may be just the gift for your stressed cubicle mate.

For the more introverted co-worker, consider headphones. Amazon’s Lorelei X8 Over-Ear wired headphones with a microphone are great for a day full of Zoom meetings in a crowded office space. They’re also a functional gift for tuning out the meetings and the interactions to take some time with music or a favorite podcast on break without disruption. You may, in fact, get these as a gift to yourself if you’re stuck with louder co-workers or need to hunker down and get work done.

Self-care gifts are another great option for the Secret Santa on your list, but they can be tricky. Folks can be particular about their beauty and health products. But we all deal with dry skin come winter, and a lip balm set may not be the most exciting gift, but it comes in handy, or is that “mouthy” during the colder months? I like Dani Naturals’ Lip Balm 4-piece sets. Their organic formula makes room for those with allergies or sensitive skin. Make this a package deal with a tin of mints to tackle chapped lips and morning breath in one gift.

Every workplace has someone who loves to cook or bake. If you pull that person’s name out of the hat, then lean into their at-home hobbies with a culinary-themed present. For the grill-master at work, go straight to the source at for a 3-pack of mild to mind-blowing sauces. Or order a jar of extreme chili flakes of Momofuku’s chili crunch. For bakers, there are tons of options, from novelty cookie trays to oven mitts to recipe books. Or just grab up a spatula and spoon set to replenish the kitchen tools.

When all else fails, there are always gift cards. Whether a cash Visa card, store-specific or if you’re desperate and have the authority — a freebie sick day “card,” you can’t offend by giving a token gift to fulfill the requirements of the Secret Santa. And if it’s truly a secret, no one will know you waited until the last minute, having given very little thought. Holidays are stressful, and while you appreciate your co-workers, most of us are more likely to focus on family and friends when it comes to gift-giving. Hopefully, some of these ideas will bring a smile to a colleague’s face at the company party.