Minding your MV P’s & Q’s: Secret Santa

– Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

For as long as I can remember, my family has done Secret Santa. When we started we had a $10 limit, and now we’re at $100. This year I proposed we pool all that money and donate it to an Island charity. No one else in my family wanted to do this, so I said in lieu of my gift, I’d like my person to donate $100 to a Vineyard cause that they support in my name and I will donate $100 to a cause I support in my person’s name. Does that sound fair to you?


Confidentially yours,

Secret Santa

Dear Santa,

Now hold on a moment, you buried the lede here, as we like to say in journalism. The real issue is the 1,000 percent increase in spending your family has brooked over the years. That’s hyperinflation. Who is responsible for that? The guilty party’s Secret Santa should give them $100 worth of coal in their stocking. Except we don’t do coal on the Vineyard. Give ’em $100 worth of fruitcake instead; it weighs about the same. Then they can regift it to someone else, as long as they don’t unwrap it first (islandfoodpantry.org).

Because really, the point of gift giving should be the meaning, not the expense. The best way to decommodify the holiday is to decommodify the gift giving. Sure, those three kings brought costly presents to the Baby Jesus, but their gold, myrrh, and frankincense were used for their spiritually symbolic meanings. For instance, myrrh, as an embalming oil, foreshadowed Jesus’ triumph over death. How do you expect to be worthy of such a gesture? (Maybe hospiceofmv.org.)

If you really care about the original spirit of Christmas, remember you are celebrating the birth of a man who made water as nourishing as wine (vineyardhouse.org), fed the hungry (hungercommittee.org), and who above all healed the sick and drove out demons (mvcommunityservices.com). I fail to see how $100 is going to buy someone a gift that can reflect those origins. I mean c’mon, don’t even bother trying, right?

But perhaps your family is not religious, or observant, or Christian. Perhaps you just do it in the “giving spirit of the season,” and Christianity has nothing to do with it. That’s cool. In that case, let’s be honest, what the heck can $100 buy on Martha’s Vineyard? Not much. If you all pooled the Secret Santa money, and you have at least 3,000 Secret Santas in your family, maybe you could buy an acre of land someplace? Because that’s the only way to access the undeveloped beauty of the island (sheriffsmeadow.org).

Hey, speaking of pooling money, I realize I went off on a tangent and didn’t actually address your question! Sorry. You were asking about pooling the Secret Santa funds and donating to Island charities in lieu of giving gifts to each other. I guess that would be fair, but as we all know, the Vineyard is just a wealthy summer resort, so I don’t think anyone here is really needy, right? If there was any kind of serious need, I’m sure you’d see it all over these pages.

That’s my take.



P.S.: To avoid the appearance of favoritism, I encourage you to go to this page and check out other options: mvdonors.org/nonprofit-directory.


Bemused readers ask New York Times bestselling novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.