By Duke Harten
“Welcome,” Jennifer says, “to the first annual Secret Santa at Alviti, Joy & Burr. I want to say”—and here she consults a sheet given to her, we know, by Pat from HR—“that Alviti, Joy & Burr chooses the moniker ‘Secret Santa’ not out of any religious slash theological preference, but rather because there is no secular, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, et cetera alternative for an end-of-year gift exchange.” She pronounces it mooslim.
“Hanukkah Harry,” says Rick. “That’s the Jewish one, I think.”
Julie raises her hand. “Yankee Swap is basically the same thing.”
Rick nods. “White Elephant.” He pauses and frowns. “Are you implying Santa is a religious figure?”
“I’m offended,” says Colette, picking her nose. We murmur our assent.
“Guys, guys.” Jennifer holds up one hand and clutches Pam’s script with the other. She’s begun to tremble.
“It’s bad enough you subject us to the materialist trappings of Christmas,” says Lucy. “Now you have to go ahead and marginalize the ‘unbelievers’ while you’re at it, I suppose.”
Rick and Julie clap. “Hear, hear,” they say.
Jennifer shakes her head violently. “No—”
Colette interrupts. “By the way, ‘et cetera’? Are you joking? As if Jains, Taoists, Sikhs and Shintoists are an afterthought?”
Jennifer makes a weird belching sound. Her eyes are wide. “Shintoists…?”
Rick laughs. “Oh, that’s rich. She doesn’t even know, people.” We groan collectively.
“Shinto,” I say, reciting from memory the Wikipedia article I read earlier today. “An ethnic religion of the people of Japan.”
Jennifer looks around frantically, as if a Japanese person might have snuck in while she wasn’t looking. “But—”
“Let me guess,” I say. “None of us are Japanese?” Jennifer gurgles. “Like many non-western religions,” I continue, plagiarizing directly from Yahoo! Answers, “Shinto is based on orthopraxy, rather than orthodoxy. In other words, the most important thing is not what you believe, but rather that you perform correct ritual actions. So you don’t get baptized into Shinto, you don’t get excommunicated from Shinto, and you don’t have to convert to Shinto to start being a practitioner of Shinto. If you perform the various rituals and observances of Shinto, then you are practicing Shinto.”
“The only thing that’s being practiced here,” says Rick, “is bigotry.”
“Zing,” says Julie.
“Amen,” says Dawn.
Colette grabs a gift off the desk. “We might as well get this over with.” She inspects the tag and hands it to Jennifer. “Luck of the draw. Appropriate.”
The room falls silent as Jennifer takes the box. You can feel our glee. It’s beneath the surface, subdermal, boiling, wanting to erupt. Rick grins. Unable (or unwilling) to speak, Jennifer undoes the bow with the trepidation and precision of someone defusing a bomb. She removes the lid.
“Oh,” she says. “Oh.”
“Well?” says Lucy. “Let us see.”
Jennifer draws from the box a large pewter crucifix with the words Happy Holidays engraved on the beam beneath Jesus’s feet. Slowly, unsurely, she allows a smile. She looks around, inspecting each face for signs of guilt. Finally she settles on the culprit. “You?”
“Goddammit,” says Colette.