The frogs showed up at a Secret Santa gift exchange. They were too persistent to ignore.
Last year, I'd become disillusioned with the holidays. Overstuffed with Christmas cookies, I outgrew the dress I'd bought for New Year's Eve long before the occasion to wear it. Too impatient to stand in another 40-minute line, I abandoned a cart full of gifts in a crowded department store aisle.
Exhausted from decorating every corner of my house, I'd left the tree twinkling in the living room until well past Valentine's Day. I realized that I'd lost the spirit of the season in a frenzy of eating, shopping, and decorating.
But this year, when my co-workers voted to have an anonymous gift swap, I gave Christmas another chance. To begin our Secret Santa game, we each listed things we liked or collected. Then we drew someone's list out of a hat. The recipient of my secret gifts, whose office was next door to mine, had recorded a fondness for unique recipes and a penchant for collecting frogs.
Frogs? I'd seen collections of spoons, hearts, and angels – never frogs.
But I noticed one in a drugstore the very next day. From the bottom shelf of a case populated with plush kittens, puppies, monkeys, and bears, a lime-green frog looked up at me. It had a lopsided smile, spindly legs, and pancake-size feet. When I picked it up to examine the price tag, its softness surprised me. Before I could stop myself, I caressed it and held it against my cheek. The frog and I left the store together.
Worried that my sophisticated managerial skills would prove useless in the Secret Santa department, I nervously slipped the gift into my friend's office while she attended a meeting.
After she returned, I peeked in. The frog sat on her computer monitor, its long legs and big feet dangling in front of the screen. I walked in, and she picked up her new green friend as though it were her first grandbaby.
"Look what my Secret Santa got me! I love him! Feel how soft he is!"
She held it close to her heart. Tears welled in her eyes. I felt warm and fuzzy – a lot like the frog.
A few days later, while rushing through a store, I spotted another one. A button on its stomach read, "Push here."
I obliged, and the frog croaked to the tune of "Jingle Bells": "Ribbit-ribbit-ribbit. Ribbit-ribbit-ribbit. Ribbit-ribbit-ribbit-ribbit-ribbit." My co-worker had a reputation for practical jokes. This was the frog for her.
I lay in wait until the lunch hour left our suite deserted. Like a cat burglar, I cracked open her office door, sneaked in, and set the frog on her chair.
Once I was in my own office, I paced and strained to hear a reaction. At last, a wicked laugh broke the quiet. She spent the next six days torturing everyone in the building with her singing frog. Her chortle echoed through the halls.
"Isn't this the cutest thing?" she said as she forced a colleague to listen to the croaking concert for the third time. "I can't wait to find out who my Secret Santa is!"
The victim narrowed her eyes. "Neither can I."
For the last gift, I embarked on a cyber treasure hunt, searching the Internet for exotic recipes. I printed them on Christmas-tree-green paper, rolled them up like a scroll, and tied them with green and white satin ribbon. The final touch was a gift card picturing a frog wearing a Santa hat. When I attached it to the package, I knew I'd become more obsessed with the little green critters than my friend was.
"I hope it's recipes," she said when she spotted the bag next to her filing cabinet.
In the hallways, over coffee, and on the phone, she described the new dishes and shared her plans to try them out at home. I felt as proud as a 5-year-old seeing her newest drawing displayed on the family fridge.
At the end of two weeks, we held a party to reveal our identities. Over punch and cookies, we told our stories about tracking down the perfect gifts.
On discovering I was her benefactor, my co-worker wrapped me in her arms. In great detail, she described her entire frog family.
The room's good cheer eroded my crusty cynicism. I hummed "Jingle Bells" all the way home.