What is Secret Santa and how to play?

What is Secret Santa and how to play?
Image courtesy: Pixabay.com

Secret Santa is a beloved holiday tradition for children and adults alike. In it, people secretly exchange presents trying not to reveal their identity, and the recipient guesses from whom the gift is. Secret Santa is widely played in a family circle, with friends, coworkers, and online communities. 

If you are not familiar with the rules and want to organize a successful game, we have you covered. In this post, you will find the following: 

  1. What is Secret Santa? 
  2. Traditional Secret Santa rules 
  3. Organizing Secret Santa in person vs online 
  4. How to play Secret Santa online? 7 simple steps 
  5. 5 Variations to play Secret Santa with a twist 
  6. How to choose a perfect gift for Secret Santa 
  7. How to host a Secret Santa game successfully 

What is Secret Santa? 

Secret Santa is a gift-exchange tradition that has its roots in many cultures of the world. In its very essence, each participant gets a present for another player without revealing who they are. Upon receiving the gifts, each player guesses their Secret Santa, which is often accompanied by laughter and fun. 

Today, the Secret Santa tradition has extended beyond Christmas. People play gift exchange games on Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween, New Year’s Eve parties, and on special occasions and corporate events. It gives a festive twist to any holiday, creating a sense of suspense and mystery. Moreover, it’s a fun way to save on your gifts. Instead of preparing a bulk of generic presents, you can choose a personalized gift for one assigned person and put them in a cheerful mood. 

Traditional Secret Santa rules 

Basically, the Secret Santa game is played as follows: 

  1. The game host gathers all participants together. Everyone writes their name on a piece of paper with a few ideas of gifts they’d like to get from Secret Santa. 
  2. Set the rules. For a successful game, agree on the price limit for gifts, date, and place of gift exchange. Decide if you’d like to choose a theme for gifts and set the dates when all gifts should be ready. 
  3. Draw names out of the hat. All participants draw names and find out for whom they should get a gift. Or, use an online generator that will draw names in one click, plus you can set exceptions (for example, Joe will not get a gift for July). 
  4. Plan the gift exchange. Set the date and place where everyone will bring their presents. If you exchange gifts online, everyone should wrap up their gift and label it with the recipient’s name. And, if the exchange takes place online, you can set up a Zoom conference to share the joy of opening gifts. 
  5. Let the fun begin! Everyone unwraps their gifts and guesses who their Secret Santa is. You can add a clue to your present to add a touch of mystery and puzzle the recipient! 

Playing in person is a wonderful Christmas tradition. However, with today’s remote employees and families living in different countries, meeting in person is not always possible. With online Secret Santa generators, you can seamlessly set up the game online and share the joy of gift-giving. For more details on how to draw names online, see How to draw names for Secret Santa online.

Did you know? The world’s largest Secret Santa game was organized by Reddit users. In 2014, 212,894 people participated in the event, and the game became a three-time Guinness record holder for the largest Secret Santa gift exchange. Such notable figures as Bill Gates and the Prime Minister of New Zealand also took part in Reddit’s gift exchanges.

Organizing Secret Santa in person vs online

Traditionally, Secret Santa is played in person. Families, coworkers, or friends gathered under the Christmas tree and exchanged presents. However, with today’s online Secret Santa generators, you can move away from drawing papers out of the box. 

Here is how online generators compare to a traditional Secret Santa (on the example of our MySanta online generator):

Drawing names in person

Organizing the game using MySanta

  • Draw names out of the hat 

  • 10-15 players can participate so that the game is comfortable for everyone

  • If the person draws his/her name, the draw starts over 

  • Communication between Santa and the gift recipient is not possible 

  • It’s difficult to choose a present that the person will like 

  • Monitoring the game so that everyone buys a present on time is not possible

  • Draw names in one click online 

  • The number of players is not limited (companies with multiple offices can play)                  

  • Set exceptions if some players don’t get along well 

  • Use anonymous chat to talk to your Secret Santa 

  • Use a personal Wishlist and our recommendations to choose the perfect gift 

  • Track the game progress and see which of the players haven’t bought a gift yet

The old-fashioned way to play has its charm, but it also has limitations. It is suitable for a small group of friend or family, but with 9+ players, it will be difficult to organize a game and keep track of everything. An online Secret Santa generator will help set up the game, send reminders to players, and keep track of purchasing gifts so that everyone receives a present. 

How to play Secret Santa online? 7 simple steps 

Whether you want to exchange gifts in person or play with your dear ones on different continents, with an online Secret Santa generator it’s easy to set up the game. Here’s how it works: 

  1. Create a game and invite players. Send a link to all participants or invite them by email. All users need an email address to join. 
  2. Set up the game. Add the budget for gifts, a theme for gift exchange (for example, everyone brings a book or a homemade present), and other details. 
  3. Draw names. You can randomize the selection and set exceptions if some players don’t like each other. 
  4. All players share gift ideas and create wishlists. To learn more about the preferences of your giftee, talk to them in the anonymous chat. 
  5. See if everyone has bought their gifts. If the gift exchange day is approaching and some players haven’t prepared presents yet, send them a kind reminder. 
  6. Organize a festive gift exchange. If you celebrate in person, everyone brings a present and puts it under the Christmas tree. And, if you play remotely, set the day when everyone should send a gift by mail. 
  7. The guessing game begins. People open presents and try to guess who has got them a gift. The timeless classic! 

Winter holidays are hectic, and some players can forget to buy a present on time. With an online generator, you can monitor the progress and see who is late with their present and remind them. Thus, everyone will receive a gift and you’ll avoid awkward moments. 

Image: MySanta.co

The Secret Santa has many variations that let you add a touch of creativity to a traditional exchange. If you have played it many times in your life, you will surely want to try different versions of the game. Here are the most popular ways to play Secret Santa with a twist: 

White Elephant 

Trying to choose a perfect gift for someone can be stressful. The White Elephant game relieves you from this pressure. In it, every player brings a gift of a certain value – try to choose a gift that many people will like. People draw random numbers and unwrap gifts in turn. The next player either chooses the wrapped gift or “steals” the unwrapped one from the previous player. 

Secret Casino Santa 

This one will make a traditional gift exchange way more competitive! In Secret Casino, players bring gifts and contribute to a money pot. Each player has three options: a)pick a gift from the table, b)put their name in a hat and try to win the jackpot, and c) try to win all unchosen gifts. It creates an entertaining experience for everyone involved. 

Guessing game 

Players buy a gift for the assigned person as usual, and also bring a note with clues. Based on the gift and the clues, the recipient attempts to guess their Secret Santa. To make guessing more fun, try to avoid obvious clues such as the first letter of your name. Instead, write a short poem or something mysterious so that it’s not easy to understand who you are! For more ideas on how to write clues, check out our guide on Secret Santa clues that will liven up your gift exchange.

Conspiracy Santa 

In this Secret Santa variation, participants unite to choose a gift for one player secretly. The number of such “conspiracies” matches the number of players, and everyone receives a gift from the entire team. Communication usually takes place through email or chat. This game is suitable for groups of students or small teams at work and is perfect for team-building as people get to know each other better. 

Themed Secret Santa 

As it goes from the name, people play traditional Secret Santa and bring themed gifts. For example, participants get books, gadgets, handmade gifts or self-care presents for each other. You can go further and host a themed Christmas celebration. For example, Christmas game night, Winter Wonderland party, or Pajama party will give the holiday a unique twist and create lots of fun for everyone! 

How to choose a gift for Secret Santa 

The number one question of all Santas is “How do I choose a present the person likes?” It is especially tough to pick a gift for a coworker you barely know. Here are some tips to help you out: 

  • Know your recipient. The success of your gift depends on understanding the preferences of the recipient. Think about the person’s hobbies, likes and dislikes, and passions, and choose something that aligns with them. Our Secret Santa service allows you to talk to the giftee anonymously. Use this option if you don’t know the person well. 
  • Follow the guidelines of your game. If your gift exchange has a theme, stick to the guidelines. Similarly, if the gift budget is $25, spend around that amount on your gift – varying gift values can make people feel uncomfortable.  
  • Study their wishlist. Online Secret Santa generators such as MySanta let every player create a personal wishlist. Thus, you can simply study the wishlist and buy an item the person was dreaming about.
  • Use a safe bet. If you are running out of creativity, get your giftee a popular present, such as scented candles, sweets, a gift card, a classy pen, or a planner for the next year. Such a present will not blow their mind, but at least you will get them something useful. 
  • Avoid personal gifts. When buying a present for a coworker or a person you don’t know well, cleaning supplies, underwear, anti-wrinkle products, and other personal items are a big no-no. Giving such a gift in the workplace can be embarrassing or even land you in HR’s office. 
Image courtesy: Unsplash.com

How to host a Secret Santa game successfully 

Drawing names, filling out wishlists, and buying gifts sound simple, yet you need to consider many details. When organizing the Secret Santa gift exchange, you want to ensure everything runs smoothly. To make your game a success, follow these rules: 

Make sure everyone knows the rules

Secret Santa is a popular tradition, but some people may have not played it yet. Make sure that everyone knows the rules. Or, simply send them this guide ;) 

Thus, you will avoid awkward situations when someone brings a too expensive or too personal gift, forgets to buy a present on time, or, worse yet, tells everyone to whom they will give the present. Discuss the details of your exchange: the deadline for buying gifts, the date and time of the party, and whether you’ll use a theme for the exchange (for example, exchange books or self-care gifts). 

Set a budget for gifts 

Agree on the gift budget (say, $30) and encourage everyone to stay within that limit. Thus, you will keep the gift exchange equal. Nobody wants a situation where one player receives a gift that is too cheap or overly expensive compared to gifts from other people. 

Decide on how you will play: in person or online

Online Secret Santa generators allow you to play both in-person and online if your friends and colleagues live far away. If you plan to meet in person, plan the time, date, and theme of your party. Choose the day early so that it is comfortable for everyone during the hectic holiday season.  

Here’s how to play online: each player sends a gift by mail or using a delivery service. Choose the video conferencing platform and schedule a call. Each player unwraps the gift and attempts to guess their Secret Santa. Plan some online Christmas games to sparkle up the virtual gift exchange.

Create a wishlist 

A wishlist helps your Santa choose a perfect gift and saves their time. Add some items you’d like to receive for Christmas within the agreed budget. Your Santa will be able to see the list and get the present you will like.  

Set exceptions 

If some family members or coworkers don’t get along well, you can set the exchange so that they don’t give to each other. It will help you avoid tension on the gift exchange day. To make the game more fun, you can also set exceptions for partners and close friends. 

Host an awesome party 

Plan your gift exchange party in advance to make the gift exchange truly festive and celebrate the holiday season. Think about décor, food and drinks, and other party activities you’d like to organize. Or, set up a themed Christmas party to make the holiday truly memorable. 

The Secret Santa tradition can sparkle up the holiday gift exchange and turn it into a joyful experience. To make the exchange run smoothly, plan everything in advance and discuss what kind of gifts the participants will exchange. 

The MySanta online Secret Santa organizer can draw names, set exceptions and help you track the gift preparation even for 100+ participants. With anonymous chats and personalized wishlists, every player can receive what they want, and every Secret Santa will remain anonymous. Make a Secret Santa your holiday tradition and streamline your gift exchange with our online tool!