What’s the secret to a great Christmas gift swap? First and foremost, it’s about getting a fun group of people together. But another key is making sure all of those fun people understand what to do.
Secret Santa is one of the most well-known types of gift exchange, but not everyone knows it in the same way. In fact, not everyone even agrees on the terminology. Some people refer to it as Kris Kringle, while others consider Secret Santa to be a synonym for White Elephant.
Having said that, the standard rules of Secret Santa distinguish it from a White Elephant gift exchange in a couple of important ways. For one thing, participants buy a gift for a specific person, rather than for a random recipient. Also, for better or worse, there’s none of the stealing typical of holiday gift exchanges.
Because it’s so simple to play, Secret Santa can be a good alternative to White Elephant for some groups (especially large ones). Read on to learn more about this not-so-secret gift exchange game.
“Official” Secret Santa Rules
Here’s how Secret Santa is typically played. Just keep in mind that, as with most gift exchange games, rules can vary from place to place and household to household.
1. Using a list of participants, randomly determine who is buying for whom.
This is typically handled by the organizer, who privately informs the participants whom to buy for. It goes without saying, but keeping this information secret is (literally) the name of the game!
2. Each Secret Santa sends clues as to their identity.
Clues are traditionally accompanied by token gifts, such as candy canes or other sweets. For an office party, the clues are often left at the person’s desk when they are away. You can find tips on writing Secret Santa clues in this article.
3. Participants bring their gifts to the holiday party or meetup.
Gifts should be wrapped with a tag indicating the recipient. Note that for online Secret Santa gift exchanges, participants send their gifts directly to the recipient.
4. Each person opens his or her present where everyone can see.
To determine who goes when, the organizer may choose to draw names from a hat.
5. The gift recipient attempts to guess who their Secret Santa is.
6. Continue until everyone has opened his or her gift and attempted to guess who their Secret Santa is.
And that’s it! Those are the Secret Santa rules at their most basic. Of course, organizers of Secret Santa exchanges can add their own touches to make things more interesting and/or competitive.
Ideas For Organizers
There are many different ways to run a game of Secret Santa. It’s a simple type of gift exchange that doesn’t require much from the participants. In fact, they don’t even have to show up at a Christmas party – in some cases, Secret Santa is organized and run online.
That said, most Secret Santa exchanges conclude at a holiday gathering, whether it’s at the office, a church, or in someone’s home. Here are some ideas to consider if you’re in charge of the proceedings:
Include a ballpark price on your invitation.
A typical gift exchange guideline is $20. However, you can go higher or lower depending on the group. The important thing is for everyone to receive a gift that is roughly as valuable as the one they give.
Use an online service.
Have participants make out “wish lists” for their Secret Santas.
You may choose to have participants write down a few gift ideas for their Secret Santa. This can make it much easier for people to find appropriate gifts, especially if it’s not a tight-knit group where everyone knows each other well. On the downside, it makes it harder to guess who the Secret Santas are because the gifts don’t necessarily reflect their personalities.
Give people multiple chances to guess.
For larger groups, it might be asking a lot for people to guess who their Secret Santa is on the first try. If that’s the case, you may want to consider giving them three chances to guess. Of course, spelling out the rules on guessing really only matters if there’s something at stake…
Offer a prize to people who correctly guess their Secret Santa.
Trying to guess your Secret Santa is rewarding enough. But to add a little extra incentive, you can award token prizes to those who guess correctly. Of course, people who guess later will have an advantage due to the process of elimination, but hey, that’s just the way the Christmas cookie crumbles.
Have participants open their gifts at the same time.
In this variation, participants open their presents at the same time, and individually write down their Secret Santa guesses on pieces of paper. Then you go around the room to see who was correct. This gets around the problem of people being able to guess their Secret Santas by process of elimination.
Eliminate the guessing altogether.
In some cases, the guessing portion of Secret Santa may be unwieldy or just plain undesirable. For example, you may not have time to allow everyone to take a turn guessing, or perhaps the size and/or makeup of the group would make it awkward. While trying to guess your Secret Santa is half the fun, it’s not strictly necessarily to pull off a fun gift exchange.
As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to play Secret Santa. But whatever rules, twists, and terminology you decide on, the result is virtually guaranteed to be the same – a jolly good time for all involved.