How does “Secret Santa” work?

Photo by Tony Kennick - CC-BY

Photo by Tony Kennick - CC-BY

The Secret Santa tradition has taken hold in the workplace in recent years. It offers a way for colleagues to give gifts to each other without needing to worry about what the recipient thinks of the present – because the recipient won’t know who gave it.

In its simplest form, the organiser sets a price limit. Everyone buys and wraps one gift and leaves it under the tree. At the designated time, everyone helps themselves to a random present and opens it in everyone’s company, usually to much merriment.

A more complicated version allocates a recipient to each giver, who must then buy a suitable gift. That way, the giver knows who the present is for but the recipient has no idea who gave it to them.

In the White Elephant Gift Exchange version (also known as Yankee Swap) the gifts are wrapped so as not to reveal their contents. Each person in turn may either open a new gift or take one of the already-opened gifts.

Money can also be incorporated. Everyone brings a wrapped gift, and also puts an agreed sum of money into a pot. Each person in turn may:

  • Choose a present, or
  • Share the money with anyone else who also chooses this option, or
  • Share the unclaimed gifts due to some people choosing the money

What kind of presents can you give for a Secret Santa? If the group is taking it seriously, you should give something that can be used and enjoyed after the event. But many Secret Santa groups emphasize amusement at the time of gift-giving, and favor novelty gifts.

A web search for secret santa gifts yields a myraid of results, including:

  • Borat style mankini
  • Executive ball scratcher
  • Sudoku toilet paper
  • Stress balls
  • Computer guardian angel
  • Magic tricks such as marked cards
  • Bath toys
  • Furry handcuffs
  • Snow globes
  • Union Jack cufflinks
  • Chocolate calculator
  • Lump of coal
  • Computer panic button
  • Soft toys
  • Jobsworth cards
  • Brown noses
  • Fake ASBOs

Secret Santa is also known as Kris Kingle, and in Latin America as Amigo Invisible (Invisible Friend).

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1 Comment

  • larry says:

    This very probably relates to the Scandinavian tradition of the “Julklapp.” The word means basically a Christmas present, but there like elsewhere there is a tradition that Christmas presents are from an anonymous source: Santa or Father Christmas or the Christmas elf.
    The word is also used in northern Germany, where for decades a way to distribute small presents at company Xmas parties has been to draw names, each person then finding an appropriate, humorous, maybe less humorous gift that could be given anonymously.

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