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Secret Santa Gift Exchange – How does it work?

How to do a Secret Santa Gift Exchange: Instructions, Tips + Tricks for running a white elephant or Secret Santa at work or with friends!

The whole idea of Secret Santa (or Kris Kringle as our friends across the pond would say), is that whether it takes place in your workplace or with friends and family, it's a fun way to exchange gifts and spread holiday cheer.

How to do Secret Santa - White Elephant Instructions 2019

In a chestnut shell (sorry we couldn't resist) the rules are simple. Someone will write down all the participant names on small pieces of papers, fold them to conceal their identities, and then place in a hat, bag, pot or whatever you got. Each player then pulls a piece of paper out - without looking! - and purchases a gift for that individual.

The exciting part is that (at least at first) it’s completely anonymous so you won’t know who bought your gift but you’ll love watching your gift recipient open theirs. Now, you can then play a guessing game afterward to see if you can figure out who bought your gift.

So now that you know how it works, here are some guidelines for setting up your own awesome Secret Santa!

Secret Santa Instructions1. Explain the Rules of Secret Santa

Depending on which part of the world or country you're from Secret Santa can have different rules and options (just think of how many variations of Miss Susie you've heard before!) So, even if you think everyone knows how to play, make sure that everyone is on the same page by providing instructions in your email or invite.

2. Determining a Gift Budget

The Secret Santa organizer can set a budget or the group can agree on the price limit. Most Secret Santa gifts are set to a $25 limit which still allows the buyer to get creative but keeps the price affordable.  You can find hundreds of fun gift ideas in Stocking Stuffers!

3. Setting a Gift Exchange Party Date

Set a date that works for most and that everyone agrees with. If the party is at a workplace, usually a lunchtime party with food is a great way to go! This way co-works have no choice to escape unless they want to use up their sick or vacation days.

3. Shopping Ideas

Ideally, everyone knows the person they are buying for and are familiar with their personality and interests. Getting a funny gift for someone based on their interests or something that you two have shared over time is a huge bonus!

If you don’t know the person very well it's time to put on your sneaky elf hat. You can always attempt to spark a conversation with them, ask other people that know them better (that you can trust to not reveal your identity) or even visit their social media pages (we did not say stalk) to pick up some good gift ideas.

Keep it simple. Stay away from sexual, religious or political gifts if you want to play it safe or boring. Certainly, our Grope on a Rope, Looking Good For Jesus Socks, and I Kissed A Republican Gum may not be for everyone!

4. Opening Your Gift

Be sure to feign excitement and appreciation for your gift no matter how crappy it is. This may be a challenge for some. Aside from lowering your expectations, we highly recommend practicing your best fake smile (squint your eyes to make it most believable) and subsequent canned statements weeks in advance to avoid the awkwardness of allowing your possible disappointment to destroy someone's holiday spirit.

Thank your anonymous buyer and possibly explain how great the gift is or why it is thoughtful. Frowning, pouting, crying, kicking, screaming, and knocking the table over are generally not socially acceptable reactions in most circles. If the gift you receive is not to your liking, do not smash it or throw it in the trash. Take it home and put it away and re-gift or donate it to someone that would enjoy or use it.


Hot Tip: Simply instruct the Secret Santa Organizer to suggest a certain gift store *hint hint* guaranteed to bring actual excitement, joy, and laughter to avoid such heartache. Our Stocking Stuffers collection is a terrific place to start!  As long as you don't get your hopes up, Secret Santa is great fun no matter what the gift is!