Secret Santa Gift Exchange

In the days and weeks ahead of Christmas, many social groups and workplaces participate in a Christmas gift-giving game known as Secret Santa. This game is easy to organize, easy to participate in and can be spread over a few days or done at a particular time with all group members in attendance. It is sure to warm everyone's hearts, as much for the giving as for the receiving, and is a wonderful way for your work place colleagues, team-mates, community group or large extended family to participate in a gift-giving exchange that is quite economical, fun and has an element of mystery.

The premise of the Secret Santa is just that - the giver of the gift is anonymous, or secret, and at all times, the gift-giver's identity should be protected! Part of the fun of the Secret Santa is trying to figure out who gave the gift, which usually matches the receiver's interests and likes.

Origin of Secret Santa

In Scandinavian folklore, the tradition of Julklapp or "Christmas Knock", dates back hundreds of years and usually occurs on Christmas Eve. Gift-givers leave an anonymous gift on someone's doorstep, knock loudly and run away. When the receiver opens their door, finding a gift on their doorstep, a tag is attached with a poem or a riddle describing the person who the gift is meant for, and often the gift is disguised inside a much bigger box than is actually needed. The fun of figuring out who the present is for with only the riddle on the tag as a clue, as well as trying to guess what is inside, is as integral to the tradition as the gift itself. This is part of the Scandinavian storytelling tradition about Rupert, the helper to St. Nicolas, who, in North American terms, was the elf who aided Santa Claus with the distribution of presents.

Secret Santa as it is known in western tradition can be found in the US, Canada, the UK and the Philippines. Variations in Ireland, Austria and Australia are known as Kris Kringle. In the Dominican Republic, this tradition is known as Angelito, while in Germany, the literal translation of Wichteln is "do a good deed" or "helper fairies". Poland celebrates a Secret Santa tradition on December 6 known as Mikolajki, while in Spain, Portugal and Latin America, the tradition of 'amigo secreto' has taken root. During Purim in Israel, the tradition of "A Dwarf and A Giant" has also added to their celebration traditions.

Secret Santa and Random Acts of Kindness

In the last third of the 1900s, a variation on the theme of anonymous gift-giving began to emerge in America. The story goes that as a young man, Larry Dean Stewart of Kansas City, Missouri, lost his job in two different years in the days leading up to Christmas. Hungry and broke, he ate at a diner even though he didn't have the money to pay for his meal. Another patron intuitively understood his plight, dropped a $20 bill on the floor at Mr. Stewart's feet and said, "Sir, I believe you dropped this". Mr. Stewart never forgot this act of kindness and after making a fortune in cable television and long-distance phone calling, he began distributing anonymous $100 bills to those in need, stamped with "Kansas City Secret Santa" on them. The folklore around Mr. Stewart's kindnesses grew and were imitated by other generous souls.

While this variation of $100 Secret Santa cash gifts is not possible for most of, acts of kindness instead of gift-giving can be part of your Secret Santa gift exchange. Secret Santa is all about anonymous giving, so however you choose to implement this gift exchange is up to you!

The Game

The goal of the Secret Santa Gift Exchange is to anonymously provide others with small gifts or just one gift in the days before Christmas. Perfect for large groups at work, within your community or for extended family members, Secret Santa adds an element of mystery to exchanging gifts that turns out to be both intriguing and fun.

Famous Secret Santas for Inspiration!

Reddit, an online community platform, has held an online Secret Santa for almost 10 years now, as of 2017. Participants sign up to send and receive gifts and participants have joined from around the world. There are a variety of themes and price ranges to choose from. Some of its more famous happenings, with identities revealed after the gift-giving, include:

  • Bill Gates sending, as Secret Santa, donations to an anti-Malaria organization as well as outdoor gear to his Secret Santa partner;
  • Snoop Dogg sent his partner some signed celebrity merchandise as well as some more personally-chosen items;
  • Shaquille O'Neal sent Star Wars gear, some postcards and of course, a framed photo of himself;
  • Jimmy Fallon had his show band improvise a song to his Secret Santa partner, and had them play it live on the show;
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger sent his partner a personal drawing of her cat, with a photo of him doing it to prove it.

Now we don't all have the resources to do this with our extended family, coworkers or friends, but this lets you know just how popular and fun Secret Santa can be with a little thought and inspiration!