How to organise a successful Secret Santa

Has organising the annual office Secret Santa fallen to you this year? Find out how you can make a stress-free festive success.

For many people, the thought of receiving gifts is the best part of Christmas. Who doesn’t like holding a mysterious parcel in their hands, untying the bow and wondering what could possibly be underneath that shiny reindeer wrapping paper?

The act of giving gifts is an ancient tradition, one that’s thought to be as old as humanity itself. Being the recipient of a gift is great but being the giftee can be even more special. This element of Christmas is an opportunity to spoil a loved one and let them know how much they mean to you.

That’s not to say that the gesture doesn’t come without any pressure, however. Is this gift too expensive? Too cheap? Will they like it, or will they want to return it?

One way to make gift-giving a fun, relaxed, and controlled occasion is to organise a Secret Santa party amongst your colleagues – or even friends and family. It even works virtually, which can be helpful if you have a remote work team or distant loved ones.

Here’s what you need to know to make it a stress-free success!

Make sure everyone knows how it works

While many people will have likely heard of the term Secret Santa, not everybody will have taken part. So, it’d be a good idea to start off the activity by ensuring everyone knows exactly how to play and what rules there are. It doesn’t have to be strict (it is Christmas, after all!) but laying down some guidelines will guarantee each member in the group knows what to expect.

How you choose to arrange the occasion is completely up to you and your group. You could do the Yankee Swap (everyone selects or steals a gift from another player), Grab a Bag, or Pass the Gift (what it says on the tin!). 

If you want to keep things simple, however, just follow this fool-proof process:

  • Step one: Gather all participants to your house, a bar, or the office communal area.
  • Step two: Put everyone’s name into a hat.
  • Step three: Each person takes turns to retrieve a name from the hat. Whoever they pick is their giftee.
  • Step four: Buy the gift for the person you’ve been given. Meanwhile, the person who picked your name (your very own ‘Secret Santa’) will be buying a gift for you.
  • Step five: Everyone exchanges gifts on the agreed time and date. This could be the staff Christmas party if your group is made up of colleagues, or a festive night out / in if you’re playing with friends and family. 
  • Step six: Ta-da! You’ve taken part in Secret Santa.

Set an agreed budget between everyone

This time of year, it’s important to be mindful of everyone’s individual financial situations. Purchasing gifts can be an expensive task, especially when you have multiple people to buy for.

Secret Santa does alleviate some of that pressure, because instead of having 11 family members or six colleagues to buy for, you just purchase a gift for one, but some sensitivity and consideration will still go a long way.

Ask each participant how much they’d want to spend on the gift – you could do this anonymously, if you feel that the question might make people uncomfortable. From there, take everybody’s answers and find a happy medium. You could also set the budget as ‘up to £X’ to give people the opportunity to spend a little less if the final figure is still beyond their sweet spot. 

Decide whether you want to be funny or serious

For many people, taking part in Secret Santa is an opportunity to show their humorous side and be a little silly! When you have the name of your giftee, to be a successful Secret Santa you must first decide whether you want your gift to be funny or serious. Google Keyword Planner revealed that, in November 2021, ‘secret santa funny ideas’ received 60,500 Google searches. 

If you’ve picked a female colleague that you’re not super close with, it might be a good idea to keep things safe and simple with a nice purse or scented bath and body set (within the agreed budget, of course).

If your recipient is someone you can have a good laugh with, like a close friend or an uncle, you could push the boundaries and be a bit more daring, such as by purchasing a funny self-help book or a mug with your face on. 

Three successful Secret Santa tips 

Now you have a firm idea of how Secret Santa works, here are some top tips to ensure it goes tree-mendously! 

1) Avoid guessing clothing sizes

This is somewhat self-explanatory. Not only could this cause offense, but it’s also super easy to get wrong and then your recipient is left with a gift that they can’t wear, nor can they return. 

2) Don’t leave it to the last minute

We’re all guilty of putting things off ‘until tomorrow’ and then finding ourselves caught short when there are no more tomorrows left. Play it safe and purchase your gift way in advance of the agreed exchange date. ‘Last minute Secret Santa gifts’ was hit with 210 searches in November 2021 – don’t be one of these people, if you can help it. 

3) Stick to the budget

You arranged a budget for a reason. While it might be fine for members of your party to dip a little under the agreed maximum budget if they need to, be mindful of going too far under as it could come across as though you don’t care enough. In a similar way, nobody likes a show off, so don’t go over it, either.

Good luck, Santa!

This is your opportunity to get creative and show somebody in your life that you truly care about them. You may not pick the person you really want, but that’s just how Secret Santa rolls. Keep an open mind and follow the above guidance to ensure you do the best possible job this year. And remember, it really is the thought that counts!

Photo by Ben White