secret santa game

How to Secret Santa

How to play traditional Secret Santa?

We wanted to explain a few simple rules and give you some tips in ensuring Secret Santa is a successful gift giving occasion for everyone.

Make Sure Everyone Actually Knows How to play

Make a list of everyone who wants to participate, and put their names in a hat or use an online Secret Santa organizer which may be easier if you aren’t all together to pull a name.

Everyone gets a name and it is his or her responsibility to buy a present for that person. Remember, the whole thing is anonymous, so you won’t know who bought you a gift but this must also remain a secret until after the game.

Set a Price Limit

Setting a budget is an important part so agree on a price range that is within everyone’s budget. The game is supposed to be fun and there are some great gifts that you can get for around $£€10, which most people will be happy to spend. If you are doing Secret Santa amongst the family and the chosen gift should be that person’s one main Christmas present, then you might want to set the budget to a more generous amount of $£€50 as an example and get them something that will really bring them joy!

Know Your Giftee

If you know the person you are buying for, then you should try to get something that reflects their personality and their interests – or is relevant to a particular joke that you share. Even if it is something useless and silly, the idea is to show someone that you know them, and the gift should ideally make them laugh or have some sentimental connection.

In bigger companies or offices, use it as an opportunity to get more social in the workplace.

Have a Sense of Humor

When choosing a funny gift, keep the joke simple, and ideally one that makes sense to everyone – especially the recipient.

Receive Your Gift Graciously

Which ties into this key point. While you may be preoccupied with buying, don’t forget that you will be receiving a gift as well, and that someone may be putting the same thought and effort as you are into choosing something. Make sure you are polite and dignified when you open your gift – even if you hate it. In fact, especially if you hate it.

Choose Your Versions of Secret Santa

If you’re looking for ways to make things a bit more interesting, don’t be afraid to change it up. You can set a theme that everyone has to adhere to or you can make it more ambiguous by saying all the presents have to be a certain colour.

Get creative and suggest people make a gift or do a Bake-Off Secret Santa where you all make delicious festive treats for each other. Or, as Christmas is the time of giving, you can give donations to charity in each other’s names. Be as creative as you want!

If that’s not enough, you can even change the rules of the game.

Thieving Secret Santa/Stealing Secret Santa/White Elephant/Yankee Swap

In this version, participants (players) bring one gift each which is potentially suitable or interesting to any of the other participants. The gifts should be wrapped in such a way as to disguise their nature. Ideally, the provider of each gift should not be disclosed when setting up the game. Players take turns, and can either open a new gift, or steal a previously opened gift. This game is more commonly known as the white elephant gift exchange, or Yankee Swap


Each participant brings a gift for their assigned person, with a letter. This letter may or may not have hints on who the giver might be, depending on the rules participants have established. Each receiver must guess who made the gift.

Secret Casino Santa

In this version, each person buys a gift for specific amount, not for anyone specifically. Each person also puts in a specific amount of money into a pot. Who goes first in gift selection can be determined by random selection. The options are:

  • Option A: Choose a gift
  • Option B: Do not choose a gift, and go for Money.
  • Option C: Put your name in to win all the unwanted gifts by those who went for Option B.

At the end, the gifts that were chosen are opened and the winner of the money and leftover gifts are drawn.

Conspiracy Santa

In this version, participants engage in a “conspiracy” where all participants work together to select a gift for a single participant without that participant’s direct involvement or knowledge. Many such individual “conspiracies” run concurrently, one for each participant. Email threads or web apps are commonly used to manage each “conspiracy” until a consensus is made, wherein the gift is purchased by a decided upon participant and given at a later date. A common theme of Conspiracy Santa is collectively learning about participants, making it popular for workplaces and schools

The important thing to remember though is that Secret Santa is not about the gift you receive, but the activity itself. Just like Christmas itself, it is meant to bring people closer together, and foster team spirit. Stick to the above rules and it will ensure a successful Secret Santa for all!

What’s the best Secret Santa gift you’ve ever given or received? Let us know in the comments below…

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