I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of Secret Santa. My experience has been very mixed, but they do have their place. I think they only work if there are quite strict rules. And if you’re in a group doing presents with people who really aren’t like you (ie work), either you need to be able to laugh off dodgy gifts, or be happy with people just buying you something a bit boring.

What is Secret Santa?

If you’re not familiar, Secret Santa is a way of present buying which is anonymous. Everyone taking part pulls a name out of a hat, and they buy a gift for the person they pulled out of the hat. There’s a set amount of money, so it’s a fair way of gift giving. Some are themed.

After gifts are given, you can either share who bought what gift, or continue to keep it quiet.

Who does Secret Santa?

Most people do them in workplaces, but they’re good for groups of friends (we did them one year for our NCT group babies), and if you’ve got a big family, it can be a great alternative to buying for everyone. Instead of spending a nominal amount on x number of people, you could each spend a slightly higher amount and get a better gift for one person.

Especially if you’ve families where some can’t or don’t want to spend a lot of money, it can be a great way to ‘release’ people from never ending present buying. Recipients could end up getting 1 decent gift instead of lots of little gifts they don’t really need or want. Less gifts but one better gift means better for sustainable giving too. Just choose your group well – you don’t want to be the one person that Great Aunt Agnes is buying for when she’s has no idea what buying for a teen of the 21st century entails.

I’ve also seen a lot of Secret Santas organised in Facebook groups. I’ve done them with my former online baby forum birth board group, with bloggers, and I know the farmers wives group I’m in do one too.

christmas presents pile

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My Secret Santa experiences

My mixed experiences range from the:

Good – exactly the right squash balls I used. Colleagues said it was a rubbish gift, but it was a well thought out gift for me.

Bad (boring) – red wine (don’t drink it, and no effort put in).

Ugly – an inflatable boyfriend in a can (I wasn’t even single at the time, and I didn’t find it funny at all, especially when it was from someone who should have known me quite well).

It took me a long time after that to do another Secret Santa, and I haven’t done one at work since. Although my current work I think are all quite thoughtful, so I reckon it would be safe to do.

My best experiences of Secret Santas have been with online friends where we’ve known each other quite well, or have been able to ‘stalk’ people on Facebook or blogs to find out the kind of things they like or don’t. It means you’re able to think of something they’ll really like. At Blog On Christmas events there have been Secret Santas in the past where you take a gift, then get a random one in return. Again, these have usually been items I’ve liked. So Secret Santas can definitely work.

To make Secret Santa more fun and less stress why not check out my tips.

Tips for taking part and organising

1, Decide the group taking part and set out the rules so everyone is clear.

2, Choose your method of picking names. You can do it literally pulling names out of the hat, or use an online name generator, or get everyone to add their details, preferences etc and use something like Elfster. This does all the organising for you, and is great if you’re having to post gifts to each other so everything can be tracked.

3, Decide on the budget. £5 is quite traditional for workplaces, but is a really low amount to get anything decent. Outside of family, £10 is probably the maximum you want to go to. Especially if you’re having to post gifts which can be quite expensive.

4, Choose a theme – my brother’s work always do a joke secret santa. Some of my current work colleague do a sustainability challenge – no gifts can be new, but you can make, upcycle or buy preloved. I’ve also done a Christmas decoration one before.

5, Decide whether you want to share things you like or dislike to give clues. It kind of goes against what Secret Santa is about, but some clues might help to giver if they don’t know you at all.

6, Don’t leave the shopping until the last minute. The more time you have the more research you’ll be able to do and hopefully find a better gift.



7, If you’re struggling for ideas, ask a friend of theirs. Or ask for ideas from people who are similar to them about what they would like.

8, Look for deals so you can get more for the budget. It looks more generous and you can always top up with their favourite chocolate bar or a lottery ticket.

7, Wrap the gift nicely. I once received a gift in scrumpled newspaper and a Tesco carrier bag. Not a great impression.

8, If you find a gift for a fiver but the budget’s £10, do add something else to bring it to budget.

9, For online secret santas, if you’re ordering online and sending the gift directly to the recipient, do add a note to say it’s a gift and ask if you can add a message. Then invoice won’t get sent, and you might get it gift wrapped or at least in a plain box. Unless it’s last minute, it’s nicer to get iit sent to you, wrap it and resend out.

10, If you’re good at crafts, why not make a gift worth the budget instead of buying it.

11, Don’t just opt for the boring obvious items like wine, chocolates, toiletries, socks. Unless of course your recipient really likes those things, or there’s something quirky and different about them

12, If you’re doing Secret Santa at work, don’t opt for rude or extreme gifts unless you don’t mind people knowing who bought it, and you know that the recipient would like it.

13, Make sure you buy / send by the deadline if you say you’ll take part. Would you want to be the one person who’d not received their gift even though they’ve bought for someone else?

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13 tips for secret santa participation, picture of a Santa with his finger to his mouth suggesting 'keep a secret'

So, 13 tips for taking part in a secret santa gift exchange.

What’s been the best or worst Secret Santa gift you’ve received? And what tips would you add?

This post was written for Blogmas day 6.

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