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Guide: Secret Santas

Elena Mauer
Guide: Secret Santas
The season for exchanging gifts with your nearest and dearest—and maybe even with a few people you don’t know so well—has arrived. For many of us, that means getting ready for a group gift-exchange. Whether it’s with coworkers, extended family, or a group of friends, a Secret Santa-style exchange can be fun, but there’s plenty of pressure. (Who wants to be the one who brings a disappointing gift?) We’re here to help.
  • Common Types of Gift Exchanges

  • Not every gift-exchange setup is the same. Some rely on absolute secrecy, others are all about creating fun (and possibly hilarity) at the big-reveal moment. These are how the most typical gift exchanges usually work.


  • Secret Santa: In this exchange, names are drawn from a hat or a bowl, and everyone buys a gift for the person whose name they’ve drawn. There is often a limit on how much may be spent on the present. The gifts are exchanged anonymously, and the recipient doesn’t know who gave her the gift. In some versions of this game, the secret is never revealed; in others, the givers are revealed after all gifts are exchanged as part of a holiday party. For this type of exchange, your gift should be as personalized as possible—if you don’t know your recipient well, recruit input from someone in the group who can give you the scoop.


  • Grab Bag: Each person chooses one gift that could be suitable for any recipient at the party. Gifts are piled together and each person chooses one randomly—so wrapping your gift with as much style as possible is key. Givers are usually revealed as part of the festivities. Gifts that work well for these exchanges usually the ones that make great conversation starters.


  • Yankee Swap (a.k.a. White Elephant): In a Yankee Swap, you’re turning the gift exchange into a game. Everyone buys a gift without knowing who will receive it. Then after drawing numbers, everyone takes turns opening a gift. When it’s your turn, you have the option of “stealing” one that’s already open, or unwrapping a new one. There’s an element of strategy–and often, gag gifts appear! For a Yankee Swap, choose either a classic gift anyone would like (and therefore “steal” from other players), or a funny gag gift people will try to unload on others.



  • Gift Inspiration

  • Now that you know what you’re doing, what gift will you give? Use these gift ideas to get inspired:


  • Bit of bubbly: New Year’s is coming up, and while a bottle of Champagne might be a bit pricey for a gift exchange, Prosecco is just as festive.


  • French press: Not a lot of drinkers on the guest list? How about coffee drinkers? A classic French Press looks posh, but the price is right.


  • Spa gifts: Almost everyone could use a little extra pampering. A few luxurious beauty products combined in a basket will be a must-have.


  • Sweet treats: While some of the partygoers may not have the same taste in home décor items as you or love the same pastimes, everyone’s got to eat, right? That’s where a sweet treat like chocolates comes in.

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