Secret Santa rules - Your complete guide

Secret Santa rules - Your complete guide
Event Inspiration | 26-09-2017 | Posted By Ryan Lee

With Christmas edging closer, fans of the festive season will be getting excited. Perhaps they’re digging out their merry jumpers from the back of the wardrobe. With social events ramping up in the build up to Christmas, not to mention the abundance of food and entertainment, there’s a lot to love about the season. 

It is, after all, the time of giving. What’s nicer than seeing someone’s face light up when they open a gift you handpicked? It (almost) makes you forget all the stress of Christmas shopping. But buying the right presents can be tricky, especially when you don’t know the person all that well – which is often the case with Secret Santa. Adding to that, there are unspoken guidelines when it comes to the popular anonymous gift exchange game.

Before you take part, it’s best to familarise yourself with Secret Santa rules. The point of the game is to spread festive spirit without spending a fortune. You’ll probably be buying a present for someone who wouldn’t typically be on your Christmas list. It’s also just a good laugh, and somewhat of a Christmas tradition. You might do it with a large group of friends, your family or in your office. Whole countries have taken part in Secret Santa before, thanks to Twitter. 

If you’ve never done it before, everyone in the group gets randomly assigned someone else’s name. That’s who they buy a present for. It’s as simple as that – apparently.



Agree on a budget – and stick to it 

The aim of the game is that everyone receives a gift of a similar value to the one they bought. Everyone involved has got to be happy with the budget, so agree on it before drawing names from a hat. Secret Santa shouldn’t be expensive; it tends to a budget of between £5 and £20. Not everyone gets a fuzzy feeling when Christmas comes around, and there’s bound to be an office scrooge or two. If they want to opt out, that’s fine. 

Keep it secret

There’s something about a secret that seems to get everyone talking. As tempting as it might be to cave when someone inevitably keeps asking who you’ve got, the game relies on most people keeping schtum.
To make sure no-one ‘accidently’ sees who someone else is allocated, it’s time to modernise your game of Secret Santa. When you pull names written on paper out of a hat, there’s a temptation to try and catch a glimpse of the crumbled bit of paper left on someone’s desk. If they throw the name away, people can also claim to ‘forget’ who they’re supposed to buy a gift for. Instead, you can let an online generator do the hard work for you.
You just need everyone’s email address, and it will randomly assign everyone someone to buy for. There are plenty of free online services that’ll do this for you. Aside from the present exchange, this is probably the most highly anticipated part of Secret Santa. Will you get your boss? Or the person who you’ve sat opposite for a year and still don’t know? Maybe you’ll get lucky and get your best friend in the office. 

No swapping 

People are most likely to break their silence when they get given someone’s name and they have no clue what they could buy. If you get a name you’re unsure of, view it as a challenge. If everyone swapped, it would ruin the game as people would start to work out who was buying gifts for who. The clue is in the name of the game – it’s supposed to be a secret. You’re not meant to know who your gift was from, even after the exchange.
Without a doubt, guesses will fly around. Don’t make it easy for nosy colleagues or friends to work it out. That includes handing your allocated name over to someone else. There will always be one person, or more, who you’d find it almost impossible to buy for. But if you swap, you could end up with an even trickier choice, and you’ve run the risk of ruining the surprise. No-one wants to be the person who spoils the yearly office ritual. 

If in doubt, stick to tried and tested gifts 

Not everyone can pull off a funny gift. In fact, it can go badly if the recipient doesn’t find it even slightly amusing. It can be surprisingly easy to offend some people – which is probably the last thing you want to do during the festive season. Even fewer people can get a sentimental gift right, which could end in an even more awkward exchange. If you’re having any doubts, fear not. Stick to tried and test gifts such as:

Chocolate. You can’t really go wrong with a decent box of chocolates, although people will know if you’ve gone under budget. 

Alcohol. Similarly, few people will grumble about receiving a bottle or two of their favourite beverage.

A personal mug. Is it time to replace your colleague’s unhealthily stained prized possession? Not only will they be grateful, but others in the office might thank you too.

Candles. An inoffensive gift which you can guarantee will get used.

A calendar. So what if they’ve got another at home? They can use your one in the office as a permanent reminder of what a great gift they received in last year’s Secret Santa, or – more realistically – how they can do better next year.

Posh tea bags. Surely by now every office has someone who has jumped on the posh tea bandwagon. 

Puzzle games. Appeal to the kids-at-heart with a game that’ll keep them busy at the work’s do. 

Plan when you’re going to exchange presents 

The game needs a deadline. It only works when everyone gives and receives a gift. No-one can forget or leave their present behind. To let the festivities roll smoothly, pick your drop-off and exchange date early. Arrange an area where people can leave their gifts without prying eyes watching them. It’ll be someone’s responsibility to bring all the presents together to the exchange, whether that’s at the Christmas dinner or the last day before a long break.
Be as flamboyant with the occasion as you want. If someone’s keen to dress up as Father Christmas, it could make the event extra special for everyone involved. But you’ve got to get one basic thing right – everyone should label their gifts, otherwise it’s pretty obvious when you’ve got to ask who it’s for. Only one person around the table will know – whoever bought the present. 

Tips for buying office Secret Santa gifts

At the end of the day, Secret Santa rules can seem a bit pointless. Especially after word gets around and most people know who everyone has bought presents for. It’s all a charade, but when better to play along with such a game than at Christmas time? Embrace it, and if you’re still struggling, check out our tips for buying your colleagues a great present:

Ask about last year’s gifts

New to the office? Taking part in Secret Santa can be nerve-racking. You’re yet to get to know everyone, whilst they all seem to have loads of private jokes. You’re not to know whether the office favours personal gifts, stays clear of jokes or if anyone has a strange allergy. The only way to find out is by asking. As long as you’re not fishing for suggestions, thus giving away who you’ve got, your colleagues should be happy to tell you the vibe of last year’s Secret Santa. 

Only be funny when you know the person 

Getting a laugh from the table is desirable, but it can go wrong if the room falls silent when someone opens your gift. Humorous gifts only work if they’re not at the expense of someone who doesn’t get the punchline. That’s why it’s so important to only push the boundaries with people you know well, not colleagues you only talk to about work. Spend time outside of work with them? Go ahead and buy something rude. Only chatted with your boss a few times? This year isn’t the time to try and get a laugh.

Make gift wish lists

Not everyone is a fan of the idea of making suggestions. It is, after all, supposed to be a surprise. If you’ve written down a couple of things you’d like to get, you’ll be half expecting at least one of them. You could be disappointed if someone steers away from the list.
However, it does make it easier if someone is struggling. It gives them an idea of what you’d like to receive. There’s no need to worry about awkward thank yous, as it’ll be a genuinely pleased reaction.

Probe (carefully) for ideas

In the run up to Christmas, you can bring up gift-giving a lot easier than the rest of the year. Try and time your need for a hot drink with who you’re buying for, and kick off the conversation complaining about Christmas shopping. It’s something everyone relates to. From there, you should be able to ask what kind of gifts they like receiving, or the best gifts they’ve ever given. You’d be surprised at how many people give gifts they’d like to be given themselves. 

Search online

Nowadays, online shops and media sites make the most of Secret Santa. They know there are a lot of people with a restricted budget looking for some kind of novelty gift. There are endless inspiration lists online, which pop up regularly in the months leading up to Christmas. If the idea of hitting the shops in December is daunting for you, stay at home and do your research online. 


Finally, with an outline of the rules and tips for buying the right gift, you should be on the right track to Secret Santa success. The last thing on your to-do list? Master how to pretend you like your gift. 

View the Sunshine Events best-ever office Christmas Party guide or speak to one of our creative Fun Experts who are excited to help you turn your Christmas event ideas into reality.

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