Creative Secret Santa Rules

Secret Santa Rules {How to play Secret Santa}

Secret Santa Gift Exchanges

Secret Santa seems to be a tradition in the workplace, among friend groups, and even in some families!  But what are the Secret Santa rules?  Is it different in the office than with family or friends?  Is there any way to make the Secret Santa rules more creative?

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Creative Secret Santa Rules

What is Secret Santa?

If you haven’t heard of Secret Santa, it is a gift exchange typically done during the holiday season.  

How to Play Secret Santa

Basically, everyone in the group writes down their name on a piece of paper, folds it up, and puts it into a hat / bowl / similar type thing.

Then, the bowl is passed around and each person draws a name.  You are the Secret Santa for that person, and whoever’s name you picked is who you will buy a gift for.

There is usually a designated date to exchange Secret Santa gifts, and everyone then opens their gifts and find out who their Secret Santa is!

The advantage among doing this in the workplace (or with a large family or friend group), is that each person is only buying one gift.

This saves both time and money.  You’re saving time by not having to think about what to get 10 different people.  You’re saving money because, obviously, there are less gifts to buy!

There are a few disadvantages to this type of gift exchange, but I think they’re easily overcome.

First, you may pick a name and have NO CLUE what to get that person.  I’ll go over this in the rules below, it’s very easy to work around!

The second disadvantage is you may have had someone else in mind.  This happens to me because all year I think about a few people at work who I’d love to get a certain gift for, but when there are 15 names in the hat, it’s definitely not guaranteed I’ll get the person I had in mind!

Easy way to overcome it – if I’m friends with them outside of work, or consider them my closest work friends, I might just get them something anyway and give it to them outside of the work party.


What Are the Rules for Secret Santa?

Depending on your setting and who you’re playing with, there might be different rules you want to play by.  Here are a few ideas that go from basic to a little more creative! 

Something to keep in mind with all of them, is if you want to take some of the guesswork out of it for everyone.  One thing we do at work is to always write down three items we might like to receive.  

That way, whoever draws my name can have 3 ideas of what I’d like, if they don’t have another idea in mind.  It can also help spark some creativity, too!

If you’re going to go this route, I’d suggest asking each person to really write down 2-3 ideas.  Sometimes it can be really difficult to open a piece of paper, get a name of someone you don’t know that well, and see the words “Surprise me!”

I love giving gifts, so this is only a fleeting thought, but for some people it can really be difficult to think of something the person might truly enjoy.

Don’t forget to get your Holiday Planner! 37 planning pages you can print out for an organized holiday season! There is an optional Thanksgiving Planner with 20 additional pages. Check them both out here!

How To Do Secret Santa Remotely

With all the absolute craziness of 2020, some families connecting remotely, and more work teams going remote, how to do Secret Santa remotely is definitely a topic worth discussing this year!

So, in addition to the rules laid out above and below, let’s talk about ideas for a virtual gift exchange!

First, you’ll want to get a head start on this and it might take a little more advanced planning than other years when you do Secret Santa in person.

So, as soon as you know who would like to participate in a virtual Secret Santa, you’ll want to get the ball rolling!

The next thing you’re probably wondering is the most logical and the easiest way to draw names!

Secret Santa rules

Secret Santa Generator #1

Our first option (and my favorite) for drawing names for a virtual gift exchange is a website called Draw Names (seriously, how easy is that!).

So, head over to Draw Names, and then you can enter your name, and the name of each participant.

Step 2 you can choose if everyone draws one, two, or three names. You’ll most likely want to choose one name per person.

Step 3, you can choose if you want to have any “exclusions.” This would mean you could make it possible for two people to not draw each other’s names. If there are any issues between coworkers, or if it’s with a family or friend group where two people would likely be getting each other gifts anyway (like a husband and wife).

Next, you create all the info for the group. You can give your group a name, put in the date for the virtual gift exchange, opt to send gifts by mail (which you’ll probably want to do – and then each person will fill in their own mailing address), set the budget, and then include a message.

After that, you’ll receive an email where you can decide how to send invitations. You can send them via text, email, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or copy a link and send it a different way.

What’s really nice about Draw Names, is that if this becomes a yearly tradition with playing Secret Santa remotely, you can use the same group as you did in previous years so you don’t have to start over!

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Virtual Secret Santa Generator #2

Elfster is another great option for choosing Secret Santa names online.

Elfster offers all the same options as above, and also includes the opportunity for each person to fill out a wishlist! Check out Elfster!

Online Secret Santa Generator #3

Secret Santa Organizer is another site that offers very similar options.

To create an event, you simply put in your name and email, and the names and emails of each person participating, date of your virtual gift exchange, and a budget, along with a personalized message.

It looks like participants can also fill out wish lists. The website does stress that each person will have to confirm their email prior to participating, and this is designed to keep bots and spam out of your remote Secret Santa!

Check out Secret Santa Organizer!

Other Tips for a Remote Secret Santa

Just a few random things to keep in mind!

  1. Make sure to get this done early – people will likely need to mail/ship their gifts to the recipient.
  2. Use something like Zoom or Google Hangouts to host your virtual party, so everyone can see each other open their gifts!
  3. Consider working the gift budget a little differently this year. If people need to pay for shipping, you may want to lower the gift budget, or say that your budget is “$X, including shipping.

Fun Ways To Play Secret Santa

Alright, if you are not doing a virtual Secret Santa, or if you’d like to try to work some of these ideas into it, let’s get into the different Secret Santa rules!

Simple Secret Santa

Here are the most basic rules!

  1. Choose a date for the gift exchange.
  2. Draw names early enough for people to have time to get a gift.
  3. Set a budget

    It’s best to keep it modest and something everyone can agree on.  You don’t want to set a $20 budget if some people might prefer $10, but feel uncomfortable speaking up about it.  It’s best not to put someone in that position!
  4. Each person writes down their own name, plus 2-3 ideas of gifts they’d like.
  5. Grab a hat, bowl, something to hold all the names in.  
  6. Each person draws a name out of the hat. 

    If you draw your own name, then hold onto it and draw again.  Once you get a new name, put yours back in the hat and move it along to the next person.

    Seriously.  It takes the fun out of it.  No tradesies. 

Those are the basic rules for getting Secret Santa started!

Now, some simple rules for the gift exchange!  There are a few different ways I’ve done this.

One, is to simply put a gift tag on the present with the person it’s for, and who it’s from.  You can exchange gifts casually at the party or on the designated date.

Another is to just write who the gift is for.  Leave the gift GIVER off of it.  This is how we play it at work and it’s a lot of fun!

First, everyone puts their gifts in a central location.  Then, someone is designated to hand out the gifts.

The person handing them out picks one at a time, and then gives it to the recipient.  Everyone watches the person open the gift, and then that person tries to guess who their Secret Santa is.

I will say that this is a lot of fun, but works best when you have a close knit group of people who don’t feel awkward being on the spot like this.

Office Rules

These should be all the same as the simple Secret Santa rules, but you may want to put a few additional rules in place.

For example, should alcohol be allowed as a gift?  Some places this might be just fine, and others it may not be appropriate.  Make sure to think of anything that might otherwise be a common gift, and include it in your rules.

Another office or workplace Secret Santa suggestion would be to not force everyone to play if they do not want to. 

Also, don’t make them feel awkward or ashamed for not playing.  Everyone has their own reasons for wanting (or not wanting) to do something, and it shouldn’t be a requirement for them to purchase a gift if they aren’t comfortable about it.

Keep any office politics in mind too. 

When I’m writing this, I’m specifically thinking about the scene in the show The Office where everyone stays within the gift giving limits, except Michael buys an iPod and then gets upset that he received a homemade oven mitt. 

While I laugh hysterically at that episode, that could happen in real life!

If you have any situations at work where something like that may become problematic, make sure to think about it ahead of time and address it appropriately!

Family Rules

Similar to the office Secret Santa rules, make sure you always know if something is off limits.

When I was a kid, my cousins and I always did a Secret Santa gift exchange, and our parents obviously were at the helm of that.  They did most of the research for us when we were younger, by asking the other parents about interests and hobbies.

This might be a great time for the kids, or any participants, to fill out the Secret Santa survey at Thanksgiving!  It would help the kids get creative and think of something on their own that they might want to give!

Another thing to keep in mind with family exchanges, are who would be naturally getting a gift for someone else anyway.  Here’s what I mean by that:

We’ll use my family as an example.  If my cousins and I were to do a Secret Santa exchange, I would want to make sure that I’m going to draw the name of someone outside my immediate family.  

I intend on getting my brother a gift anyway, so I wouldn’t want to draw his name for Secret Santa!

Keep that kind of stuff in mind as you work through how you’ll draw names!

Friend Rules

Among friends may be the most relaxed. 

I enjoy doing this with larger friend groups.  There was a time back in college when a smaller friend group decided we should do Secret Santa, because we were in college and finding funds to be a bit low – but we still wanted to celebrate and exchange gifts (just on a smaller scale).

Another super fun thing we did was turn Secret Santa into a game night!

Basically, we drew names, and the theme was board or card games.  So, you got a game that your person would enjoy in the future with their family or other friends.

Then, we all played our games at our party / gift exchange!  If you have too many games to play, have everyone take a vote and choose how many you have time to play!

Make a commitment to play the other games and your next game night!

Speaking of game night, I highly recommend Hunt A Killer

Honestly, I’ll talk about this game whenever I get the chance to because I am OBSESSED.  Check out my full Hunt A Killer review, or click here to purchase it.

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Fun Ways to Do Secret Santa

Here are a few different ideas of how you can do Secret Santa in a more interesting way, if your crowd is tired of the basics!

Fun ways to do Secret Santa

Creative Secret Santa Ideas

You can add a few extra rules to Secret Santa such as…

  1. Every gift must be DIY
  2. You have to re-gift something from last year’s exchange
  3. You can ONLY put together gifts with items from the dollar store
  4. You have to give a gift that starts with the same letter as the person’s name, i.e. my name is Kristin so I might get a kite or socks with kittens on it.
  5. You have to find an ornament that speaks to the recipient’s interests

You get the idea!  Feel free to add your own spin on things!


What if you combined Secret Santa with a Christmas Cookie Exchange?!

As in, each person writes down their name and 2-3 of their favorite cookies, and you bake those cookies for them?!

Seriously, this just came to me and I think I’m going to try to work it in this year. 

Check out this post about Christmas Cookie Exchanges if you’re unsure how they work.  They’re seriously a ton of fun!

Don’t forget to get your Holiday Planner! 37 planning pages you can print out for an organized holiday season! There is an optional Thanksgiving Planner with 20 additional pages. Check them both out here!

Secret Santa With a Twist

White Elephant, sometimes known as Yankee Swap, is a great way to play Secret Santa with a twist!

In a White Elephant exchange, there is no drawing names ahead of time.

You still put a budget on the gift, but people are free to get whatever they want, and anyone could receive the gift.  

Each person wraps their gift and DOES NOT write any names on it, not even their own or who it’s from.

The gifts are then put in a central location at the party, and people pick them one-by-one.

To determine the order in which people choose, you can do it by tenure (at the office), oldest to youngest (if it won’t offend anyone), youngest to oldest (once again, if not offensive), or you can number pieces of paper from 1 to however many people are participating.

Each person would then draw a number and that’s the order the gift opening goes in.  This is probably the most diplomatic way to do things, and there’s no room for complaints if they go first or last!

On each person’s turn, they choose any gift they want and open it OR they can decide to steal a previously opened gift.  Whoever went first should also have the option to steal a gift at the end, since there wasn’t anything to steal when they started.

You may want to set a limit for how many times a gift can be stolen.  This will depend entirely on your group.

What are some hacks for organizing a great Secret Santa?

Here are some of the best tips for organizing a great Secret Santa:

  • Set a realistic budget
  • Give everyone plenty of time to shop and prepare
  • If you don’t want to draw names out of a hat, you can use something like this Secret Santa Generator.
  • Have people write down ideas or interests they have, so the gift giver doesn’t have to guess (unless that works for your group, of course!)
  • Or, have each person fill out a questionnaire with a few things they like – sometimes this is so much easier than thinking of what someone can get you, and it makes for a better surprise! Grab your free Secret Santa Survey below!

What are some ideas for the wording on a Secret Santa invitation?

No matter what group of people you’re doing Secret Santa with, you’ll want to have an invitation or flyer, or some sort of way to relay all of the information.

Here’s the information you’ll want to include:

  • The date the names will be drawn
  • The date the gift exchange will happen (along with where and what time)
  • The budget or maximum dollar amount for the gift
  • Details like if each person should fill out a Secret Santa Survey or write in 2-3 ideas of what kinds of gifts they’d like
  • Information on if you should put your name on the gift when giving it, or if each person will have to guess who their Secret Santa is.

Here’s an example of an idea of how to put it all together.  Feel free to use this for your office flyer, on your party invites, or in your group chat!

Hello everyone!

Now that the holidays are quickly approaching, it’s time for our annual Secret Santa (OR: let’s do things a little differently this year with Secret Santa!)!

Everyone who wishes to participate will draw names on DATE.  If you want to participate, please write your name on a piece of paper with 2-3 ideas of what you might like (OR: If you’d like to participate, please fill out this quick survey) to help you Secret Santa out!

We will exchange gifts on DATE.  Please keep to the budget of a maximum of $AMOUNT, and do NOT write your name on the gift – only who it’s for!

We will be guessing our Secret Santas.  Let’s see who the best secret keeper is – DO NOT tell anyone who you pick!

Or something like that.  You get the idea.

Tell me in the comments what you love (or don’t like) about Secret Santa!

Hosting a party this year?  Check out this awesome 30 Day Declutter Calendar or The Ultimate Guide to Deep Cleaning Your Home to get your house prepped and ready for hosting during the holidays!

As always, try to reduce stress by getting Ready for Christmas Early!

Don’t forget to get your Holiday Planner! 37 planning pages you can print out for an organized holiday season! There is an optional Thanksgiving Planner with 20 additional pages. Check them both out here!

Secret Santa Rules

Rules for Secret Santa

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