Rules of the Secret Santa game

As Christmas time approaches, the dilemma of what to buy everyone can get a little stressful. Sometimes the worry of whether your budget will stretch far enough can also be an issue. Whatever the case, "Secret Santa" can come in handy, whether the swap happens between your classmates, your office colleagues, or your circle of friends.

Choose your receiver anonymously

The whole point of "Secret Santa" is that you have to guess who has bought your present. So, you want to make sure that the buyers each choose their receiver anonymously, and the receiver does not find out. The best way to do this is to get everyone to write their names on a piece of paper, fold it and put it together with the others. Then, get everyone to select a name at random. If they get their own name, get them to put it back and choose another. It's important that no one discusses their results, in case someone finds out who their buyer is, or swaps names behind the scene - who you get is who you buy for, challenge or not!

Set a financial limit

Whoever is playing the game, there's always going to be financial differences. Some will be happy paying a lot; others might have to really think about their spending. So, it's vital as a team you come up with a budget together. For instance, £5 might be sensible between school friends, whereas between work colleagues £10 might be more appropriate. It's important that you set a minimum as well - imagine how disappointing one might feel if, after spending £10 on a really nice present for someone, they receive a £1 keyring from their buyer! By setting a budget this makes the game as fair as possible and means that no one feels pressured to spend more than they can.

Hold an event for present-giving

You've all bought your presents. You're dying to receive yours, but also to see if your receiver will figure out it's you. It's time to give the presents! The best way to do this is as a small event - maybe at the Christmas party, or whilst out for drinks. Secret Santa is supposed to be fun, so don't let it down with the present-giving! Get everyone to put their presents into a sack beforehand, so no one sees which present belongs to who. Then, when it's time to give them out, appoint someone as the "Christmas Elf" - that is, to distribute the presents - and then everyone can open them, whether together or separately. Make sure that everyone guesses who might have bought theirs, and then, if you want to, go round to reveal the answers!

Spice up the rules!

So what if you've already played "Secret Santa" before? There's plenty of ways to spice it up! 1. Take out the specific recipient idea. Instead, buy a present, put it in the middle, and get each person to choose a present at random. That way people only have their judge of shape and size to choose what they want. 2. If you're a particularly creative bunch, make it a rule that each present has to be homemade. See what weird and wonderful things you can come up with! 3. Play "Secret Donkey," the silly alternative to "Secret Santa." In this version, the present you buy has to be a mock present - something funny like a gag or trick from a joke shop. Great if you're a particularly hard bunch to please!


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About the Author

Hannah Read is a writer based in Colchester, Essex, having written since her school days. Her articles have appeared in "The Times Online," "Upmarket" and her own blog in which she writes reviews and articles, mostly about film and media.