Two words have the potential to strike fear in the hearts of even the chillest office employees: Secret. Santa. This anonymous present exchange is a high-risk, high-reward game of chance and mystery. But, if your office has just committed to doing it, you might be wondering: what are the rules of Secret Santa? This easy gift-giving game might be the perfect way to spice up your friend group's holiday plans. Before we dive into ~the rules,~ though, let's take a brief detour into the history of the game. Who knows — maybe it'll inspire your gift-giving game this year!
While the history of gift-giving during the winter months dates back to pagan communities throughout Europe and the Middle East, the practice of Secret Santa is a distinctly Western tradition. A number of European countries have similar variations: In the United Kingdom, it's Kris Kringle. In Ireland, it's Kris Kindle, a name that evolved from "Christkindl," meaning "Christ's child." Communities throughout Australia and Canada probably recognize at least one of these names. But the heart of this game - anonymously giving presents — can be traced to the Scandinavian tradition of "Julklapp," which translates to "Christmas knocking."
Knecht Rupert, or "Servant" Rupert, an aide to Saint Nicholas, travels around, knocking on doors, throwing presents inside and leaving before anyone sees him (yes, really). It's a tradition still practiced now — though instead of lobbing gifts at one another, they leave them outside the door.
Another basis for the air of mystery surrounding this holiday game is the German "Wichteln," derived from the word "Wichtel," which means goblin or elf. In Germanic tradition, Santa Claus is aided by wichtels, a group of fairy-like creatures who help him make and deliver presents.
So now that you're caught up on how this game came to be, you ready to get to the rules? Duh. Of course you are. Everyone loves mystery games that end in a gift-giving circle.
First, Everyone Writes Their Name Down On A Scrap of Paper
Write it nicely. Someone else will have to decipher it.
They Place Their Names In A Hat
Or some sort of holiday-adjacent receptacle. You know, because, 'tis the season or whatever.
One By One, Each Participant Draws A Name
If you draw your own name, put it back! Don't be like Kevin in that episode of The Office who picks his own name and then buys himself a foot bath.
.... although to be honest, that was kind of a dope scam.
They Secretly Buy A Gift For Said Person
Many offices and friend groups set a price cap for the present, which often hovers around $10. On the one hand, a budget is great, because nobody's wallet is feeling particularly heavy during the holiday season. On the other hand, you want to buy a thoughtful, personalized gift and sometimes that's a bit more than $10! If you're feeling really stuck, though, a gift card is a welcome present. Let 'em spend those $10 buckaroos their own way!
On The Day of Secret Santa, Everyone Places Their Labeled Gifts In A Pile
And the excitement is buzzing!
One By One, People Open Their Gifts — Usually In Front Of Everyone
OK, here is where the variations on Secret Santa emerge. Some groups choose to have the Secret Santa step forward and produce their gift; others have each person find their present within the pile, open it, and then attempt to guess who their Secret Santa was. Either way, it's public present opening. And honestly, this is where a lot of the anxiety bubbles to the surface. What if your person doesn't like their gift? What if your secret Santa bought you like... a box of Minute Rice? Feigning excitement while being watched by a whole group of people is not, uh, the best way to spend a holiday.
Ultimately, though, Secret Santa offers the opportunity to buy a present for, and thus get to know more intimately, another person and make their holiday season a bit brighter. And isn't that what this season is really about, at it's core?