How to organise the office Secret Santa

How to organise the office Secret Santa

Secret Santa is a fun way for you and your co-workers to get into the Christmas spirit. It also fosters a sense of togetherness and boosts morale among the team, and the perfect way to liven up your work Christmas party. 

What is Secret Santa?

Secret Santa is a Christmas tradition. Members of a group draw random names from a hat to become someone’s Secret Santa. The basic idea is to exchange gifts within the group without having to spend a fortune buying for each person individually.

You make a list of everyone who wants to participate and put their names in a hat. Everyone then draws out a name and it is their responsibility to buy a present for that person. The whole point is that it is anonymous, so you won’t know who bought your gift, but you get joy from seeing your recipient open yours.

What is The White Elephant version?

The White Elephant version works slightly differently and is a great way to add an extra layer of fun. Rather than buying for a specific person, everybody buys a generic gift and put it in a pool of presents. Each participant then draws an order number, and people choose a present from the pile based on the number they had drawn. For instance, number 1 goes first, then 2 and so on. The caveat is that as each person chooses a gift, they can choose to either keep their own gift or “steal” the one that was drawn before. The game continues like this until everybody has a gift. Hint: it’s best to draw a high number so you go last; that way you get the pick of all the presents!

Why people do Secret Santa instead of giving regular gifts

Secret Santa is bringing people closer together and building camaraderie during the festive season, in a way that is fun, easy to organise, inexpensive and work-safe. It’s also a cheap alternative to buying a gift for everyone in the group. Sheesh, Christmas gifts for the family is expensive enough!

Secret Santa theme ideas and budgeting

The game is supposed to be fun, and Christmas is already an expensive time for most people, so keep price limits low so more people can be involved. 

Price limits may typically be $10-$20 for an average office environment or up to $50 for professional firms such as lawyers and accountants who might have more coin. If you’re not sure, get feedback from the group to gauge what they’re comfortable with.

Encourage creativity over high budgets. Set a theme that everyone can adhere to – such as superhero movies, jigsaw puzzles or make a rule suggesting all the presents have to be a certain colour. If your team is hands-on, you could even turn it into a workplace bake-off full of delicious treats. Or you could even make donations, such as giving the gift of a goat to a family in need on behalf of your recipient.

How to make Secret Santa fun!

Get involved. It’s meant to be a fun team-building exercise for everyone, even if you’re not big on Christmas personally.

Stick to the rules, particularly things like the price limit. Spending $50 on a gift when the price limit is $10 is a bit of a jerk move because it makes people who stick to the budget feel cheap. Not to mention it makes you look like a bit of a show-off.

Have fun and be creative. Leave the practical gift ideas for Aunty Betty. Instead, aim for someone they wouldn’t buy themselves like a fun gadget or cool office toy. Office accessories, a business card holder or a coffee mug that captures your co-worker’s personality usually works a treat.

Get to know the person you’re buying for, subtly. Suss out what they’re interested in and find a gift that puts a fun spin on it. Like if they secretly like Lego, get them a Lego coffee mug. Or if they like scrapbooking, why not get some Emoji scrapbooking stickers? Try to avoid things they don’t like. For instance, don’t buy Hersey’s Peanut Butter Cups for Bob if he’s allergic to nuts.

Don’t be a tight-ass. If you’ve agreed to a $20 budget, don’t be the guy that doesn’t buy a gift, or cheaps out on a scratched up second-hand DVD you found behind your couch. If you are tight on $$, you can still give a gift of value by making something yourself, like cookies or a cool gadget like a trophy wine stopper or a framed picture.

Remember it’s not time to be inappropriate. It’s still a professional workplace and you still need to abide by workplace ethics and anti-discrimination standards. Plus, no one likes a tool.

Don’t stress about buying the perfect gift. It’s not a competition. And if you are thinking about it well in advance you won’t feel rushed or pressured into buying the first thing you see at the supermarket.

How to organise Secret Santa this Christmas

So you’ve been given the task of organising the office Secret Santa. Here’s what you need to know…

The basics:

  1. Secret Santa typically happens at a Christmas party, in which case it is your Christmas party invitation that should include all the important information.  
  2. Send the invites out as early as possible to give people notice and time to buy a gift.
  3. Get RSVPs back as soon as you can because you’ll need a list of people to go into the secret draw.
  4. Draw names for people who RSVP yes.
  5. Notify each Secret Santa with the name of the person they’re buying for and remind them that half the fun is keeping it a secret and not to spoil it for others.
  6. Give participants enough time to shop for gifts.

Handy hints:

Get your terminology straight. Secret Santa is often referred to as Kris Kringle in some places and White Elephant Gift Exchange in others. Ask around to find out what terms are likely to be familiar to people.

Include the price limit. Your eager Santas will want to know how much they should spend. $10-$20 is usually a good amount. Often the lower the price the more creative and funnier the gifts, so don’t feel the need to set the bar too high. Mention the price on the invitation so people know whether they can afford to participate, and leave it open-ended so those that don’t have the budget don’t feel pressured into taking part.

Set a short RSVP. It’s better to move up the RSVP date than force people to rush their gift shopping. Depending on how big your team is, and how busy people are or how frequently they check their emails or messages… set the initial RSVP to between 1-3 days. And follow up with people you haven’t heard back from to ensure they don’t feel left out.

Leave the fine details for later. There’s lots of information you could give your invitees, but often it’s better to keep the initial invite short and sharp and only include information people really need to decide. Reserve the rules, gift guides and hints and tips for a fun gift for when you notify your Santas of who they’ve drawn.

How to craft a Secret Santa invitation

1. Tis the Season For Secret Santa 

Join Us For an Evening of Food, Drinks & Mysterious Gift-Giving [date and time] at [venue name and address]

RSVP to [your name] by [rsvp date] to get your name! 

[your contact details]

Gifts should cost no more than $10!


2. Can You Keep a Secret? 

We’ll Find Out When You Join Us For A Secret Santa Party [date and time] at [venue name and address]

RSVP to [your name] by [rsvp date] to get your name! 

[your contact details] 

Max Gift Value $10 – Homemade Gifts Welcome!


3. Join Us For A Holiday Party & Secret Santa Gift Exchange on [date and time] at [venue name and address]

RSVP to [your name] by [rsvp date] to get your name! 

[your contact details] 

Bring a $15 gift for Secret Santa giftee!

How to choose a fun gift!

When choosing a funny gift, keep the joke simple, and ideally one that makes sense to everyone – especially the recipient. The last thing you want to do is offend or confuse someone, so if you’re going for a more risqué approach, judge your work environment and be sure that people will find it funny.