It’s Christmas again! This means many family members, groups of friends, or even colleagues will be playing the Secret Santa Game.
But how does secret Santa work again? And I don’t have time to waste on organizing. Aren’t there some useful tools that can help?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
In the below post you can find the full 101 on how to play the Secret Santa game, including the origin, the detailed rules, as well as some useful digital Secret Santa generator tools that can help you organize it in a jiffy.
Before we deep dive into all these points, in case you are just looking for some original gift ideas, you will want to check out this list of Top 20 Secret Santa Gifts Ideas instead.
What Is Secret Santa?
Secret Santa is a gift-giving game you can play with family, friends, or colleagues. The idea is that each person buys a gift for another participant. However, no one is to reveal to whom they are buying. Each recipient is to guess who gave them their gift, and hence is his or her ‘Secret Santa’.
The origin of Secret Santa can be traced back to the Scandinavian tradition of “Juklapp”. The idea was that people would go around and knock on someone else’s door, and when the door was opened, they would quickly throw a gift inside and run away. The recipient would, most of the time, not be able to register who threw the gift, leaving him or her guessing who it could have been.
Over the years, this tradition has spread across the world and kept evolving until many variations exist. We all know the contemporary Anglo-Saxon version of “Secret Santa”, yet the Germans play a game called “Wichteln”, in the Dominican Republic they call it “Angelito”, while in the Philippines they have a similar gift-giving tradition referred to as “Monito-Monita”.
How Does Secret Santa Work?
Step 1. Make a list of everyone who is participating. To avoid the lengthy paper-and-pen method, or to facilitate the organization of the game when not everyone is at the same location, we recommend using one of the Secret Santa generator tools below.
Step 2: The Secret Santa generator tool will provide the name of another participant to each person. Make sure everyone keeps that name a secret to keep the game fun!
Step 3: Set a specific price range and make sure everyone sticks to it. You don’t want certain people to feel bad because their gift is not as good as others which cost twice as much.
Step 4: Ensure that everyone remembers to tag their gift with the recipient’s name.
Step 5: Plan when the big gift exchange event will take place.
Step 6: Now the fun begins! During the event, put all the gifts in one place, ideally under the Christmas tree. Each participant, in turn, opens their present and tries to guess who gave them the gift. With not too many clues to go on, this guessing game can create some interesting reactions and very entertaining moments.
Secret Santa Generator Tools
At this point, you’re probably thinking: “Yes, I know this game is a lot of fun, but everyone is too busy.” No one has the time to organize all of this! “
Well, luckily there are some great digital tools out there that take care of the full setup. While no one will be left with the question “how does Secret Santa work?”
Why go for a Secret Santa Generator?
A Secret Santa Generator tool will take over all the physical planning details, from assigning names to making and receiving wish lists to help people buy gifts. You only need to input the participants’ names and email addresses, and the tool will take care of the rest.
How does it work?
The tool will first send an automated email to all participants asking them to confirm their participation. Once done, it will assign each name to a participant and notify them of this name. Unlike the traditional way, where a piece of paper is drawn from a hat, the tool will never forget anyone, nor will people be able to receive their own names.
Depending on which exact tool you choose, extra options might be available, such as reminder emails, the option to make and share wish lists, etc.
Want to know the best part? The Secret Santa Generator tool is available for free on several websites, as well as via mobile apps. So you can choose which solution works best for your group.
Wondering which are the best websites and apps?
Keep on reading!
Top 5 Secret Santa Generator Websites
The big advantage of using Elfster is that it offers all the tools you might need in one place. Besides taking care of the general organization of the game, it offers many more functionalities. For example, each participant can share a wishlist, providing the person buying the gift with some concrete inspiration. On top of that, Elfster also has helpful gift guides.
Another great tool is Pikkado. A feature we really love is the ability to reuse groups from previous years. This can save a lot of time inputting names and email addresses. You can also adjust the rules of the game, allowing you to play any variation you want.
3. Draw names
Although the layout of the Draw Names platform might look simple, its functionalities are not. It offers the basics but also allows you to save groups and edit them, or to make and receive wish lists to facilitate the game. The creators of this useful website just decided to go for a no-frills look and feel, which is fine as long as the platform does what it promises.
4. Secret Santa organizer
Besides offering most of the features its competitors do, you can also upload excel or CSV files with participants. This is a big help if you are playing with larger groups! Add to this the utterly adorable artwork of the website, getting you instantly in a jolly mood, and you will understand why this is one of our favorite Secret Santa Generator tools.
5. Sneaky Santa
Before closing this top 5 list of Secret Santa Generator tools, we have to mention the Sneaky Santa platform. Although this might not be the most beautiful website out there, it offers one amusing feature over its competitors: a Secret Santa can send anonymous messages to the person they are buying for. Get people excited, or make them fear what in blazes you are about to give them. Good times!
Secret Santa Generator Mobile Apps
These days, people actually spend more time on their phones than on their computers. So for those of you who want to play the game but don’t want to get up and walk to your PC, we also have you covered.
There are some great secret Santa generator apps out there, which can help you organize the game fully from your smartphone.
This is the mirror app of the website mentioned above. It offers all the great functionalities the site does, and on top it allows you to import the contacts from your phone so you lose even less time inputting names.
2. Santa’s Secret Keeper
This app allows you to easily add all participants and details such as price range and rules, and it will take care of all the rest! A straightforward tool to set up a Secret Santa gift exchange for family, friends, or co-workers.
3. Secret Santa – Pandi & Code
You can input the participants using their email addresses. The app also allows you to define all the base rules, such as price range, theme, etc. Unfortunately, it is only available for Android, not for iOS.
Bonus: Spicing Things Up
Secret Santa is a great game that often leads to a lot of laughter. But did you know there are many creative variations out there that can make things even more fun?
As a bonus, we will end this post by telling you our favorite ones:
Dirty Santa or Yankee Swap?
Before some of your dirty minds get too excited, this version of the game is still rated G. The twist is that no names are distributed in advance. Instead, during the event, each participant can choose one gift and open it, but afterward, they can decide to keep it or steal one of the previously opened gifts. Hence, the game is called “dirty” because game participants take gifts from each other in an attempt to end up with the best possible present.
The White Elephant
This variation plays by the standard Secret Santa rules, yet with one important twist. Each gift bought has to be a white elephant. This is basically an unwanted item that you would not like to receive as a gift. An example could be a hideous planter or a Christmas sweater. The point is to make the entire group laugh with each present being opened.
So there you have it!
We hope you find these tips and tricks somewhat useful, and we wish you a lot of fun with your very own Secret Santa game!
In case you are now wondering what to buy the person your Secret Santa generator tool assigned to you, perhaps have a look at this list with 20 unique and funny ideas.
Last Updated on September 6, 2023 by Emily Scott