How To Throw A Secret Santa Party
What exactly is a secret Santa party? It’s an easy way for a medium to large group of people to exchange presents without spending a lot of money, making it a holiday season favorite when it comes to gift giving traditions.
Each person in the group is assigned to another person (typically done by drawing names out of a bowl) who becomes their gift recipient. Buy a gift for the person whose name you drew, and you in turn will receive a gift from the person who drew your name. Just remember, it’s secret Santa so don’t give away whose name you pulled!
For extra anonymity, each participant can simply purchase a gift to be placed in a “grab bag,” rather than for a specific person. Members of the group then simply pick a present from the bag, never knowing who brought it to the party.
Getting Ready for Secret Santa Parties
Hosting a secret Santa party is easy with a little preparation. Here’s what you need to do to lay the foundation for a great secret Santa exchange:
- Decide which type of exchange you’d like: Either the gifts will be wrapped items that all go into a grab bag, or each guest will be buying something specific for another particular guest.
- Prepare your guest list: Select a nice group of friends, family or co-workers who get along well together.
- Set A Price Limit: Select a modest price limit for gifts and include this on the invitations. A range of $10 to $20 is typical, though feel free to adjust the limit to a range that you know all guests would be comfortable with.
- Send out invitations: If you’ve decided on a party where gifts are going to specific guests, include a request that each guest RSVP with a list of their hobbies, interests and perhaps favorite colors or music to make things easier for their secret Santa’s. For a grab bag secret Santa party, ask guests to each bring a general gift that would be appropriate for anyone attending.
- Consider a theme: Giving your party gifts a theme adds another element of fun. Some great holiday themes include warm and cozy gifts, elements of nature, sweet treats, favorite sports or winter holidays. If you choose a gift theme, be sure to let everyone know on your invitations.
- Consider a donation: In the spirit of holiday giving, you might also want to include charitable donations in your festivities. In addition to secret Santa gifts, guest could also bring a non-perishable item for a food bank or a hat or mittens for the homeless. If you have a small enough group, perhaps to could bring it to your selected charity in person together, right after the party.
Unless you’re working with a grab bag approach, once you get back all your RSVPs, you’ll need to give out secret Santa assignments. You can either:
- Gather everyone together a few weeks before the party and have them draw the name of their gift recipient from a hat or basket. Include the information you gathered about each guest on the paper with his or her name. Of course anyone who draws his or her own name should put it back and draw pick another one.
- Assign each of your guests a recipient randomly and call or e-mail with the information.
In any case, gently remind each guest to put the recipient’s name on the wrapped gift and to keep his or her assignment a secret.
Creating an Atmosphere
Every great party needs just the right atmosphere. Add some or all of these touches for a memorable event:
- Festive holiday centerpieces and accents
- Strings of Christmas lights
- Scented candles in pine, bayberry, cinnamon or mint
- Mistletoe hanging over doorways
- Live or recorded holiday music
- Santa hats for all your guests
- Attractive tables for food and beverages filled with holiday favorites such as turkey or ham with fixings, eggnog, hot apple cider, fruitcake, candy canes, gingerbread cookies and hot chocolate.
The main attraction at your party should be the spot for the gift exchange. One of these gift locations might work for you:
- A traditional Christmas tree to place wrapped mystery gifts under.
- A table covered with a holiday tablecloth
- A large attractive box.
If you’re adding a charity component, set up a second festive area to collect donations.
Since the gift exchange is the highlight of any secret Santa party, allow some time to build suspense. For full dinner parties, a good time to do the exchange might be between dinner and dessert. For parties with light fare, you might want to start your exchange about an hour before your party is scheduled to end.
When you’re ready to start exchanging gifts, keep things light and interesting with one of these approaches:
- Having someone dress up and play Santa. Your Santa will go get the gifts one at a time and hand-deliver each labeled gift to the appropriate guest.
- Allowing guests to search for the gifts with their names on them from the pile of gifts.
For a grab bag approach, let guests draw a number from a hat to determine who selects a wrapped gift from the pile first.
Rather than just have all the guests open their gifts at the same time, let each guest open his or her gift for the whole crowd to see. You can decide whether the identity of each secret Santa should be revealed at the end of the party or not.
A white elephant exchange, sometimes also called a Yankee swap is an interesting variation on the grab bag approach. The first guest gets a turn to select a wrapped gift from the pile. Each following guest has the choice of either “stealing” a wrapped gift from a guest who has already selected one or choosing a fresh gift from the pile. Anyone who has a gift “stolen” can go back to the pile for another one or “steal” a wrapped gift from a different guest. This goes on until all the gifts are distributed.
Whichever approach you take, secret Santa parties are the perfect way to honor the holiday spirit of giving without obligating anyone to spend more than he or she can afford.