How to Host the Best Secret Santa Book Exchange

Hosting the perfect book swap event.

Share your love of reading with a book swap.
Got books? | Image courtesy Unsplash user Chris Lawton.

A circle of moms in my neighborhood once hosted a Secret Santa book exchange but with a unique twist. We were supposed to give our giftee a book that best described us, and the receiver was supposed to guess their giver’s identity based on the book. It was a lot of fun and a really great way to get to know everyone.

We enjoyed the event so much that we decided to make it an annual event. Now every year, we get together to exchange books—the only thing that changes is the theme.

If you’re going to host a Secret Santa book exchange, or any other kind of book party, it’s wise to organize it around a theme. Whether it’s for your book club’s annual get together or a fun online book exchange, you can’t always just choose your favorite book. Otherwise, you’d wind up giving the same book over and over again! Feel free to get creative, and remember that your exchange does not need to be centered around a holiday (although that can be fun too!). After all, Secret Santa can be played year-round for a variety of occasions. Add a unique slant to your Secret Santa book exchange to keep the idea fresh no matter how many times you do it.

Choosing a Theme for a Secret Santa Book Exchange

Old books can become new favorites.
Old books can become new favorites. | Image courtesy Etsy seller The Printers Cabinet.

Taste in books vary. Some people may only enjoy non-fiction, while others avoid it entirely. Some people might be comfortable with longer books, while others lose interest after a hundred pages or so. To make sure everyone at your Secret Santa book exchange is happy, consider building it around a theme.

A few themes my group has used include;

  • Favorite Children’s Books: As part of a baby shower, our book group collected all our favorites from when we were kids, from The Velveteen Rabbit to Grimms’ Fairy Tale collections. It’s a great way to engage in some good ol’ nostalgia and get in touch with your inner child again.
  • Beach Reads: During this event, we traded novels that were commercially successful but a bit questionable in terms of literary quality. Reading doesn’t always have to be educational, after all. Sometimes it can be about guilty pleasures, and this theme is all about indulging them.
  • Books We (Should Have) Read in High School: This covers those classics that everyone is supposed to read in high school but may have just gleaned from the Cliff Notes. With this exchange, you get a chance to revisit these classics with a bit more maturity and possibly find a new favorite from an old classic.
  • Mystery Weekend: For this theme, we did a Secret Santa twist where the person had to guess who gave them a mystery novel based on clues they received in the title. As an example, one of the girls—who worked for Amtrak—gave a copy of Murder on the Orient Express. This one is great for getting to know the people in your group better.
Guilty pleasure book exchange.
Catch up on popular culture with a beach read. | Image courtesy Etsy seller HummingbirdBookShop.

You can create an exchange like the ones we did above or come up with a whole new idea. Really, when it comes to gift exchange themes, the sky’s the limit! No matter what theme you choose, the key is to get everyone on the same page of your book exchange—no pun intended. That way, you won’t have to worry about people getting books that they won’t read. It also helps to keep your exchange managed through an online Secret Santa generator.

Setting Up a Secret Santa Book Exchange Online

Keeping a book exchange organized is easier when you use online tools to keep the participants informed and on track. Trust me when I say setting up a gift exchange using old-fashioned paper lists is much more hectic. It will make it more relaxed for everyone involved, especially the person organizing the exchange, if you take advantage of Secret Santa websites and online wish lists.

Classic books.
Classics are often better the second time around. | Image courtesy Etsy seller BookBugs.

When organizing your exchange, make sure to set up the following parameters:

  • Overall Theme: This means the type of book you’re exchanging, including genre. Since the theme is so critical to the gift exchange, it should definitely be explained in your announcement. It’s a good idea to also choose a site that allows participants to ask questions in case anyone gets confused about the parameters for the event.
  • Media Type: In this day and age, it’s important to let your participants know if this is a paperback or digital exchange—or both. It’s quite easy to gift someone an e-version of a book, but not everyone has e-readers. Make sure to establish whether the exchange involves physical or digital copies or allow participants to communicate their personal preference.
  • Max Book Length: You don’t want one person getting Green Eggs and Ham while the other gets the entire Song of Ice and Fire series. This is especially true if you want to discuss the books at the exchange.
  • Date and Place of Event: Don’t forget the basics! Let your participants know when the exchange will take place and if it’s a physical event or online. If it will be all online, let them know the due date for sending out the book.

You’ll need to keep track of all this info in one central space. Fortunately, sites like Elfster have Secret Santa generators that do all the heavy lifting for you. Participants just click on a link to sign up and receive notifications when they’ve been assigned a person or received a message regarding the exchange. It can even be a good place to get ideas for books to give since the best Secret Santa sites will have gift guides you can browse for inspiration.

Secret Santa book exchange
Share your love of reading. | Image Courtesy Unsplash user Ben White.

When participants create online wish lists, they can communicate the types of books they enjoy so their Secret Santa can be sure they’re picking a book their recipient will treasure. Creating wish lists to share with your Secret Santa is particularly handy for book exchanges since that you can rest easy knowing you aren’t going to receive a book you already own.

Setting up a Secret Santa book exchange is a lot easier with an online generator as it takes a lot of the tracking work off you. This way, you can focus on picking the perfect theme. Talk about it among your friends to see what kind of books people are interested in reading and build a fun event around that.

Using online tools can help you create the perfect book exchange from anywhere and with anyone, so you can share your love of reading. Books guide us through imaginary worlds of wonder, and what better way to explore literature than with some good friends by your side?

If you want to establish your own book exchange event, set up a gift exchange with Elfster today. You can also browse our handy book gift guide for inspiration. Share your favorite ideas with us on Facebook, or Instagram @Elfster, or Twitter @Elfster.   

About Essa 17 Articles
Essa has an MA in English, with a concentration in creative writing. A New England native, she traded blizzards for hurricanes in 2010 when she relocated to Central Florida. She now spends her free time attempting to grow temperamental orange trees and keeping her 9-pound Maltese away from roving alligators. Her favorite thing about Elfster is the secret santa app. Her go-to gift is handmade jewelry, especially the kind that incorporates natural stones with a lot of symbolism and healing properties, like amethyst and rose quartz.