My uncle sat there staring at us, like he did every Christmas, glancing at every upturned face with the suspicion of a trained detective. One by one, he’d look at us, trying to spot a clue: a twitching smile, a glance away, a tell-tale blush. He was trying to figure out his Secret Santa.
He never got it right.
Eventually, someone would just confess. Other people had gifts to open. That was our ritual: watching a person guess every name before moving on.
Just about every family, workplace, or other group of people has a Secret Santa-type gift exchange, and everyone has their own rituals. But for the most part, they’ve traditionally relied on people being in the same room. Family members or friends who couldn’t make it were left out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Now, you can play Secret Santa online. It’s the traditional game of Secret Santa with a twist—a techy twist. You can bring in groups from all over the country or the world. You can bring friends and family together and make sure that everyone gets what they want.
Secret Santa with a Twist: The Benefits of Being Online
Every Secret Santa game, analog or digital, has five main parts that make it fun:
- Getting a good gift
- Giving a good gift
- Guessing your Secret Santa
- Hiding your own Secret Santa-ness
- Building community
How does being online, either through a website or an app (iOS and Android), help make these things better? That’s a great question! Here’s how being online helps with:
Getting a Good Gift
Every year people ask me what I want for Christmas or my birthday, and my answer is always the same: books. This is extremely unhelpful. There are both a million books I want and very specific ones. Also, I tend to get excited about things I just heard about, so my must-read list is always changing. (I was one of those kids whose parents got them hooked on books).
That’s where hosting your Secret Santa gift exchange online helps. The day the game begins, I can come up with a list. Like right now, I’m excited about the upcoming Ta-Nahesi Coates novel. But maybe later I realize that, oh my goodness, Joan Shelley has a new album coming out! I want that record! All I have to do is add it to my list.
This is a cool upgrade from the way we used to do it, where I’d write what I wanted on a piece of paper, hoping that I remembered what it was I wanted and never being able to upgrade the list. The new techy way of doing things helps me get better gifts, which isn’t the main reason for doing it, I suppose. But it’s nice.
Giving a Good Gift
If you’re giving gifts, you want them to be memorable, to mean something.
When you play Secret Santa online, you get the chance to give someone what they truly want. You have their list, and you have unlimited options to buy. Are they a fan of true crime? Get them these cool true crime gifts. Do they like cooking? You have all the culinary stores in the world.
Remember, your giftee can make a wish list from some of the top stores in the world, and you can buy directly from that wish list. All you have to do is click on an item, and you’ve got it. It can be delivered to you, to a central location, or even directly to them.
What’s important is that you aren’t just guessing. You aren’t saying, “Well, I know that Sally absolutely has feet, so I guess… socks?” Instead, you have a real-time list that they’ve curated.
Guessing Your Secret Santa
Guessing your Secret Santa is all about psychology. I know that if I had, say, three different books on my list, which one I got would tell me something. Was it the science book? That probably means my cousin who works in a lab. An aunt who loves novels might make a different choice.
But the really cool thing about being online is the ability to set the parameters of who can be whose Secret Santa. And while I know the phrase “set the parameters” isn’t inherently fun, trust me. When playing with an online Secret Santa organizer, you can:
- Prevent immediate family or couples from being each other’s Secret Santa.
- Automatically ensure there won’t be any reciprocal Santa-ing.
- Make sure no one has the same person as last year.
You can be sure your game is fair and that everyone has the same playing field. When you guess, you can do it all together, so you still have an uncle playing detective, or you can do it online. It’s up to you and what the group requires.
Hiding Your Own Secret Santa-ness
With Secret Santa generator websites and apps, you can send messages to your recipient, ask them questions, and hone your gift-giving knowledge—all anonymously. You can have a conversation online with your giftee and find out exactly what they want.
Of course, that means being careful not to reveal anything. You don’t want to say, “Hey, I know you want this based on that thing you told me and only me last year.” That would be giving away the game.
But your Secret Santa strategies and tactics can include using different voices, being goofy, making up fake stories to throw them off, and anything else. In fact, having this communication gives you more opportunities to throw them off your trail. It amps up the fun.
Remember when I told you about my cousin who works in a lab? Well, I bring that up because I remember the one Christmas she was actually there: her lab is across the country, and she rarely made it for family gatherings. It’s sad that I can specifically remember her participation because it was so rare.
It’s not that way anymore. Doing this online, on a free website, let’s everyone participate. We can bring in cousins from all over the country. We can coordinate it easily so that we can all play at the same time, regardless of geography.
This has opened up gift-giving for us, allowing us to participate fully as a family. It can do wonders outside of the family as well. We can do it at work even with remote employees (in fact, you can have a great gift exchange pizza party with remote workers, making everyone feel close). We can do it in clubs and groups, even for people who have trouble getting away for a night. We can make a community out of anything and let everyone join.
Embrace Your Inner Elf Year Round
The beauty of this is that it makes it easier to do fun little Secret Santa games whenever you want. We even did one last year before a family picnic, with a strict money limit. Everyone made a list of their favorite summer games or foods and we gifted them to each other.
That’s the joy of having a Secret Santa with a twist: the ability to make it your own. You can make new traditions, ones that are inclusive, meaningful, and maybe even weird. They can be your own, whatever you want, and with all the people you care about.
We’re not saying technology makes everything better. But hosting your next Secret Santa game online makes anything possible. It lets you embrace your inner elf.
It’s time to give Santa a techy twist with Elfster. Our online Secret Santa generator makes your fun community-building even easier. Start a Wish List today, and don’t forget that you can play your reindeer games on an iPhone app or Android app.