It used to be that every Thanksgiving, during the post-feast repose, we’d draw names for Secret Santa. People would write down their names and three gifts they wanted. We’d toss it all into a hat or bowl, mix it up, and pass it around the table to draw. It was always fun seeing people look at their names and laugh or look around trying to play it cool. It was a fun tradition.
That’s why, when we moved to a virtual hat generator, I had some initial resistance. I’m not a Luddite, but I am a weepy nostalgist and was worried about losing the community spirit and the sense of fun.
I didn’t have to be. Drawing names out of a hat generator made things easier, more efficient, more universal, and even more fun. It didn’t take away from the spirit of the event; in fact, it added fun new elements.
The Drawbacks of a Real Hat
I enjoyed drawing from a real hat. But, rose-tinted memories aside, there were issues with planning a Secret Santa that way.
For one thing, not everyone who would be there at Christmas was at Thanksgiving, which meant their name would be in the hat but they wouldn’t have a chance to write down gift requests. So, someone would have to draw for them and check to make sure it wasn’t immediate family or anything, which meant that person knew at least one pairing. Or maybe there would be one person who organized it and drew everyone’s name. That’s cool—except that one person couldn’t enjoy the mysterious nature of the game.
But when we started using a virtual hat generator, all of these problems went away.
The Best Way to Draw Names Out of a Hat Generator
If you want to start drawing names out of a hat generator instead of a real hat, here are a few tips and tricks.
Make Sure Everyone Know the Rules
Secret Santa is a game where everyone gets a prize. Like all games, there are some rules to make sure that everyone has fun. Let everyone know how to play Secret Santa so you can all be on the same page.
The restrictions are probably the trickiest part of any Secret Santa. If you’re doing it with extended family, you might have a rule of “no nuclear family.” At work, it could be “no immediate supervisor.” A group of friends might exclude spouses from being each other’s Secret Santa. After all, that level of secrecy in one house is essentially a Hitchcockian nightmare!
When you use a real hat, you just have to hope you don’t get a person you shouldn’t. You have to look, then throw it back and draw again. But with a virtual hat, you can set a restriction list ahead of time so no one will be matched with someone they shouldn’t. It just makes things easier.
Pick a Secret Santa Theme
This one is, of course, optional. But sometimes people like to have Secret Santa themes for gifts so that all the presents revolve around a common idea. You can do something sentimental, something goofy, something food-related. You can even get specific, like sports gifts or Marvel movies.
Remember not to pick something that will exclude people or make them feel left out. And be sure to use online gift guides to help you narrow down your selection.
One nice thing about a generator is that you can keep adding to your wish list. You might not be able to think of the right gift to match the theme at first, but you can ponder your options and add items when inspiration strikes you. You might see something in a store, take a picture of it, and upload it to your list. Until the gift is purchased, you can keep playing riffs on the theme.
Perhaps the main issue I had with the virtual hat was that it could be done really quickly, then that part was over. But that just led us to invent new traditions.
For instance, my family does icebreaker games as we enter our names into the virtual hat. One of our favorite games is “No Prep Monologue,” where you get a topic and have to talk about it for one minute (or 30 seconds, depending on the size of the group). Come up with a list of words or topics—neighbors, favorite Christmas, best road trip, etc—and put them in a bowl. Then you draw it from a bowl and just start talking. It’s a great way to see how people’s minds work.
To me, it’s even better than drawing names by hand. This has all the community, all the randomness, and even more laughter, thoughtfulness, and love.
Virtual Hat Generators Make the Game More Universal
In a lot of ways, switching to a hat generator makes our Secret Santa game possible. As my generation got older, people moved away. They had families of their own and weren’t always around for every holiday. People tended to come back for Christmas, but not always for Thanksgiving.
And that’s fine! But that meant our Secret Santa games started to lose some luster. No more, though. With the virtual hat generator, we can involve everyone. They can play from anywhere… even if they aren’t going to be there for Christmas. We can buy gifts online, straight from a wish list, and have it sent over in time for Christmas.
This makes sure everyone is involved. It lets the whole family celebrate together and has allowed us to create new traditions. It doesn’t replace old memories; it just adds to them.
Want to make your name draw as easy as a drop of a hat? The Elfster Secret Santa generator makes your gift exchange convenient for everyone. You can draw names and start a Wish List, all online—or from an iPhone app or Android app.