My cousin, Laura, is probably one of the world’s worst Secret Santa players. She gets amazing gifts and is one of the warmest and funniest people I know. But every year, when we’d draw names from a hat, she would look directly at the person whose name she pulled.
She tried not to. You could see beads of sweat forming as she struggled not to look up. But then she would, glancing directly at the person. It was wonderful.
Of course, that meant her giftee didn’t have to do much guessing, and she was eliminated as a possibility for everyone else. It certainly didn’t ruin anything (and, in fact, became part of our tradition), but for her own peace of mind, we decided to find a different way.
With the right name drawing system, you can enjoy ease of use, total anonymity, and a way to communicate without any spoilers. Finding the best way to draw names randomly makes things easier, more fun, and 100% Laura-proof.
Ways to Draw Names Randomly
Everyone has their own way of randomly drawing names. Here are some of the most popular ones:
Using a Hat
This is the most basic way to draw names. Write people’s names on slips of paper, toss them into a hat (or bowl, or box, or whatever), and pass it around for drawing. As long as no one looks right at their person, it works pretty well.
Of course, there are drawbacks. Everyone who is playing has to be present at the time of the draw, which isn’t always practical. If they aren’t present, someone has to draw for them, which means at least one person knows more than one pair (and that’s less fun for them).
Also, you can’t really do exclusions. You know; like so parents can’t have their kids, brothers and sisters can’t draw each other, no supervisor/employee matches, etc. If you use a hat and someone draws a name they shouldn’t have, they have to refold it and put it back in. Obviously, that’s not, like, a chore, but it breaks up the rhythm.
Having One Person in Charge
One year, we appointed a “Secretary-General of Secret Santa.” This person drew all the matches herself and wrote down the pairs for the rest of us. The benefit was that not everyone had to be there, since the one person did all the drawing. It was all on the same level. And of course, she could just toss a name back in if it was excluded.
But the Secretary-General had to do a lot of work, making sure everyone got the right names. And she wasn’t able to guess since she already knew everything. Her secret Santa wasn’t exactly a secret. Not that much fun for her.
This isn’t a terrible idea, but it puts a lot of pressure on one person.
A Virtual Way to Draw Names
More people are looking at virtual name generators. This makes sense; it’s easy to stay anonymous, it’s quick, and you don’t have to worry about exclusion lists. But of course, some virtual name generators are better than others.
When I’m looking for the best way to draw names randomly using a virtual hat, I look for a few features:
- Will it maintain exclusion lists? If you just use a random name generator, you won’t be able to program all the exclusions. That means if the random name generator spits out a forbidden pairing, you have to spin it again. No big deal, but not a ton of fun.
- Will it connect people over a distance? If not everyone can be together, you want a system that allows them to play without someone having to act as their proxy. The right system will allow people to be notified of who their giftee is without anyone acting as an intermediary (or, as they call them in nerd families, the “Secretary-General”).
- Will it allow for anonymity for everyone? No one needs to know any of the pairings except their own giftee. The organizer can set the generator to draw names, then just participate along with everyone.
- Does it allow me to communicate? A good name generator will have a way for the Secret Santa to ask questions without giving themselves away. They can ask what color sweater, what season of the show, or what specific Wookiee they want. That way, people can get exactly what they want.
- Will it help me with shopping? A name generator system that also lets you browse gift guides is a big help if you’re one of those people who struggle to think of what they want. Plus, your Secret Santa can buy directly from your wish list.
When I’m looking for how to draw names, I want something that lets everyone participate equally and makes things easy. You don’t want a name drawing system that adds any stress to a fun occasion.
New traditions are great. Even though Laura can no longer look at the person she picked when she draws their name, she still stares directly at them, unblinking, when they’re opening her gift. So, some things never change.
If you want to update your traditions while keeping the joyful, fun, and loving spirit, consider using a virtual Secret Santa generator. It’s the best way to draw names randomly so that everyone is a winner.