One Thanksgiving, when I was just a kid—so a very, very long time ago—we were drawing names out of a hat for our Christmas gift exchange. My uncle, with great fanfare, reached in… and immediately drew his own name. He laughed, made a corny uncle joke, and picked again. It was his wife. He made another joke, but you could see his eyebrow start twitching. He reached in again…
He picked one of his kids. Three draws, three people he couldn’t pick.
That’s a pretty common story when drawing names; you have to draw, redraw, and redraw again. It’s especially hard if not everyone can make it on the day when names are being picked. And it’s surprisingly easy to miss people who might be in another room during the drawing.
So when people ask, “Can I draw names out of a hat online?” I exclaim “yes!” In fact, using an online generator to draw names is the best way to set the game up for success. It’s easier, more efficient, and helps everyone have more fun. Maybe you enjoy seeing barely-suppressed avuncular impatience… but for the rest of us, we’ll draw names out of a hat online.
Problems With Drawing Out of a Real Hat
Not too long ago, some hosts on those daytime TV shows drew names out of a hat. It took them like 15 minutes to get through it. And that was with a pretty small group.
There are actually quite a few problems with drawing names out of a real hat (or bowl, or stocking, or whatever you use). These include:
- Not being able to set exclusion lists. Most Secret Santa games have rules about who can give a gift to whom. No one in your immediate family, no direct supervisor/employee, no spouses, etc. When you have a regular hat, you can easily get run into a situation like the one my uncle encountered.
- People might not be there. If you’re doing a Secret Santa exchange with a real hat, you need to have the whole group there to draw. When someone isn’t there, another person has to draw for them… and then they have some of the surprise ruined.
- People might not be in the same room. This happened all the time. Some people might be playing cards, or doing dishes, or sitting outside. They might not write down their name. They might forget to put it in the dish. They might miss the drawing. When that happens, you pretty much have to start over. That’s not the best way to have fun.
- What if it’s a weird hat? You know, just kind of gross? Yech.
I have nothing against a hat drawing. I spent most of my life using that. But I also spent a lot of my life taping songs off the radio to make mixtapes. It turns out that sometimes there’s a better way to do things.
The Benefits of Using a Virtual Hat
What happens is that you get everyone to sign up (it’s free!) and then have a “drawing.” The generator automatically pairs people up, bringing a few key benefits:
- You can set the exclusion list. As the host, it’s super easy to set the exclusion lists. The algorithm takes that into account and randomly selects Secret Santas from outside the exclusion. It’s not going to accidentally give you your own name. There’s no frustration and no redrawing.
- People don’t have to be there. Drawing names out of a hat online means that people can access it from anywhere. They don’t have to be present to draw. And they certainly won’t forget their turn: it happens automatically.
- It doesn’t have to happen all at once. As a corollary to the above, you don’t have to have everyone in the same room. You don’t have to do things at the same time. As long as they want to play, they can be entered with the same anonymity and gameplay as anyone else.
- Ask your giftee questions while being anonymous. The best virtual hats allow for communication between the Secret Santa and their giftee. They can ask questions about gifts or anything else without being caught.
- No gross hats. Phew!
So why do it this way? Because it’s more fun.
Draw Names out of a Hat Online for More Fun
Secret Santa with a real hat is still fun, but you can run into situations where people have to keep redrawing names. People’s attention starts to wane. It’s not a tragedy, but it just gets things off on the wrong foot.
It risks becoming a chore.
Drawing names out of a hat online is fast and easy and can be done from anywhere. It matches how we live today without being intrusive. It means you can just start playing. It makes the game more fun and brings everyone closer together. Maybe there are fewer funny uncle stories, but that’s a small price to pay.
If you want a better way of drawing names, and an easier way for every other aspect of a gift exchange, you want a Secret Santa generator. Elfster makes it simple to pair people up, shop for gifts, and start a Wish List. Plus, you can access it all from an iPhone app or Android app.