When social distancing swept over the world, taking us away from our normal lives, a strange paradox took shape. We began to connect more than ever.
I now have weekly video calls with friends and family that I could easily go months without talking to before. We have a Sunday Zoom dinner with my wife’s parents. People are even… talking on the phone! This doesn’t negate the anxiety we all feel, but it does go to show that we are, and have always been, social creatures. We need that connection.
One of the best ways to foster that connection is through the exchange of gifts. When you have a gift exchange, you’re forging bonds—really fun and happy bonds that come with laughter and presents.
Luckily, it’s easy to run a gift exchange from home during social distancing. It can be for a birthday, a holiday… or just because it makes us happy. And these days, that’s no small thing.
How to Run a Gift Exchange From Home
It used to be that running a gift exchange from home was nearly impossible. You could do it with immediate family, possibly, but only if you already had all the gifts with you.
Now, though, it’s easy. From assigning names to getting gifts, it can be done with people all over the world, all from the comfort of your home. Here’s how:
Part 1: The Set-Up
First, assemble a group of people who want to play. This can be family, friends, coworkers, etc. The more the merrier. (Though remember that too many people can make for a chaotic exchange. Still, some people love the din and clatter of loving chaos.)
The most important thing is to make sure people can commit to a date and time (I almost typed “place” out of habit, but that isn’t relevant!). After all, if not everyone makes the exchange, it isn’t as much fun.
Once you have that all set up, it’s time to play. Start by finding a free Secret Santa generator, with an emphasis on “free”. When you have that generator, you can enter people’s names and email addresses. This is when you can set up exclusion lists, such as no spouses, parents/children, etc.
Once it’s all set up, you can draw names randomly. Or, rather, the system will. It makes sure that no exclusion lists are crossed and that every person is matched with someone else. After that, it emails everyone to let them know who they’re buying for. Then the game really begins.
SOCIAL DISTANCING GIFT EXCHANGE TIP #1: Make sure that everyone agrees on the video conferencing system you’ll use and that you have it set up for at least an hour. You don’t want to get to the day of and realize that someone can’t join.
Part 2: Shopping and Buying
Everyone needs to make a wish list for their Secret Santa, which is really easy with the right generator. You can start your wish list online, shopping from multiple stores and compiling it all in one location. All you have to do is click on an item you want, and it’s on the list.
Not sure what you want? No problem! It’s easy to create a wish list online, even for those of us who are terminally indecisive. You can browse gift ideas from online gift guides and go from there. You can also filter by categories like price (perfect if you’re setting a gift budget).
And as a Secret Santa, you have access to your giftee’s list. You also have ways of communicating with them through the platform, anonymously. You can ask them questions to focus in on what they want… or just goof around. It’s up to you.
When you’re ready to buy, all you have to do is click on an item on their list, purchase it, and ship it to the home of your recipient.
SOCIAL DISTANCING GIFT EXCHANGE TIP #2: When sending someone the gift, put “Secret Santa” in the addressee label. So, you’ll be sending it to John “Secret Santa” Smith. That’s their cue to not open it until the designated time.
SOCIAL DISTANCING GIFT EXCHANGE TIP #3: Set a deadline for shipping gifts to make sure they all arrive on time. Give it at least a week, if not 10 days. These are unpredictable times.
Part 3: The Big Exchange
Okay, so everyone’s made a list. Everyone has pondered their giftee’s list, analyzed their hopes and dreams, and sent the perfect gift. Everyone has their package at home. It’s time for the actual exchange! Here’s what to do:
- Make sure you have Zoom/Hangout/Facetime/whatever set up and that everyone has access to it (see tip #1).
- Don’t feel you have to rush right in. There are a lot of fun icebreaker games you can play to make it feel more like a party.
- Randomly draw names or set up an order and have people open their gifts, show them on camera, and guess who gave it to them.
- Limit to three guesses to keep things going.
- Employ any and all silly filters to be ridiculous.
SOCIAL DISTANCING GIFT EXCHANGE TIP #4: Enjoy every moment with the people you love!
Something Beautiful, Something Close
See, the thing is, except for being online, there’s really no difference during the exchange. If you had an in-person party, you’d have games beforehand. You’d talk and laugh. You’d ask how everyone is doing, how work is, how the family is, how they’ve been feeling. You’d catch up. You’d care.
Maybe the difference is we all care a little more. We all remember why we’re friends and how much family means. We all know that this small talk isn’t small; it’s a way to connect and to learn. We ask,“How are you?” and truly want to know.
We’re distant physically, but we can be close emotionally. We can be closer than we had thought possible. A gift exchange is just one way of bringing us together and reminding us that nothing can truly keep us apart.
To run a gift exchange at home as a way to socialize during social distancing, use a free Secret Santa generator. With Elfster, you can pair people up, shop for gifts, and start a Wish List. It can be done online or from an iPhone app or Android app.