How to run a secret santa

Friday 7th October, 2022

It's that time of year again when the pubs start getting emails about group bookings, and calendars (much like the wine) get thoroughly mulled over.

The office party! And with it, the fun of Secret Santa. But- how to run a successful Secret Santa?

Like buying the right loo paper, the etiquette of Secret Santa is a minefield of office politics.

Most of the time, it will fall to the Office Mum/Dad. The same person who jollies everyone along for the Macmillan cake sale, or makes sure that everyone gets home ok after an office night out. Which if you're reading this, is probably you.

Done properly, a good Secret Santa is a great bit of fun at the office party. Laughs are had, gentle fun is poked, and your boss gives you a "Nice job Jen/Pete/Mohamed!" sort of look. Done badly, half the people don't get their present because the other half forgot and Margaret from Accounts is crying in the pub toilets because someone got her an offensive pen.

But never fear! Your favourite blog-on-a-wish-list-building-site is here!

We've got some rules for Secret Santa that should help. Remember, Rules are good! Rules help to control the fun.

No Tat

I really can't stress this enough.

Nothing will turn a happy party-goer into a simmering grinch-esque ball of resentment than unwrapping some plastic novelty rubbish. If you work in a swish office, I guarantee there is a shop near you that thrives on this sort of tat. Shops whose business model seems to be based on:

'Forgot Nigel's birthday? Of course you have…Never mind, let's sell you a five pound card and something that you know he'll hate but screams 'generic man present'.'

Shun these establishments. Encourage your Secret Santas to buy something actually worthwhile, rather than novelty tat that will end up in landfill the next day. A gentle, but very firm 'No Tat' rule can achieve this.

The exception to this, are fun desk games. There is something wonderful about seeing members of senior management each trying to get a small foam basketball into a little hoop. Or shooting each other with NERF bullets…

Keep it SFW

As much fun as Secret Santa is, it is not worth an awkward conversation with HR on Monday morning about why the MD was given a T-shirt with 'Licenced Booby Inspector' on it.

This should be common sense. But you'd be surprised how rare something called 'common' is.

You know your own office culture better than I do, so you know what's appropriate and what's not. That being said, there is a world of difference between a fun mug with 'grumpy git' written on it, and an inflatable willy.

Keep to the budget

What is a good budget for Secret Santa? £5-£10 is a good rule of thumb. It's not so much that it will break the bank, but enough that the 'No Tat' rule can be enforced.

However, there is always someone who thinks that a tenner is a twenty+, and buys something extravagant that makes the receiver a little embarrassed. And at worst resentful when all their own Secret Santa got them was a fluffy pen.

Stick to the budget. A quid over won't make a difference, but any more and it makes a mockery of the whole proceedings!

Another idea is to set a budget of "£10, or homemade." There are bound to be a few keen bakers in the office, and it's a chance for them to show off. Plus, you might be able to blag a slice…

Make an effort

It's a Secret Santa, no one is expecting to be moved to tears by the thoughtfulness and beauty of their gift, but it is still nice to know the giver actually thought about the person unwrapping it.

The difficult thing is- some people are genuinely just very, very boring. But just think of them as playing Secret Santa on Hard Mode. If someone is absolutely stuck for ideas, you can always recommend a sports team related do-dad, bubble bath (not soap, that sends the wrong message!), or chocolate. A bottle of wine is an acceptable 'I left this till this morning, thank god there's an M&S near the office!' sort of gift, but then I've never in my many years heard someone complaining about being given a bottle of wine.

Make a Wish List!

Shockingly, we're rather in favour of this last one!

But in all seriousness, a Wish List makes people's lives so much easier. Encouraging colleagues to use a site like, oh I don't know - Things To Get Me - means that they can share a few different ideas. And the Wish Lists can be nice and flexible to allow for some creativity as well.

Our Secret Santa tool organises everything for you. People sign up, and then their names are picked from a virtual hat. Which saves a lot of time in writing names down on scrappy bits of paper.

The other great thing about it is that participants have a list of "exclusions" - people they don't want to pick. Which means you don't need to worry about drawing Dull Jeff from Finance…

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