Secret Santa 101: 5 Great Rules to Gift By

Well, December is here.

As the year comes closer to an end, the current atmosphere around the workplace falls somewhere between ultra-stressed for some and collective relief for others. It’s more likely that if you’re reading this post you’re feeling more of a sense of accomplishment, mixed with optimism for what’s to come — and perhaps a little dash of regret as well. To that end, the holiday season has begun, and if your office is like so many others you’re holding a piece of paper with someone’s name on it that reminds you as much.

That’s because you’re their Secret Santa.

The tradition of Secret Santa-hood is outlined as follows, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Secret Santa is a Western Christmas tradition in which members of a group are randomly assigned other members to whom they anonymously give a gift. Often practiced in workplaces, or amongst large families, participation in it is usually voluntary. It offers a way for many people to give and receive a gift at low cost to those involved.

There are variations of how the whole Secret Santa exchange plays out (one involves thieving, one involves gambling and another even involves more than one day!), but the basic idea is still an inexpensive exchange of gifts that serves to further goodwill and the holiday spirit amongst a group with something in common. The only thing that comes close to this is the annual work retreat and the holiday office party. All three, however, have an equal opportunity of hurting your reputation unless you go in prepared and with the right attitude.

So for those of you who are new to the practice, or simply have fallen prey to putting forth a lackluster effort when taking part in the tradition, I present to you some tips to make this year’s Secret Santa ritual one that can serve you well byond the holiday season.

Meet Them In The Middle

The most commonly broken rule during a Secret Santa exchange is spending too much or too little. Doing the former often happens when you draw the name of someone who you’re more friendly with (i.e. might even spend some time out of the office with them, work alongside or closely with them, etc.) and the latter occurs when you’re not too familiar with the person or maybe even don’t like them all that much. Hey, it happens.

The best way to avoid conflict on either side is to stay close to the middle when it comes to the price limit when buying your gift. For example, if the gift is supposed to be no more than $20, spend anywhere from $8 to $15. There’s lots of low cost gifts out there, and while you may have to spend a bit of time looking for something that falls within the range it’s a smart move on many levels. Try to add the gift to a larger errand to maximize your time.

Reservations On Repeating The Regift

There is a statute of limitations on regifting. If it’s been at the office Secret Santa before, it shouldn’t rear its unwanted head again. That said, some offices do have the ceremonial “regifted regift” that comes and goes every year as sort of a trophy prize for the one who gets stuck with it. This is the only exception to the rule.

Clothes = Bad

Do not buy them any articles of clothing. There is so much that can go wrong there. Size issues, style issues and many other ones can crop up. Steer clear of the wardrobe, my friends. It’s a no-win Secret Santa situation.

Equal Billing Above All

If you draw one of your superiors, treat them as you would any other. That’s the whole idea of Secret Santa – the whole tradition serves to encourage another watchword that begins with an “s” – synergy.

Pay Attention

Clues are everywhere. Check out the receiver’s environment. You never know what you might stumble upon. Just don’t go through their desk. That’s not cool.

The office Secret Santa ritual should be the time when you can take a break from your work day, spend some time with your colleagues and have fun. It’s a team-building exercise that, when done right, can last far beyond the holiday season and into the new year. It allows you to leave a lasting impression — so you should do your best to make it a good one.

One final note…since this is essentially a lesson and an article rolled into one – you’ve got some homework. The assignment is to regift this post so that others can benefit from it. We’ve made it easy for you already…you can find sharing services right at the bottom of the post itself. After all, I won’t know who did it so you can all practice being my Secret Santa (and, in turn, WorkAwesome’s) in preparation for your own office party.


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Mike Vardy an editor on Work Awesome. We could tell you where his personal productivity parody site, Eventualism and all of his other projects reside on the web, but you'd be best served going to and following the trail of virtual bread crumbs from there.


  1. Jennifer Brown Banks on the 1st December

    What a delightful post! Great suggestions as well.

  2. El on the 1st December

    Sweet article, good suggestions 🙂

    • Mike Vardy on the 2nd December

      Thanks! Hopefully it makes what can be an onerous ordeal a bit more bearable…if not fun!

  3. Jillian on the 4th December

    Great post! I just know there’s gonna be one at my office and I’m unbearably sucky at giving gifts. These are all great suggestions.

  4. angelee on the 7th December

    This is another fun way of lighting up a day in an office.

  5. RoizDoci on the 7th December

    Usually here, in Brazil, we put a limit for the price of the gifts. This way noone expect to be over or under rated.

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