Secret Santa game rules

How To Play Secret Santa Like A Pro (And Choose The Best Gift For Your Co-workers)

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… well, almost. And you know what that means? It’s Secret Santa time! Yay! Let’s face it, it’s probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on (especially if you’re playing with family or your work colleagues!).

But like every game—this one has rules. And since everyone seems to forget them when Christmas rolls back around again (probably all that eggnog), here’s your go-to guide for all things Secret Santa. 

How Secret Santa is played

Once upon a time there was an office where everyone pulled a colleague’s name out of a hat and gave that person a secret present for Christmas. Then everyone quit, as it was the most boring workplace in the world. 

If you’re serious about playing Secret Santa, or otherwise known as Yankee gift exchange, it HAS to be the game that allows for stealing, swapping and downright debauchery. Why? Because it’s so much fun! So here’s the gist: 

The basic rules

Secret Santa game preparation

Step 1: Game Preparation

Set a value cap for presents: Too small and everyone will end up with a chocolate bar. Too high and everyone will complain about having to spend so much. Something around the $20 mark is usually ideal. 

Secret Santa game rules

Step 2: Determine a theme

This is optional but before everyone runs off to buy Secret Santa gifts, you can also decide on a theme. Gift themes could be food, DIY, gift cards, alcohol, or anything that suits your group.

A theme that always adds to the entertainment factor is gag gifts, or just generally funny Secret Santa gifts.

White Elephant game rules

Step 3: Roll the dice

On the night of your Christmas party, gather everyone together and put the presents all together on a table. Grab a dice and take turns at rolling it. Whenever someone gets a six, they get to choose a gift from the table.

At this point you can either let them hold on to the wrapped gift or have them unwrap it while everyone else is watching.

Stealing gift during Christmas gift exchange

Step 4: Let the stealing begin

Once everyone has a gift in front of them, the real fun begins: Continue rolling the dice and when anyone gets a six, they are able to keep their present or make someone else swap with them.

Decide on how many times you’ll go around before everyone is forced to keep what they have—maybe three or four times.

Got what you wanted or were you keen for something else? You could always try negotiating behind closed doors.  

To make your game of Secret Santa even more exciting, check out the variations below.

Different variations of the Secret Santa game

There are a few variations to the game, depending on what you and your team or group of friends want to do. You could still pick a name out of a hat to buy for someone specifically, or let fate decide who gets what. You also don’t have to do the ‘stealing’ part either, if it doesn’t feel quite right for who you’re playing with. 

If the stealing is what excites you, you'll be pleased to know that there are even more fun rules you can throw in the mix:

One popular way to make the game a lot more interactive is to assign every face of the dice with a different action for the player or group to undertake. This really gets the rivalry going, and helps to keep everybody engaged.

Here is an example of how to add some life to your gift swapping game:

Secret Santa dice game template

Choose to stay or leave the game

When someone throws a one, they can decide to keep playing or exit the game with the gift they've got.

White Elephant dice game template

Make two people swap

When someone throws a two, they get to pick two people to swap gifts. Make sure to decide whether they can choose themselves or if it must be two other participants.

Christmas gift exchange game rules

Everyone pass left

When someone throws a three, everyone passes their gift to the person on their left.

Christmas gift exchange dice template

Everyone pass right

When someone throws a four, everyone passes their gift to the person on their right.

White Elephant dice game template

Unwrap your gift

When someone throws a five, they get to unwrap their gift while the rest of the group is watching.

Secret Santa dice game template

Go in for the steal

When someone throws a six, they can choose to swap their gift for that of any other participant who's still in the game.

Playing Secret Santa over Zoom  

Work remotely? You don’t have to miss out on playing Secret Santa! Of course you can’t do the swapping if you don’t like your gift, but it is still a great way to celebrate Christmas as a team. 

The free Elfster App lets you put in everyone’s names and contact details and automatically generates a secret ‘pick’ for everyone. Then you can all post the presents to each other's home addresses in time for the Zoom gathering—just make sure everyone's got a dice handy.

WTF Notebooks: How to play Secret Santa over Zoom / video

The best Secret Santa gifts to give

While Secret Santa is a lot of fun, some people get quite stressed out by what to actually buy—which is why so many gifts end up being a box of chocolates from the supermarket. Snore.  

So here’s a tip for this year, whether you know who you’re buying for or not, funny gifts are always a hit! And we don't mean a silly gag gift that'll loose its charm the morning of your Christmas party. We're talking about funny but practical Secret Santa gifts, that are relatable and useful for a long time to come—such as a WTF Notebook.

With hundreds of funny titles to choose from, WTF Notebooks range from work-related but funny journals to hilarious Christmas gifts. No matter which one you choose, whoever gets it will always have a giggle. And because it’s practical too, you know it’s something that will be used (and not end up in the trash)!  

Looking for funny Secret Santa gifts for under $20?

Whether you’re after a funny idea for a White Elephant gift, or a rude gift that you know your co-worker will love to receive this Christmas, check out our range of WTF Notebooks—there’s one for everyone and every occasion.  

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