Secret Santa is a Western holiday 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.
The ritual is known as Secret Santa in the United States, Canada and Great Britain but Kris Kindle (Christkindl) in Ireland and parts of the Commonwealth; both terms are acceptable and used in Australia or New Zealand. All of these names derive from traditional Christmas gift-bringers: the US version is named after Santa Claus while Kris Kindle and Kris Kringle are corruptions of the original name of the German gift-bringer Christkindl, which means the 'Child Jesus' and also means 'gift' in the German language, (in Britain the traditional gift-bringer is Father Christmas). The term Secret Santa can refer to the ritual itself, or any of the people participating. In Brazil, it is called Amigo Secreto or Amigo oculto (Secret Friend) and Amigo Invisible (Invisible Friend) in the Spanish Latin America, and Spain.
Another term used specifically in southeastern Pennsylvania of the U.S. is Pollyanna.
Often, the gift-giving occasion is practiced with all the presents being placed on a table, marked with the name of the receiver but not the giver. Sometimes the gift-giver will personally give the recipient the present, thereby revealing their identity. Some groups may choose to donate the money they saved on presents to charity.
A growing number of web sites are providing a modern twist allowing organizers and participants to manage the draw, wishlists and exchange on line. (See external links for more options.)
In this version, participants (players) bring one gift each which is potentially suitable or interesting to any of the other participants. The gifts should be wrapped in such a way as to disguise their nature. Ideally, the provider of each gift should not be disclosed when setting up the game. Players take turns, and can either open a new gift, or steal a previously opened gift. This game is also known as the white elephant gift exchange, yankee swap or dirty santa.
In this variation, the gift giving occurs over several days. Typically, on a daily basis some small gift is secretly delivered to each person with an emphasis on creativity to make it fun. Examples include, a homemade card, a poem, candies, a trinket, a snack or a little piece of art. By playing this game over several days, the tension mounts and everyone is curious as to exactly who their personal ‘Secret Santa’ is. On the last day of the activity, the gift usually reveals the identity of the ‘Secret Santa’. This could also be played by agreeing on a certain place then all the Secret Santas hide their gifts and then put small clues with the name of the person who they are Secret Santa to, which lead to where the gift is hidden. Another way to play: let the person leave a note for their Secret Santa. This note could be in any format - a poem, a note, etc - but always implies that the person knows who their Santa is. The only problem with playing this way is that once the Secret Santa is found out, they can't give anymore gifts, which, if played in a group, could bring up problems with fairness and equality.
A Secret Santa event in a mixed-gender workplace can often be marred by the anonymous provision of inappropriate gifts with the potential to cause embarrassment to the recipients. Typical gifts of this nature include many inappropriate objects which can be taken as sexual harassment. For this reason, it may be sensible for a trusted 'referee' to be appointed who has knowledge of the identities of all the givers and their relative recipients.