By Sharon Naylor
In these challenging financial times, the idea of a long holiday shopping gift list can be overwhelming. That’s why many groups of gift givers are choosing to enact a “secret Santa” plan, in which each person chooses the name of one recipient and buys only for that person. Everyone buys one gift; everyone gets one gift; everyone’s happy; and the spirit of Christmas giving soars without scorching credit card bills.
Who’s planning secret Santa gift-giving?
The first and most obvious group is the large family, one with many branches to the family tree. With three or four generations gathered together to celebrate, the gift list might have included presents for dozens of people. Now more families are putting an end to “get something for everyone,” still buying individual gifts for the kids but creating a “secret Santa” arrangement for each of the adults to buy a present for just the one chosen recipient.
“We were all vastly relieved when my mother suggested this plan,” says Alan Larkin of his 40-plus-member extended family. “Not only is it a big savings to everyone’s budget but also the present-opening session didn’t last four endless hours, and we each got a quality gift we could really use.”
Other groups choosing secret Santa plans this year: large circles of friends who have long had a tradition of sending one another gifts, colleagues in big companies who now find it wonderful to buy for just one co-worker, and roommates on tight budgets for whom buying for many people is a stretch, including people in sorority houses, retirement homes, etc.
“I am not as close to some of my housemates and always found it hard to buy for them with my limited funds,” says retirement community resident Ellie Montgomery. “So when we were told that we’d do a secret Santa this year, it made Christmas shopping fun again.”
How to establish a secret Santa plan
All it takes is one person in authority, such as the family matriarch or the boss, to agree to your suggested idea, and you can help that leader draft an official email to everyone in the family or group. For example, “This year, we’ve decided to try something different! With our ‘secret Santa’ gift-giving arrangement, a secret drawing will pair each of us with the name of one other person, and you then buy only for that person. Everyone buys and receives a meaningful gift,” and so goes the “how this will work” portion of the letter. Be sure to request confirmation that everyone has received the news of this new gifting plan. Complete agreement and participation is what makes this plan work well.
Seeing as this is a change to the group’s tradition, expect to be asked questions about how this plan will work. Share the method:
* Print a list of all family/group members’ names on a master list, making sure to include any significant others expected to attend the holiday dinner.
* Print a second copy of this master list, and cut out each person’s name on a little slip of paper. Then place each slip of paper into a hat or bowl.
* Next, you or a volunteer draws names one at a time and writes them down next to the names on the master list, recording who is buying for whom.
* If you pull the same name for giver and receiver, just drop that slip back into the hat and try again.
* In the end, you have a completed master list of “secret Santa” buyers and receivers. And you keep that list secret from all.
* As soon as possible, contact each person on your list via phone or in person — or through text or email, if necessary — to let people know whom they will be buying for.
Everyone then chooses a gift specifically for the person whose name he received, and in the notification letter, everyone is told to spend only up to a set dollar amount that the family/group has agreed to. It could be $25; it could be $40. It’s whatever your group decides when you put it to a vote.
“We discussed this plan during Thanksgiving dinner,” Montgomery says. “And we let democracy rule; $20 it was.”
New twists on secret Santas
Add an extra dash of fun to your secret Santa arrangement by leaving little notes for your recipient during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
“We wanted to make it fun, so everyone was getting notes with hints about who their secret Santa is or what their gift is. Some people left their recipients little cups of chocolates or something from the dollar store a few days before Christmas, all building up to the big reveal,” Larkin says.
The gift-opening session is then magical for the kids and even more smile-inducing for the adults when they discover who their secret Santa is. Everyone revels in the spirit of giving in a different way, and many groups agree to make the secret Santa plan a new annual tradition.