How to Host a Virtual Secret Santa Party That Isn’t a Cringe-Inducing Disaster

editor@purewow.com (PureWow)
·5 min read

Ah, secret Santa—the time-honored gift exchange event that spares you the expense and hassle of buying gifts for a bajillion people. Seriously, secret Santa parties can be a real lifesaver when it comes to celebrating the holiday season, whether it’s with a group of work colleagues or your extended fam. Indeed, the benefits of this event are many, but can you pull it off during pandemic times? Yes, friends, you certainly can. That said, a virtual secret Santa party can quickly turn into chaos (say, if someone forgets to order a gift or keeps their microphone on the entire call). That’s precisely why we’ve put together a handy guide to ensure your remote gift exchange is a success.

RELATED: 60 Cheap Gifts (That Actually Look Expensive) for Everyone on Your List

1. Set a budget

As with a traditional secret Santa party, budget is key. By asking all participants to stick to a reasonable price point, you can ensure that the largesse of one gift-giver doesn’t outdo the rest of the group. Still, the host of the secret Santa party doesn’t necessarily need to make an executive budget decision. Instead, it might make sense to send out an email and get input from everyone participating so you don’t have to worry about missing the mark and putting one or more attendees in an awkward position socially or financially.

2. Pick a date and send out invitations

Coordinate with the other invitees to arrive at a mutually convenient date for the exchange to take place. For larger groups you might want to avoid excessive back and forth by just getting a quick read with a Secret Santa questionnaire: “Do you prefer weekdays or weekends? Morning, afternoon or evening?” Once you gather the responses, you can throw out some dates and times based on what the majority of partygoers find convenient. Of course, once the event has been scheduled you can and should send out an official invite (or e-vite) so guests can RSVP. (Psst: We like these festive online invites from Paperless Post). Don’t forget to include any additional festive touches, like dress code (bring on the ugly Christmas sweaters) and menu (everyone can sip the same winter cocktail). Note: Secret Santa parties simply do not function as a fly-by-night operation, so you’ll need a reliable guest list.

3. Draw names (the techy way)

Typically, the process of picking your secret Santa recipient involves picking a scrap of paper from a basket with a name scribbled on it. So how do you match up partners online while preserving the anonymity that makes the whole thing fun? Yeah...there’s an app for that: Elfster and Santa’s Secret Keeper are just two of the many highly-rated smartphone apps that are designed to tackle the job of drawing names for a virtual gift exchange.

4. Invite participants to share wish lists

This step is entirely optional, depending on the type of gift exchange you’d like to host. If you’re hoping that every guest walks away with a truly meaningful or useful gift then by all means, ask invitees to share wish lists. If your secret Santa parties are more of an opportunity for irreverent gag gifts, on the other hand, then feel free to skip this step. Either way, you want to make sure that everyone is on the same page—and if wish lists are a part of the execution plan, be sure to ask invitees to keep it vague by providing general likes and dislikes as opposed to specific products, lest the element of surprise disappear and the whole thing turn into a total snoozefest.

5. Mail the gifts

Every participant will need to handle this part independently for a fully remote secret Santa exchange. However, as the host you can facilitate the exchange by sharing a guest list that includes the full address of every invitee, so that everyone knows where to send their parcel. But above all else, be sure that everyone knows to put the organizer’s info down for the return address—otherwise the delivery will be a dead giveaway.

6. Video chat for the exchange of goods

All that planning has paid off and it’s finally time for the main (virtual) event. Aside from the banal details of sending out a Zoom link or other video invite, there’s a lot you can do to get the party started. The first order of business, of course, will be for everyone to unwrap their respective presents on camera using the platform of choice—but the best part of secret Santa is the guessing game that it opens the door for. As the secret Santa organizer, invite participants to take their best guess at who was responsible for their gift. Finally, when it comes to virtual secret Santa, it’s a good idea to have some other social engagement planned so the event doesn’t just feel perfunctory: Once every present has been unwrapped and the who-gifted-it game has come to a close, you can keep the party going for a bit with some festive Christmas games before saying goodbye.

3 Secret Santa Gift Ideas to Get You Started

1. Succulent Plant

Any type of cactus makes for an excellent gift. Why? For starters, they’re nearly impossible to kill since they seldom need watering (so even friends and coworkers with a bad houseplant track record can take on a succulent and succeed). Also, indoor plants make people feel really happy, and that’s a fact.

$15 at Amazon

2. Wine Glasses

These long-stemmed beauts are bound to come in handy over the holidays, and the combination of elegant design and durability is hard to beat for the price. If your secret Santa recipient is known to enjoy a glass of wine from time to time, this gift will be a winner.

$32 at Amazon

3. Foam Roller

Let’s be honest, we’re all feeling a little stressed right now...and the holiday season is at times a mixed bag (i.e., equal parts cheery and exhausting). Gift your secret Santa partner a foam roller for the ultimate antidote to muscle tension and soreness—we promise the recipient will not complain.

$16 at Amazon

RELATED: 20 Stocking Stuffers for Kids That You Probably Haven't Thought of Already

PureWow may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently from PureWow's editorial and sales departments.