6 Secret Santa Rules You Need To Know!

Are you filled with dread at the thought of secret Santa gift exchanges? Don’t worry, I’ve got your back, with a list of simple secret Santa rules to get your Christmas off with a sparkle, fizz and bang!

It’s that time of the year again where some smarty pants suggests that you have a secret Santa at the works Christmas party.

You dread the thought of another meaningless secret Santa gift exchange. You can’t even remember the secret Santa rules from last year.

You look at the person on the other side of the room that you barely know and shudder at the thought of having to find a gift for someone you know nothing about.

In this post, I cover the basic Secret Santa rules and give you some ideas to make the whole Santa exchange process a little bit less painful!

What is a secret Santa? 

Secret Santa is a traditional Christmas game played around the world at home and in offices. Friends and family anonymously draw names to exchange presents.

Sometimes the secret Santa is revealed after the presents are opened sometimes they stay anonymous depending on the secret Santa rules! Having Secret Santas can be a great way to save money, keep within your Christmas budget and have a debt free christmas.

 How does Secret Santa work?

How to play the Secret Santa game 

  1. Send invitations to all the participants 

    All participants of the secret Santa should give their name to the organiser.

    Secret Santa rules

  2. Put all names into a hat to be drawn out.

    If you’re struggling with too many names, you can try an online secret Santa generator which will pull names at random for you.

  3. All participants draw a name from the hat and keep it a secret, 

    It may be revealed later on depending on the secret Santa rules 

  4. The participant then buys a gift for the person they have drawn.

    Making sure they follow the secret Santa rules or themes provided by the organizer. They must also stay within the specified budget agreed by the group.

  5. Gifts should be wrapped and exchanged on the specified day. 

    Secret Santa Rules

  6. The secret Santa can remain anonymous or can reveal themselves depending on the secret Santa rules. 

    It is best if everyone remains anonymous or everyone reveals themselves rather than some revealing themselves and others not.

The Secret Santa rules

  • Agree on a budget. Set a price limit which is affordable for everyone. If you’re doing an office secret Santa then your budget doesn’t need to be huge. If you’re having a family gathering, then the secret Santa rules may be tweaked and you could set a slightly higher budget. Have a chat with the other participants and decide on an how much you are all willing to spend on your Santa gift.
  • Agree on a secret Santa list or theme some examples of themes for the secret Santa exchange could be:
  1. Homemade fudge
  2. Homemade biscuits
  3. Toiletries
  4. Gadgets
  5. Puzzles or games
  6. Funny presents
  7. Something to wear
  8. Something to drink
  9. Something to eat
  10. Homemade gifts
  11. Christmas bauble or a christmas decoration
Secret Santa rules.  Candy canes
  • Buy something that you would like to receive yourself, don’t cheat the other person. If you have agreed on a budget then you need to stick to it. It’s bad form to dig out the lavender drawer liners you got for Christmas last year to recycle, that is not how to play Secret Santa!
  • Buy something practical, don’t add to the landfill by buying something so gimmicky that it will be thrown straight into the bin. Stay away from the Christmas tat. There are plenty of fun ways to do Secret Santa without buying utter rubbish, you just need to think outside the box for amazing gift ideas!
  • Avoid personal gifts. You might know the recipient very well, but play by the secret Santa game rules and don’t buy anything that will embarrass the recipient or make the other participants uncomfortable. If you know that Louise likes gin, then a great gift for her would be a gin tasting kit. If you know that Tony likes golf then a set of golf balls or a golf glove would be the perfect gift!
  • Tell the other participants what’s on your wish list and ask them what’s on their wish lists, that way when you draw a name out of the hat at least you’ve some idea what Christmas gift to buy!
  • Make up your own rules. Our family secret Santa rules are slightly different, we let each other know who we have drawn and ask them what they would like. We have a budget of £50 as it is for family gifts. The participant then has the opportunity to either ask for a surprise or ask for something specific. If the gift is a few pounds short of the budget we usually add a bar of chocolate to make up the difference. If you want to spend slightly more than the budget then that’s fine, but be sure not to go overboard and embarrass the other participants!

Secret Santa Game Ideas

How to do a secret Santa swap


This is similar to a traditional secret Santa game but instead of drawing names each participant buys a generic gift appropriate for all the participants.

The gifts are all placed on a table, and the players all take turns to either open a gift or steal one that has already been opened. When the last present has been opened, the person who opened the first present gets the choice of all the opened presents. The secret Santa swap is a great way to follow the secret Santa office rules while adding a bit of fun to the traditional game!

 How to do a Secret Santa with a twist

Each participant brings a gift to a certain value, say £10, and also some money, say  £10, which goes into a jackpot.


  Each participant is allowed to choose one of three options

  1. Choose a gift from the table
  2. Put their name in the hat to draw the jackpot of money
  3. Put their name in the hat to win the remainder of all the gifts

Rules for playing the secret Santa with kids 


If you are including kids in your secret Santa, be sure that the gifts are age-appropriate and are safe to play with. Parents will not be happy if their child ends up with a fire-eating kit uncle Richard so thoughtfully donated!
A great way to include kids in the secret Santa is to play pass the parcel.

  1. One parcel is passed around the table
  2. When the music stops the person who has the gift in their hand opens the gift.
  3. Each person can only open one gift, so if another present lands on them, they will have to pass it on to the next person to their right-hand side.

Frequently asked Q&A

How can I get people in my office to join the secret Santa?

You can send out secret Santa invitations to everyone via email or by sending cards to everyone. People can then decide whether they would like to join you for some secret Santa fun!

How can I set some secret Santa rules?

After people have joined, you can either send them a generic email with the secret Santa rules outlined or you can print the rules off and hand them out individually so people know exactly what they should be doing!

How much is a good budget for the office secret Santa for coworkers?

I would usually say that anything around the £10 mark is appropriate for the office secret Santa. Try to bear in mind that lots of people may be struggling to make ends meet this Christmas and many people have families to buy for. Homemade cakes, biscuits or sweets are a good way to keep the cost of the secret Santa down and add a fun new element to the process.

What could be the best themes for secret Santa this season?

1. Funny secret Santa rules: the funnier the better in some offices!
2. Homemade: any produce at all as long as its homemade such as  Art, food, jumpers, clothes, jewellery, photography all counts!
3. Second hand: each participant gives an unwanted gift they need to recycle. 
4. Local only: participants give a gift card or present from a local business.
5. Kitchen gifts: something for the kitchen
6. Ornaments: not my favourite theme but some people like it!
7. Junk food gift cards:  this seems to be a recurring favourite!



What can I get for a secret Santa for someone I don’t know? 

I like the idea of a recipe kit for people I don’t know.
The idea is that you write down your favourite recipe and method for a meal or pudding, then put all the ingredients in a box with the instructions ready for them to make.
I love this idea because it is great for both male and females, is good for all levels of cookery skills, and you don’t have to know the person well either.
Just make sure that you avoid meat dishes for the vegetarians and nuts for the people who suffer from allergies!

What is a good eco-friendly idea for secret Santa?

if you put a little thought into it there are many eco-friendly gifts for secret Santa.
* Packets of seeds
* Houseplants.
* Trees
* Reusable water bottles
* Reusable straws
*homemade gifts such as food
*knitted gifts

How do I tell them I don’t want to do the secret Santa at work?

A polite response letting them know you are donating to your favourite charity instead would be ideal.

How do I set up the secret Santa reveal?

you could either email your coworkers with a list of who has drawn who or you could make it fun and gather everyone to one side with mince pies and a brew!

If you need help getting organised this Christmas, follow our free Christmas countdown, which is packed full of Christmas cleaning and organising tips to get you on track for the big day. Jump in where you can by heading over to this post

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Are you thinking of having a secret Santa this year? Let us know in the comments!

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