How To Do A Virtual Secret Santa

Due to the very-much-ongoing pandemic, in-person holidays are effectively canceled this year. The CDC has urged Americans to stay home, and with the way COVID-19 case numbers are climbing, it’s hard to imagine that advice will be any different come Christmas and Hanukkah. Staying connected with family or friends who are far away requires a little creativity, and while we all certainly have Zoom fatigue, there are still ways to have fun with digital hangouts. Virtual Secret Santa, anyone? 

In case you aren’t familiar, Secret Santa is a holiday gift-giving game that any group can play — friends, family, coworkers, the bocce team, etc. Players are each randomly assigned one person in the group to buy a gift for, but the recipient won’t find out who it is until the day of the presents exchange. Ideally, it’s a nice little reveal (“Wow, my crush in Accounting got me a cool pen!”). If you don’t like your present, sometimes people play Yankee Swap or White Elephant, variations that allow you to steal each other’s gifts. (What could go wrong??) 

Pulling off Secret Santa online sounds tricky logistically, but is far from impossible. Here’s how to do it.

How To Do A Virtual Name Draw

Typically, players learn their Secret Santa assignment by drawing a name out of a hat, which you obviously cannot do if you’re not physically in the same room together. Luckily, there are several Secret Santa Generators (e.g., Sneaky Santa, Elfster, and Draw Names) that allow you to organize an online gift exchange, inviting players to participate via email or text. When they click the link to accept the invite, it simulates a virtual name draw, matching up each person and notifying them privately in an email who they’ll be shopping for. Magic!

These online Secret Santas even improve the IRL version when it comes to the shopping part: Players are prompted to fill out a “virtual wish list” which their Secret Santa can access, making it easier to get little Johnny something he’ll actually like. There’s even an option to anonymously message your giftee, if you have any specific questions that could help you pick out a better gift. The “group leader” who sends out the invites can also set restrictions, like price caps and deadlines to sign up/exchange gifts to make sure everyone receives their present in time (barring any USPS hiccups, of course). 

How To Do An Online Gift Exchange

Receiving a surprise gift in the mail honestly sounds exciting enough (especially these days, when small joys go a long way). But if you want to recreate a live gift exchange, doing so via a video chat platform like Zoom, Google Hangouts or House Party would probably make the most sense. Set a date and time to all log on and unwrap your presents on the count of three. Unless your Santa put a return address on the gift they mailed you, or you were naughty and opened it early, a fun, authentic surprise is still possible — even in 2020! Picking out a thoughtful gift is one way to show you care about a loved one, even if you wish you could give it to them in person.

And if you’re looking for a local spot for your gifts, Lower Manhattan shops like Mysterious Bookshop, Poster Museum, Bowne & Co., New York City Transit Museum Shop and McNally Jackson (to name a few) can all help you pick out a unique present for your Santa pick.

photo: iStock