Secret Santa: Explain Like I'm a Planning Buffoon
November 15, 2017 11:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the first year of a grad school program, with a cohort of about 30 people. I'd like to suggest a Secret Santa-style gift swap because a) I like these folks and think it would be fun, and b) I don't think anybody else is going to do so even though we're all quite social with each other. However, I'm kind of a putz at organizing things and don't want to get in over my head!

Basically I just want people who are more competent planners than I am to let me know if my thinking on this is sound, before I send out any suggestions to the group. I THINK the idea of a Secret Santa swap seems pretty straightforward, but am I missing anything? Here's my plan:

1. Post on our group's Facebook page to ask people to let me know if they're interested. Set a money and time limit - say, $20 and two weeks between assigning names and doing the swap?
2. Collect the email addresses of all my interested folks, and enter them in Elfster to generate swaps. I'd like to participate even though I'm organizing it, and Elfster seems to allow for that. I'd also like to be sure that when people sign up, they're able to provide a little info on things they like - again, from what I can tell Elfster allows for that.
3. Send out a reminder a week before the "swap deadline".
4. Set up a time/place for us all to get together and do the swap. My own apartment is unfortunately too small so I can't host a party though I'd like to - there are plenty of fun restaurants in town, though.

I mean, this all seems really simple but am I missing anything? If you've lorded over a Secret Santa swap before is there anything you wish you'd known or done, or anything that made it extra fun? I myself am going to be incredibly busy over the next few weeks, just like my peers, so I don't want to be suggesting something I'll regret - but if it is really as simple as I think it is, it would make for a nice little break/side-project as I wade through the end-of-term schoolwork swamp. Thanks for any pointers you can provide!
posted by DingoMutt to Grab Bag (9 answers total)
Your plan sounds good to me. I think you've covered the bases. Just ensure that people don't feel obligated to participate.

Just one question for you to consider: will gift givers remain anonymous, or will they put their name on the tag, or reveal themselves afterward? (no wrong answer - just think about what you'd prefer and let everyone know how to handle it)

A restaurant (look for 'private dining' spaces) or sometimes bars will have side rooms you can reserve (or just grab a bunch of tables).

You can also turn it into a white elephant/yankee swap if you want to add interactivity to it?
posted by hydra77 at 12:07 PM on November 15, 2017

Not to be Captain Bringdown, but please remember that a fun holiday custom for you may be alienating for those who aren't American Christians. Maybe there's another fun thing you could organize that doesn't assume everyone celebrates Christmas?
posted by ottereroticist at 12:10 PM on November 15, 2017

To help avoid the "christmas" issues, at a previous company they called this Holiday Hal.

The only thing I'd do as an organizer is bring an extra gift, something kind of generic. That way in case one person doesn't show up the person they were buying for isn't left out.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:27 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry, forgot to add that yeah, I definitely wouldn't call it Secret Santa. I've thought of a few things related to our grad program that I was going to call it instead - I don't at all plan on referencing Christmas. Should have mentioned that!
posted by DingoMutt at 1:42 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I love gift exchanges and I think this sounds super fun. I wish we'd done it in my program.

I would just ensure that, especially if there are any/many non-Americans in your program, you explain the concept of a gift swap pretty thoroughly when you put out the first ask (like, "everyone will enter their name and some things they like, and then they will be randomly assigned another person without that person knowing, and then they pick out a gift, then we'll all meet to exchange gifts and reveal who we bought for" or whatever) since the concept may be more familiar to some than others. I wouldn't let "gift swap" or whatever be the sole explanation. You were probably planning on doing this anyways, but just in case :).

You might also consider inviting non-participants to still join you in the restaurant in order to be inclusive those who are not into gifts but still want to spend time around the cohort! I can't imagine it'd be a problem.

+1 to having a bonus gift around just in case. A water bottle/mug/something similarly generic from the school store might be nice for a group of first-year students since you can always use it yourself (or even just keep the receipt and return it) if it's not needed.
posted by mosst at 2:16 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also consider that if you organize this, people may expect you to organize it every year of your program. So if you're not okay with that, consider explicitly asking someone else to do it next year if it seems like people enjoy it.
posted by mosst at 2:18 PM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you've covered all the bases there. At our office Secret Santa, we do a white elephant swap - meaning that we don't draw names, just put all the gifts in the middle and then draw numbers to determine the sequence.

I also wanted to recommend a variation, the "Treasure Swap", which we used to do at my book club every year and was fantastic: instead of purchasing something, we would all beautifully giftwrap one unwanted item from our house (so there's no cost to participants). The idea is that one woman's trash is another woman's treasure, so someone may love that set of espresso cups that you were given by someone who didn't realize you only drink tea. One year someone brought in an absolutely hideous pink carved candle, and the 'winner' saved it and brought it back the following year - and the tradition continued, with the new 'winner' bringing it back every single year... The item obviously has to be in giftable condition (ie, able to be used by the recipient), but doesn't have to be in its original packaging. One year someone giftwrapped a box of books they were ready to pass on, and that was a really popular gift.

(I actually prefer this to the traditional Santa swap, which can sometimes devolve into just gift cards and lottery tickets, especially with coworkers who maybe don't know each other's tastes well. But I'm sure your coworkers will appreciate it either way!)

Good on you for organizing!
posted by widdershins at 3:07 PM on November 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

Elfster can be set to do a lot of the reminding and explaining for you, too, so that might keep things easy. But yeah, I've arranged gift swaps through Elfster, and the only complication I ran into was that we had international people involved. If you're all local, I think you'll find the actual swap part of it to be surprisingly easy.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:04 AM on November 16, 2017

Thanks for the help, everyone! I went ahead and set up a secular swap using Elfster, and it all went smoothly. People were happy that I'd suggested it, and we ended up with a pretty high participation rate. The one thing I let slide was determining when we'd do the swap (I'd set a tentative "due date" and planned on going back and arranging a get-together later, but got so busy with finals that it slipped my mind) - one of my classmates had scheduled a party on our tentative due date in the meantime, though, and was happy to let that be the swap spot.

Widdershins, I love the idea of the Treasure Swap and will suggest that next year. Thanks again, everyone!
posted by DingoMutt at 9:51 AM on December 22, 2017

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