Secret Santa

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The term primarily American term secret Santa in its present meaning came into popularity in the 1980s, though the phrase has been in use since at least the 1930s. We will examine the definition of the term secret Santa, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Secret Santa is a Christmas game in which participants put their names in a jar or hat. Then names are drawn by each participating person. That person buys a Christmas gift for the recipient, anonymously. People do not exchange gifts, as people are not partnered. Parameters or guidelines are usually agreed upon for those who participate concerning the cost or scope of the gift giving. Sometimes there is a cap on the amount of money that may be spent. Most secret Santa gift exchanges tend to be inexpensive. Some gift ideas for secret Santa gifts are things like a scarf, mug, soap, bottle of wine, a candle, gadgets or other stocking stuffers. The present from a secret Santa may be thoughtful. It may be handmade, or the recipient may find the perfect gift under the wrapping paper. More often, however, he will find a fun gift or a gag gift designed to be festive and bring holiday cheer. Secret Santa is often practiced at work, when each coworker receives his wrapped gift at an office party. In most cases, the giver is revealed when the gift is opened. The idea of the secret Santa has even spread to the internet, a famous example is the Reddit Gifts Secret Santa. The secret Santa Christmas game probably has its roots in a game played in the United Kingdom called Kris Kringle or Kris Kindle, which is similar to the idea of secret Santa. Secret Santa differs from a white elephant gift exchange or Yankee swap in which the gifts are opened one by one, each person choosing to either open a wrapped gift or to “steal” a desirable gift that another guest has opened. The term secret Santa was first used in the 1930s to mean someone who gave gifts anonymously, usually to those in need. By the 1980s, the term came to mean someone who gave a gift anonymously while participating in a type of gift exchange. Note that in the expression secret Santa, the word secret is not capitalized, but the proper name Santa is capitalized. Occasionally the word Santa is rendered with a lowercase letter in this term.


Dozens of customers at the Walmart in Eddystone saw $25,000 in layaway bills erased late last week as a Secret Santa paid off that amount in a gesture of spreading holiday cheer. (The Delaware County Daily Times)

Is your office or group of friends our extended family doing a Secret Santa gift exchange this year? (USA Today)

Years ago, my friends and I decided to do a secret Santa gift exchange for the holidays, rather than trying to find the perfect gift for each person we spent time with. (The Anchorage Press)

The play is adapted by Allison Gregory from the book by Barbara Park and tells the story of first-grader Junie B. Jones, who is excited about the upcoming holiday sing-along and Secret Santa gift exchange at her school. (The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)