Secret Santa Gift Exchange Rules

Posted On: December 15, 2015

For those who celebrate Christmas at work with colleagues, to make it fun many may have participated in a secret gift exchange. Known as Secret Santa in the U.S., and Christmas Friend in India (at least in Kerala), this gift exchange game is popular in many offices and among many teams. So how do we play these games or participate in these activities? I will share my experiences participating in these activities in the U.S. and in India. 


Secret Santa: Holiday Gift Exchange Rules in the U.S.  

I have seen the secret Santa gift exchange take a few forms. The basic rules are as follows: 
  • Those who want to participate put their name on a sheet of paper. The papers go into a hat or bag for everyone to pick from. 
  • Each person picks one name randomly from the collection of names. 
  • We do not tell each other who we have picked. 
  • A dollar limit is set for gift purchase (maybe $15). 
  • A date is set for gift exchange. 
Gifts can be given in one of two ways: 
  1. One gift is exchanged only during the holiday party.  
  2. Several small gifts totaling the determined dollar amount are “exchanged” throughout the month of December, with a gift or only name revealing of the Secret Santa done during the holiday party. Small gifts such as our colleague’s favorite candy bar, Christmas cookie, or coffee will be secretly placed on the chosen person’s desk when no one is looking. A small gift may also be exchanged on the day of the holiday party. Gifts do not exceed the dollar limit set. 
Gifts exchanged at the holiday party are often set on a table or under a decorated tree. At the time of gift exchange, everyone goes to the table to find their Secret Santa gift (it would be labelled with their name), and open it in front of our colleagues. We take guesses to see who our Secret Santa is. 
Tips on Dress Code & Other Holiday Party Formalities: 
In the Office During Working Hours  
Christmas or holiday parties are often the most important social event of the year in most offices. If it takes place during working hours, people may wear their normal work clothes, or exemption may be given for that day to ‘dress down’ or wear special holiday themed sweaters with symbols of Christmas on them like Christmas trees, Santa Clauses, elves or other related symbols. Some offices may even hold an ‘ugly holiday sweater contest.’ If you do not prefer to wear such a sweater or do not have one, come dressed in red and green to look festive. It is the one time of year Americans may wear more color to work, so Indians may like to participate in this! 
In the Office After Working Hours 
If the holiday party is held after working hours on a weekend, the same dress code applies. If the party is held at a hotel or restaurant on a weekend or a Friday night, people may dress up in suits, ties or fancy holiday dresses. It’s ideal to ask your colleagues about the dress code. For most office parties held out of the office, ask if family are allowed to attend. In some cases, spouses, but not children are allowed to attend. Maybe in rare cases, children can also attend. Ask and get permission in advance. Also, depending on the office budget, attending an office holiday party off grounds could be charged. Each person attending may need to have a ticket and a reserved table spot for dinner. 
What should I buy for my Indian colleagues for Secret Santa gift exchange? This post will provide some tips and ideas

Jennifer Kumar, author of this post, helps build co-located, distributed and offshore/onsite teams through innovative coaching and training programs. Contact us for more information. 

Related Posts: 
Christmas Celebrations at Work in India 
American vs. Indian English – Some examples 

Posts highlighting other Indian celebrations at work: 
Onam 2013 
Onam at GeoInfopark 2015
US & India Holidays 2016 — 2017  
Picture credit: Holiday sweater: 
Christmas flat vector created by freepik –


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