Secret Santa or Christmas Friend Gift Exchange Ideas

Posted On: December 17, 2015

Secret Santa and Christmas Friend refer to secret gift exchanges some may participate in with their colleagues at work. Secret Santa is the American term for this exchange, while Christmas Friend is more commonly used in India (especially Kerala). 

So, what can you buy for your colleague for these gift exchanges? There are some cross-cultural tips we can apply to considering what to get our colleagues for the secret gift exchange. 

Ideas for Secret Santa Gifts in the US 

Americans tend to prefer personalized gifts. Something based on their hobbies or interests that they may like. It should be a gift for that person him or herself, and not for their children or family member. 

So, how do we get to know what our colleagues like? This is where making small talk throughout the year can really help. Learn about what sports, hobbies or interests colleagues have. Sometimes if we are friends with a colleague who is not the person we have chosen for Secret Santa, we can ask that person for tips, as long as he or she doesn’t tell others who we have chosen! 
A favorite Secret Santa Gift I received
Ideas for gifts in the U.S.A. include: 

  • Gift cards to their favorite coffee shop or restaurant
  • Gift cards to their favorite store or online merchant 
  • Memorabilia with their favorite sports team (logo) on it (no clothing or tshirts, but caps or hats may be ok). Learn about baseball, football and basketball.
  • Christmas cookies or other holiday sweet treats (ask your office if there are any restrictions on gifting homemade baked goods, and also make sure your colleagues are not allergic to anything, such as nuts) 
  • Coffee beans or powder for those insatiable coffee drinkers 
  • Books based on subjects they like to learn or read about 

Gifts I have received for Secret Santa in the past: 

  • The pasta cookbook pictured in this post (vegetarian cookbook as they knew I was a vegetarian) 
  • Travel books or novels about India (because I am interested in India) 
  • Coffee or gift card to my favorite coffee shop
  • Coffee mugs 
Items to avoid giving as Secret Santa gifts to American colleagues: 
  • Flowers to the opposite gender. In fact, flowers are not typically given for Christmas gifts (at least in my experience).
  • Toys or stuffed animals. The gift is meant for the person you are giving it to in the U.S., not their kids or spouse.
See this post for some Christmas phrases used in American English.

Ideas for Christmas Friend Presents in India 
I heard that in India, people do not prefer to receive eatables, sweets, cookies or chocolates from their Christmas Friend. I also do not remember seeing anyone receiving this from their Christmas Friend. Instead, small gift items purchased at the ‘fancy store’ are preferred. It is also accepted to buy gifts for colleagues children or family members. 

Take note, team members of any religious background (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Sikh) can take part in the gift exchange, so it’s ideal to keep all gifts secular in nature.

Gifts I saw others receiving: 

    A gift I got from my Christmas Friend

  • Clocks 
  • Photo frames 
  • Teddy bear or “soft toys” (stuffed animals) 
  • Rattles (for a colleague who had a baby recently) 
  • Coloring books and crayons for colleagues with children 
  • Typically secular gifts 

Gifts I have received from my Christmas Friend: 

  • Diary (planner) 
  • Clock (pictured in this post) 

Items to avoid giving as Secret Santa gifts to Indian colleagues: 
(Help me fill in this list!)

How to buy gifts for colleagues we rarely meet or talk to? 
If the team doesn’t meet frequently, is a distributed or co-located team, a great idea is to implement a short questionnaire before the Secret Santa or Christmas Friend names are picked. The survey can ask about hobbies and interests favorite music, sports, actors, or movies. When picking our secret gift recipient, we would also get this survey to learn more about that person. 

What kinds of gifts are typical to receive or give for Secret Santa or Christmas Friend in your experience? Please share your feedback in the comment section below. 

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: 
How to organize a Christmas Friend activity  
Coordinating a Secret Santa Gift Exchange 
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  



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