Ho ho ho! Here is how to do a virtual Secret Santa online.
Virtual Secret Santa is an online gift exchange themed toward Christmas. Each participant is assigned a gift-recipient and then purchases and sends a gift by mail to that person. For example, you might send a cool kitchen gadget or a book, and then gather online via Zoom or other electronic method for the openings. The purpose of this event is to build connections and celebrate the holidays remotely. These virtual gift exchanges are also known as “online Secret Santa”, “digital Secret Santa” or “remote Secret Santa.”
This article includes:
- how to do a virtual secret Santa remotely
- the best virtual secret Santa name pickers and generators
- virtual secret Santa ideas
- virtual gift exchange ideas
Let’s get started!
How to do a Virtual Secret Santa Online
To run your online gift exchange, you can follow five simple steps.
Step 1. Use an online Secret Santa name picker or generator
If you are wondering how to pick Secret Santa names online, then there are many apps and websites that can make the process easy.
Here are a few of the best name pickers and generators:
- Free Secret Santa Name Picker: This website is open source and free to use. You just add your participants, press “generate your pairings” and the name picker does the rest.
- Elfster: This website asks you to input the date, budget, and participants, and also enables guests to add gift preferences. Once all teammates opt in online, Elfster will match up partners and email details to the gifters.
- DrawNames: This site’s online generator allows you to reuse lists every year to ensure no repeats in pairings, and also has an option for every participant to choose two names instead of one.
- Giftster: You can use Giftster as a website or an app. The site functions like a registry, letting participants add a wishlist with store links and mark items as purchased. Giftster draws names from within your private group.
- Sneaky Santa: Another app you can use to organize your virtual gift exchange is Sneaky Santa, which sports a fun design and easy to use interface.
These name picking tools simplify the process of generating pairs, but if your team prefers not to enter information into a third party site, then you can manage the wishlist and signup process via Google Sheets.
Step 2. Set a budget and pick a date
Though Secret Santa may function differently in a remote office, the basic rules still apply. Typically, Secret Santa is an optional activity. Since participants buy gifts out of pocket, your employees should still be able to choose to participate. You could also provide a stipend to encourage more participation. Chances are, most of your team will want to join the fun, but any opt-outs can always watch the gift exchange.
The first step to any digital Secret Santa is to set a budget. A range of $20-$30 is standard, and you can adjust the price higher or lower depending on your team’s preferences. You should decide the budget before you announce the activity, and you can pick a date for the virtual gift exchange before or after the announcement.
Step 3. Gather participant wish lists
In offices, sneaky Secret Santas can spy by peeking at desks or asking around for gift ideas. Remote reconnaissance is much harder. You can try to snoop online on social media, but there is a much better way to determine the perfect gift.
When taking sign-ups for online Secret Santa, you should gather wish lists along with names. Participants can recommend a few broad gift categories such as “chocolate,” “travel accessories,” or “sports merchandise.” Teammates should also specify any other important information such as clothing sizes, food allergies, or team fandom. This approach gives gifters a guide to consider when deciding what to get without eliminating the fun of choosing a present.
Step 4. Mail gifts to recipients
Since you cannot slip gifts under a communal tree, your team will be doing secret Santa by mail. “But Angela,” you may say, “Won’t the return address labels take the secret out of virtual Secret Santa?” The easiest fix for this problem is to instruct all gifters to use the organizer’s address on the return label. This way, the organizer can resend any returned gifts and the mystery remains intact.
Providing a postage stipend to each participant is another nice touch for your remote Secret Santa.
Step 5. Exchange gifts via video call
All participants will wait until the day of your virtual gift exchange to unwrap the packages on a virtual meeting platform like Zoom or WebEx. You can make the remote Secret Santa part of your online holiday party and can play other virtual holiday games during the call.
Each recipient should try to guess the identity of the gifter after opening the present. After opening all presents and revealing all Santas, you and your team can take a screenshot of the holiday haul.
A nice post-party activity is to create a shared online album or private social media group where recipients can upload photos of the gifts in use.
Step 6. Exchange gifts at a hosted virtual holiday party (optional)
We run a fully hosted virtual holiday party event for remote teams. Our expert hosts will bring your people together for fun holiday-themed games and activities. The experience is 90 minutes, and conducted over a secure video conferencing line that we provide. You can do light customizations of your event like including an intro by your CEO or having an epic video recap made.
Learn more about our hosted virtual holiday party.
Virtual Secret Santa Gift Ideas (Under $30)
From cozy socks to coffee gift boxes to portable routers, here is a list of present suggestions for your virtual secret Santa. All the items on this list are under $30, so if you need inexpensive gifts for coworkers, you are in the right place.
1. Wireless Charger
Work from home employees might not face the sudden panic of “did I leave my charger at the office?!”, but the struggle to keep track of cords and plugs is still real. By gifting a spare charger, you ensure that your coworker always has a power source at hand. Plus, buying a cordless charging pad means that your colleague can avoid getting tangled in wires. The charge pad pictured above is universal and powers several devices, which means that you do not need to know the exact model of your coworker’s phone.
Learn more about the charge stream pad mini.
2. Bombas Socks
Laugh all you want, but at my previous place of employment, socks were the most fought after gift at the yankee swap. A comfortable, sturdy pair of socks is a kid’s Christmas morning dread, but an adult’s Christmas dream.
Bombas socks have reinforced seams, moisture-wicking fabric, and color patterns that hide wear and tear. The design also boasts extra cushion and a pleasing honeycomb pattern. Plus, for every pair you buy, the company donates a pair to a homeless shelter, making this present two gifts in one!
Learn more about Bombas socks.
3. Cocktail Grow Kit
As someone who recently kept a basil plant alive long enough to mix up a couple of gimlets, I can personally attest that fresh herbs elevate a cocktail. The drink tastes even sweeter when you grow the herbs from scratch. The Cocktail Grow Kit from Uncommon Goods contains seeds for thyme, lavender, Thai basil, mint, lemon balm, and blue borage, and includes starter soil, plant stakes, a cardboard planter, and instructions. Once the seedlings bloom, your colleague can enjoy the harvest while meeting you for a virtual happy hour.
Recipients who abstain from alcohol can always repurpose the herbs for baked goods, cosmetics, or aromatherapy. However, if these ideas do not appeal to your coworkers, Uncommon Goods also sells Salsa Grow Kits and Balance & Tranquility Grow Kits.
Learn more about Cocktail Grow Kit.
4. Exploding Kittens
Exploding Kittens is a card game version of Russian Roulette that weaponizes cats instead of bullets. The object of the game is to avoid drawing an exploding kitten card. Unlucky players who get an exploding kitten must exit the game, unless equipped with a defense, such as a laser pointer or cat therapy card. Pig-a-corns and all-seeing goat wizards also help players in their quest to be the last player standing. This cutthroat strategy game is a hit with adults but is kid-friendly, too, making it easy to learn for all ages.
5. Reusable Straws
Reusable straws were the hottest piece of swag at the last corporate retreat I attended. As the public grows more environmentally conscious, more folks ditch disposable plastic straws for reusable models. Metal straws are the standard, and the Ello straws pictured above come in four fun colors and include a cleaning brush. The straws are BPA free and worth about a hundred sea turtle smiles. Popular chains such as Target also carry the product.
Learn more about Ello reusable straws.
6. Water Bottle
A gift of a water bottle can help your coworker jumpstart their New Year’s resolution to stay hydrated. HydroMate makes motivational water bottles that track beverage consumption throughout the day. Whether perched on your colleague’s desk or wedged into the cup holder of a car, this vessel is a great way to ensure your teammate drinks the recommended two liters of water per day. Not to mention, the bottle is the perfect accessory for team building workouts, and comes in a variety of colors and sizes.
Learn more about this HydroMate water bottle.
7. Tile Mate
Every office falls victim to the impromptu “has anyone seen my keys?” scavenger hunt once or twice a year. Even virtual offices are not immune to the delays of scatterbrained coworkers. More than one Zoom meeting has likely started late because the host was busy searching for their glasses or toddler.
Tile Mate is a handy device that clips onto important objects, like keys, wallets, bags, or pet collars, and helps track your possessions via app. This handy technology saves time and grants peace of mind, and is especially useful when traveling.
Learn more about Tile Mate.
8. Portable Travel Router
One of the perks of working remotely is that you can work from virtually anywhere. Yet, your work at home policy may outline security protocols that make you think twice about plonking down at the nearest coffee shop or answering emails at the airport. Portable routers create a secure VPN for safer internet surfing, letting you work on the go.
A portable travel router is an ideal gift for the digital nomad coworker, who prefers to wander while working. The model pictured here is cost-effective and comes in a sunny yellow that adds a splash of personality to this practical item.
Learn more about the GL.iNet mini smart router.
9. Pusheen Screen Cleaner
The Pusheen screen cleaner is a plush with a purpose. Not only is Pusheen adorable, but it is also useful. The belly is made of fiber cloth that brushes dust and smudges away from screens. The plush is so cute that your coworker will love keeping the cat on their desk at all times, making this screen cleaner always within reach.
10. Adult Coloring Book
These days, you would be hard pressed to enter a bookstore without spotting
an adult coloring book or two. Folks embraced the trend as a healthy and nostalgic stress reliever. While many collections feature mandalas and flowers, This Annoying Life depicts everyday frustrations such as paper jams, dropped contacts, and overly-clingy cats. The situations in the book are highly relatable and worth a chuckle after a tough day.
Learn more about This Annoying Life.
11. Home Humidifier
Humidifiers add moisture to the air, preventing dry skin and alleviating breathing difficulties. A good humidifier can freshen up a home office by filtering out allergens like dust and covering up unpleasant odors. The pictured model features a polar bear in a color-changing chamber to add a sense of whimsy that makes this pragmatic item a delightful present.
Learn more about this home humidifier.
12. Desk Catapult Kit
About eight times a day, my cat tries to sit on my laptop. If, like me, your remote colleague faces constant pet invasions, then a catapult kit might come in handy to defend their desk. The kit contains pre-cut pieces, glue, and easy-to-understand instructions, so your coworker can have fun assembling the weapon and using it. Plus, the toy is a replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s machine, so building it is a mini-history lesson, too!
Learn more about Leonardo da Vinci Catapult Kit.
13. Milk Frother
Latte and cappuccino consumption tends to go way down when working from home, thanks to the lack of proximity to the local coffee shop. While this limited access is good for our wallets, it is not as pleasing for our palettes. This year, give your colleague the gift of artisan coffee straight from the kitchen by gifting a milk frother. This motorized tool is simple to use and whips up milk foam in as quickly as 20 seconds. With this gift, your coworker can flaunt the perfect flat white during your next virtual coffee break.
Learn more about the Aerolatte milk frother.
14. Moleskine Notebook
Moleskine notebooks are classy and versatile presents. Your recipient can use the journal as a planner, diary, sketchbook, grocery list, bullet journal, or notepad. Many models even include a pocket for spare scraps of paper like sticky notes or scrawled-on napkins, helping your lucky gift-receiver stay even more organized. The covers come in a variety of patterns, so pick one that suits your colleague’s tastes and personality. A quality pen, like Sakura pens, rounds out the present.
Learn more about Moleskine notebooks.
15. Puppy Paws Husky Holiday Gift Box
This coffee gift set includes goodies for both humans and canine companions. Each box contains Puppy Paws Husky Holiday coffee blend, which you can swap for any other flavor, and dog treats that are snickerdoodle-flavored and one shaped like a festive green ball. The dog cookies look surprisingly scrumptious, so you may want to gently remind your coworker that the snickerdoodles are for the pup. Best of all, the Puppy Paws company donates half of all net profits to animal charities.
Learn more about Puppy Paws Husky Holiday gift box.
16. Ripstop Tote
Herschel makes quality bags that merit higher price tags. On sale for around $20, the Ripstop Tote is a steal, and an ideal Secret Santa gift. The lightweight but durable tote is sure to last a long time, and the simple black design suits both sexes and all tastes. The bag sports a reflective side strip designed to catch light in darkness for extra visibility, making this tote an especially good choice for bike-riders.
Learn more about the Herschel Ripstop Tote.
MunchPak is a subscription box service that sends recipients snacks from around the world. You can opt for a one-time delivery as a gift, and choose the size of the assortment, too. Each box contains a mix of sweet and salty snacks, with an occasional drink thrown in. The mixture is a great gift for your wanderlust and hunger-afflicted colleagues who enjoy new tastes from time to time. You could even ask your teammates to review treats during virtual team snack breaks.
Learn more about MunchPak.
18. Truff Hot Sauce
Truff is ideal for foodies who enjoy flavor with heat. The sauce boasts a blend of hot peppers and black truffle extracts for a complicated flavor profile that still surprisingly adds to almost any meal. The sauce is also available in variations, like “white truffle” and “hotter.” To help your recipient think up delicious dishes to smother in Truff hot sauce, send them the company’s kitchen page, which is full of recipes.
Learn more about Truff hot sauce.
19. Fidget Pen
Some folks are fidgety. I myself am guilty of restlessness and struggle to sit still, whether I am at my home office or in a public space. If you have anxious or easily stressed remote colleagues, then a fidget pen may be a welcome gift. The kind pictured above has multiple movable parts, such as clickers, a rolling ball, and a spin disk, so the recipient can fiddle with whatever feature feels most comfortable. At the same time, the device is sleek enough to draw little attention from unknowing bystanders. Even if your teammate needs no help maintaining constant zen, this pen is fun to play with.
Learn more about this fidget pen.
More Virtual Secret Santa Ideas
Here is a list of other tips and tricks to make your online gift exchange a more memorable experience.
1. Send a stuffed stocking
To thank your crew for embracing online secret Santa, send each participant a stocking stuffed with tiny tokens of appreciation.
Some stocking stuffer suggestions include:
- Candy canes
- Hot cocoa
- Portable device chargers
- Chapstick and lotion
- Immune boosters like Emergen-C
- Gourmet chocolate bars
- Mini hand sanitizers
- Cozy printed socks
- Christmas headbands or earrings
- Pop socket phone grip
- Slime or stress balls
- Playing cards
- Business card or passport holders
- Touch screen gloves
- Bottle openers
Personalizing each stocking with your employees’ names is a nice touch.
If you lack the time to assemble your gift packs, then order a pre-made pack like the American Carnival Mart’s filled Christmas stocking.
2. Coordinate a team Mystery Box
Mystery Box Secret Santas require logistics and organization, but nonetheless is a neat spin on the standard Secret Santa game. Instead of buying one gift for a single teammate, participants purchase multiples of a small gift to send to the whole team.
Here is how to do a mystery Secret Santa online:
- Participants pick out a gift of $5 or below, such as tea, keychains, or candy. They should order enough for the whole team, and ship the items directly to the team leader, emailing the team leader so the organizer can identify the gift-givers.
- Upon receiving all presents, the team leader divides the gifts into boxes meant for individual teammates. Each teammate should receive one of each tiny gift. The leader will then ship the boxes to teammates.
- On the day of the virtual gift exchange, recipients will simultaneously open the box. The guests will then have five minutes to guess which colleague sent which present.
- The team will share answers, and the gift-givers will reveal themselves. The employees who guessed the most correct gift-givers will win an extra bonus prize.
Since each gift-getter will receive an identical package, no one gets stuck with an undesirable gift, which makes mystery boxes a nice variation on the standard virtual Secret Santa.
Figuring out how to do a secret Santa online may seem complicated, but the virtual gift exchanges are actually very easy to execute. All you need is set a budget and date, collect recommendations, match participants using a name picker or generator, mail gifts, and then enjoy the fruits of your efforts.
These online holiday activities help remote team members connect and learn more about each other’s interests and preferences and enable dispersed teams to enjoy holiday fun from afar.