The Best Secret Santa Gifts

As a kid, I used to think that Secret Santa was a nickname for Santa Claus. After hearing my older cousin's story about how she saw Santa sneaking out the front door to his sleigh one night (she didn’t have a chimney), I was convinced that it referred to his stealthy, gift-giving ways. I would get so confused when my mom talked about our family's yearly Secret Santa. Did each family have their own St. Nick?!?!

When I finally got old enough to understand what Secret Santa really was, the holiday conversations of my youth suddenly made so much more sense. Better yet, I was totally excited to get in on the fun—until I drew Uncle Gary’s name. What does a 7-year-old girl get her 40-year-old uncle for Secret Santa? I settled on a yo-yo, a pack of mentos, and a random pair of reading glasses I took from my dad's bedside table. Uncle Gary made a big show of loving his gifts (while covertly handing the glasses back to my dad). The following year, though, my mom helped me pick out my Secret Santa gift,  teaching me how to look for clues to what a person likes—and how to use those indicators when I'm shopping for presents.

Her knack for Secret Santa shopping has stuck with me to this day. You see, once you have that one key to someone's favorite interest, the gift options just unfold before you. Even if you don’t actually know the person that well, you'll be able to give them a present that makes them feel seen and cared for. And, ultimately, that's what Secret Santa—and Santa Clause—are really all about.

The Best Secret Santa Gifts for the Bookworm

"We're really going?"

"We're really going?"

I was hugging my best friend, jumping up and down. She had just given me the new memoir by one of my favorite musicians and comedians, Carrie Brownstein, and told me that we were going to a Q&A with the author moderated by Amy Poehler. Best of all, the book would be signed, meaning I would have a piece of one of my idols with me every time I opened the cover and started reading.

Elf reading a good book

I love everything to do with books, from the musty smell of vintage paperbacks to the ease of swiping my way through a novel on my e-reader when I'm on the go. If  your Secret Santa gift recipient is an avid reader, there's an entire world, fictional or otherwise, of gifts for them. Any reader will appreciate a gift that helps them get lost in a new world held between the pages of a book.

  • A framed print of their favorite literary quote  to decorate their study, reading nook, or office
  • A set of bookmarks  so they never lose their place when they're on a literary adventure
  • A clip-on booklight  for those times when the book is so good that they have to read through the night
  • A signed copy of a book by one of their favorite authors  so they can have a personal connection to their most beloved reads
  • A set of creative bookends  to display their book collection in style
  • A gift certificate to a local bookstore  so they can continue to fuel their passion
  • Tickets to a local reading by an author or poet  where they can connect with the local literary community
  • A personal library kit  to label and date each book they lend to friends so they always get their favorite tomes back
  • A library, book, or paper scented candle  (they exist!) to light when they want to get in the mood for hunkering down with a good book

Secret Santa Rock and Roll Aficionado Gifts

I have the coolest mother-in-law in the world. Not only has she taken me to more concerts and music festivals than can I count, but she's also an expert on Bob Dylan and The Beatles, and has even taught college classes about the two. What that means for me is that not only do I have an awesome music listening buddy at holidays and family get-together but also that she's super fun to shop for. Whenever I get her name in our yearly family Secret Santa, I'm excited to hunt down the perfect present.

Elves rocking out

From rock memorabilia to tickets to our next event, these are some of my favorite gifts to get someone who loves rock music. Throw in a pair of leather pants and your Secret Santa beneficiary will feel like true rock royalty when they get your gift.

  • Concert tickets  to see their favorite musicians or an up-and-coming act play in person
  • A subscription to a music streaming serviceso they can listen to bands they love whenever they want
  • A vintage t-shirt from one of their most-loved classic bandsso they can connect with other music fans whenever they wear it out
  • A record player  (check your local thrift shop for a good deal, just make sure it works) and an album to play because rock music really does sound better in analog
  • A new set of earbuds  for easy listening on the go
  • A Bluetooth speaker  so they can start a party and play some tunes at a moment’s notice
  • Passes to a local music festival  for a weekend of sonic fun
  • A framed tour poster  from one of their favorite bands so their home reflects their tastes
  • A musical instrument and lessons  for when they finally decide to become a rockstar themselves
  • A framed rock and roll history map of their lives  with notable musical events like concerts, the place they first heard one of their favorite albums, and their most loved music stores marked on the map

The Best Secret Santa Movie Buff Gifts

I had never seen a dinosaur before—not one so lifelike, at least. It was my first time watchingJurassic Parkand even though I thought it was terrifying, I was obsessed. I must have watched it a hundred times by now. I can say with certainty thatJurassic Parkwas the first movie that made me more open to watching films outside of the usual made-for-tv teen flicks I was used to.

These days, I go to the movies every other week and regularly attend director Q&A's, outdoor screenings, and film festivals. My husband even works in the industry as a film music editor. Needless to say, when the holidays come around, we both love getting &gifts that help nurture our passion for cinema—and so do most of our friends. If you draw the name of a film lover in your game of Secret Santa, these gifts are even more likely to put a smile on their face than a Spielberg flick. You may watch a movie only once, but they can stay with you forever, and a gift that helps someone live that experience is one that'll live on far past a specific holiday, too.

Elves at a movie theater
  • A gift certificate to their favorite theater  so they can go to the movies whenever they want
  • A popcorn maker  for reliving that theater magic at home (movies just seem better when the scent of popcorn is in the air)
  • The musical score album of their favorite movie  so that every time they listen, they’ll be transported to the world of the film
  • A framed, vintage movie poster  to decorate their home theater area
  • A biography of their favorite director, actor, or screenwriter  for a deeper look into the minds that make the movies
  • A comfy blanket or snuggie  because, honestly, there’s nothing better than getting cozy on the couch when you want to watch a flick
  • A subscription to a movie streaming service  like FilmStruck, Netflix, or Hulu for on-demand classics and new releases
  • Tickets to a special screening  whether it’s to an IMAX theater, drive-in, or outdoor movie to experience cinema in a totally new way
  • Passes to a film festival  where they can take in new movies from up-and-coming directors

The Best Secret Santa Gifts for the Home Chef

I’ve made paella 6 times in the last 10 days. I wish I was joking, but I've become totally committed to perfecting this classic Valencian dish after attending a paella festival with my husband and best friend. From achieving the perfect socarrat to sourcing authentic ingredients from Spain, like many passionate home cooks, I find myself totally driven to ace this recipe before I can move on.

Cooks are easy to shop for; there are so many things a kitchen needs to function flawlessly that it's easy to find various gadgets, doodads, and ingredients that you can give as a gift to even the most well-provisioned chef. Whether it's a key spice to help them master a new cuisine or a gift certificate so they can do some "research" on local eateries, these gifts will be loved by anyone who'd usually rather be cooking. Now here's hoping you'll get to taste one of the delicious creations that arise from your gift!

Elves enjoying a great meal
  • A cooking kit that allows them to explore a new cuisine;  for instance, a paella kit consisting of a paella pan, bomba rice, and saffron, or a Chinese food kit made with a wok, wok spatula, Sichuan peppercorns, and high-quality soy sauce
  • A new apron, because cooking can be a messy business and aprons are always useful (and not too hard to make from scratch so you can customize it for your gift recipient)
  • A gift certificate for a night out at their favorite restaurant  where someone else can take care of the dishes for once
  • Gourmet foods made from local suppliers  like cheese from a nearby dairy farm, a box of pastries from the best bakery in town, or a fruit basket made from local produce
  • A monthly food subscription box  can cater to all tastes, from a spice box subscription for new cooks who are still experimenting to find their favorite flavors to a bacon-of-the-month box for the consummate carnivore
  • A new cooking tool  like a spider strainer, immersion blender, or spiralizer, so they can get out of a cooking rut
  • A gift certificate for knife sharpening;  most chefs think of their knives as their babies, so having a professional give them a tune-up will really make your gift recipient happy
  • A monogrammed wooden cutting board  for preparing and serving food with a personal flair
  • An anti-fatigue mat for their workspace  because as an avid cook myself I can't tell you how much any at-home chef will cherish a little relief from the pressure of being on their feet all day while they cook

Top Tier Traveler Secret Santa Gifts

The first time I really traveled it was kind of a disaster. I was on my way to Europe for a semester abroad, armed with a cheap-o suitcase that broke almost as soon as we landed, but nothing to read on the plane. These days, after that trip and a move across the country that necessitates several transcontinental flights a year, I've become a bit more of an expert. So, I can say firsthand that having high-quality travel accessories can make a world of difference in how enjoyable your journeys are.

If you know someone who loves exploring,  these travel-worthy Secret Santa gifts  will definitely come in handy. Because the only thing better than getting upgraded to First Class is remembering that your friend gave you some gourmet snacks to munch on during your flight.

Elf traveling with a backpack
  • Personalized luggage tagsso finding their suitcase on the airport conveyor is always easy
  • A really comfortable pair of shoesto make exploring new cities a joy instead of an agony
  • A durable, fashionable piece of luggagethat they can rely on to keep their things secure for years to come
  • An Airbnb gift card, or a gift certificate to a bed and breakfast or hotel, in a new location you know they’ll love
  • An e-readerto take the place of all those heavy books that take up precious carry-on space
  • Chocolate-covered coffee beansto snack on for energy when there’s not a coffee shop in sight, but plenty of travel ahead
  • Wireless earbudsso they can listen to music and podcasts on planes and trains without getting tangled up in any wires
  • A soft scarf that can double as a blanketwhen it’s time to take a nap on the plane
  • A basket of healthy, travel-safe snacks(no gels or liquids, please) that they can throw in their carry-on instead of having to rely on airport food alone
  • A DIY coupon for pet-sitting or plant-watering servicesso they don’t have to worry about things at home when they go on their next trip

One of the things that makes Secret Santa fun is that it’s totally surprising. But, the one thing you don’t want to be surprised by is your gift recipient not liking their present. But with these ideas, you’re bound to find the perfect little something to put a smile on your beneficiary’s face, which will make you happy, too.

Once you have a general idea of what the person whose name you drew is into, you can decide which path to take. Whether you choose some gourmet candies for under $10 or a priceless experiential gift, it’s the thought that counts, and there’s something for every Secret Santa price limit and relationship in this guide. But honestly, the best gift of all won’t be what you end up giving them. Instead, it’s the way your relationship will deepen when you give someone a gift that makes them feel seen, proof positive that you understand them even a little bit and want to make them happy.

Are you in charge of this year’s Secret Santa? Do yourself—and your friends, family, or coworkers—a favor and  sign up for The Elfster elves will help you  get your game started  and coordinate your list of players, as well as let them create their own wish lists. Because the best Secret Santa gift of all is the one your Secret Santa assignee really, truly wants.

Still looking for the perfect Secret Santa gift? Check out the Elves’ picks in our  Elfster Gift Guides. You can share your favorite finds with us on Elfster’s  Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, and on Instagram @Elfster.