Secret Santa Name Picker

The best Secret Santa games are silly right from the get go but, of course, you want to create an experience that is executed flawlessly, as well. You don't want Gary from accounting to get confused and accidentally buy an ergonomic nose flute for his musical colleague Sandra when he's supposed to be picking out a gift for Renaldo, the tarantula-loving receptionist. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun while organizing the big event! Your Secret Santa should be full of the spirit of holiday fun, right from the start, no matter what season of the year it is.

Start a Secret Santa Gift Exchange

The first step in adding a sense of whimsy to the game is to choose a cool way to draw names for your gift exchange. You can throw away that bowl you usually have people pull scraps of paper from; this year, use one of these unexpected Secret Santa name picker ideas, or come up with one of your own. Your gift exchange will be memorable from the moment it kicks off to the moment when the last gift is unwrapped… even if that gift is yet another cleverly-sloganed coffee mug.

1. Fortune Cookie Fun: A Sweet Way to Draw Names

I don’t always eat my fortune cookie when I get take-out, but I always save the fortune inside just in case it comes true someday. I think they might just be the only food that’s fun even when you don’t eat it! For our first Secret Santa name picker idea, take some inspiration from the world-famous fortune cookie. Write the names of everyone participating in the Secret Santa on small strips of paper. Then, bake up some fortune cookies (or purchase some store bought ones), tucking a name into each cookie.

Display the fortune cookies on a tray so each participant can pick one out and break it open to reveal the name of who they will be playing Secret Santa for. Keep a few empty fortune cookies on hand so that if someone ends up with their own name you can just slip the fortune into the gap at the edge of the fortune cookie, then add it back to the tray. Of course, all your friends and family can also munch on their cookies, making this name picking ceremony extra sweet!

Easter Basket with Eggs

2. A Christmas-Themed Egg (and Name) Hunt

Every year I get a little jealous watching the kids hunt for their Easter eggs packed full of candy and treats. In fact, I usually hold some back for my husband and I. So why not bring that same spirit of fun to another holiday?

Buy some plastic Easter eggs, preferably colored red, green, or white. Decorate them with holiday colors and flair—we're talking glitter glue, sequins, and puffy paint, people. Fill each one with the name of a Secret Santa participant, then hide them around the house, office, or another meeting location. When someone finds an egg, the name of the person they'll play Secret Santa for will be inside. And it wouldn’t hurt to add some candy to each egg, too, to help bring some childlike magic to it all.

3. A Puzzling Way to Pick Names for Secret Santa

Crossword puzzles are fun, but when I really want to kick back and relax I reach for a word search every time. For groups that love puzzles and games, personalized word searches are an engaging way to select names for Secret Santa. This method is a little time-consuming, so it’s best for smaller groups.

Use an online word search generator to create a unique word search for each person participating in the Secret Santa game. Each word search should have one person’s full name hidden in it. Hand the word searches out to everyone, along with a colorful pen, and have them start searching. The name hidden in their puzzle is the person they’ll be playing Secret Santa for. And, the first person to find all of the hidden words in their search gets a small prize, like a box of chocolates or a gift card to a local coffee joint.

Crossword Puzzle
Group of People Asking Questions to Each Other

4. A Quizzical Secret Santa Name Picker Idea

Host a trivia or game night that doubles as a Secret Santa name selection party. Choose an intriguing topic, like a favorite movie franchise, a genre of music, a sports team—anything that is loved by your participating family and friends. Then, make a full deck of 52 trivia cards. Each card should have a question on one side that you'll read out loud. Separately, write each participant's name on its own piece of paper, fold it up, and number it.

At the party, read the trivia cards out loud to your group. Whenever someone answers a question correctly, they get to collect that card. Once all the questions have been asked and answered, everyone can count how many cards they’ve collected. The person with the most cards gets the piece of paper with the highest number on it, the person with the second most cards gets the second highest number, etc. If anyone didn’t collect any cards during the course of the game, you can distribute the leftover numbers at random.

Computer Screen with Elfster Website Displayed

5. The Virtual Picker: An Online Secret Santa Name Draw

I do everything online, from scheduling dentist appointments to ordering toys for my cat (even if she likes the boxes they come in more than the actual toys themselves). So why not try to virtually organize a Secret Santa game as well? Using an online gift exchange website isn’t just easy (these sites organize your swap for you, assigning names to each participant), it’s also fun. You can personalize the theme of your swap and set spending limits. And, the exchanges are made to be super-intuitive, so even participants who are still getting their internet sealegs (like my gramps) will have fun getting involved.

Gift exchange sites aren’t just about organization, though. Elfster actually helps people get engaged with Secret Santa as an event beyond the actual exchange itself. Each person playing can set up a wish list. I mean, who knew Corinne’s favorite foods were beef jerky and sea salt caramels? And, could this be the year you finally get your hands on that lime green bolo tie you’ve been dreaming of? Everyone can also peruse a variety of gift guides if they’re looking for inspiration. You can even sort by price so you don’t fall in love with a $25 sports team mug when your group’s limit is $15.

To get started, just create a new exchange, including a description of the event and a price limit, then invite all of the participants via email. Each person who joins in will be automatically assigned a gift recipient and can fill out a wish list online. Anyone who needs a refresher course in Secret Santa gameplay can also take a look at the Secret Santa rules. Elfster takes care of all of the logistics online while keeping your friends and family engaged and excited about the upcoming exchange. It’ll also free up time for the person organizing the event, so they can focus on the fun as well, namely planning the perfect gift exchange party. Those pigs-in-a-blanket aren’t going to roll themselves!

Secret Santa isn’t just about the presents (although nothing brings the laughs quite like someone opening up a gag gift). It’s about bringing people together for some fun and some bonding. Kick the whole event off right with these Secret Santa name picker ideas that go above and beyond the old drawing names from a hat schtick.

Ready to take the next step in creating a memorable Secret Santa? Let the Elves help! It’s free to sign up for Elfster and start using their online gift exchange tools, like name generators, wish lists, and gift guides, today!