The dos and don’ts of Secret Santa

First of all, let’s go over the basics of Secret Santa for any newbies out there. In most offices, participants’ names are taken and put into a sack (or another vessel, if the big FC forgot to leave one). Then everyone takes it in turn to pick out a name, guarding this secret with ninja-like stealth. A budget is set – let’s say £10, as Santa’s feeling flush this year – and each person buys a gift costing around that sum for the person they picked. What could possibly go wrong?


Well, lots apparently, which is why we felt it necessary to issue the following festive advice. The first rule is straighforward. Unless you have a genuine reason (and being all bah humbug isn’t a good enough reason!), get involved!




…react badly when you pick out the name. Keep the eye rolls and expletives to yourself. Don’t look around the room and eyeball your gift recipient. Definitely don’t say, “I don’t even know who that is!” Likewise, if you got your office crush, don’t beam from ear to ear and start jotting down song choices for an embarrassingly romantic mixtape (that’s another don’t right there).

…tell everyone in earshot what you’re going to buy. The chances are your ‘target’ may overhear, or your colleagues may even judge you on your choice.

…buy an inappropriate gift. This shouldn’t even need to be said, but it happens. ‘Comedy’ gifts such as hair regrowth products, sex toys (yup, I’m being serious) and poorly chosen self-help books are a no-no. If in doubt, leave it out.

…Forget who you’re buying for. If your recipient is pregnant or teetotal, alcohol should be off the list, while chocolate is a no-no for the lactose intolerant.

…announce how much you paid for your gift. Maybe you splashed out and got something truly delightful, but this could alienate people with more limited means or suggest that you have a hidden agenda. Or perhaps you’ve decided to only spend 50p because you’re not a big fan of your colleague. No one has any business knowing how much Santa spent, secret or otherwise. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to stick as close to the limit as possible.




…use this as an opportunity to get to know your gift recipient better. Be subtle, though. If you’ve never spoken before and suddenly start following the person around like a lost elf, they’ll probably twig. You might just make a new friend if you play your cards right! If you don’t get the opportunity to talk to the person, it might be wise to confide in someone in their team. Ask them for ideas and swear them to secrecy!

…be generous. No one likes a Scrooge. If you can’t spare a tenner, you’re probably better off not taking part, as a cheap gift usually looks cheap. If money is really tight, you could make the person something. Brush up on your knitting skills or chisel a piece of wood into a bake a festive treat.

…buy for the right person. If you have any doubt about who you’re buying for, double check. It will be super embarrassing if someone ends up with no gift and someone else gets two.

…be thoughtful. Generic gifts are fairly meaningless, and we all get enough of those from Great-aunt Gertrude every year. Could he/she do with a new pair of gloves? Is your recipient a big tea drinker? If so, a nice teapot or a specialty tea could work. Does he/she have pictures on the desk or around the computer screen? If so, a nice picture frame could be an option. A little bit of thought can go a long way!

…Wrap it up. It’ll be tough keeping your gift a secret if you don’t gift wrap it! Grab some festive paper and have a wrap party. If you get all your other gifts done now you’ll be laughing in a few weeks’ time. Feel free to add a festive flourish – a bit of ribbon, a bow, copious amounts of pesky glitter – and, if your handwriting is disguisable, stick an anonymous little card on it for added intrigue.


Above all, have fun! I hear Santa Claus is coming to town…


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Joy Tibbs is a freelance writer and editor who regularly contributes to Premier. Find out more at and find her on Twitter @joyous25

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