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Secret Santa Gift Exchange Rules

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Coordinating Secret Santa exchanges is one of my favorite gift giving tasks. Now is around the time where we start getting all our ducks in a row so the gift exchange is fun and exciting for everyone.

Here are the best rules to follow when setting up your Secret Santa gift exchange for family and friends.

Decide who will be participating in the gift exchange

Has your family grown since last Christmas? Or, are your in-laws going to be opting out of this year’s exchange? 

Make sure you have everyone who will be taking part in your exchange in your family’s Giftster group.  Send them an invite to your group or ask them to do a member search to join your group.  This is also a great time to email your group and ask them to start updating their wish lists and preference profile.

Schedule when and where your exchange will take place

Let everyone know when the your exchange will take place and where so they can start plotting and planning their shopping. Add the location to your Secret Santa draw rules (if your the group owner).

Set your Secret Santa budget

Choose a budget that is affordable for everyone so as many people can participate as possible. To really keep the cost down consider a white elephant gift exchange where participants wrap up a funny or repurposed gift.

Or do a combination of both to mix it up for your group this year.

Set the tone for your gift exchange

Does your exchange have a theme? Is it meant to be sincere or a bit on the silly side or a little of both? My family has, on occasion, assigned where all the gift exchange items should be purchased, like the grocery store or Walgreens or a craft shop. 

Also, it’s important to let people know what is and is not acceptable for the exchange. If you have family members with food allergies, maybe you choose not to gift food items in your exchange. Now’s the time to set the tone so everyone is on the same page.

Suggest ideas for items to list

We’ve all suffered from the “Hmmm…I don’t really know what I want for Christmas” response. Give your family a few ideas of things they could include on their wishlist. Also, remind everyone about the budget that has been set for the exchange, and ask them to include gift ideas that fit the set amount.

State any gift wrapping rules

Some people like to go all out on their wrapping while others (…ahem…me…) prefer the quick and easy gift bag.  Since there is an element of surprise with the exchange, decide if you’ll have any wrapping guidelines so you keep that little piece of mystery in place for as long as possible. 

Also, decide how the giftee’s name should be displayed on the package (I prefer gift labels) and if the “FROM:” part should list the gifter’s name or maybe “Your Secret Santa.” This would be a good time to say how you’ll reveal who each Secret Santa is.

Draw names for your Secret Santa

  1. Simply go to your Groups page at and select Secret Santa at the top of the page to get started. 
  2. Enter the draw rules (pretty much the items in this post) and remind people to update their wish lists.
  3. Choose the members of your group that will be participating. 
  4. Select exclusions so that spouses and siblings don’t select each other or, if you’ve done a draw with Giftster in the past, select a past draw and the exclusions will transfer over with the added bonus of no one choosing the same person they had last year. 
  5. Press save and activate draw and you’re all finished.
  6. Everyone in your group will be notified that the draw has taken place. All you need to do is log in to Giftster and look for the little Santa hat in the Shop For section next to the name of the person you drew. Even as the coordinator, the draws will be a complete surprise to you as well.

Time to shop! Check out your draw’s wish list and preferences and get shopping. Remember to be mindful of peoples’ preferences and allergies. If you’re shopping for a child, please keep in mind any parental preferences (i.e. no electronics, video games, etc.).

Send a reminder before your Secret Santa event

It never hurts to give people a little nudge to get their shopping done (I speak from experience; remember the giant stuffed walrus?!).

It’s gift exchange time! Gather with your family or friends. Place the gifts under the tree. Enjoy each others company. Unwrap a little holiday cheer!

An extra little bonus from me…

Make sure to add your family’s exchange rules when you set up your Secret Santa. Here’s a template that you can copy and paste into your draw rules and fill in with your own information.

Our Family Secret Santa Gift Exchange




What’s Expected/Theme:

Wrapping/Labeling Rules:

Don’t forget to update your Giftster wish list and gift preferences to help our your Secret Santa.

Do you have special family Secret Santa rules? Share your family gift giving traditions with us on Instagram @giftster.

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