Secret Santa events are a fun and inexpensive way for gifts to be passed around an office, a large extended family, or even group email lists. Everyone who wants to be involved is involved, and those who do not want to be involved do not feel as though they have to participate. The first step is finding out who wants to participate and writing down their names.
Setting Up a Secret Santa Event for an Office or an Extended Family
Once you know who wants to participate, draft a questionnaire that each person needs to fill out. For something as simple as an office party, the "elf" will need to know the person's name she drew and things such as what colors the "elfee" likes, what fragrances she likes and what books or movies she likes. Another good piece of information on the questionnaire should be a list of what the elfee is allergic to.
For the family, the person's name and, in the even that the family member is not well known (it might be a distant cousin visiting from another state), you would need a questionnaire with the same information.
There should be three dates on the questionnaire: the date the questionnaire needs to be returned to you and the date packages need to be ready by and the opening date. There should be explicit instructions stating that dates are set in stone, else the coal and wet noodle comes out! It may need to be explained that someone is counting on that person for a gift on the opening day.
When all the questionnaires are filled in and returned, fold them up into small squares and drop them in a large hat. Draw out one at a time and hand it to an elf. Have the elf look to be sure he didn't get his own questionnaire. Everyone will then do her shopping and should have the gift ready on the opening day.
On the opening day, start with one person, and have that person give his elfee the Secret Santa package. The next elf to give an elfee a gift is the person who just opened his gift.
Setting Up a Secret Santa for an Email List
You can do the same thing with an email list, but the questionnaire is a bit more complicated, depending on the list's interests. For example, on a list about dogs, where people live all over the world, the questionnaire needs names, addresses, information about the dogs, information about the humans and a phone number for the organizer to contact you.
All questionnaires are returned to the list organizer. She has a list of participants. As she goes down the list, she picks a folded questionnaire out of the pile and assigns it to the first name on the list. Then she picks another for the second name on the list and so on. Because this can involve people who are out of the country, all gift purchasing and mailing should be done before the end of October. Once everyone has checked in as stated they received a gift, the list organizer can then decide on an opening day, if it was not previously decided.
The easiest way to share (because of time zones and work schedules for the varied amount of people on a list) is to have people take pictures or video the opening of the Secret Santa package and share online through the list or through a picture sharing site. All packages should be opened no earlier than a set date. Some people may open early on that date, while some will open later -- some may open the next day due to work schedules or time differences, but all should open their gifts on or as near the opening date as possible.