In Praise of Secret Santa

Some people really enjoy buying all the things for all the people at holiday time. As much as I love to shop (for myself and others), I am firmly in the NOPE camp on that one. For me, traditional Christmas shopping — i.e. gifting every one of my friends and family members — is usually some sort of fail. I always have this idea I’ll start early enough in the year to get everyone some unique handmade gift, then all of a sudden it’s mid-December and I’m either clicking “add to cart” on someone’s Amazon wish list or wandering around Target trying to pick out literal crap I hope my brothers-in-law won’t hate (Hm. Didn’t I buy David this clever flask last year? Welp, one can never have too many clever flasks! In you go!).

But seriously: Where’s the fun in that? The joy? The heart? THE FREAKING SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS?!

I’ll tell you exactly where the spirit of Christmas is: In the Secret Santa gift exchange.

Now, I know some people think of Secret Santa as something reserved for office parties or book clubs, but there’s absolutely no reason you can’t do it with your friends-group or family. (And if you have small kids, you can still go balls-to-the-wall for them, and keep the Secret Santa for the big kids and adults.) In fact, it’s so fun, it might even make you enjoy your family more.

If you want to feel all the twinkly, old-timey joy of Christmases yore, then it might be time to scrap the excessive gift buying and go full-on Secret Santa. Need some convincing?

It’s a long game. (In the best way.)

Did you know that Secret Santa is actually a game? If you didn’t, then you’re doing it wrong. Think about it: You draw a name from a hat (or let an app do it for you), then you sneak around trying to come up with the perfect gift for the person whose name you chose. All the while, you’re wondering who has you (and maybe hoping there’s a person who doesn’t) and what you’ll get. The guessing — or trying to — is just as much fun as getting or giving the gift.

You get to sneak around…

With Secret Santa, everyone’s given a free pass to lie a little. Admit it: that’s kinda fun.

…and become a total sleuth.

No, you don’t actually want to go so far as to ruin the surprise and figure out who drew your name. But of course you’re going to be on the lookout for clues, because playing detective is fun, and really, you can’t help yourself.

And you may end up stalking someone. (Lovingly.)

If you draw someone you don’t know very well, you’re gonna have to find a way to get to know them better in the interest of getting them the perfect gift. Finding ways to learn more about their hobbies and interests on the DL is super fun, whether it means stalking them on social media, cornering them for an in-depth conversation, or raising a silly question that will lead them to exactly the answer you want.

Secret Santa is quality over quantity, fun over obligation, mindful shopping over mindless shopping. Keep up the holiday gift giving status quo if you must, but don’t be jealous when I’m over here having all kinds of fun playing North Pole Nancy Drew.

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Emily Farris lives in Kansas City, MO with her burly husband, toddler son, and two rowdy rescue mutts. She's written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and The Cut. When not busy cleaning up somebody's pee, she's posting about drinks and home decor on Instagram @thatemilyfarris.