29 Secret Santa Themes Even Holiday Scrooges Will Love

Have yourself a merry little secret Santa with these Christmas gift exchange theme ideas to spice things up.

Updated November 2, 2023
holiday gift exchange

It's easy to get into a gift exchange rut. Liven up your Christmas festivities through some fun and unique secret Santa gift exchange ideas for family, coworkers, and kids. Not only will they have a great time and get a gift, but they will make a great memory. And who knows, it might turn into the new holiday tradition.

Merry Yankee Swap Themes

Yankee swap takes secret Santa to the next level. In a Yankee swap, you'll do a completely blind gift exchange. Not only will you not know who bought the gift, but you never know whose gift you're going to get.

Pick a random gift and choose to keep it or swap it with someone else's gift based on your number. Each different swap uses slightly different rules, but there are a few themes you can add to create a unique twist to your gift swap event.

ABCs and 123s

Pick a random letter of the alphabet or number. Each person needs to buy a present for the exchange that starts with the letter or features the number in its name. 

Lost and Found

What weird items do people find in lost and found boxes? This gag theme is perfect for ridding yourself of broken sunglasses, half-empty bottles of soda, and mittens without their match. You may not walk away with a gift you love, but you'll definitely leave with laughs.


This Yankee swap theme is perfect for lifelong friends or family gift exchanges. Each gift should relate back to a childhood memory that the giver has of the recipient. From homemade cookies and a rolling pin to a shiny new sled, be sure that everyone tells the memories behind the gift.

Family opening Christmas gifts

Something _____

This game can be as funny or naughty as you choose. Simply fill in the blank to let the hilarity begin. You might have your guests bring 'Something to hang in your living room' to 'Something you pour.' Make this as adult or PG as you prefer.

Simple Themes for Large Gift Exchanges

When you're doing a gift exchange with a large group, like your office or apartment building, it's best to keep the gift giving simple. Not only do you have a lot of people to think about, but you might not be that close to them. Save yourself some heartache by using these simple themes.

Recipe Jar

We all have that one recipe that everyone begs for after a potluck or family event. It could be a cookie recipe or your favorite soup. Share your recipe with your family or coworkers through this fun jar idea. Using a mason jar, either add the ingredients and a lid or make a mason jar craft. Tie your recipe on the outside like a tag and exchange.

Practical Presents

Frugal friends, coworkers and family will enjoy getting gifts they can put to good use indoors or out. You might choose to give cleaning supplies or a potted plant. Not only are they practical, but you don't have to know a person really well to find the perfect gift.

All In One

Depending on the size of your group and budget, gifting can get pretty expensive. Rather than worrying about the gift, make it a family affair. Give a family experience, like a night at the movies or museum visit. Not only will they have fun, but the family is together for the holidays.

Mug Exchange

Everyone loves a good mug. Really add the pop to this mug exchange by making it a contest to find the most unique or hilarious mug. From mugs with sayings to pictures, absurd is the name of the game. Every time you sip your coffee or tea; you'll definitely remember this event with a smile.

Exciting Gift Exchange Ideas for Small Groups

office holiday gift exchange

 Surprising your friends or coworkers with your gift exchange can be difficult when the group is small. In that case, it can often be the fun of the process that makes it exciting, rather than the gift itself. Instead of making this a secret Santa, turn it into a gift exchange game to keep the curiosity piqued.

Christmas Song Pass

It's a bit like musical chairs with a fun and interesting twist. Choose several Christmas songs with popular Christmas words like Santa, Christmas, bells, etc. Give everyone a present and start the song. Everyone should start passing the presents clockwise. As soon as they hear one of the words, they need to switch to counterclockwise. They should alternate between clockwise and counterclockwise with every new word sung until the song ends. Now open!

Finish That Christmas Carol

Take the Christmas pass to the next level, try this gift exchange game called "finish the Christmas carol." Start passing around a gift and play a popular or unpopular Christmas carol. When you stop the music, the person holding the gift has to finish the carol in order to open their gift. If they can't, the next person in the line can steal.

Guess the Giver

This is a great game for friends or family that know one another well. Wrap your gift with your own unique touch. It should say something about you, but not be too obvious. All the gifts should be brought in brown bags and given a number. Everyone at the party should be given a corresponding number. Starting with 1, they need to try to guess the giver. If they fail, 2 can try to steal or guess the giver of their gift and so on. After this gift exchange, you'll have a great gift and the assurance that your loved ones know you well. 

Get Crafty

This idea takes homemade gifts to the next level, going from cookies and cakes to crafts. From a Christmas ornament to a knit scarf, the gift can be anything as long as the giver made it themselves. And it can't be something you eat. Gifts from the heart mean the most, right?

Engaging Gift Exchange Themes for Kids

When it comes to gift exchange themes for kids, you want to keep it fun and simple. Making it a simple game of chance or a treasure hunt can really jazz up the exchange. Gift a few of these fun themes to the kids at your party and watch as their eyes start to twinkle with yuletide glee. 

Spin the Candy Cane

This is similar to spin the bottle but with a candy cane and presents in place of kisses. Kids will spin the candy cane and whoever it lands on will exchange presents with the spinner. Everyone should get a chance to exchange presents at least once. Keep spinning until everyone has a unique present, and then open them together to reveal the treasures inside.

Treasure Hunt

This will take a bit of prep work, but it's super fun for kids. You will need to create clues and hiding spots for presents, much like a traditional treasure hunt, in the house or yard. Each kid will get a set of clues to find the presents. Play until everyone has collected one gift to open.

Present Wars

Kids love the chance to steal presents, especially from their siblings. Bring on the present wars! 

  1. Every kid gets a number starting with 1.
  2. Number 1 chooses a present and opens it.
  3. Number 2 can steal 1's present or choose a new present to open.
Fast Fact

This is a game where being last is awesome because the last person can keep their present or steal any of the other presents available.

Jolly Gift Exchange Ideas for Any Group

Whether it's your coworkers, your family, or a roundup of your closest friends, these gift exchange ideas are simple and memorable. For any size group, you can make this a secret Santa to remember.

Friends Christmas Party Gift Exchange

Pop Culture

Mark this year's holiday gift exchange with as many pop culture references as you can. Instruct participants to choose a gift signifying a memorable moment in pop culture from the past year. Try gifts inspired by exciting sporting events, celebrity news, movies or songs released during the year, or fashion moments from pop culture icons.


Sometimes watching the news can give you a hilarious gift exchange idea. For this theme, gift givers will choose a present that reflects a memorable news moment from the past year.

Quick Tip

Try to stick to funny or unbelievable news moments rather than things involving politics, tragedy, or divisive topics to keep this exchange fun.

Go Green

Calling all the crunchy Christmas people! This exchange is for you. Give your secret Santa a green, organic, or "crunchy" theme. Encourage gifters to bring items that are fair trade, certified organic, homemade, or environmentally beneficial. 

Charitable Causes

This gift exchange theme has serious impact. Purchase gifts that send a portion of the profits to charities around the world or give back to the community in some way. If you're planning a secret Santa, you could donate to a charity you know your giftee would love to support.

Pet-tacular Presents

If everyone in the group has a pet, give gifts like collars, treats, and animal collectibles to the person you get. Their fur babies will enjoy the new gift. You can even invite the pets to the celebration to watch them enjoy their gifts together.

Celebrate Fandom

For a like-minded group, celebrate something like Harry Potter or Star Trek. Exchange gifts that fulfill everyone's fandom wishes.

Keep It Christmas

From ornaments to lights, keep everyone's gifts centered around Christmas. Have people exchange Christmas-themed gifts, from ornaments to ugly sweaters. The possibilities are endless.

Sock Exchange

This one is fun because the opportunities are only limited by your imagination. Have everyone buy a fun pair of holiday socks plus a gift small enough to fit inside of one of the socks. That way, everyone gets some awesome new socks — and a fun gift. 

Christmas Ornament Exchange

When your tree is full of ornaments from years past, it's tough to decide which ones may need to move on when you receive a new one. With this gift exchange idea, everyone will get a new ornament and pass along an old one to a friend. Participants bring an ornament from their own tree that they love but may not have room for anymore.

Skip Gifts in Favor of Food

If you prefer a gift-free holiday, this theme may be for you. Rather than purchasing gifts people may or may not like, make someone's favorite food instead. Structure the giving secret Santa style and make your giftee's favorite dish. Everyone could be encouraged to put their own spin on the recipe and make it in a festive Christmas way. Giftees should be able to spot their gifted dish right away.

Color Code Your Exchange

Here's a gift exchange theme you can change every year. Early in the season, take a vote or draw from a hat on the color theme for your gift exchange. Everyone would need to buy a gift in the color selected.

Plant Presents

Getting together with your fellow plant parents? Have a gift exchange involving items with leaves, blooms, or seeds to support your shared hobby.

Declutter & Reclutter

Here's another way to have a spending-free Christmas gift exchange. Encourage gifters to wrap something (within a certain set value) from their home that they no longer want. Everyone gets to declutter and reclutter their space with something new to them.

Gift Kind Words

Forget the spending and forget the stuff. This secret Santa exchange is all about sharing kind words. Everyone draws names to select a giftee and then takes some time throughout the holiday to compile a kind letter for that person. Tell them what they mean to you, why you care about them, and what sort of impact they've had on your life. When it's time to gather, everyone exchanges their letters and then guesses who their kind gifter may be. 

Need to Know

You might consider keeping this gift exchange entirely anonymous. With some anonymity, people may be more willing to share their true feelings. 

Have Fun With It

Almost anything can be turned into a party gift exchange theme. Your only limit is budget and imagination, although it may be a challenge to get family and friends to agree to your wacky theme! If they aren't on board with your suggestion, take a vote on the best theme for your holiday gift exchange.

29 Secret Santa Themes Even Holiday Scrooges Will Love