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Group Gifting: Secret Santa or White Elephant?

‘Tis the season for giving, although giving can come in many forms. Two of the most common large group gift giving activities are white elephants and secret Santa.

Buying gifts for everyone in a group can be difficult, time consuming and expensive. Practices such as white elephant and secret Santa can ease the stress of gift buying and can ensure a comfortable budget for everyone to be able to follow.

If you aren’t aware of either practice, white elephant exchanges consist of each participant bringing a present, typically within a given price range, then at an event, the participants go around the room and randomly select presents. 

From there, a white elephant can go in many different directions, but typically each person opens the present as they receive it, and others after them can either steal a previously opened gift or select their own to open. If someone’s present is stolen, they can then select a new gift to open or steal someone else’s, and the chain continues.

In a secret Santa exchange, each participant is randomly assigned another participant’s name, and are then responsible for buying that specific person a gift. Typically, the presents are then distributed together, and everyone receives a personalized gift from their “secret Santa.” Depending on the group, the “Santa” can either remain forever anonymous, or reveal themselves.

Personally, I prefer using the secret Santa method for a few different reasons, but I do recognize the appeal of the white elephant exchange. 

White elephant exchanges can be great for groups that dont know each other as well, such as classrooms or large clubs. They can also be done in a larger variety of ways, with different methods of distributing white elephant presents. 

While white elephants are a great way to celebrate, I have a personal affection towards Secret Santa gift exchanges, especially with groups of friends or families. 

Growing up, my family always participated in secret Santa exchanges. With a larger, but close family, gift giving was just not possible with so many people.

 With my mom’s side of the family, we even took things as far as separating the groups by cousin exchanges and aunt/uncle exchanges. This way, the exchanges were divided by generation, making it easier to shop for the assigned person.

Secret Santa exchanges are able to be much more personal than white elephant exchanges. When you are given a specific person to shop for, it makes it possible to buy them a present that will be meaningful to them, rather than a generic gift that can be meant for anything.

There is nothing wrong with generic gifts, I recently received a really awesome present from a white elephant exchange, and it was really sweet and thoughtful. But when I buy presents, I like to make them personalized for the recipient, as I feel it makes the tradition more meaningful and special.

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