The holiday season brings many things. Good cheer. Peace. The laughter of children. Reuniting with loved ones.

But who cares about all that crap?

Your office Secret Santa tradition is what truly matters most this holiday season. At AKHIA, we take it very seriously, because it is a great way to show coworkers we care. About one of them, anyway. And that obligation to care is dictated by pulling names from a hat.

Above all else, secrecy is paramount in Secret Santa. To be exposed as your selected person’s Secret Santa is like being outed as a mole in the mob, and the consequences are just as dire.

Meanwhile, guessing who has you for Secret Santa is part of the fun, too. Every gift you receive is loaded with subtle clues that should bring out your inner Dr. House, where you piece together the evidence that reveals who left you those gifts. Lupus.

With Secret Santa as a deeply rooted office tradition at AKHIA, we’ve developed some best practices in keeping your identity a secret, finding out your Secret Santa, and making the whole endeavor a lot of good clean fun.

Tip 1: Select the Right Name

Remember, you will never draw a name that makes your Secret Santa job easy. You won’t pick Gladys from Accounting, who collects turtle figurines that you can find in a gas station or the All for a Buck store. You’ll get Pete Tanchack from Creative, a guy without hobbies and who doesn’t like TV, movies, music or smiling.

So if you draw Pete, withhold the temptation to get a replacement name by saying, “Whoops. I drew my name. Can I pick again?” Any good Secret Santa monitor will double-check and call your bluff. The embarrassment will be worse than drawing Pete 10 straight years.

Tip 2: Get to Know Your Person

During the gift-giving period, you can buy gifts for your recipient, leave clues on their desk when they’re not looking, all while keeping your identity a secret. So really, it’s a chance to act like a creepy stalker.

Like we said, you may draw a name that presents a challenge. So do subtle things that help you learn more about him or her. Follow them on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter. Follow them on Pinterest. Follow them home. This kind of sly detective work is just a start. Dig through their trash. Go through their medicine cabinet. Tell them your kid/nephew/neighbor is doing a school report on them, and you need some info. The possibilities are endless.

Tip 3: The Best Secret Gift Drops

Try to be sneaky with the gifts. Don’t leave a gift when the recipient is around (that’s just a Secret Santa rookie mistake). And don’t let others see you drop off the gift.

You may ask, “How is this possible? This workplace is crowded and everyone is nosy… no one minds their own business.” Simple. Just get a few closed-circuit cameras, install them in your person’s house (all rooms) and car, and check them constantly to ensure they’re not at their desk. Also, if you don’t want others to know whom you got (because they may just spill the beans), leave “decoy” gifts to other people, in plain sight. Be real obvious about it. “Oh I sure hope NO ONE sees me leaving this AKHIA notepad on Celeste’s desk!”

Tip 4: The Art of Guessing Who Has You

You can deduce your Secret Santa in a number of ways. For example, you can analyze various clues based on the gifts you receive use a bit of deductive reasoning, gather some DNA and go from there. Or just go from person to person and loudly accuse them of being your Secret Santa. “IT WAS YOU! THE WHOLE TIME IT WAS YOU!” Your true Secret Santa will crack.

Tip 5: Budget Well

Whether it’s one big gift or a series of smaller gifts, spend about $20-$25 total on gifts. MAXIMUM. To prove this, it’s a good idea to save receipts and include them with the gifts, just so everyone knows you followed the rules (plus, you may be able to write them off on your taxes as a charitable donation). Plus it’s a way to see if most of the gifts you got were from Dollar Tree. (“Hooray. A Snickers bar AND a hideous Christmas bear figurine. It’s my lucky day.”)

When you receive a gift, be sure to email the whole company and let them know what it is. It makes your Secret Santa feel good about themselves. And it may encourage them to buy you even more stuff. Conversely, if the person you drew fails to show a public display of gratitude within seconds of discovering a desk-drop gift, you may spread malicious rumors about them or frame them for a crime. (“Yep, it was Pete who broke all of Gladys’s turtle figurines. I saw it. Guy is totally cray.”)

Other tips: 

  • They say the best gifts are made from the heart. This is a load of crap. The best gifts come from a store. Or come in the form of cash.
  • Once you’re a person’s Secret Santa, the two of you are forever linked. But all that means is you are the first person they call after being arrested. And if they need CPR, you must give it to them.
  • Don’t overspend: This makes everyone mad, except for the person you’re buying for. He or she will be totally fine with it.

Have a happy Secret Santa, everybody!

Mike Lawrence is Creative Director at AKHIA.