Wednesday 26 June 2019

Secret Santa traditions from around the world

At this time of year, people are hastily scrabbling around for small gifts to awkwardly present to people they barely know in the workplace after picking their name out of a hat.

Secret Santa season, or Kris Kindle as it’s traditionally known in Ireland, is in full swing. In versions across the world, the anonymous gift-swapping tradition usually plays by the same rules but there are some slight variations.

If you’re looking for some inspired Secret Santa presents, Aldi will be offering a range of great value gifts in the run-up to Christmas. And if you’re looking for alternative Secret Santa ideas, here’s a look at some variations on the theme.

A familiar Christmas tradition

Secret Santa is primarily a Western tradition and if you’ve played it before, you know the drill. A group of colleagues, friends or family members are assigned to purchase a Christmas gift for each other anonymously. Names are usually pulled out of a hat and the gift receivers have no idea who their “secret Santa” is.

In most versions of the game, people try to guess who their Secret Santa is after they’ve opened their gift. Usually a spend limit is agreed within the group ahead of purchasing and sometimes people suggest the type of present they’d like to receive, especially if the game is played among family members or close friends.

When it’s played amongst co-workers, the people you usually only ever see under fluorescent lighting, the spend is typically capped and gifts tend to be random and of the novelty variety.

Different variations from around the globe

In Ireland, the tradition is known as Kris Kindle (a take on the original name of the Austrian gift-bringer Christkindl, which means ‘Christ Child’) but lately it’s becoming more common for Irish people to use the Americanised term, Secret Santa.

In the UK, it’s known as Kris Kringle, while in Germany it’s referred to as "Wichteln," which comes from "Wichtel," meaning goblin or elf. In Poland, the tradition is celebrated on December 6 (Mikołajki - the official celebration of Saint Nicholas).

In Scandinavia, where the game is thought to have originated, it’s known as Julklapp and sees gift-givers leave presents outside people’s houses before knocking on the door and running away… kind of like the best version of ‘Knick Knack’ if you’re a sucker for both surprises and receiving nice things that you didn’t buy.

In the US, there are some variations on the game (although the traditional Secret Santa game is the most common), such as White Elephant (sometimes called Yankee Swap or Dirty Santa).

The game sees a group of people place unmarked, wrapped gifts into a common pile before taking turns to claim one each. It takes a twist when the second person to open a gift gets the choice to keep it or “steal” the first player’s gift. Each person in order then gets to select a present and swap it for any gift someone else has already opened if they deem it better than the one they were lumped with.

It’s not exactly the type of game that embraces the true spirit of gift giving. It could easily escalate into an awkward situation if someone takes offence to seeing the fluffy slippers they spent their entire lunch break searching for being swapped for a bottle of white musk.

There’s a more heartwarming and fairly new tradition in New Zealand. For the past eight years, New Zealand Post has been running a nationwide scheme in which complete strangers across the country send each other gifts in the post. Participants register to take part and drop hints of their hobbies and interests.

New Zealanders share pictures of the results on social media using the hashtag #NZsecretsanta (it’s worth following if you fancy a feel-good, festive cry). Last year, the country’s prime minister Jacina Arden took part, saying she was a “ridiculous lover of Christmas.” She posted a video on Twitter of her opening the homemade Christmas tree decoration she received from her anonymous sender, while Arden sent her person a book and body cream.

In the online world, there’s the famous, record-breaking Reddit Secret Santa which is hosted on This year, Google is the official tech sponsor of the site’s Secret Santa which sees strangers from all over the world (previous celebrity participants included Bill Gates, Bear Grylls and TV host, Stephen Colbert) participate in the online gift exchange.

In 2011, 30,250 people from 115 countries took part in the exchange, earning them a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. On the Secret Santa message board, known to redditors as a subreddit, participants swap trinkets such as customised coffee mugs, books and Lego games. In 2013, Arnold Schwarzenegger drew a picture of his gift match’s cat and even included a photo of himself with the present for good measure.

Looking for some Secret Santa ideas?

No matter where you are in the world or how you play the game, the best part of taking part in Secret Santa is picking out the gift and knowing that you have something in mind that someone will really appreciate.


If you’re stuck for ideas, Aldi has everything you need for Secret Santa with a range of gifts and drink (a bottle of Prosecco is always appreciated). Their very own Specialbuy products offer great value on a wide range of practical gifts that would be appreciated by colleagues or random gift-receivers all over the world.

They have a new range released every Sunday and Thursday, so check it each week for updates. This week’s selection includes a reusable travel coffee mug for €6.99, a stainless steel water bottle for the gym or office for just €4.99, cosy, festive throws for €9.99 (perfect for the co-worker who is always complaining about the air-conditioning) and personalised, colour-your-own coffee mugs for €4.99. And Sundays Specialbuys include Baby Toys and Books for Toddlers.

This Christmas, Aldi has you covered with a range of amazing gift ideas for all ages. Their range this year is better than ever with perfect presents for the little ones, luxury gifts for grown-ups and a sleigh full of treats for everyone, all at amazing prices. See the website for more details.

Sponsored by: Aldi

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