Secret Santa is a Western Christmas tradition in which members of a group or community are randomly assigned a person to whom they give a gift. The identity of the gift giver is to remain a secret and should not be revealed until after the gift is opened.
Deriving from the Christian tradition, the ritual is known as Secret Santa in the United States and the United Kingdom; as Kris Kringel or Kris Kindle (Christkindl) in Ireland; as Wichteln, Secret Santa, Kris Kringle, Chris Kindle (Christkindl) or Engerl-Bengerl in parts of Austria; as Secret Santa or Kris Kringle in Canada and Australia; as Secret Santa, Kris Kringle, or Manita-Manito in the Philippines; as Angelito in the Dominican Republic; and as "Wichteln" or "Julklapp" in Germany. "Wichteln" is what a "Wichtel", a wight, does, a good deed. In Poland, the tradition is celebrated on the day of 6 December (Mikołajki), in Ukraine—on December, 19th (Mykolay). All of these names derive from traditional Christmas gift-bringers: the American custom is named after Santa Claus, or St Nicholas (Poland and Ukraine), while Chris Kindle and Kris Kringle are both corruptions of the original name of the Austrian gift-bringer Christkindl, which means the "Christ Child". Exceptions are the UK (where the traditional gift-bringer is Father Christmas) and the Philippines (which has the Three Kings). Spain, Portugal and most places in Latin America use amigo secreto (secret friend) or amigo invisible/invisível (invisible friend). In Israel, this game is called גמד וענק (A Dwarf and a Giant) and is mostly played during Purim.
In this version, participants (players) bring one gift each which is potentially suitable or interesting to any of the other participants. The gifts should be wrapped in such a way as to disguise their nature. Ideally, the provider of each gift should not be disclosed when setting up the game. Players take turns and can either open a new gift or steal a previously opened gift. This game is more commonly known as the white elephant gift exchange, or Yankee Swap.[unreliable source?]
Each participant brings a gift for their assigned person, with a letter. This letter may or may not have hints on who the giver might be, depending on the rules participants have established. Each receiver must guess who made the gift.
In this version, each person buys a gift for specific amount, not for anyone specifically. Each person also puts in a specific amount of money into a pot. Who goes first in gift selection can be determined by random selection. The options are:
At the end, the gifts that were chosen are opened and the winner of the money and leftover gifts are drawn.
In this version, participants engage in a "conspiracy" where all participants work together to select a gift for a single participant without that participant's direct involvement or knowledge. Many such individual "conspiracies" run concurrently, one for each participant. Email threads or web apps are commonly used to manage each "conspiracy" until a consensus is made, wherein the gift is purchased by a decided upon participant and given at a later date. A common theme of Conspiracy Santa is collectively learning about participants, making it popular for workplaces and schools.
The tradition of Secret Santa is becoming increasingly popular in online communities.
On the one hand there are several Secret Santa Generators that tell every participant in a group for whom to buy a gift. This is especially useful for groups who can't meet in person to draw the names from a hat or bowl before the Secret Santa event.