It goes without saying that this year’s holiday season is going to look almost nothing like last year’s. However, that doesn’t mean giving up on joy, celebration, merriment, and generosity–just redefining what those things mean and how they happen.
One trend we’re seeing is the advent (geddit?) of remote Secret Santa. Rather than having personnel swap gifts in person with a white elephant party, companies whose employees are working from home vs. in-office are organizing Secret Santa exchanges where each giver ships their present to the coworker they were paired with, and everyone opens their gift on a video call.
Regardless of the unique circumstances this year, one thing has not changed: It can be super hard to find a gift that you feel good about giving under the usual $30 price limit.
If your job is organizing a virtual gift exchange, there are few things to keep in mind:
Timing. As soon as your company or department announces the swap, start shopping. Allow plenty of time for the gift to arrive–this is the busiest time of year for the post office. You probably can’t run out for a Starbucks gift card or a bottle of wine on your lunch break this year, so plan ahead. (Technically you could send a last-minute virtual gift card, but that’s a little against the spirit of a gift swap.)
The element of surprise. It’s human nature to open a package that’s addressed to you, so if gift wrap is an option, go for it. That way, even if the recipient tears open the box ahead of time, they won’t ruin the surprise. (You could also try to squeeze in “Secret Santa” when filling out the address field, but most people only glance at the label to check for their name.)
Discretion. Double-check that you ticked the “gift receipt” option so your recipient doesn’t know if you went over (or way under) budget.
Selection. The most crucial step, and also the most difficult. Even your office BFF might be hard to shop for. So we’ve rounded up some crowd-pleasers that have universal appeal without feeling generic and impersonal.
How Does Secret Santa Work
If you’ve only ever participated in a White Elephant gift party or more traditional person to person gift-giving, a Secret Santa gift exchange falls between the two. Traditionally with Secret Santa, the organizer puts all of the recipients' names in a hat (or uses a generator), and each person participating draws the name of another recipient. This is the person you will be buying a gift for, but you keep this intel secret until the person opens your gift. Generally, the organizer puts a cap on the price of gifts, commonly around $30, especially for an office Secret Santa with coworkers.
Unlike a White Elephant exchange, there is no swapping of gifts and this important point should factor into which Secret Santa gift idea you land on. With a White Elephant exchange, part of the fun is including silly or gag gifts to force people to swap things around. Unlike our White Elephant Gift Ideas, we’re recommending against the super silly gift ideas in favor of something small and nice that the recipient can actually enjoy beyond the initial open.
Doing that while staying under the $30 cap can be daunting. That’s where Primer comes in.
Our Secret Santa gift ideas are split up into four categories:
- Gifts That are Upgrades to Classic Items
- Gifts That Improve Life at Home
- Gifts That Improve Working from Home, and
- Gifts That Help Them Chill/Relax/Rest
Gifts That are Upgrades to Classic Items
Customized Grooming Kit
Men notoriously don’t splurge on grooming products, but love to use them if they have them. Create a customized grooming kit with things like Honest Amish beard oil, Jack Black All-Over Wash and Baxter of California Lip Balm. Just double-check that everything will ship together.
Help them up their quarantine kitchen game–even if they’re just making grilled cheese. With their iron.
Scents can have a powerful influence on your mood, so send them something that can help them chill out–or feel energized to power through that presentation.
Equal parts stylish accessory, practical necessity for the winter months, and a way to hide how badly they need a haircut.
The quickest way to an animal-lover’s heart is to include their four-legged friend. This set of two dishes has lids to store food for walks and hikes, which can also be used as throwing discs for a quick game of fetch in between meetings.
Okay, we said no gift cards, but this is a little bit more personalized than just “Here’s a free cup of coffee on me.” You could also gift a specific book or books if you know they’ve been meaning to find the time to pick up a certain title.
Chef’s knives tend to get all the attention, but you know you’re an adult when you have a favorite cutting board.
This cozy checked throw looks and feels like it was wrapped up and sent directly from a ski chalet, which is exactly how a winter blanket should look and feel.
Go the extra mile and get your recipient something that is truly made for their use. The journal and mouse pad add elegance to their workspace, and you never know when they might have to write a thank you note or require something nicer to write on than the back of a receipt. (Speaking of receipts, this is your final reminder to check the “gift receipt” option at checkout. You’re welcome!)
Gifts That Improve Life at Home
With motivational messaging and time markers, this bottle helps make staying hydrated a habit. Plus it’s a full gallon, so they won’t have to refill it constantly.
With thousands of positive reviews, the classic cast iron griddle never goes out of style. Amazing grilled cheese? Great steaks without going outside? Vegetables you’ll actually eat? It may be the most perfect gift of all.
Sourdough starter and Dalgona coffee were quarantine fads. Good cooking is eternal.
If your recipient is known for their love of fancy coffeehouse drinks, help them play barista from home.
There’s always that one person who’s cold no matter the actual office temp. This fleece throw is as cozy as it is quirky and will be fun for in-house Zoom meetings.
With an indoor/outdoor sole perfect for strolls to the mailbox and back, these machine washable slippers are shoe-like enough to avoid that “working in my pjs” feel.
From Random House copy chief Benjamin Dreyer. Give the resident word nerd a whole year of bon mots to share on the team Slack channel.
This insulated mug is easy to use one-handed, and seals shut as soon as the button on the lid is released. It's the only tumbler that uses magnets to keep it shut. Perfect for someone still adjusting to a smaller workspace–even if they knock the mug over, it won’t flood their laptop or papers.
Gifts That Improve Working from Home
Designed for tight or less than ideal work setups, this frees up desk space and improves posture.
Do they always sound far away or trail off at the end of their sentences…? Make it easier for everyone to hear them during a video conference.
Or on the other end of the spectrum, if they’re always asking, “Can you repeat that?” help them improve the sound quality of everyone else they’re trying to hear.
Hopefully working from home means more opportunities to stand and stretch, but this cushion can help counteract the effects of sitting all day.
This gel and memory foam pad is essential for standing desk users. (Get one for yourself, set it in front of your sink, and feel the difference when doing dishes.)
Lighting giving that unfortunate “Zoom zombie” effect? Adjusting the location and brightness of the light source works wonders.
Gifts That Help Them Chill/Relax/Rest
Something green is both pretty and calming. Choose a low maintenance plant (hint: no orchids!) to ensure the gift reduces rather than adds stress.
A creative outlet that’s soothing and meditative, but without the risk of actually falling asleep. Plus, they’ll look like they’re taking notes on meetings they don’t need to be included on. Now that there’s no office supply closet to raid, maybe toss in some fine line markers, too?
The kind of thing people appreciate but rarely buy for themselves.
Spring and summer gave everyone’s hands a break, but cold weather + constant washing/hand sanitizer application = cracked/dry/red skin. Give them a hand.
After a long day huddling by the glow of their screen, they need to tackle all those neck/shoulder/lower back knots. Especially the hard to reach ones.
If you’re heart is set on gifting something a little more playful, check out Primer’s White Elephant Gift Ideas Guide.