Twitter Secret Santa

by Diane on 30/11/2013

Once upon a time – towards the end of 2010 to be precise – a guy called @WebSam floated an idea on Twitter: what if we played secret santa with random strangers, who are only connected through the fact they were on Twitter and in New Zealand?

I didn’t know @WebSam at the time, and I didn’t follow him on Twitter. More than three years on I still don’t know him in person, but I follow his tweets and am grateful that he invented one of the most awesome things that exist in this world.

The reason Twitter Secret Santa resonates so well with me is that I love giving presents to people. I like to put a lot of thought into what will make someone happy, and I love a good shopping or crafting challenge. For 20 years I’ve been making advent calendars for Kai; 24 individually wrapped presents in a different homemade calendar each year – how much better can it get? But because this all has to be done before December even starts, I’ve also started making Christmas crackers for my friends. This is a reasonably new tradition, but I had the feeling everybody liked them last year, so I’m trying to make them a regular thing.

Year 1

As soon as we saw the first tweets about Twitter Secret Santa, both Kai and I signed up. And we also signed up our neighbour’s cat, who we run a twitter account for. We were assigned three other twitter users, and started checking out their twitter feeds and various other online means, to get to know them better and to find the perfect present for them. A $5.00 present was recommended that year, which made it very hard to find something suitable that cheap. Just before Christmas we received three little presents, which were well thought through. Max the cat for example even got a little letter stating: “If you’re anything like my cat, you’ll be more interested in the wrapping anyway…” and he got sent chocolate for us humans, beautifully wrapped in thick paper with lots of ribbons and christmas ornaments attached for him to play with. He still plays with some of the stuff.

If you would like to know more about the first year of Twitter Secret Santa, Stuff had a nice article on it.

Year 2

The second year of Twitter Secret Santa wasn’t much different from the first one, at least it felt the same. @WebSam took on organisation again, and everyone who wanted to participate got a person to gift for assigned. A lovely little community of gift givers, spreading happiness throughout the country.

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Year 3

In the third year something happened. Lots of people signed up. Somewhere in the back of my mind the number 800 feels familiar, but I can’t verify it at the moment. Given that in the first year about 300 people took part, this is a huge jump. And you could see something else happening: no-shows. A large number of people happily received a gift, without ever sending one out themselves. Again, I don’t know the numbers for the no-shows, but there were frequent complaints on twitter, and quite a few of my friends didn’t receive a gift. Including our neighbour’s cat, which was probably more disappointing for us than for him, but unwrapping the cat’s presents was one of the most fun parts of all of Twitter Secret Santa.

Apart from that, last year’s Twitter Secret Santa was still fun. I even got to unwrap an additional present, since my friend Jennifer is based in Australia and needed an NZ address to receive her parcel. We did an official unwrapping session via Skype, which was super fun and added to the awesomeness of secret santa. Kai delivered her present to Australia at a later stage.

I also managed to do a personal delivery of a gift. The cat had been assigned someone with a Wellington office address, so I simply popped by their reception and dropped it off. That was pretty awesome.

This year

This year @WebSam has passed on the organisation of Twitter Secret Santa to the NZ Post. Given that postal services are involved in delivering the presents anyway, this makes perfect sense. They have done an awesome job creating the perfect interface for players to keep track of who they’re getting a gift for. They’ve also arranged for a deal on postage, which can seamlessly be ordered through that interface. All presents are being sent to Santa’s Warehouse, and no one needs to freak out about strangers knowing their street address. Although I must admit that looking at a giftee’s house on Google Streetview was part of the fun, but I guess it easily falls into the category of being creepy, so I totally agree that it is a good thing that privacy is now well respected.

This time almost 1,500 people signed up. And something weird is happening: it’s no longer only people who love the idea of giving who are playing. Following the #nzsecretsanta hashtag on twitter, there seems to be a demanding undertone in some of the statements. Some people say loud and clear what they want, often they are asking for presents well beyond the recommended $10 guideline. Especially when you start looking at teenagers, there is sometimes even an aggressive undertone in their tweets. This is in no way intended to be a rant against teenagers (I was assigned one myself and she seems like a very lovely person), but I just haven’t seen it in ‘my generation’. Some of the younger people seem to be very unhappy with who they need to buy a present for, and again, this is displayed in such a disrespectful way, that it almost made me cry. Here are a couple of examples:

  • HES LIKE 40
  • mines like 30 or so with kids
  • im not excited for secret santa anymore

There was also some talk about ‘giving a coffee bag to that old woman with kids who likes coffee’. This old woman seemed to be in her early 30s.

I’m a bit at a loss here. Maybe this upsets me because me and my friends are right in the middle of the target group they dislike so much. We’re in our 30s and 40s, some of my friends have kids, a few of them had a pretty rough time lately (which could be considered ‘tragic’), and most of us like coffee (even though the majority of us probably wouldn’t consider a coffee bag a very thoughtful present). Maybe I just usually live in a bubble where everything is ok, being surrounded by lovely and caring people, so I don’t see that this is what the world really is like. But I really refuse to believe that.

When I got my person assigned, I approached it from a totally different angle. I saw it as a challenge – how can I put a smile on someone’s face, who is so different from me, both from who I am now, and from what I was like as a teenager. One of the quotes above is from someone who was assigned to a friend of mine, and still this friend tried to find I way to make this person happy, even though they said something that awful in public. This is what I think Twitter Secret Santa is about: spreading smiles, opening your mind and getting to know someone whose path you wouldn’t normally have crossed in real life.

I’m still very excited about Twitter Secret Santa. I’ve already found many interesting new people to follow, and sourcing the best present for my person (as well as helping the cat and the chicken to get presents for their people) has been heaps of fun. All presents have been wrapped and are ready to be posted on Monday, and I can’t wait for everyone to unwrap their presents and share what they were given. I’m also looking forward to receiving my present (and to hand the ones for the animals over to them). No matter what it is, I’m sure it’ll be lovely and my secret santa will have put a lot of effort into finding out what I like.

I won’t let a couple of grinches spoil this awesome happiness initiative.


Jen D November 30, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Great summary Diane! I didn’t participate in 2010 but I’ve done the last two years and both times I got to give a fun present and also got a very thoughtful one in return. The present you unwrapped for me last year was particularly great, because the company that sent it had read my blog and chose something perfect :)

This year I have a slightly trickier job because I got a corporate account, but I think I still managed to find them something perfect, and I hope they like it. I did see some of the mean stuff you mentioned in your post but not as much as you I don’t think. I still feel like most of the original spirit is still there. Like you say, there are some grinches but I think most people are still awesome and will do an awesome job. And you get to unwrap my present again this year too :D

Rob November 30, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Great post Diane. Really enjoyed a look at the history through your eyes. I share the concern about participants with high expectations – I just hope everyone takes on the challenge to see the best in the person they are sending to – even if they are from Generation Y and have a hard-to-tolerate sense of entitlement.

Radhika December 1, 2013 at 8:25 pm

Really enjoyed this post Diane! I’ve followed along with #nzsecretsanta very enviously the last few years – watching you, Kai & Jen talk about it. I think it is such a lovely idea! Like you, I like giving presents too. I put a lot of thought into my presents so if I saw the mean comments like you mentioned, I’d be a bit upset too. In fact, the one year I participated in Secret Santa at CM, I was a bit annoyed too because it seemed some of us really put a lot of thought into the presents while others just bought random, shitty stuff because hey Secret Santa is meant to be a joke right?
But, like you said…don’t let the grinches get to you…this is such a wonderful idea and in keeping with the spirit of Christmas – *I* am excited for you guys! Also, I hope the cat & chicken get nice presents this year :)

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