How To Do a Secret Santa Gift Exchange With Far-Flung Friends

Secret Santa gift exchanges with friends are a fun part of Christmas festivities, but you have a dilemma: all your pals live in different cities. Praise be to the internet, because that's no dilemma at all.

You know the Secret Santa drill: wrangle a group of friends or coworkers, set a price limit for a gift, everyone draws names, assignments are kept secret. You've always wanted to do one of these with your friend diaspora, but have had to enlist a neutral party (hi, mom) to draw names for everyone so no one could spoil the surprise of who has who. The trouble pretty much quashes all the fun. Believe me, I tried to go this route. Enter Elfster, a site that takes the hassle out of the festivities.

Here's how it works. First, go to Elfster, name your group, and set up the rules. You have to determine a deadline for everyone to sign up, a date the names will be drawn, and your spending limit. I think around $30 is sufficient, because it encourages creativity, but do what feels right. Then you can add any other rules you'd like if you want to make things interesting. Maybe you want to add a theme. How about disco Christmas? Or perhaps the gifts have to be purchased from SkyMall. Whatever, get creative.

How To Do a Secret Santa Gift Exchange With Far-Flung Friends

Next you invite your friends by entering their email addresses. The only stipulation here is to 86 your lame friends, because what fun is a wet blanket in a white elephant situation?

Once you've done that, Elfster goes to work. Your friends get an email asking them to join the exchange. They just have to agree by the sign up date. Then on the draw date, they'll receive another email. When they click the option to draw their secret santa, the deed is done.

The only thing left is NO TELLING. Seriously, if you tell you ruin the fun and you should get coal for Christmas and be banned from any future exchanges.

How To Do a Secret Santa Gift Exchange With Far-Flung Friends

Next comes the actual exchanging. This part of the equation is totally up to you. You could, in theory, mail off your present and be done with it. But if you're going to end up in the same place over the holidays (high school friends maybe?), why not make an evening of it? Christmas is one of those special times spent a couple of nights sleeping in your childhood bedroom, probably looking at old yearbooks, accidentally finding the retainer you were supposed to be the wearing all these years in a random drawer, calling an old neighbor the wrong name at a holiday open house, and all the while wondering why your parents don't keep more hard liquor in the house. Time with friends is a good way to temper all the madness.

An internet-moderated gift exchange is a fun and easy excuse to gather your friends in the name of giving each other embarrassing (it's better that way) gifts that you'll never ever use again.

I'm in the throes of a gift exchange with some friends I'm planning to spend New Year's Eve with. We've just drawn names, and now it's time to pick gifts. The rules? You can't spend more than $30, you have to buy an item for your recipient to wear out on the night of December 30,—the more ridiculous the better—and of course, of course, no revealing the name of your secret santa. I'm looking forward to my exchange. No reason you shouldn't too.