White elephant and Secret Santa gift exchanges are some of the most popular traditions among friends, co-workers and family during the holiday season. They can also be relatively low-pressure gift events compared to the rest of your holiday shopping list, whether you’re shopping for a generic one-size-fits-all gift for your white elephant exchange or you’re looking for a specific person for Secret Santa.
But as the final weeks of the holiday season draw closer, experts continue to echo the same warnings they did before the Black Friday and Cyber Monday craze: Place your orders as early as possible to avoid delayed gifts at the hands of global supply chain issues.
To help you determine the best white elephant and Secret Santa gifts, we perused Select shopping guides with an eye toward reader favorites and picked highly rated gifts that are worth considering right now.
What is a white elephant gift exchange?
A white elephant gift exchange — sometimes referred to as a Yankee swap — is a fun holiday activity in which everyone brings one wrapped gift and leaves with a different one. To help even the odds, most white elephant gift exchanges work best when all the gifts align in cost — typically within the $30-to-$75 range. (We're assuming you're taking part in the kinder, gentler version of a white elephant exchange, and not the original, where you're expected to give gag gifts or intentionally awful presents.)
Here’s how it works:
- All of the gifts go into a pile.
- Players draw numbers to figure out when it will be their turn to choose a gift.
- During each player’s turn, they can either choose an unwrapped gift from the pile or steal a previously opened gift from another player.
- Anyone whose gift is stolen then has the opportunity to either open a new present or steal another gift (though they cannot steal the same gift back).
What is a Secret Santa gift exchange?
Secret Santa — sometimes known as Kris Kringle — involves the same kind of mystery as a white elephant exchange, but each person in the group is assigned and aware of a designated person they’ll be gifting to. However, you’re not allowed to reveal whose Secret Santa you are until it’s time to open the gifts.
The rules are simple:
- All of the participants’ names are placed into a hat, box or similar container.
- Each person chooses a name from the box but can’t reveal their selection to anyone in the group.
- Each person is responsible for buying a gift for their selected person.
- When the Secret Santa wraps their gift, they should label it with the recipient’s name but cannot indicate who provided the gift.
- All gifts are placed in a general area. At gift-giving time, each recipient must find their gift and guess who their Secret Santa is. If they can’t guess, the Secret Santa confesses.
With the emergence of the new omicron variant of Covid-19, one of the most appealing parts of Secret Santa that isn’t usually available in a white elephant gift exchange is that it can be played socially distanced and from anywhere in the world — you can simply send a gift by mail and reveal your identity when it’s received, thus eliminating the pressures of traveling and physically gathering.
10 best white elephant and Secret Santa gift ideas
To help you find the right gift for your white elephant and Secret Santa gift exchanges, we rounded up gift ideas based on our previous coverage and reader interest, all within the $30-to-$75 range.
A portable speaker is a great gift that virtually anyone can enjoy, especially during the holiday entertaining season. And according to tech expert Whitson Gordon, Tribit makes “some of the best budget Bluetooth speakers in the business.” In our guide to portable speakers, he recommended the XSound Go, which has up to 24 hours of nonstop battery life and a water-resistance rating of IPX7.
If your white elephant or Secret Santa gift exchange involves individuals with longer hair, the best-selling Revlon One-Step — which we've previously highlighted in our guidance on hair dryers — is definitely worth considering. It combines tufted and nylon bristles to help smooth and straighten your hair, while the oval shape helps create volume, according to the brand. This blow dryer also sports three heat and speed settings, including a cooling feature.
In our previous report on teas for better mental and physical health, experts told us that matcha green tea is rich in L-theanine, which purportedly has de-stressing and anxiety-reducing effects. The powdered tea needs to be whisked properly in order to be enjoyed, though, so anyone who is serious about their matcha drinks (or wants to be) will likely appreciate this gift set. In addition to a bamboo whisk and ceremonial matcha bowl, it includes a 12-gram tin of organic matcha, and it all comes wrapped neatly in a giftable box with a silver ribbon.
Many people prefer to start their day with a cup of coffee rather than tea. If you know that most of your friends or your designated Secret Santa giftees are coffee drinkers, they may prefer this cold brew coffee maker from OXO, which uses a “rainmaker” feature to evenly distribute water across coffee grounds. In our guide to making cold brew, Graham Peeples, director of beverage at Methodical Coffee, explained that this “is the main difference that will improve the taste of your cold brew.”
Research has shown that lavender can have a positive effect on everything from anxiety and depression to sleep disorders. During the stressful holiday season, this gift set can certainly come in handy — it comes with a lavender pillow spray and sleep mask to help you sleep more soundly, plus a soy-blend lavender candle to relax and a lavender grow kit so your whole house can be filled with the soothing floral scent, according to the brand.
Numerous experts have told us that breathable silk bedding is less irritating for the skin. This sleep mask from Slip is made of machine-washable mulberry silk and is designed to block out light while you sleep, creating an environment fit for slumber, according to the brand.
Whether they’re always sore from working out or have an achy back from slouching at their desk all day, whoever receives this gift will likely get a lot of use out of this massage gun from Wahl. Certified strength and conditioning specialist Allen Conrad previously recommended this compact massage gun — it comes with four attachment heads and has two speeds and two vibration settings.
Does your white elephant gift exchange involve a lot of fitness enthusiasts? These popular wrist and ankle weights can upgrade both at-home workouts and sweat sessions at the gym. They come in vibrant colors and patterns, and Select writer Zoe Malin previously said they’re the best wrist weights she’s ever used.
This low-maintenance indoor plant is pretty difficult to kill. It thrives in indirect sunlight and only needs to be watered every one to two weeks, according to experts, making it a great plant for those who want the benefits of greenery without the work.
This First Aid Beauty five-piece gift set can be a great option for skin care enthusiasts. The set features both full-sized and miniature versions of some of the brand’s most popular products, including the Pure Skin Face Cleanser, Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration and Facial Radiance Pads, the latter of which we featured in a guide to treatments for teen acne. The brand, which is Clean at Sephora-approved, says these products are safe for sensitive skin and contain glycerin, glycolic and lactic acids and colloidal oatmeal.