The Secret Santa Tradition

Written by
Kyle Sherman
Published on
December 16, 2021 at 8:00:00 AM PST December 16, 2021 at 8:00:00 AM PSTth, December 16, 2021 at 8:00:00 AM PST

We know it’s a modern day mystery, yet – how did the Secret Santa tradition begin?

One of the most popular gift exchanges in the western world, Secret Santa is an unusual Christmas tradition where gift giving is the focus and the gift-giver is anonymous. Well known in office settings, community groups and large families, how Secret Santa typically works is all the participants draw each other’s names randomly. Then, without revealing anything, each gets a present and gives it to their giftee “secretly.” The fun continues with choosing the ideal gift and figuring out a way to deliver it without getting caught. Once everyone has opened their gifts, they usually try and guess who their Secret Santa is, although Secret Santas can remain unknown. A good Secret Santa is not only anonymous, but generous as well.

Random Acts of Kindness

The original “Secret Santa” is the American philanthropist Larry Dean Stewart, who founded the Society of Secret Santas and handed out $100 bills to people on the streets of Kansas City anonymously for 26 years. His story is a lesson in generosity…

After graduating college, Larry finds himself broke and living in his car in Houston, Texas. One day, with his stomach growling, Larry goes into a diner for a meal, even though he has no way to settle the bill. He pretends he’s forgotten his wallet … although the owner of the diner not only spots the fib, he spots Larry 20, by handing him a twenty-dollar bill and saying, “Oh, you must have dropped this.”

Larry never forgets this kindness and right then, decides to pay it forward. Just one year later, he again finds himself unemployed a week before Christmas. This time, though –he notices a carhop at a food stop is wearing no coat, and it’s cold outside. Once he realizes that she cannot afford to buy one, Larry gives her a twenty-dollar bill to pay for his two-dollar meal.

This is the first of 26 years’ worth of random acts of kindness. Larry goes on to make millions in Kansas City’s cable TV and long distance phone service industry, giving away $1.6 million, $100 at a time and always anonymously.

Variations on Secret Santa

Based on the original concept of the mystery gift-giver and the inspiration of Larry Dean Stewart, there are now variations of the tradition.

White Elephant – Each participant brings a gift to the party that is wrapped in a way that disguises what it is. Participants draw names from a hat to choose one gift at a time. Once opened, they have the choice of keeping the gift, opening another gift or stealing a previously opened gift. Also known as The Thieving Secret Santa, Yankee Swap, Devil’s Santa, Dirty Santa and the Grinch Game.

Casino Santa – Participants can choose either gift or money.

Conspiracy Santa – Participants “conspire” together to gift a single person with a present.

Create Personalized Secret Santa Gifts at PlaqueMaker

Our custom picture frames display treasured photos in an elegant way. Personalized engraved picture frames are a popular photo gift item for Secret Santa gift exchanges, holidays, weddings and anniversaries –and are distinctive enough for special awards such as employee excellence or sponsor recognition. We’ll even print your digital photo for free. Your personalized message and artwork are laser engraved into the wood. Includes a built-in easel for freestanding display.