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How To Have A Virtual Holiday Gift Exchange

If you're inviting friends, family, or colleagues to *another* Zoom meeting, make sure it's a virtual Christmas gift exchange to remember.

COVID-19 has changed a lot of things this year, and dang it, it’s going to make Christmas a little different, too. Not to worry: if you’re steering clear of big groups this holiday season, you can still visit virtually. Here’s how to have a virtual Secret Santa party or white elephant gift exchange without losing too much of the festive fun.

Maybe you’re usually in charge of organizing the holiday party at work, or your friend group is opting to meet online these days for safety reasons. You may even be trying to get your family on board with doing a smaller, virtual gathering instead of all piling into one house this year. In any case, you’ll have to decide whether you want to DIY your party on Zoom or use a special platform like Elfster, which is free and designed for just this sort of get-together. If you're doing this one the old-fashioned way (if you can call planning a virtual party old-fashioned) and handling it yourself, these are all the steps you need to take.

A Spirited Secret Santa

Even though this year's shindig is virtual, all the usual pre-party logistics still apply. You’ll need to create a guest list and reach out to all your invitees for their email addresses (and this year, you’ll need their shipping addresses, too). Choose the date and time of your party.

Here’s where the virtual party planning tips come in handy — blogs Holidappy and Sunshine Whispers have great suggestions. Set a budget so all your Secret Santas keep their gifts in roughly the same price range. Once you've decided on a price range for gifts, email your participants and ask for three or four gift ideas they would love to receive within that budget. You could even ask them to create an Amazon wish list and send you the link, or you can try something like Klarna Holiday Exchange, which lets people make lists of things they want from all different stores through the Klarna app. (Bonus: Klarna allows you to pay over time, so if you're feeling tight this season, it could help.)

You'll then send out your email or Facebook invites (don’t forget to include your Zoom link!) and state an RSVP deadline. Once the deadline arrives, you can match up your RSVPed Secret Santas with their gift recipients, and distribute their wish lists and shipping addresses. It’s helpful to include a shop-and-ship deadline along with the wish list to ensure your guests’ gifts arrive in time to open them during the virtual party.

Finally, it’s party time! When it’s finally time to log on, make sure you and all your guests have a Secret Santa gift in front of them ready to rip open. Let everyone take turns opening their gift and guessing who their Secret Santa was this year.

A Wonderful White Elephant

During an in-person white elephant gift exchange, the gifts are wrapped and stacked together. All the guests are assigned a picking order at random, and one by one they choose a gift from the pile or opt to steal an open gift from someone else. Naturally, doing this virtually takes a bit of extra thought, but it’s just as fun. The blog Celebrations At Home has some excellent tips for this.

Just like with the Secret Santa party, you’ll need to pick a date and time for your party, send out invites, and establish a price range for gifts. During the virtual get-together, each guest should have a link or image of their gift ready to share. When the first person picks a gift, the giver can reveal the image or share the link with the group. The second person to choose can, of course, choose a new present, or steal a gift from the original person.

The game goes on until all the gifts have been opened (and each gift can only be stolen a maximum of three times). At the end of the party, the host can jot down who has which gifts and share the shipping addresses of the recipient with the gift giver, who can then ship it directly to their home.

No matter what kind of online party you host, there are plenty of ways to make it feel like you’re still together. Just shopping for gifts with each other in mind can help you feel close. You can also encourage your guests to follow some sort of dress code — cocktail attire, ugly Christmas sweaters, or something else meaningful to the group. Whatever you choose, just be sure to include it on the invitation. You could even add some dinner party elements as long as everyone has time to prepare (or access to Uber Eats).

If you’re the host or hostess with the actual mostest, you could bake some holiday-themed goodies or prep a batch of Christmas cocktails and drop them off at your guests’ homes before the party. It’ll help everyone feel more like they’re really together if they can chat about how delicious your cookies are, or how dangerously good the punch is this year.