You see your coworkers every day, but how well do you really know them? Most of the time, the answer is probably pretty well. During the holidays, though, trying to think of what to get them for Christmas might have you wondering if that’s true.

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If you’re drawing a blank even after years of working together, don’t feel bad. Getting to know someone professionally is very different from getting to know them personally. You may know all about someone’s skills, projects, and pet peeves in the workplace, yet have very little insight as to who they are when they get home at the end of the day.

This is one of many reasons that, come Christmastime, a lot of companies implement an organized gift exchange in which every participant brings an item for one other coworker. In one of last year’s holiday blog posts, Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas For Big Families, we talked about the many types of gift exchanges there are to choose from, such as a white elephant gift exchange or a cookie exchange.

In Part Four of our 2019 Perfect Holiday Season Blog Series, we want to continue the subject by talking about the most popular gift exchange idea for office Christmas parties: Secret Santa. 

Secret Santa is a time-honored tradition. The rules of play are simple: each participant writes their name on a slip of paper and drops it into a hat or bowl. Then, everyone reaches in and draws out someone else’s name without looking. That’s the person to whom they’ll be playing “Santa.” 

On the one hand, Secret Santa can help to simplify everyone’s Christmas shopping. It ensures that each participant both gives and receives a single present, which prevents many of the embarrassing situations that sometimes occur during informal gift exchanges. Typically, most workplaces set a price limit, so no one has to worry that they are spending too much or too little on their gift.

On the other hand, Secret Santa is not without challenges, which can create its own form of holiday stress. Drawing names means that it’s anyone’s guess who will be playing Santa to whom. You could be buying for someone you’re friendly with, but you could also draw the name of someone that you’ve barely said two words to in the past year. Since trading is frowned upon, you may need to find out someone’s likes and dislikes in a very short span of time. 

There’s also the added pressure of knowing that your gift will be opened in front of everyone, so a lot of people tend to play it extra-safe by purchasing the most generic, one-size-fits-all presents possible. However, this strategy often backfires. An ill-chosen gift may be remembered in the workplace as a blunder, but so might a boring one. 

Companies encourage their employees to participate in an office Secret Santa gift exchange not just to make it easier on everyone, but also to encourage a sense of community. You’re supposed to try to get to know your recipient a little better through the experience of picking out a Christmas gift for them. By purchasing a universally applicable item, you’re largely missing the point of the game. 

Overly generic office Christmas gifts can make the whole experience less fun for everyone else, too. I mean, does anyone really want to sit around while thirty people open individual gift cards to various outlet malls and chain restaurants?

If you want to get your Secret Santa recipient something memorable this year but don’t know where to start, you’re in luck. We may have mentioned this once or twice before, but, at ArtPix 3D, we know a thing or two about unique gifts. We’re here to help!

A great way to narrow down your options is to use a Secret Santa questionnaire. Every office has its own way of enforcing the Secret Santa rules, but if this is something your coworkers would be open to, it can be very helpful. Here’s how it works: everyone participating fills out a short form with a few questions about their interests and likes, which their Secret Santa can look at to get some ideas.

If your office doesn’t want to include this practice in their game, you can try finding a questionnaire online and memorizing a few questions to slip into casual conversation with your Secret Santa recipient. This printable Secret Santa questionnaire from Create.Craft.Love has some great suggestions. 

We also have some creative gift alternatives for you to fall back on instead of the “safe” presents you usually see in the typical Secret Santa lineup. These gift ideas can still be applied to a wide range of people, but they’re a little more creative and a lot more fun to open. 

If you didn’t catch Part Three of our Perfect Holiday Season Blog Series, you can read it here. It’s all about creative stocking stuffers, so you won’t want to miss out!

Otherwise, here are a few ways you can impress your coworkers at the office Christmas party this year with some great Secret Santa gifts.

Instead of a Visa Gift Card

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We’ve all been tempted by the colorful multipurpose gift card display in the grocery store while shopping for Secret Santa gifts. Usable almost anywhere, available in the exact amount of your price limit, and already equipped with a festive gift card envelope, it’s the easiest and quickest way to get this task taken care of. That is, short of writing a check for $25, which is why it’s also among your least thoughtful options.

Try a Monthly Subscription

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What makes the idea of a multipurpose gift card so appealing is that, instead of taking a chance on an item they may or may not like, you’re giving someone the opportunity to purchase whatever they want. It’s not a bad idea, but there are ways to accomplish the same thing with an added personal touch. Purchasing a month or two of a subscription service for your Secret Santa recipient gives them access to a range of products within a given niche. If your coworker is already subscribed to a service, even better; you can give them a free month of something you know they love.

Instead of a Winter Hat or Scarf

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Winter accessories like scarves and hats are another popular “one-size-fits-all” gift at Secret Sants gift exchanges. Most people tend to bundle up this time of year, so a couple of extra layers of warmth could come in handy. Unfortunately, just because an article of clothing is useful doesn’t automatically mean that someone will want to wear it. Most people have their own personal style, which a monochromatic scarf and hat set don’t always fit into.

Unless you plan to go out of your way to pick out some winter accessories based on the kind of clothing your Secret Santa recipient usually wears, you might want to skip this one.

Try a Heated Floor Mat

Cozy Toes Heated Carpet Mat from Lowes

Your coworkers may already have all the winter outerwear they need, but what about something to help them stay warm in the office? A Heated Carpet Mat from Lowes is the perfect gift for anyone who gets a little chilly sitting at their desk all day. This heated mat looks exactly like a normal carpet, so your Secret Santa recipient can inconspicuously warm up their feet while they work. It can also be conveniently rolled up and stored anywhere when not in use. 

Instead of a Picture Frame

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An empty picture frame may seem like the perfect open-ended gift. Both practical and decorative, it can be used to display a sentimental photo anywhere in someone’s home or office. The problem is that, nowadays, more and more people are choosing to store their photos digitally.

Not only is it more space-efficient, but it also ensures that their pictures will last forever. This, along with the ability to share photos with thousands of friends and family members over social media, makes picture frames seem a little outdated.

Try a 3D Photo Crystal 

You may be crossing out picture frames on your list of Secret Santa gift ideas, but that doesn’t mean other kinds of photo gifts are off the table. If you want a personalized photo gift that’s guaranteed to impress your coworkers this holiday season, ArtPix 3D has you covered. We combine nostalgia and high tech innovation to create unique, laser-engraved photo crystals that preserve and display precious memories for over a lifetime. Our 3D photo crystals come in a variety of sizes, unique shapes, and charming accessories, so take a look at our shop to find the perfect item for your Secret Santa gift exchange.

Instead of a Coffee Mug

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A novelty coffee mug may sound like a perfect office gift. After all, most people like to enjoy a cup of hot coffee or tea while they work. However, there comes a time in every person’s life when, over the course of many birthdays and holidays, they have accumulated too many decorative mugs.

It may take some longer than others to reach maximum mug capacity, but, eventually, we all have to face a space crisis in our kitchen when every cabinet seems to be overflowing with this perversely giftable drinkware. If you don’t want to contribute to the national mug epidemic this holiday season, you might want to consider other options.

Try an Infuser Mug

Dew Brew-In-Mug w/infuser from FORLIFE

When it comes to workplace drinkware, sometimes function over form can be a good thing. This handy Dew Brew-In-Mug w/ infuser from FORLIFE will save your Secret Santa recipient a lot of time and effort by letting them brew a delicious cup of coffee or tea in their mug.

When they’re finished, they can conveniently store their infuser right inside, saving space in their cabinets. Anyone who enjoys a hot beverage from time to time will appreciate this practical gift as well as the thought that went into it.

Instead of a Christmas Ornament

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While browsing a local market or craft show this holiday season, you might come across a charming handmade ornament you think would be the perfect gift for your Secret Santa recipient. However, before you’re won over by its artisan craftsmanship, consider whether your coworker will get any use out of this gift. Do they celebrate Christmas?

If so, are you sure that they have a Christmas tree? Consider, too, how many days there are until Christmas. Presenting your coworker with a Christmas ornament on December 23 means they’ll only have a couple of days to enjoy it before they have to pack it up for next year.

Try a Nightlight

Gemstone Sensor Nightlights from UncommonGoods

Home decor gifts can be tricky when you’re buying for someone whose home you’ve never seen. However, one thing is true of any living space: it’s hard to navigate in the dark. We’ve all had the unfortunate experience of having to get out of bed in the middle of the night and stumbling around to find a light switch. A Gemstone Sensor Nightlight from UncommonGoods helps to prevent midnight toe-stubbing, and its raw crystal design makes it a stylish addition to any decor. Plus, it can be used year-round!

Instead of a Desk Plant

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An office gift that brightens up your coworker’s desk can be very thoughtful. A gift that needs to be routinely watered to stay alive, however, might not be the best option. A small potted plant might be a great way to cheer up a workspace, but with it comes a commitment that your Secret Santa recipient may not be ready or willing to assume. Worse yet, they might not take care of it, making you responsible for the slow and excruciating expiration of an innocent plant.

Try a Desk Organizer

Copper Wire Desk Accessories from Bed Bath and Beyond

If you want to get your Secret Santa recipient a useful workspace accessory that doesn’t come with intense care instructions, consider a desk organizer. These Copper Wire Desk Accessories from Bed Bath and Beyond are designed to create a workspace that’s both stylish and orderly. By helping your coworker keep their office supplies organized and easily accessible, you’ll be making every day 100% better.

Instead of the Latest Bestseller

Every so often, a bestselling book emerges to take the world by storm. Whether it’s a mystery novel, a celebrity biography, or a self-help book, it seems like every train car, coffee shop, and public park is filled with people deeply engrossed in a copy. With so many enraptured literary critics and book club attendees to recommend it, you might think that this would be the perfect gift for your Secret Santa recipient.

However, just because a book is popular doesn’t mean they’ll want to read it. This gift may prove that you’re on top of the trends, but, unless you know a little bit about your coworker’s reading habits, it may not be the most thoughtful choice.

Try a Book Sleeve 

Fox Book Sleeve from Etsy

Even if you don’t know what your Secret Santa recipient likes to read, you can still find unique book gifts that encourage their literary interests without having to make guesses about their taste.

This Fox Book Sleeve from Etsy is a great office gift idea. It protects beloved books from damage while taking them on the go, and it hides embarrassing covers or titles with an adorable fox pattern.

Instead of Christmas Treats

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Everyone loves holiday treats, which is why bringing an assortment of Christmas cookies, candies, and other snacks as your office Secret Santa gift this year may seem like a great idea.

However, bear in mind that, in anticipation of the number of holiday parties and family gatherings coming up, some of your coworkers may be trying to limit their junk food intake right now. While a basket of goodies might be a delightful surprise for some, for others, it might present an unwanted temptation.

Try Fruit Carving Tools

Creative Fruits Multi Kitchen Tool Set

A more useful gift might be one that makes it easier to eat healthy, as well as more fun! This Creative Fruits Multi Kitchen Tool Set from Amazon is equipped with a variety of kitchen utensils to mash, cut, and juice almost any kind of fruit. Your Secret Santa recipient is sure to get a lot of use out of this colorful, conveniently stackable gift. 

We hope these unique Secret Santa gift ideas have inspired you to think outside the box as you tackle the challenge of picking out the perfect present for your assigned recipient. Be sure to tune in for the next blog post in our Perfect Holiday Season Series, where we’ll be giving you some excellent gift wrapping tips and tricks. In the meantime, you can find more great gift ideas here.