Ali Hull has found that a simple solution has helped her family breathe more easily when it comes to Christmas gifts


A few years ago, we made a decision as a family that we were going to try a Secret Santa system for giving presents for Christmas. As a family of ten, spread across three generations, it was all getting not only expensive but difficult to find something worth giving within our price ranges. So, instead of spending a bit on everyone, we decided to spend a lot on one person, and to sign up to a Secret Santa provider.

We used Drawnames, all very efficiently organised by one of my sons. This system takes all the emails, and allocates one person each. The children – there are two grandchildren – are not part of the scheme. Everyone loves buying toys or books for children. Partners never get each other, you don’t get the same person two years running, and the person you buy for isn’t the person who is buying for you that year. An email goes around the group asking you to sign up for that year, giving the present cost limit (we settled on £60 max but nobody really minds if you go over), and the date gifts would be exchanged. There is then a group page, you create a list of what you want, and your person, hopefully, follows it.

We still buy other presents, of course, but we don’t have to. I can’t imagine not giving all my children a few things every Christmas, nor their partners, but the cost is less and the pressure is hugely less. Partners also buy for each other, if they want to. We often give each other extra items found in charity shops or secondhand elsewhere, but only having to buy one main gift is wonderful. Mostly, people not only say what they would like, but provide a link to it, so it can be bought online. I tend to stipulate that I don’t want people to use Amazon to buy for me, but to get books – my list is usually books – from a proper bookshop or bookshop company online – but if my buyer is busy, and they usually are, it is up to them.

The first year we tried Secret Santa, it was so successful, that we have done it every year since. It irons out differences in income as well, as if people aren’t feeling so flush, they can all usually manage just the one present, and it doesn’t matter if finances or indeed time preclude them from buying anything else. And the issue isn’t the secrecy. We usually end up knowing who bought what for whom, which is as it should be, as then we can thank the person properly for their generosity! The issue is the economy, the reduction in stress, and also the reduction in waste. When we were all buying something cheaper for everyone, then with eight adults involved, there were a staggering 56 individual presents being bought, wrapped and exchanged (if my maths is correct!) And probably not all of them were right for the person receiving them, but inevitably, you get to the point of thinking, ‘I don’t care if this isn’t right for X, it’s done and I can give them the receipt!’ Now I can make sure I get exactly what X has asked for.

So why not try it for your family?