The Origin of Secret Santa

Kathleen Hagar

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When it comes to Christmas traditions, the Secret Santa gift exchange is one that almost everyone’s heard about or participated in. The exchange itself starts off anonymous. All people participating choose one name from a container and, without revealing it to anyone, get that person a present. While many people know how to participate in the game, how it came to be is a mystery to most.

Despite the exact origins being blurry, the tradition can be traced back to Scandinavia where Secret Santa is known as Julklapp. In Scandinavian countries, tradition dictates  you knock loudly on the gift receiver’s door, open it, then throw the gift in and run. Secret Santa can also be traced back to Germanic folklore where they believed fairies helped out Santa Claus in delivering presents.

Secret Santa, the gift exchange that most Americans are accustomed to,  is primarily a western celebration that gained its popularity through the ‘original Secret Santa,’ philanthropist Larry Dean Stewart. Stewart started by anonymously donating $100 bills to people in Kansas. After the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, he also secretly donated over $25,000 worth of $100 bills to those affected. It wasn’t until 2016 that he came out as the ‘Secret Santa’ everybody had wondered about.

So while our modern version of the Secret Santa gift exchange doesn’t involve throwing presents into homes in the middle of night or leaving $100 bills, it’s still a great way to connect with all of your peers.

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