Secret Santa: A Tradition of Unity
22 December 2017

Mentioning the word Christmas to anyone is bound to conjure up a scene of Santa on his reindeer sleigh, passing out presents to children who have been good year-round. From Asia to America, the spirit of love and giving is celebrated worldwide.

One of those traditions is Secret Santa, in which community members are randomly assigned a person to bestow a gift in secret. We sat down with several people who had participated in the tradition this year, to learn how the game has influenced Malaysian culture.

Do you normally do Secret Santa annually for Christmas?

Wei Xiong, 27, Software Engineer: It is not strictly part of the culture or tradition at our workplace, but we have done it every year that I have been here so far. For us, Christmas is most associated with gift-giving, so it becomes the default activity. Each department has a slightly different approach to it.

Kendrick Ng, 29, Creator of Kendylife.com: Not exactly, but it is an interesting game which everyone enjoys back in my area (Sabah).

Kim, 30, Account Executive: Yes.

Who decides the date? Do you normally set a budget and theme?

WX: There is no specific theme. Our team managers generally set the theme using the R&R budget left over from the year.

KN: We normally set it one month before Christmas. The budget usually from RM15 onwards, depending on how many people participate in the game. I will make sure the gift exchange event’s price range is appropriate to the participants and the game environment. For example, a Secret Santa game among family members might involve a higher price range than one that takes place in an office environment. As for theme, we usually make it random to keep things simple. Because I come from a state which Christmas is one of the main events celebrated, usually I am the one who organises them.

K: Usually we appoint one of our female friends to organise things two weeks before Christmas with a RM50 budget. The theme depends. We did not set one this year.

Do you have any memorable stories behind the tradition in your office?

WX: What we did one year was write down our gift wish lists on pieces of paper, shuffle them and pass them to random team members. When the time came to present the gifts, we realised we could identify exactly which gift was meant for who when we mentioned them! We are usually a very busy team as well, so it came to no surprise when it was revealed that almost every single gift was bought off Lazada. Everyone had a good laugh!

KN: The fun is always when we are guessing who is the secret Santa. It depends on what type of people who is in the group.

K: One time everyone dressed up as Santa while exchanging gift. It was hilarious seeing it all come together! Multiple Santas!

Why do you think this tradition is becoming a norm these days?

WK: I think it's simply because everyone loves receiving presents in general. Unwrapping them is also a nice surprise.

KN: From where I came from, it’s normal for me because it’s a family tradition.

K: Sharing is caring. Being Secret Santa is a great way to get closer to friends.

Do you think this tradition helps bind people from different races and religions?

WX: It brings our colleagues together, that's for sure. There's usually no mention of the more religious aspect of Christmas; for most people here, it's simply a day to give, receive and be merry. Whether people celebrate it or not, I think that part of Christmas is quite universal.

KN: To me yes. Although you can say it is a tradition, it does not involve religion and can be played everywhere. The reason it’s played during Christmas season is because it is the only time where everyone gets together during winter.

K: Of course. Some of our friends join it for fun, despite not celebrating Christmas.

What’s your definition of a Christmas celebration?

WK: Personally, I do not celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. It's just a holiday for me and my family, friends and colleagues to get together and treat ourselves.

KN: Christmas is a time of love, sharing, caring, and remembering. It can be a season of great joy. In the Christian context, it is a time of God showing His great love for us. It can be a time of healing and renewed strength.

K: Getting together with family or close friends and just catching up with everyone, especially when they are usually busy with work and life.

Share with us the things you do to prep for Christmas. Do you have any special traditions?

WX: We do a little decorating around the office and plan the gift-giving sessions and have a team dinner. At home, not much goes on.

KN: One month before Christmas, I will decorate my room and house into Christmas mode! It’s also a great time for me to reflect and understand what I have done for the year.

K: Nothing special, just dinner and drinks with friends.

Does it make any difference if we have a white Christmas or not?

WX: It would be nice to have to enhance the mood (or maybe I've been watching too many Christmas movies), but not strictly necessary I feel.

KN: It’s the all same. A White Christmas to my family is 1954 movie and song.

K: I think that would give it an awesome and magical feel!

What’s the best thing about Christmas?

WX: People around me being in a holiday mood instead of our usual busy schedules. It's a short time for all of us to relax.

KN: The fact that people can get together and share in the spirit of Christmas, spreading love and joy to one another.

K: Christmas gifts and meeting friends I haven’t met in a long time.