Redditgifts spreads holiday cheer: Online secret Santa provides unique way to exchange presents

November 30, 2015 — by Helen Chen

The exchange has been hosted every year since 2009 by the popular online forum Reddit, and currently holds the world record as the “Largest online Secret Santa game.” The system matches two people who have signed up beforehand, so that participants end up playing Santa for their Santa.

As he walked up to his front door, senior Naveed Riaziat, then a junior, was pleasantly surprised by the bulky 3-by-3-foot cardboard box that arrived the week before Christmas last year.

The package had been sent by Riaziat’s Secret Santa, but unlike typical small-scale, local gift exchanges, Riaziat and his Secret Santa from San Francisco were two of 212,463 redditgifts Secret Santa 2014 participants from around the world.

The exchange has been hosted every year since 2009 by the popular online forum Reddit, and currently holds the world record as the “Largest online Secret Santa game.” The system matches two people who have signed up beforehand, so that participants end up playing Santa for their Santa.

After seeing advertisements on subreddits, or other pages on Reddit, last year, Riaziat spontaneously signed up for the game by filling out a short questionnaire about his interest.

“I’d never done it before and it seemed like it would be fun,” Riaziat said. “Bill Gates also participates, so I was hoping I’d get lucky.”

In addition to Bill Gates, who gives a gift and $50,000 to a charity of his Santa’s choice in his or her name, RadioShack and Snoop Dogg have also participated in past years, giving large electronic devices  and personalized bongs, respectively.

Knowing that the possibility of getting paired with a celebrity was slim to none, Riaziat said he had “really low expectations” for his present, especially because some people have taken advantage of the system and do not actually send gifts to their Santas.

“You don’t want to feel disappointed if you don’t get something good,” Riaziat said, “but at the same time, you also want to give a good present.”

For Riaziat, finding the perfect gift was a challenge that he enjoyed — something he believes is essential to the entire gift exchange process.

“There’s a balance between not wanting to spend that much money on a present for the other person, but also wanting to surprise them,” Riaziat said. “It’s kind of a competition to see who can give the best present.”

After looking through his Santa’s Instagram page, Riaziat discovered that she kept talking about top chef Padma Lakshmi, so he bought her a signed Lakshmi cookbook on eBay.

Riaziat was happy with the gift he received, especially since he had expected “a small box.”

Although he initially didn’t want to open the gift until Christmas, Riaziat ended up opening the box the day after it arrived, and found a couple of records, candy and a winter themed drink cozy.

“It was thoughtful that my Secret Santa had gone to a used vinyl store and hand picked a few records that matched my music tastes,” Riaziat said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Because last year went so well, Riaziat is participating again this year.

“Ultimately, it’s just a fun way to get another present under the tree,” Riaziat said.