The History of Secret Santa

The History of Secret Santa

Sydney Cummings, Writer

‘Tis the season of shining lights and holiday sing-a-longs, the season of giving and love. There are thousands of Christmas traditions celebrated by families in different ways. Yet, the tradition of giving gifts seems to be universal. People give a gift to a significant other to show love, or to a teacher to show gratitude. The most common form gift giving is the anonymous “Secret Santa” tradition.

The Secret Santa tradition is simple: a group of people randomly draw names so that everyone in the group has another member to buy a gift for. The selection is done randomly and anonymously. On a selected date, the members exchange gifts. The person who buys the gift for another is labeled that person’s “Secret Santa.”

It seems simple enough that the name is “Secret Santa” because the selection and exchange is done secretly, and since it is a gift exchange, Santa is integrated into the title. However, that is not the true history of the tradition. While the actual history of Secret Santa has gotten lost in translation, there are many theories of where and how the tradition started.

Secretly giving gifts at Christmas stems from Scandinavians roots. In Scandinavia, the tradition is known as “Julklapp.” In the original tradition, people knock on a door, open the door, and then leave the gift without seeing anyone or anyone seeing you. The idea comes from the myth of Knecht Rupert, or “Servant Rupert,” who went to all the houses giving gifts to serve St. Nicholas, his master.

In Germany, the Christmas “Wichtel” helps Santa Claus delivering gifts. “Wichtels” are known as Christmas elves in the Western Christmas tradition. In the gift exchange, the members are seen as the “wichtel” since they give gifts, which is seen as helping Santa.

Another theory is centered around Larry Dean Stewart, who is known as the creator of the tradition and the original Secret Santa. For around 20 years, Stewart secretly went around giving gifts to the less fortunate. These random acts of kindness were covered by the media, yet his identity was not discovered until three months before his death in Jan. 2007.

Regardless of the origin, “Secret Santa” is a well-known and practiced tradition that has wiggled its way into Western Christmas tradition.