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NZ Secret Santas get social

A game familiar to many over the festive season has taken on a new form on social media.

Nearly 2,000 Kiwis are taking part in this year’s NZ Secret Santa – an initiative that sees gifts exchanged between strangers on Twitter.

Registrations for the Nationwide game closed on November 24, and a day later, all the Tweeters taking part had been matched up. They simply logged into their dashboard at and were able to see who they were playing Santa for.

Once the selection process was completed, it was then up to the Secret Santas to indulge in a spot of Twitter-sleuthing to find out what their giftee would like. They had until December 4 to find/make/buy them an excellent gift and send it away to New Zealand Post, otherwise known as Santa’s Storehouse.

Podcaster Sam Elton-Walter (@WebSam) started NZ Secret Santa in 2010. By 2012, and with 800 Santas on board, he “had the feeling that it was on the brink of outgrowing” his capacity. He then sought out a sponsor, and New Zealand Post took on the challenge.

“I can’t think of a better company to be running NZ Secret Santa, and I get excited to take part every year,” Elton-Walter said.

Aj Sheterline, ‘Head Elf’ at Santa’s Storehouse, has been involved in organising #NZSecretSanta since New Zealand Post took hold of the reins in 2013.

“I’ve most enjoyed seeing what people come up with to blow their giftee’s minds! This whole thing is totally about giving and finding something that will make your giftee’s Christmas amazing,” says Sheterline.

There have been a few sad stories where either the player didn’t get a gift or the gift they did get was totally off the mark (expired hand cream, pick ‘n’ mix lollies, etc.). “But thankfully, the good has always outweighed the bad, every year,” he adds.

This is reflected in the 1,300 ‘return Santas,’ as well as the “freshly minted” 679 new Santas.

There is a chance that people may not receive a gift if the person who is their Secret Santa does not send a gift. These gifts are then placed into a collection known as the Bad Santa Gift Stash (BSGS).

BSGS is set up so backup gifts can be sent to people whose Santa didn’t send a gift. Any leftover presents from this stash are sent to the charity of choice.

The gifts that don’t get sent out to players from the BSGS will be going to Canteen this Christmas.

“In previous years, we’ve done Auckland City Mission, Wellington City Mission, Christchurch City Mission, and the Red Cross. We choose charities based on who we think will benefit the most from receiving the goods at Christmas time,” says Aj.

Thanks to Spark, CanTeeners at Wellington Hospital will now have access to a free WiFi connection. On a smaller scale, though, #NZSecretSanta users are also able to send gifts to Canteen, separate to their Secret Santa present.

“Kiwis are a generous bunch that love to make people smile,” and this is what has made #NZSecretSanta such a growing success, says Aj.

First-time #NZSecretSanta participant Myrddin Gwynedd likes the goodwill factor associated with this game and the level of engagement that takes place. Other than the prospect of getting a “free thing,” he enjoys the sense of community on Twitter.

Asked if he would like to see #NZSecretSanta become an international game, he said: “I like that it’s got a local flavour to it…it’s a Kiwi thing.”

He doesn’t think anything could have gone any better for his first time round, describing the organisation of it all as “a well-oiled machine” and “straightforward.”

“It’s a no-brainer. I’ll take part next year and going forward as well,” says Gwynedd.

Below is another #NZSecretSanta participant who videoed herself, at the request of her Secret Santa, opening her gift:

‘Head Elf,” Aj says: “We really love the community spirit fostered by #nzsecretsanta and try our best to use the goodwill it generates to generate more.”

Rebecca Scheib
Rebecca's analyzing and overthinking nature used to get the best of her imagination but at the NZ Radio Training School she intends to harness it to challenge the boundaries of others' imaginings.
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