Secret Santa/Secret Sister Gift Exchange

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Thousand Oaks, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/20/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Background: The informant is my college roommate and friend. She spent the first fifteen years of her life in Minneapolis, Minnesota before moving to Thousand Oaks, California for high school. She is currently in her twenties and attends school at the University of Southern California. She was on a women’s basketball team all four years of high school.

Main Piece:

“So Secret Santa is basically where you have a group of people come together and anonymously everyone gets assigned a person and they either buy them multiple gifts or just one and then you do like a gift exchange at a certain ate and then you try to figure out who your secret Santa is, or you just find out when you get your present.”

Context: Beyond the brief description my informant gave me, she clarified a few additional logistical details. Secret Santa, or Secret Sister as they called it, was done every year on the high school women’s basketball team. The team captains organized it for about fifteen participants, and people filled out a premade form of things they liked (favorite color, favorite movie, favorite candy, etc) to make shopping easier. There was a fifteen to twenty-dollar spending limit. The informant isn’t entirely sure on the timeline, but she thinks that people dropped off gifts in the locker room shortly before the first home game of the season and opened them when they were done playing (in January usually) She also remarked that people liked to guess who their gift-giver was, but there wasn’t any sort of process or reward for guessing correctly.

Thoughts: It’s interesting that my informant referred to this exchange as both “Secret Santa” and “Secret Sister”—besides the process of gift-giving, nothing else ties this ritual to the Christian celebration of Christmas or Santa. Instead, it’s built entirely around a sports team folk group, and occurs in January to correspond with the first home game of the season, rather than the holiday in December. I’ve seen longer versions of this “Secret Sister” play out in both high school sports teams (always women, and always multiple gifts spread out over an entire competitive season) and in university sororities. I wonder if men’s sports teams and other club organizations also do something similar and if so, what term it would fall under, since “Secret Sisters” is gender-exclusive and “Secret Santa” implies a Christian/holiday-centered context.