The game of "Secret Santa", which is usually played by Westerners during Christmas, consists of each participant being randomly assigned one person to whom they give a gift. The entire game is done anonymously.

I'm planning on hosting a game like this; however, the name cannot be tied to any religion and/or holiday.

I've considered using "White Elephant"; however, the rules of that particular game—though it does involve gift-giving—are not the same as the classic "Secret Santa" rules.

Are there any alternate names available for me to use?

  • 3
    you could use the Irish term : Kris Kindle", altough it is religious in its origin, it's ofuscated enough that nobody would notice. Alternatively, you could make up a neologism taken for the Latino way of saying it: "secret friend" (Amigo secreto) or even simply "secret gift exchange". And if you want something used in the English world, apparently Pollyanna "is used in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey." (WP)
    – P. O.
    Mar 6, 2017 at 0:08
  • Very nice, thanks! I might just go with "secret gift exchange" as I do not want anything predominantly tied to any culture. That said, I would like something more, if you will, catchy.
    – pidgeon
    Mar 6, 2017 at 0:14
  • 5
    'Secret Santa' is religious? If it is, then doing anything at that time of year is religious.
    – Mitch
    Mar 6, 2017 at 1:32
  • 2
    @pidgeon Oh...it wasn't clear that you intended the game to be played at some other time of year, entirely unassociated with the Christmas season. So any xmas themed name, secularized or not, would just sound weird. You may have to accept that there's no culturally significant game outside of the xmas season with the same rules. You may have to make one up (or find some very obscure name).
    – Mitch
    Mar 6, 2017 at 14:10
  • 2
    @John Lawler That's Sinocretism. Nov 10, 2023 at 16:51

5 Answers 5


"secret friend" is simple, non-religious, and fits the bill.


You're looking to do a Pollyanna.

The name itself is neutral though it is ultimately an obscure allusion to a 1913 story about a girl named Pollyanna who got crutches for Christmas when she wanted a doll. (And the very same girl who lends her name to "Pollyanna" meaning "an excessively cheerful or optimistic person" as per NOAD.)

Pollyanna is a somewhat general term, and is used for both Secret Santas and white elephant style exchanges and also exchanges where who gets what gift is decided after all the gifts are bought and wrapped. However, in every single one I've seen, the organizers set up some ground rules, especially about what types of gifts can be given.

Here are some examples in use:

As you've read, the spirit of this game is about finding the good things in life, no matter the situation, finding a gift to exchange with others that has value, that speaks to a person's positive personality traits. Each guest's goal is to find a gift that is thoughtful, that takes into account who the receiver is or might be and what you love about them, or to reinforce or remind the receiver about something good that this person has done in their lives.

There are a few variations of the rules to playing this game, from buying a gift for a certain person within the group to having a random guest choose each gift. Both variations work well and are described later on in this article under Pollyanna Gift Exchange Rules.

Pollyanna Gift Exchange (archive 1, archive 2)

After Christmas, but still over the holiday break, we do a “Pollyanna.” This is when everyone in my extended family picks a name, and then buys a gift for that person. A few days after Christmas, we meet and exchange gifts.

PhillyBurbs: Christmas traditions (by a high school student in SE PA)

Although everyone likes to get a bunch of presents for Christmas, like many families, ours is expanding to the point that exchanging gifts between adults is just cost prohibitive and somewhat silly. As such, we all buy gifts for the kids, but the adults do a Pollyanna in which everyone enters their name into a bowl, and each adult draws the name of one person for which they’ll buy a small gift for.

Inexpensive pocket transit (by a user in NE PA)

If you've never heard of this term before, that's probably because it's regional. The heart of the region where it's used seems to be Pennsylvania, where some people are shocked to find out it's not used elsewhere.

See also the research done by World Wide Words into this expression.

  • 1
    @Mari-LouA Nice catch. Fortunately, the website is just misconfigured (HTTPS error) and I was able to get an archive link of the content that doesn't give an error.
    – Laurel
    Nov 19, 2023 at 12:38
  • Unfortunately, the link times out when I click on it. archive.ph took too long to respond.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 19, 2023 at 13:12
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA I guess that means your connection is blocking that archive site. I was able to get Archive.org to save the content too, which you'll probably have more luck with.
    – Laurel
    Nov 19, 2023 at 13:34
  • 1
    Could you include an incontrovertible example of the common noun usage, referring to the game itself,, Laurel. 'Pollyanna Gift Exchange Rules' could be referring to an organisation. Dec 5, 2023 at 15:38
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth It's apparently in DARE. The fact that Pollyanna is a regional term is noted in my answer, and I've even given an alternative ("Secret Snowflake") elsewhere on this page that is used over a wider geographic area.
    – Laurel
    Dec 5, 2023 at 18:31

Santa is not a religious figure. He is an entirely secular figure. You never hear any religion talk about Santa in the context of the religious beliefs.

  • 3
    The Santologists will be mortified to discover that... Nov 10, 2023 at 15:01
  • 2
    The name "Santa Claus" comes to us from the (dialectical) Dutch words for "Saint Nick", which refers to the early Christian bishop. (Both names are even featured as synonyms in "Up on the House Top".) St. Nick is very well known among Christians, and I would expect almost all children who've had any Christian religious education to know about him.
    – Laurel
    Nov 10, 2023 at 15:37
  • Santa is closely associated with Christmas, which despite the best efforts of international capitalism is still a Christian festival. Figures dressed as Santa often visit Christian events, he's associated with Christian songs of worship, he is based loosely on a Christian saint. You might as well argue that the Archbishop of Canterbury is secular because he's not mentioned in the Bible.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 10, 2023 at 15:45
  • 1
    While it is an overstatement to say that Santa Claus is an entirely secular figure, it is true that the popular imagery of Santa Claus has little to do with Christianity. The actual Saint Nicholas did not live on the North Pole, has never seen a reindeer, and probably did not dress on all-red outfits; none of this lore is a part of the Christian religion. Borrowing some of it, including the name Santa, therefore does not imply that one is a believer in the religious teachings of Christianity.
    – jsw29
    Nov 11, 2023 at 17:31
  • @jsw29 Indeed. This reminds me a bit of the Etymological Fallacy, as well as the ever-growing set of modern taboo terms damned by associations real or imagined.
    – tchrist
    Nov 11, 2023 at 20:03

You can call it a Secret Snowflake. This is the name used in a company email I got, an email that also outlined the rules of the event just in case. The expression is close enough to the original (including the alliteration) that most people will recognize that it is a rebranded Secret Santa. In spite of the negative connotations, the person who gets the gift(s) is indeed called a "snowflake" (at least according to my work email).

This name obviously ties it to the same holiday season, however, at least in the northern hemisphere.

The gift exchange in the novel The Princess Diaries, Vol. III: Princess in Love (2002) was called a "Secret Snowflake". I also found an example online where a school justifies the name as an inclusive alternative:

What is Secret Snowflake?

You are probably familiar with Secret Santa. This year, we've decided as a school to update our version of this beloved tradition. From now on, it will be known as Secret Snowflake. We made this change because we always aim to be an inclusive community, and we recognize that not all of our students celebrate the Christmas holiday.

Waldorf School of New Orleans (2018)


Kris Kringle is how my Ozzie rellies call it.


  • 1
    I have never heard the term before but the reference to Santa is still obvious.
    – Casey
    Nov 10, 2023 at 15:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.