Conspiracy Santa: The Anti-Grinch

I admit it: I am a Grinch.

Or rather, I *was* until the concept of Conspiracy Santa saved Christmas for me.

How Conspiracy Santa Works

  1. get a group of people who will participate
  2. establish the ground rules of what a gift can be (budget, theme, timing, whatever)
  3. assign each person a giftee within the group, Secret Santa style
  4. start an email thread for EACH person, CCing everyone in the group EXCEPT for the person whom the thread is about (e.g. a group with 8 people will have 8 separate email threads)
  5. discuss on the threads what each giftee likes and dislikes, blue sky ideas, potential gifts, specific links, etc
  6. close the discussion/voting and each person gets a gift for their giftee
  7. eagerly anticipate when everyone will get their gift

We did this last year for the eight geographically-dispersed adults in my original family (including spouses) and it was so good we’re doing it again this year.

My Grinchiness: a Retrospective

I’ll tell you what I didn’t like about gift-giving before (that I admit are MY issues, not issues with gift-giving overall):

  • isolation and pressure: it felt like it was up to me to figure out what to get for each person
  • feeling cheap: I didn’t think I had enough money to work with, especially compared to others’ means (comparison is the thief of happiness)
  • feeling unsure: I dislike clutter and didn’t want to give clutter, could I really think of a good idea for everyone?
  • as a general rule, I hate gift cards (which could be another post in itself)
  • volume: does everybody really need a gift from everyone? Seeing so many presents felt depressing for the consumption of it all.

Previous to Conspiracy Santa, I just felt unhappy leading up to the “big day” and even unhappier on the day itself. Yep, total Grinch.

Anti Grinch

The Anti-Grinch Solution

Conspiracy Santa neatly solves all of those issues by creating contained “communities” in the email threads where we can discuss and get excited about ideas for each giftee. We use a soft budget that is much higher than I would have spent on any one person if gifting traditionally.

We are in cahoots! I can contribute thoughts about gifts for everyone but the pressure isn’t on me to be the one to decide, we all do that together. Ideas can build and evolve: “I never would have thought of THAT idea, but now that I hear it what about if we…” The spirit of collaboration is strong and I love it.

Each person gets one gift from the group (the gifts are to be marked as from Conspiracy Santa, and part of the fun is trying to keep the associations secret). Volume is reduced and quality is enhanced.

This new tradition has brought the season a lot of joy for me, where previously there was apprehension and crankiness. Grinch begone!

Origin & Tips

The Conspiracy Santa idea comes from this blog post:

The email thread starting service is unfortunately not working anymore, so this year I had someone else start my thread (I sent them the boilerplate email for forwarding) and started all the other threads myself.

Any group is going to need a prime mover who will kick things off and nurture any threads that may be languishing. It feels helpful to add ideas, no matter how off-the-wall, rather than just prompt people over and over. You know, light a candle rather than curse the darkness.

We are using for the name draw. Tip on that: set up exclusions so people don’t draw the people they are most familiar with (e.g. spouses). Learned from last year’s experience!


Conspiracy Santa is so good. It makes my heart grow three sizes. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A happy merry season to you and yours, whatever holidays you celebrate and however you gift (if at all)!

Earlier Post: The Hourly Billing Renaissance

Later Post: Domain-based email for Gmail-addicts

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