I always like to get into the Christmas spirit fully, and often take part in multiple Secret Santa draws each year! I am now a real advocate of online Secret Santa Generators rather than gambling on the old-fashioned (and much riskier!) technique of pulling names out of a hat, so I thought I’d compare and review some of them.
I’ve previously taken part in a Bloggers gift swap, where there were 40 bloggers involved and the host chose to organise this using one of the most well known Secret Santa sites, Elfster. As I wasn’t the organiser myself I can’t comment on how Elfster operated from that point of view, but I can share my experiences as a gift exchange participant.
Elfster is definitely a fun-looking website, and works hard to create the festive excitement of a gift exchange with friendly emails inviting you to join the exchange, a bright pink site, pictures of elves and more.
Once you sign up (I did this after responding to my invite email to join this specific gift exchange) you get a personal Elfster profile, which means you can take part in multiple gift exchanges using the same profile. What’s great about Elfster is that for each gift swap there is a timeline for people’s updates and for general chatting, which makes it a very sociable site – and in this case, because we’re all bloggers who may not know each other, this has been a nice feature.
Then there’s the wishlist function. Ah the wishlist. I think this is simply supposed to be a source of inspiration for your Santa pairings, but somehow on Elfster the wishlist seems to have evolved into a full Pinterest-style system of linking to specific products you like. Depending on how active you are on Elfster this could very easily end up as a very long list indeed! Not only do I not really need another outlet for creating wishlists (I’m a blogger after all) I’d also say that setting up a wishlist on Elfster is actually pretty confusing – many of the participents on this gift swap found it too confusing to bother.
When I was organising the Secret Santa within my group of friends I initially looked at using Elfster, but for me there was a big problem. As the organiser I did not want to ruin the surprise for myself by having access to the full list of who had drawn who. I wanted to be just as much a part of the group as everyone else, and Drawnames.co.uk very helpfully made it very clear in their FAQs that the organiser does not know who has drawn which name!
It was very easy to set up a Secret Santa using Draw Names. I needed everyone’s email addresses initially, and everyone was sent an email invite to the gift swap. I had the option to set exclusions, which I used to prevent siblings from drawing each other (something we’d agreed was a good idea) and once everyone had accepted the names were automatically drawn and emailed out.
As with Elfster there is a wishlist function, but it is much more basic. It’s just a simple hand-typed list – imagine that! What could be simpler?
Overall it does look a lot less fancy than Elfster and you get fewer email notifications, but I thought the functionality was all there and it did exactly what I needed it to.
Since writing my original post, Pikkado has emerged as a really successful Secret Santa generator, so I wanted to try it out myself and add it to the list here. Pikkado has much of the same functionality as the other two sites, including group management, email notifications, wish lists (that you type out yourself but can add links if you want to be specific) and the ability to add rules to the draw. There are some extra benefits, such as marking group members as “spouses” so that you can set a rule to prevent spouses picking each other. You can also prevent mutual draws (two people drawing each other), which is a nice touch if you want it. As with Draw Names you can re-use the same group each year and prevent people picking the same name twice in a row, and as the draw organiser you can also be involved without having to see who has picked who. Another benefit is that it is a much more international site than Draw Names, which is very much a UK site, with the ability to change language if you need this feature.
One thing is very clear with Pikkado – it has all the bells and whistles when it comes to managing your draw. It even has the facility to run a simulation draw on your group so you can check that all your rules are being met by the engine – perfect if you’re ever paranoid about your draw! However, I personally found most of the additional features unnecessary for a smaller draw, like the one I run.
Pin for later!
So the bottom line… Elfster is a really strong brand and it’s a fun and social site to use. Pikkado has everything you could ever need, and is great if you need to change the language on the site. But for me I prefer the easy-to-use Draw Names, which prides itself on being “the simplest Secret Santa generator online”, and it really is.