What started as a game between a couple of hundred New Zealand Twitter enthusiasts in 2010 has spread around the country and now brings Christmas cheer to thousands.
More than 3,500 Twitter users, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Police and local celebrities, have signed up to take part in this year’s Twitter Secret Santa.
Each participant is assigned another user, a person they have probably never met in real life and don’t know anything about apart from their Twitter handle. They then have two weeks to figure out how they can bring joy to their giftee.
Some wade through thousands of old tweets to find something that sparks an idea for a gift. Others don’t want to leave the gift-giving to chance and post hints or whole lists of things they’d like along
with the hashtag #NZSecretSanta.
The nationwide Twitter gifting was the brainchild of Sam Elton-Walters, whose claim to fame until then was growing massive pumpkins. In 2010 he told blogger Greer Berry that “it started with an idea and was all set up in 10 minutes.”
Berry took part in the very first Twitter Secret Santa and each one since then. Even though she can’t remember what her first gift was, she remembers being touched by it.
“I never really thought of myself as a Christmas person. I was the type of person who offered to work at Christmas. But Twitter Secret Santa melted even my cold festive heart,” she says.
As the gifting game became more and more popular, Elton-Walters had to call in support from the “elves at the New Zealand Post.”
New Zealand Post spokeswoman Amanda Broatch says “the logistics, the technology and the postal network were all things we had. It really just seemed like a perfect match.”
The state-owned postal service now receives thousands of Secret Santa parcels and distributes them around the country. They make sure that participants whose Secret Santa does not send a gift – around 9 percent of those who sign up – will receive a present from a sponsor.
— Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) December 12, 2017
Presents meant for people who don’t send a present are given to charity.
Despite having received many thoughtful presents over the years, watching other people open their presents is still Berry’s favourite part of the game.
“Once NZ Post has tweeted saying that the elves are on their way, the anticipation is palpable,” she says.
Ok, so #nzsecretsanta pressie made and ready to package up. Instructions printed off and ready to go.
Hopefully my crafty and Turkish Delight loving recipient likes it and will use it to learn, teach and play.
Ngā mihi. pic.twitter.com/ieVA5Pz5It
— Ernest Cunningham (@gingofthesouth) December 10, 2017
“By following the Twitter hashtag #NZSecretSanta, I would sit there all day refreshing it, seeing all these amazing tweets with photos and descriptions of what people got.
“I usually end up sobbing over my keyboard or phone as I see all the incredible lengths people go to share the Christmas spirit.”
She says that with so much of our lives spent online it is an “awesome buzz to receive something through the post.”
Andrew Frame from Napier has taken part in Twitter Secret Santa every year since 2013 and says it holds a very special place in his heart.
“I was actually out posting my first Secret Santa gift off when my wife went into labour with our daughter, who was born three hours later. Two speedy deliveries and bundles of joy in one day,” he says.
The following year was one with many ups and down for Frame. While adjusting to life as a new father he lost his own dad.
Secret Santas: Would you, or will you, follow your giftee? (If you’re an anonymous giver, pretend following them wouldn’t out you.)#nzsecretsanta
— Auld Lang Sam (@HeySamuelHarris) December 11, 2017
“Whoever they were, they had scrolled through my 80-odd blog posts at the time (that poor, poor, Secret Santa) and found the post I wrote about losing my dad earlier that year,” he said.
His Secret Santa read to the very last paragraph of the article in which Frame bemoaned that his father never got around to soldering together a pair of angel wings for his then-newborn daughter – his
I knew that the person who I am secret santa for lived close to me BUT, I was so shocked to see them outside the post office today when I was on my way to deliver their present… what are the chances 😩😂 #NZSecretSanta @nzsecretsanta
— Zainab Ali (@zainab_ali19) December 10, 2017
When he opened the parcel he was moved to tears. It was a polished wood frame with soldered “Little Angel” wings.
Since then, Frame has put in a little extra effort in making someone else’s Christmas special.
“It makes me still believe in Santa. Even at 40! It’s a lovely event for a wonderful time of year. It truly puts the ‘social’ in Social Media.”
TYI wishes you a very merry Tweetmas!