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Kris Kringle – The Rules of Christmas & Holiday Gift Exchange

Kris Kringle is just another name for Secret Santa, the famous gift exchange game. Here’s how to enjoy it!

When we think of Christmas, regardless of where we are on the globe, the picture that comes to mind is one of joy, celebrations, eating, and togetherness.

This sentiment was represented by a single figure that epitomized all that the Christmas season meant to the world’s people: Old Father Christmas, the embodiment of a cheerful character, a giving heart, and a symbol of the good old days.

This embodiment of the Christmas spirit spread far and wide throughout time. People from all over the world ultimately came to celebrate the joyful folklore tale’s life and create their own depictions of the merry guy himself.

However, who or what exactly is Kris Kringle? Let’s find out!

Kris Kringle Origin

While Kris Kringle is a lesser-known and under-researched representation of the Christmas spirit, there are a few things we can say for certain about him.

First, he has a stronger religious connection than any of his previous incarnations, as shown by his name, ‘Kris Kringle,’ a British translation of the Pennsylvania German Christkinkle, an alternate form of the German Christkindl or Christkindl. In other words, the name refers to him as a physical embodiment of the infant Jesus.

While most nations have accepted the modern idea of Santa Claus instead of Kris Kringle and Old Father Christmas, the Pennsylvania Dutch continue to use this moniker in the United States. 

However, in German-speaking countries such as Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Hungary, the Son of God is seen as the traditional Christmas gift-bringer, born into the world to deliver gifts to the people throughout the Christmas season.

Kris Kringle is also credited with inventing the custom of hanging our stockings on the altar above the fireplace, or what was originally called hanging our stockings in the chimney. 

However, according to Grigg and Elliot’s 1847 book Kris Kringle’s Christmas Tree, this German custom was replaced in the 16th century by the practice of bringing in a Christmas Tree to put on a central table in anticipation of Kris Kringle’s annual arrival.

Traditionally, the whole family gathers in the living room to unwrap gifts before informing their children that Christkind has gone after delivering the gifts. In some cultures, the departure is signaled by the ringing of a tiny bell by one of the adult family members.

Now that we know about Kris Kringle, let’s learn about the Kris Kringle Gift Exchange.

What is Kris Kringle Gift Exchange?

Secret Santa, or more popularly known as Kris Kringle, is a beloved Christmas custom. Secret Santa is a western custom that began in 1948 and is still prevalent across the globe.

Regardless of the name, it is a pleasant custom often observed in businesses, community organizations, and big family events. Each participant’s name is written on a slip of paper and then placed in a box, bowl, or hat. Following that, each participant draws one slip of paper. That is the individual to whom they must buy a gift anonymously for presentation at the specified Christmas function.

It is an excellent opportunity for family, friends, and bigger groups of people to participate in the festive joy of gift-giving on a budget.

Each individual writes a shortlist of Kris Kringle gifts they would like to receive within the money allotted for gift buying in certain variations of Kris Kringle. It is usual to limit the amount of money that can be spent on presents.

The gift donor will disclose their identity by delivering the gift straight to the recipient. At the same time, everyone is gathered together to learn their gift giver’s identity. The additional money saved by this practice is pooled and donated to a charity selected by the group.

In short, Kris Kringle is a gift exchange in which participants purchase gifts for one another.


If you are unsure of the rules or how to play the Kris Kringle gift exchange, we are here to assist you. The following are the typical rules for the Kris Kringle gift exchange game.

  • Whoever wishes to participate should bring an unwrapped, unlabeled gift valued at about $N (N represents the predetermined value, e.g., 10/20$).
  • The gifts are strategically arranged under the Christmas tree.
  • Each person who brings a gift writes down their name on a piece of paper.
  • All papers are collected in a glass bowl or a hat.
  • The host selects a name from the bowl/hat, starting the first round.
  • That individual selects and unwraps a gift after the end of the first round.
  • Then the same individual chooses a second name from the container, starting another round.
  • That new individual now chooses to rob the first person or select and unwrapping a new gift. If they steal, the first person chooses and unwraps a new gift, ending the second round.
  • Now, rounds will continue with a new person being selected until everyone has made their selection or no more gifts to steal. 
  • A gift can be stolen only once per round, which is a good way to keep track of this if you have a large group. And you can tell everyone to place their gifts on their laps at the start of each round and on the floor once they have been stolen.
  • If a person’s name is chosen and already has a gift, they choose to either keep their gift or to steal from another person. If they choose to steal a gift, they trade gifts, and the round continues.
  • This cycle continues until the last name is drawn. At this point, that person can either keep what they have, which finishes the game or steal a gift, and the round continues.
  • This rule is the very basic one and is used to play globally. 

However, you can add something extra to increase the fun and excitement. Here are some more versions of playing Kris Kringle.

Allocated Kris Kringle

This works for my new in-laws since there are many of them. Each participant is given the name of another group member for whom they are to purchase a gift. It is a lot of fun and saves a lot of money.

You can also use a Kris Kringle generator website to distribute names automatically, ensuring that everyone stays anonymous.

Dirty Santa

This is enjoyable and awakens the evil in everyone. As with the last exchange, you assign a gift to each participant. After the first person opens their gift, each successive person has the option of opening their own or stealing the already-opened gift of the person who came before them.

Because you are not allowed to open your gift first, it is always a gamble. Will your gift be superior to the one you want to steal? This process is repeated until the last gift is opened. At this point, the person who initiated the game can pick from all the opened gifts.

If you find yourself somewhere in the middle of the exchange rather than at the beginning or end, choose the second-best gift, since the best will always get taken.

Mystery Kringle

This is for a large group that asks members to bring a generic gift. If someone does not show up, no one loses out on getting a gift.

Each gift is assigned a unique number, and then each person draws a number from a hat and gets the matching gift.

Conspiracy Santa 

If you are the kind of person who struggles with gift-giving, Conspiracy Santa is the solution for you. As with the traditional Kris Kringle, when you pick a name, the twist is that the whole group collaborates to “conspire” on the greatest present to give a group member. It works in this way, they leave one person out of the group to debate what present to give that individual (who was left), and the one who draws the name will get the lovely gift.

Krap Kringle

This concept is where the gift must be something you already own but no longer want. You exchange it in the same manner as with mystery Kringle or dirty Santa. It is an excellent time to unload anything unsightly or re-gift something from the previous year. One person’s garbage can be another person’s treasure, or it can be recycled in next year’s Krap Kringle.

Kris Kringle or Secret Santa is just one of many gift exchange games played during the Christmas holidays. There are a lot more gift exchange games that are played worldwide. White Elephant, Grab Bag, Hot Potato, Hidden Gifts Treasure Hunt, Guess the Guest, Spin the Candy, and Roll the Dice are popular gift exchange games played by people of all ages around the globe.


Now you know who Kris Kringle is and how to play the Kris Kringle gift exchange game. Follow the game rules (or you can add some if you want) to enjoy the gift exchange during the holiday season. Have a great time with your friends and family and Merry Christmas!

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