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It’s that time of year again! That time when secrets, lies, and well-intentioned office subterfuge are in the air.

That time when we talk about our coworkers behind their backs, psychoanalyze their every move and Slack message, try to eek out their interests and tastes based on water-cooler small talk, and set secret plans about them into motion.

That’s right: it’s Conspiracy Santa time.

If you haven’t heard of Conspiracy Santa—or you and your coworkers are tired of exchanging chocolate-covered pretzels and novelty socks—it’s time to learn how to shake things up like Lightburn did a few years back.

So crank up George Michael’s “Last Christmas,” grab the Beaujolais that’s been in the office closet since the 2013 holiday party, and jauntily place a Santa hat on your head. It’s time to reinvent the office-Christmas paradigm.

So, What Even is Conspiracy Santa?

Conspiracy Santa is a twist on Secret Santa where instead of 1-to-1 giving of some kind, the entire team works together to ‘conspire’ to get a gift for each person. That means for our team of twenty, nineteen people collude on gift ideas for a recipient.

After a few hundred Slack messages are exchanged—many of which are something to the effect of “uh, I think he likes basketball?” and “pretty sure Deb said she went camping once in 1994”—the deepest contents of the recipient’s soul are revealed (“no, it’s baseball he digs, he played on his college team” and “yes, she went camping in 1994 and every year since then”).

Then, gifts are suggested and decided upon, the organizer purchases it, and before long, gifts are unwrapped at the company holiday party.

How to Do It

  • Nominate an organizer: Pick someone from your team to create and manage the gift discussion, coordinate ordering and shipping, make sure gifts stay in budget, etc. Usually the organizer is equal parts Christmas enthusiast/spreadsheet guru/second- or third-to-last-hired person who got stuck with the duty.
  • Timeframe: Your timeframe depends on how many people are on your team and when you plan on handing out the gifts. Figure on at least six weeks because you’ll need time to conspire, order presents, and wrap gifts.
  • Tools: As avid Slack users, we use the app to share personal anecdotes about our coworkers and keep our channels of collusion organized. Using a group-chat platform wherein you can create private channels is also useful for real-time link sharing of gift ideas/GIF ideas.

Weird Things We've Gifted People

A side perk of CS is that it sometimes forces the team to get weird with it, especially if it’s conspiring for a newer hire, quieter person, corporate spy, secret robot, emotionally stunted manchild, international woman of mystery, etc.

Our office has been graced with some delightful weirdos with unusual hobbies over the years, so we’ve given out some strange gifts as a result. But hey, we figure the weirder, the better. Here’s how we’ve gotten creative with the art of gift-giving:

  • An ax
  • Car parts
  • Beyonce votive candle
  • T-shirt with a cat throwing up a rainbow atop a pizza
  • Mustache wax
  • Gender-neutral baby doll
  • Lobster-print button down
  • Desk space heater
  • Blood paint
  • Canned coyote

Other Practical Tips

  1. Set a budget. Whether it’s $50 or $200, set a budget for each person and stick to it. It helps to have a Conspiracy Santa organizer who keeps track of progress, gifts, and budgets. Also helpful for preventing your coworkers from Michael Scott-ing the white elephant exchange.
  2. Make baseless speculations about your coworkers. Who knows? Maybe something you once heard them casually mention is, indeed, a passion, budding interest, or foundation for a hilarious prank gift. (Editor’s note: prank or novelty gifts are lazy, and CS is all about truly capturing your coworkers’ spirits in gift form. You’re better than that, we know it.)
  3. Phone it in. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or spouse, it’s helpful to have the option to “phone-a-friend” in case you need help with gift ideas or apparel sizes/color preferences/blood-paint type.
  4. Party hard. This could be at your office or at an off-site location. Just make sure it involves spiced meats, a plate of crudités in the shape of a Christmas tree, a work-appropriate amount of spirits, and the finest ugly Christmas sweaters money can buy at Urban Outfitters the night before the party.

Special shout out to Zapier, one of our favorite integration tools, for inspiring us to participate in this crazy holiday tradition. Check out their initial blog post here

Erin Swanson
Lightburn Alum