Not Your Normal Secret Santa — A Creative Christmas Commemoration

Dasmer Singh
4 min readDec 27, 2019


This holiday season, a group of friends from my undergraduate Bollywood dance team at Columbia decided to come together for a Holiday “Secret Santa” Gift Exchange. It was at my apartment in New York and my friend Mallika was my co-host. To make this Secret Santa a little more exciting and meaningful, we collectively decided (via Facebook Messenger poll) that each gift needs to be creative.

Coding the Algorithm

To set the tone early, Mallika and I decided to write the randomization algorithm ourselves to assign gifters to giftee, instead of using traditional Secret Santa websites like Elfster.

Mallika is taking her first coding class (in Python) at Columbia this semester (Fall ’19) and wrote most of the randomization algorithm — an impressive feat for someone so new to code. To inform each member of the group who they are Secret Santa to without also finding out, we needed to encrypt the giftee names so they wouldn’t be easily identifiable by us. This led us to base64 encode the names. So that the gifters could easily see the names I built a webpage, that decodes them and displays them nicely.

The input for Mallika’s script is an array of participant names and the output is a list of gifters and their URLs corresponding to each giftee. Below is an example output of the script:

If Michael Jordan were in our exchange, his Secret Santa (gifter) would have received the following link: In this example, the based64 and URL encoded string for “Michael Jordan” is “TWljaGFlbCBKb3JkYW4%3D”.

Immediately after finishing the webpage, I shared it with Mallika. Her response is below:

Writing code is a superpower, and it totally feels like magic. Abstract ideas come to life in just hours. The code for Mallika’s script and the webpage to render the giftee name is all open source on GitHub at

After generating the links, Mallika DM’d them to each person in the group and made a general announcement in our group chat.

And that was it. Next step: create our gifts and count down the days to Secret Santa!

The Gift Exchange

The day of the exchange was exciting, but also a little nerve-wrecking. “I can’t wait to see what my Secret Santa brought. I hope they tried… I really hope MY giftee likes my gift!” I thought to myself.

The gifts turned out to be incredibly thoughtful. Here’s a rundown:

  1. Custom-made personalized cologne based on the giftee’s scents that he loves most
  2. Scarf that the giftee’s Secret Santa spend 10 hours hand-knitting for him in his favorite color (red)
  3. Theragun-massager, head massager and coloring book for a giftee who absolutely loves massages
  4. Photoshopped framed picture of the giftee as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year with references to his hobbies and interests
  5. Wraparound sweater, slippers and general cozy wear for a giftee who loves winter-wear, especially her turtleneck sweaters
  6. World cup rugby ball to highlight the giftee’s favorite childhood sport
  7. Whiskey rocks for GupShup’s Greatest Glenfiddich Connoisseur
  8. Custom made iPhone app for the current business school student to keep in touch with his network (inspired by Heidi Roizen)


No more boring bottles of wine. Some of the gifts were entirely bought, some were made, some were sort of a hybrid. All of them came from a place of thought. We realized how well each of us knows one other, bringing our group all the more together despite our usual geographic separations.

Secret Santa gift exchanges have been around forever and they’re always a good time, but this one was a little extra special. From working with Mallika to write the gifter/giftee assignment code, to creating a gift, to bonding with a group of friends that are near and dear to my heart, it was absolutely perfect.

Merry Christmas 🎄Cannot wait for next year’s!



Dasmer Singh

Love when others use my technology. Product at Uber. Previously built Venmo.