One of the most wholesome communities on Reddit is undoubtedly /r/SecretSanta, the subreddit dedicated to those of us who partake in RedditGifts.

For the uninitiated, is a site that runs year-long Secret Santa exchanges.  Registered users can sign up for gift exchanges with another randomly chosen registered user, and there’s no cost to participate… other than the cost of buying and shipping a gift, of course.

Sadly, it was recently announced that 2021 is the last year that RedditGifts will be live.  The announcement was met with overwhelming hurt, confusion, and disappointment by the community, who did not understand why the popular community was being “sunsetted.”

To understand the phenomenon that was RedditGifts, we have to go back to its conception in 2009, when Redditor /u/kickme444 created a website that would allow Redditors to get blindly matched to another Reddit user to send a Christmas gift.  The success was mind-boggling; over 4,500 people signed up for the first exchange, and the amount spent on gifts and shipping was estimated to be well over $160,000.

It was enough of a success to come back the following year.  This time, participation swelled to 17,000.  Recognizing the need for holiday cheer outside of December, RedditGifts then organized “Arbitrary Day” in June.

I personally have been involved in RedditGifts since 2014.  I probably first heard of it in 2013, when they announced their third world record for Largest Online Gift Exchange.  (They currently hold the Guinness Book of World Records record for the largest online gift exchange for their 2013 Secret Santa exchange, which had 89,421 verified participants.  This beat their previous record of 44,805 participants in 2012.)

Since 2014 I have done over 50 exchanges (and several “rematches” for people who didn’t get a gift, for whatever reason).  RedditGifts is/was a strange hobby of mine, one I invested a lot of time and effort into, and I’d like to talk about it before it goes away forever.

So how’s it work?  Most exchanges have a theme. There’s a two-week period for signing up before sign-ups close and you get your “match.” Matches are, for the most part, random, though considerations are made for some things, like whether or not you’d like to ship internationally.

After getting your match, you have another two weeks to buy and ship a gift, with proof of shipment. Then there’s a two-week period where people post what they got online for others to see.

One of the first questions people ask when I tell them that I engage in year-round Secret Santa exchanges with strangers from the internet is, “So how often do you get screwed?”  I guess it depends on how you look at it; in my first 12 exchanges, there was only one in which I received nothing, though I was “rematched” and got a “back-up” gift.  Of course, the joy of Secret Santa exchanges isn’t receiving, but in giving.  I have thoroughly enjoyed sending people “curated,” themed gifts.  For example, there was my gift for the “apocalypse” exchange, which came with an elaborate backstory involving a pandemic outbreak.  (It hasn’t aged well.)  And there was my “Ron Swanson” gift, which I sent a few days after sending an appropriately-themed card.

Here’s a few highlights of just some of the awesome gifts I’ve received:

  • Disneyland tickets
  • Comic-Con tickets
  • Personalized Christmas ornaments with pictures of my dogs on them
  • A hand-knitted blanket
  • Home-baked cookies
  • A custom laser-etched beer stein
  • A preserved fetal pig (yes, really)

Among some of the more famous participants are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Gates, Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Fallon, and Stephen Colbert.

In 2011, RedditGifts was acquired by Reddit and within two years was generating 14% of its revenue.

One of the gifts I sent out!

So why is it being “sunsetted?”  Details have been sparse, although Reddit CTO /u/KeyserSosa did state that “I would rather see this project go out on a high note than have to write a post about Terrible Awful Things that happened, or, possibly worse, go out in a whimper.”  Some users have taken this to mean there were legal concerns regarding the storage and distribution of private information (notably addresses).  Others have cynically assumed that there’s some sort of issue involving money.

In any case, there’s a few pieces of good news.  The first is that Reddit Gifts will have a few more rounds.  If you want to participate, this is your last chance: there will be exchanges in August, September, and, of course, in December.  Exchanges of note for geeky folks include Funko Pop! in August, as well as LEGO, anime/manga, and crafting supplies in September.

You can sign up to participate in the last few batches of RedditGifts exchange here.

If you try RedditGifts and fall in love with it, as I have, then here’s some more good news: the original creators of RedditGifts have begun working to establish a new gift-giving platform.  While Reddit might be “sunsetting” the “official” RedditGifts, a replacement for it is in the works, and you can find out more over at /r/NewSecretSanta.