When one of my friends suggested a few weeks ago that we do our first post-college gift exchange, virtually, my initial thought was that it would never work. One of the pitfalls of your mutuals from college living in different parts of the country is that facilitating pretty much anything — vacations, casual meet-ups, and zoom-dates, alike — can be difficult, to say the least. With our own set of failed attempts piling up, thanks to packed calendars and conflicting schedules, I assumed that the holidays (in a pandemic), would be no different. I was wrong.
First, a bit of context. Most of my friend group and I hit it off in our first few days on campus at Miami University in Ohio, remaining close (and what some would call obnoxiously inseparable) over the next four years. We rolled deep wherever we went and practically invented Friendsgiving. They're one of the only reasons I know how to cook for big groups of people. We've also watched each other discover our dreams, and are now seeing all the sleepless nights working pay off as they come true. Having a large group of girlfriends meant constant support and a guaranteed good time. But it also taught me that whenever there are a bunch of personalities and individual interests in the mix, accommodating everyone is pretty much impossible. Sound familiar?
When it came time to orchestrate our first grown-up gift-exchange, I wasn't sure how it would work, considering many of us live on opposite sides of the country, in different time zones, with our own respective hustles. It was hard enough getting everyone to respond to the group chat in a timely manner (and by everyone, I mean me). However, I realized that none of that mattered as soon as I got the Elfster request in my inbox. Having successfully used the platform and others like it in the past with co-workers, I was interested to see how it would hold up against my friend group.
The "online secret-Santa generator" was created in 2003, and allows the organizer to name your exchange, as well as add dates and spending limits that all participants must adhere to. You'll then have the opportunity to add people via email, and once everyone that wants to participate is on board, the generator will automatically draw names and you'll be emailed your secret-Santa recipient. The best part? Instead of wondering what the person you drew really wants (or needs) this year, Elfster allows all participants to create a wishlist of items that can be pulled from retailers all over the internet for you to purchase from — think, everything from Amazon to Nordstrom.
For my friends, this streamlined method helped curb chaos, but if you decide not to use Elfster or a similar service, a few small tips can keep things simple. Consider having your friends create a wishlist on their favorite retailers, sharing the link once it's complete. Then, when it comes time to enter the shipping info, plug in your friends' address instead to cut out the middle man completely.
But sending your gift isn't the end of it. My friends and I wanted to take things a step further by planning a Zoom happy hour where we could all open the presents together as if it were 2013 and we were sitting in the basement of one of our dorms celebrating the holidays, again. Now, whether or not our schedules will actually allow for that is another story, but this simple and seamless act of appreciation shows that regardless of where we are in the world, it is good enough for me.
Below, shop a few options (both affordable and splurge-y) for your remote friend celebration.
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