The Definitive Rules for Stealing Santa

The Definitive Rules for Stealing Santa
Criminal disguised as Santa Claus holding a gun and carrying a sack full of stolen money, he is robbing houses on Christmas Eve's night, cityscape on the background

Let me be clear: there is one way to play Stealing Santa.

Seeing as how Santa’s not real,1 you don’t need to pretend to be nice during Christmas. And being naughty is so much more fun.

So for some light-hearted, mean-spirited, present re-distribution that indulges the kleptomanic amongst us, you should play Stealing Santa. Maybe with your family, maybe at your work Christmas function. (My hot tip: exclude the kids from the petty thievery, because making kids cry ruins Christmas for everybody.)

The Rules

There are several different variants, but here are the rules that work best:

  1. Agree upon a dollar figure (say, $20).
  2. Everyone brings a wrapped gift worth $20.
  3. Write down a number for every player, e.g. if there are twenty players, write down the numbers 1 to 20 on separate pieces of paper and put these into a hat.
  4. Everyone places their present in the centre, and draws a random number from a hat.
  5. Player 1 picks a present and opens it.
  6. Player 2 decides first whether to steal Player 1’s present, or open a new present, and then does so. (Pro tip: Ensure players declare this loudly before they touch a single present.)
  7. If your present gets stolen, you may either steal from another player, or open a new present.
  8. Once someone opens a new present, move to the next number (#3, #4, and so forth), and repeat step 6.
  9. Continue until everyone’s had a go!

There is an alternate version of the rules which involves opening present BEFORE deciding to steal from others. That is the vastly inferior version of the game.

Two extra rules that are very important:

  • A present cannot be stolen more than 3 times.
  • You can’t steal from the player who just stole from you.

We’ve done Stealing Santa at our work Christmas party several years in a row, and this is the version everyone agrees works best.

(Tiff taught me these rules and used this as her source, so whoever ~alex is, many thanks.)

Tips and Tricks

It’s important that people bring decent gifts. Some people encourage buying generic presents, but I think it’s better for everyone to buy something that they themselves would like. Then at least one person would like to steal every gift, and prodigious theft is what makes this game work.

$20 is a good sum, because it means you can bring a bottle of wine, a book, a CD, a DVD, but YMMV. At our last Christmas party, $20 JB Hifi vouchers were hot property.

If people want to fake out others by disguising the packaging, that should be encouraged.

Also, don’t let players feel all the presents before deciding not to steal instead. If they want to take a present, they have to commit in advance.

I hinted at this earlier, but don’t play this game with small children. Stealing things from small children makes them cry. Wait until they’re adults before ruining Christmas for them, hmmm?

1 I mean, St Nicholas was probably a real guy and was a pretty cool dude by all accounts–he saved women out of poverty and prostitution, that sort of thing–you can go read up about how he was such a beast and a badass. But the chubby guy in a red suit is as fictional as the Easter Bunny, and if I’ve just ruined Christmas for your kid, maybe you shouldn’t let him read over your shoulder when you see a spoiler warning.

This story originally appeared in December 2018.


    • Yeah, we did it with about 50 and it was chaos. My voice was dead by the end, but it was a very good way to spend the time given that it was bucketing down outside.

  • This works pretty well but when it’s done by the family, there is so much dumb shit they add. I don’t fight it anymore, just go along with the shit because they are usually forgettable gifts.

    Once there was all these competition to get points and at the end you got 1 free trade against anyone else. Each year they add more and more shit after the last person has opened a present.

    If you follow the proper rules it works pretty well.

  • The problem with this and the variants that most people play is that it assumes that the value of the gift is greater than the value of opening the gift. The gift opening is the most exciting part (there’s been studies on this stuff by sciencey people).

    I’d suggest the way that it was played at my old game studio works better.
    1. Player 1 opens a gift.
    2. Player 2 opens a gift. They may now swap the gift with player 1 if they wish.
    3. Step 2 is repeated through the rest of the players.
    4. Once all players have had an opportunity to open a gift, Player 1 is allowed to swap whichever gift they’ve wound up with for any of the others.

    It’s all round cleaner and better balanced

  • IMO,

    1\ You can’t steal a present that has already been stolen that ’round’.

    2\ A maximum of three steals in the round before a new present has to be opened.

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