Gelt image from Wikimedia Commons. By Maor X - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

How To Create Your Very Own “Mystery Maccabee”

Move over, Secret Santa

It’s officially December, which means those of us who have been squeezing out every last ounce of fall possible are now faced with a challenge: with only a couple of weeks until Hanukkah, how will we ever bring the holiday cheer we keep hearing about on the radio?

You might have heard of Secret Santa, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Mystery Maccabee (which has eight candles, plus a shammas see what I did there?)! It’s a simple set-up with a big pay-off of fun and good spirits for all who participate. If your own idea oil is burning low for holiday activities, give this game a spin– it’s sure to be a gimmel!

Step 1: Recruit your Maccabees. Each year a couple of weeks before Hanukkah, I send an email to my coworkers explaining how the game works. I also link to a spreadsheet in which they catalog their basic interests so that their Maccabee can clandestinely gather gift ideas. Examples include their favorite food, color, treat, item of clothing, media, charity, hobbies, and animals. Alternatively, if you’re a pen-and-paper sort of crew, you can compile questionnaires and photocopy the results to be redistributed during the next step.

Step 2: Draw names. Randomly assign everyone another person who is participating. I usually wait a week until everyone has the chance to opt-in and fill out the spreadsheet, then I write their names on slips of paper and have everyone draw one (that’s not their own). Make sure they know to keep their person a secret!

Step 3: Go shopping. Maccabees can buy one large gift or a series of small gifts for their person. Cap the budget at $10 or $15 to keep it accessible and creative. This is a great time for participants to get to know each other better as they learn what everyone is interested in. Again, they should keep the gift a secret from their person– and maybe any others who would give it away!

Step 4: Strike like Judah’s hammer! AKA, it’s time to deliver the gifts! Throughout Hanukkah, Maccabees surreptitiously deliver their gifts to their person. It can be all at once or spread out throughout the week. Some people like to include riddles, puzzles, or other clues to help the person figure out their identity. Others enlist the help of go-betweens to deliver the gifts in person, especially if they are travelling during the holiday.

Step 5: Time for the big reveal! Toward the end of the holiday, gather your participants (ideally with the promise of sufganiyot and other yummy Hanukkah treats). Have people guess who their Maccabee is before announcing their true identities. Be creative, and have fun with it!

As we celebrate that a “great miracle happened there,” I hope you enjoy bringing these moments of small miracles to your friends and family!

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