Experiment 5 Secret Santa By Group 6

Secret Santa

By Group 6: Kristjan Buckingham, Jessy (Xin Zhang)





Project description 

As socially distanced Christmas is becoming a reality for many families this year, it is important to find ways to stay connected and be present despite the distance. Secret Santa allows users to be present in each other’s homes through passive interactions. Every time a gift is added to one of three stockings, a message is sent to the other user’s home, so the recipient has the chance to catch a glimpse of their “Secret Santa” leaving them a present. Since many gifts will have to be mailed, this interaction mimics the anticipation of watching presents pile up under the tree.

The stockings are lined with conductive tape connected to a capacitive touch sensor which lights up LEDs to let the sender know the message has been sent. Once a message is received, this lights up different LEDs to notify the recipient that another gift has been added to their stocking from afar.

Since the LEDs lighting up is a relatively subtle effect that fades after a short time, the user who receives the message has to be lucky enough to catch it, which adds to the excitement of knowing that another present is on its way. The touch sensors could also be used in different ways to develop other meanings or secret messages for one another. Although Secret Santa focuses on gift-giving as the primary interaction, it is more about letting loved ones know they are being thought of even if it may not be possible to be together.

Experience Video 


How It Works Video 

Final project images 




Development images 






Link to the Arduino code hosted on Github

Player 1https://github.com/xinzhang-jessy/experiment5-secret-santa/blob/main/SecretSantaJessy_02.ino
Player 2: https://github.com/xinzhang-jessy/experiment5-secret-santa/blob/main/SecretSantaKristjan02.ino


Circuit Diagram 

Kristjan’s Circuit


Jessy’s Circuitscreen-shot-2020-12-04-at-9-07-50-pm


Project Context

Secret Santa is an interactive project, combining light and remote presence to build interpersonal communication.  From the perspective of interaction, it is also a multiplayer game based on remote presence. When there are more than three players, this installation could be more playful. As any player’s action can have the same effect on a remote device, players can guess among themselves who triggered the device.

Generally, light is a sign of presence, when people come home after a day’s work, the most common thing we do is to turn on the lights. ‘The use of light is also essential to show that you are at home and to manifest the presence of life.’ In other words, light can indicate the presence. In our project, we use light as a signal to indicate the container has been occupied and the presence of the object.

Additionally, for remote presence, nowadays, phones have provided synchronous voice or face-to-face communication and to some extent asynchronous messaging. This remote delivery and control give people an opportunity to overcome the geographic distance to get to know what happened in the other place, however, the way people previously conveyed emotions or relationships through objects is weakening. ‘We all have our own experiences of postcards and pictures hanging on refrigerators and mirrors in our homes. These common artifacts exhibit often a link between individuals.’ Through this work, we want to build a connection through a series of activities that happened mostly from life. As daily activities can increase people’s emotional resonance to increase remote communication. Although the legend of Santa Claus only exists in the children’s world, these recognized symbols could be the representation of the festival. This cognitive consensus is the basis for motivating people to communicate remotely. When one person touched or placed objects in Christmas stockings, sensory lights in the straps turn on in two places, it could be a reminder for the other one to do the same thing or could view as a way of communication.


  1. “Maintaining human connection in time of social distancing.” Mayo Clinic Health System, 23 Mar. 2020, https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/maintaining-human-connection-in-time-of-social-distancing. Accessed 2 Dec. 2020. 
  2. Szklarski, Cassandra. “Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season.” CTV News, 29 Oct. 2020, https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/experts-advise-preparing-for-a-scaled-back-covid-holiday-season-1.5165713. Accessed 2 Dec. 2020. 
  3. ‘Understanding Remote Presence,’ Konrad Tollmar & Joakim Persson, NordiCHI, October 19-23, 2002