‘It was quite weird coming over here and being a small fish in a big pond, especially with the time shift. Being 12 hours out I don’t have the same access to my communities as I did before so I had to create one.
— Rachel Rayner

Rachel Rayner hopes to bring light into Londoners' lives this Christmas through her Secret Santa initiative.

The native New Zealander is bringing the concept of anonymous gift giving to thousands in the UK's capital city - a place where potential for loneliness is rife this time of year.

'London Secret Santa worked very well in New Zealand, and I thought it would be fun to import it now I live in the UK,' says Rachel.

'The initiative is an experiment and I'm hoping it will encouraging togetherness through social networks, and spread joy at Christmas time outside of the traditional family set-up.'

Rachel, 29, moved with her New Zealander boyfriend Jesse Kershaw from Auckland at the end of July 2015, and now works in marketing at a PR company.

'He has a UK passport as well and I now have a tier five youth mobility visa. We moved here for the adventure pretty recently. Jesse isn't directly involved with London Secret Santa but supports me with occasional retweets and general encouragement.'

Rachel lived in Auckland for most her life. Despite the fact it's the largest city in New Zealand it's still 'a pretty small town' of around 1.5 million people.

'I was quite active on the New Zealand Twitter scene, crossing into many different loose communities - the knitters, the eukelele players, the feminists, and the left wing political people.

'This brought me quite a lot of benefits: friends, jobs, a flatmate, even my best friend.'

But upon moving to the UK, Rachel found herself lost in a sea of isolated individuals.

'It was quite weird coming over here and being a small fish in a big pond, especially with the time shift. Being 12 hours out I don't have the same access to my communities as I did before so I had to create one.

'London Secret Santa was inspired by someone at work saying people in London don't speak to each other and they don't know their neighbours. This is one way to build a community.'

Rachel was involved in New Zealand Secret Santa [#NZSecretSanta] for five years. While she didn't set it up or run it she participated every year and loved making someone's day in this way. She's the first to say the gifts she gives are awesome.

London Secret Santa is run in the same way as its NZ counterpart. You sign up with Twitter through www.londonsecretsanta.co.uk and you're assigned a fellow Twitter user. Santa's Elves (i.e., an excel spreadsheet) decides who, but it will not be the same person who is sending your gift. You follow them, get to know their likes and hobbies and send them a gift you think they will love, costing up to £5. The deadline to sign up is November 30.

'I contacted the person who started it. He goes by @WebSam and is a bit of a character. He lives in a small town called Hamilton and is famous for growing giant pumpkins and his great moustache.'

Rachel reached out to him when she knew she'd be emigrating, and he was more than happy to let her set up and run a London branch of the not-for-profit gift-giving initiative. He has since passed the running of the NZ operation to NZ Post (like Royal Mail in the UK) as it grew too big for his team.

'Last year I got matched with a sports fan,' says Rachel. 'I don't really follow sports myself so finding her a gift was going to be a challenge.'

'I found out on her social media pages that she calls herself "the world's biggest All Blacks fan [rugby team]", so I got her one kilo of black jelly beans and an image I photoshopped of a jelly bean resembling a rugby ball.'

Rachel's Secret Santa match posted an image of her gift online sharing how delighted she was with her gift.

'She said it was her favourite type of jelly bean. It could have gone either way.'

Rachel says participating in a large-scale Secret Santa is a privilege.

'It's a great feeling to make someone's day and make a new connection. I would have never interacted with these people otherwise but I got to see a slice of this person's life for a few weeks and make them happy.

'I've always signed my cards in the past [optional]. I feel like I've always given a really good gift. I also got a pair of awesome cat earrings which I really love, I'm definitely a cat person.'

The NZ initiative attracts thousands each year - which is a significant proportion of the country's total population of 4.5 million.

'So many people play NZ Secret Santa and it causes a great deal of excitement. It's a big part of Christmas.'

Rachel says bringing it to London will be an interesting social experiment.

'Will this work? Are communities too spread out to have the level of trust and crossover? It's an interesting question.'

There have been quite a people have signup so far but Rachel hopes this will surge in the run up to the deadline of November 30. [now extended by a few days] 

'I've done a few Twitter ads, flyers in my neighborhood and on my social networks. 

Rachel has noticed that 'Christmas is functioning a little differently here'. 

'In New Zealand it's the middle of summer so everyone just spends all of December and January on the beach.

'There is a difference in the season in the UK and there's potential for an even bigger impact here in London. It's so cold and dark and on one hand the sparkly lights are making a lot more sense here as they are really brightening and cheering things up.

'On the other hand a lot of people don't celebrate Christmas with families and instead rely on friend networks through the festive period.

'London Secret Santa is showing the world you can spread joy during a time that can trigger bad experiences. 

Sign up today as the deadline has now been extended

Sign up today as the deadline has now been extended

'You can't really escape Christmas so having a neutral gift exchange can be really helpful to a lot of people.'