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New Zealand Is Warming Hearts With A Nationwide Secret Santa

Christmas lights and decorations adorn a house in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2009.

Nearly 2,000 people in New Zealand are gearing up to spread a little joy by giving a gift to a stranger.

They're taking part in a Secret Santa gift exchange run by the country's postal service. When they sign up, participants include their Twitter handle. Then, a complete stranger is assigned to give them a present, using only their Tweets to do a little sleuthing and figure out what they might like.

Part of the appeal is likely the relative privacy of the exchange: Participants send their gifts to a "Santa Storehouse" run by the New Zealand Post, rather than give out their addresses. And if people don't send a gift for the exchange, the gift meant for them will instead be donated to charity.

Podcaster and giant pumpkin grower Sam Elton-Walter started the exchange in 2010. During a conversation about office gift swaps, he came up with the idea to match people up on Twitter.

It grew from 200 people the first time to more than 800 the third time. "I had the feeling that it was on the brink of out growing myself, and I wanted to have more time to spend with pumpkin related activities," Elton-Walter wrote in a blog post.

He put out a call on Twitter in search of someone to take over the project, and the New Zealand Post stepped up.

The #nzsecretsanta hashtag is full of holiday cheer and tips for gift-giving. For example, these two, who are just happy to participate:

People are also dropping hints about their interests, like these folks:

Over the past few years, it's clear that many of the participants have been genuinely touched by the thoughtfulness of the person they've never met. A conservationist named Dannie posted a video last year showing the moment she unwrapped her present:

She appears to get teary-eyed at times while opening a box brimming with personalized items, including a Star Wars bobble head, a set of glow-in-the-dark penguins, and a website set up to raise money for yellow-eyed penguins — a particular passion of hers.

"The fact that it can be a stranger on the Internet and that they can do this for you — with all these things that are the things that I like or am interested in or passionate about, and especially this fundraiser — is just amazing," Dannie says at the end of the video.

Others over the years have told Elton-Walter about the deep personal significance of the exchange.

"I had a couple of people say a big thank you to me because for whatever reason ... they said 'this is the only gift I got at Christmastime and you made my Christmas'," he said, as The New Zealand Herald reported.

The New Zealand Post really goes the extra mile for the holidays — it will also let kids make and send digital postcards to Santa, which then receive a personalized response from the jolly old elf "himself."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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