UPDATE: Registration for EMULSIVE Santa 2019 has closed.

Registration for the fifth EMULSIVE Santa is now open until October 31st! If you have participated in at least one previous event, you’ve already been invited. Please check your inbox. If you don’t have an invite or are playing for the first time, please finish reading this article first and then complete the registration form at the bottom of the page.

Nearly 1200 players in over 50 countries came together to participate in 2108’s fourth EMULSIVE Santa. To everyone who participated, thank you so very much for helping to spread joy across our global family. This article lays down some background information about the event, how it works and how you can participate. Here’s what’s covered:

What is EMULSIVE Santa?

It’s just like a normal Secret Santa that you might play with your family, friends or at work. Everyone’s name goes into a hat and each person is matched randomly with another player they’re matched to buy a gift for.

Everyone ends up with a match and gift-giving goes round in an imaginary circle. It’s not a pairing, you are not giving a gift to the person who is buying you one.

This graphic might help:

EMULSIVE Secret Santa - How it works

EMULSIVE Santa is about giving (and receiving) the gift of film photography. You commit to sending a fellow lover of film photography a gift – with a value of at least US$20 – be it film, a box camera, or perhaps something bigger. All forms of analogue photography gifts are permitted, be it wet/dry plates, instant, or something else.

The act of giving is as important as the gift you receive. Take your time, write a card, get creative with wrapping and throw in a few local sweets and a few of your prints.

We’re celebrating photography and community. The person you will be sending a gift to is part of our global family, so throwing a few dusty rolls or broken gear into a cardboard box isn’t going to cut it. In short: give as you would like to receive.

Event timeline

Registration is open from October 1st until October 31st. No exceptions.

The draw to select matches will be made over November 4th to 6th and you’ll receive details of the person you’re matched to send a gift to some time on the November 7th.

The deadline for sending gifts out is November 30th at the very latest. That gives you a little over three weeks to get your gift together and approximately the same to arrive at its destination.

Matching and wish lists

If you’re new to all this, I’ll reiterate that you are not exchanging gifts with the person sending you a gift.

Additionally, depending on your RSVP, this person you are matched to send a gift to may well be in a different country to you. Please be aware that if you chose not to ship internationally but are the only person in your country to join the event, you will be matched to send a gift to someone in another country – get around this by inviting your friends – physical and virtual.

When you get your match you’ll be able to see their wish list and the person matched to send you a gift — your Santa — will be able to see yours. Creating (or updating) your wish list is incredibly important as, without it, your Santa won’t have a clue what to get you.

You can find out about adding to your wish list in the “Get involved…” section below.

Sending and receiving gifts

This is the FUN part. Your match’s wish list should give you everything you need to find out what they shoot and might be interested in. If not, you can get in touch with them directly to ask a few additional questions – messages are sent anonymously so they won’t know who you are at that point.

With your gifts selected and purchased, it’s time to wrap them up, throw in a print or two, add a note or letter and maybe some local sweets/food.

Take a photo of it all and go ahead and post it on social media along witth the #EMULSIVEsanta19 hashtag. You can also tag EMULSIVEfilm on Twitter and Instagram and EMULSIVEsanta on Twitter.

All that’s left is for you to pack it all up securely and ship it. Please do try to use a tracked service. It doesn’t have to be next day DHL but a tracking number will be a massive help to not only figure out where lost parcels are but to get your money back if there’s a problem – last year around 2% of parcels suffered damage, were lost or never arrived. The more protection you have, the better.

Here are a few examples of gifts both sent and received last year.

Please, please, please try no to open your gift before Christmas Day. You should be able to unpack it, take a photo and stick it under your tree. When you do, take a photo tagging the accounts above and using the #EMULSIVEsanta19 hashtag.

When Christmas Day finally rolls around, post a picture of your opened gift on social media and if your Santa has let you know who they are, go ahead and tag them. For inspiration, check out the posts made on Twitter between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day last year.

Don’t be one of those people

EMULSIVE Santa is organised in good faith and while you can decide to remain anonymous, your actions reflect on yourself, EMULSIVE and the good name of the analogue photography community.

In short, this is not a time to rid yourself of broken gear or useless film that you no longer want. If you don’t intend on sending anything, don’t play. It’s definitely not the time to be a freeloader.

Speaking of which, remember those Bad Santas I mentioned above? Despite repeated attempts at communication via email and social media, the following ~1% of 2018’s players have been banned from participating in this and future events organised by EMULSIVE and last year’s sponsors:

Congratulations to Tim L, Fiona F, Sam B, Adrian K, Amanda C, Sebastian S, Sarah S, Jonathan H, Yossi Y, Arseny S, Boucher L, Anton L and Tom W for having joined this “elite” group.

Whilst on the subject, a huge, huge thanks to everyone who’s helped to pick up the pieces and get gifts sent out to their matches. Sadly, an additional ~20 players were left out in the cold due to postal troubles — everything from empty packages returned to senders, damaged goods along the way, recipients not picking up their parcels and bear attack.

While I’ve tried to get to the bottom of all of them, I’m unable to guarantee a fix for each and every problem. With the help of some amazing people in our community, I am trying though.

How to get involved

Event registration is wide open and the window is intentionally short. You have 31 days to register and not a minute more. You can expect a hints and tips guide over the next week or so giving you ideas and suggestions for finding, packing and sending your goodies out. I’ll update this article with a link at that time.

If you do not already have an invite in your inbox you will need to complete the form linked below to receive your invitation link. This “double registration” system for new players was introduced back in 2017 in an attempt to reduce the number of no-shows and along with a few other manual checks, it helped to reduce the no-show rate to a little over 1% of players for 2018’s event.

After you have signed up for the event there are two things that each and every player absolutely must do. They are:

  • Set a profile picture
  • Complete a wish list

Sounds simple? It is. The reason for what might be considered two anally retentive requests is that signing up for an event where you promise to send something with a minimum value of US$20 is simple. Forgetting to send that gift is even more so.

By setting a profile picture and creating your wish list you are showing that you are engaged and interested. It takes only a little effort to complete these two steps but when it comes to being matched, having both of these in place will give your Santa (the person sending you a gift), confidence that they’re matched with someone who took time out of their day to do it. You know yourself better than anyone, so please take a moment to tell people what you’d like by adding a wish list.

You’ll be able to create or add to your wish list once you’ve created an account on Elfster. You can do this by clicking the “Add To Wish List” button and on the next screen, you’ll be able to search for products directly or, more likely for film photography products and those nebulous requests, you can add in your own custom text or add a direct link from another website. Check out the screenshots below.

Got questions? Send me an email once you’re registered on Elfster and I’ll do my best to help.

And that brings me to an important aspect of this year’s event: anyone…and I mean anyone who does not have a profile picture or wishlist set by November 1st will be removed from the event.

No exceptions.

You can use the #EMULSIVEsanta19 hashtag on social media to talk about it and tag @EMULSIVEfilm pretty much anywhere on the internet. Share the word with your friends and followers, and if you’d like to get the attention of the entire Santa team, please tag @EMULSIVEsanta on Twitter.

A word on 2018…

Last year’s event had some incredible highs. Breaking the 1000 player mark was an amazing feeling, especially considering the concept of “Community Causes” as a way of giving something back to those people supporting the community at the grassroots level.

I’m sad to say that it didn’t pan out. The numerous requests we made for community causes nominations fell flat and there wasn’t a compelling volume to work with. We tried but in the end, the decision was made to pause and reevaluate for 2019. Perhaps the problem was that there’s not enough awareness of those in our community who run workshops, classes, darkrooms and events that promote and support film photography. If so, that’s something we need to work on.

As a result of the above and feeling like I let everyone down, I’ve decided to reduce the sponsorship aspect. At the time of writing, there are no sponsors for this years event, nor have I reached out for their support.

It’s over to you

I don’t want to end this announcement on a sad note, so let me leave you with this: creating and running EMULSIVE Santa for the past four — now five — years has been a life-affirming experience. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, it’s stressful and at times infuriating but when it comes down to it, seeing you all prepare, post and crack open your gifts on Christmas Day makes it all both worthwhile and rather humbling.

There’s more love out there than a casual experience of today’s social media may lead you to believe, so sign up, get thinking, get wrapping and help bring joy to one of your siblings in this global film photography family of ours.

Thanks for reading,

~ EM

PS. One super important credit: a huge thanks to Aislinn Chuahiock for the cover photo and support in pulling all this together!

Register for EMULSIVE Santa 2019

Please complete this Google form and grab the event invite from the confirmation page (shown after you submit it). This link is unique to you and cannot be used by anyone else. You must use that link to register on Elfster by October 31st.

Additional important information

Not everyone is well-versed in the intricacies of postal etiquette. Make sure that you package your gifts properly – no loose items rolling around, adequate protection and tape to secure the box closed.

If sending internationally, indicate that the items being sent are GIFTS. This is important as it will help customs assess that what you are sending MAY NOT be subject to tax. Subsequently, please do not blame your Santa should your package be charged your local import duty. It’s all just part of your country’s postal system.

Before sounding any alarms, please do your due diligence: track, trace, and check in with your local postal hub. Your postman may have left a claim card for you, or left your package with a neighbour.

If you’ve received tracking information from your Santa, the best place to start with with the postal company in charge. Worst case, get in touch and we’ll get your Santa involved. Over two-thirds of all problems with missing gifts is the postal system but if you cover yourself with tracking/insurance, it’s easy to recover any lost money.

Disclaimers and terms

EMULSIVE is not Elfster (the service provider used for the listing/matching). If you have any qualms about the level of your data protection, then I will have to suggest you bow out and not participate.

We’ve tested out and researched a few service providers along the way and Elfster seemed to come out on top for the functionality they provide and what they do with data provided by their users.

We have no affiliation or commercial/personal connection with Elfster and you use the service at your own risk. Don’t forget that I’m putting my details on there, too.

Should anything terrible happen (they get hacked, lose your data, etc.), we really can’t take any responsibility. We’re using them in good faith, as much as you are.

Elfster is a public service, so we ask that you don’t invite participants in this event to others you may decide to create without their express consent. We’re sorry but anyone found doing this will be excluded from entry.

What is EMULSIVE Secret Santa?

EMULSIVE Secret Santa is the world’s largest annual film and traditional photography gift exchange and works like any “normal” Secret Santa you might play among co-workers or family and friends.

When can I register for EMULSIVE Secret Santa?

For 2019’s fifth annual event, registration is open from October 1st until October 31st.

How can I join?

Visit emulsive.org and the latest EMULSIVE Secret Santa article. You will find a registration form at the bottom of the page.

How much should I spend?

The minimum gift value is US$20 excluding shipping.

Share your knowledge, story or project

The transfer of knowledge across the film photography community is the heart of EMULSIVE. You can add your support by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.

If you like what you're reading you can also help this passion project by heading over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and contributing as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.

About the author

Avatar - EM

Founder, overlord, and editor-in-chief at EMULSIVE.org. I may be a benevolent gestalt entity but contrary to increasingly popular belief, I am not an AI.

, and please make sure you also check out their website here.

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  1. Happy to participate for the first time. I checked the international shipping box, for I’m in The Netherlands and don’t expect too much Dutch guys to attend. I’m willing to ship worldwide, no problem there, but will you match people by continent? Sending within the EU is much easier and faster for me and might avoid import taxes for the recipient. Thanks.

  2. I think that the spending limit should be set , not to a minimum but to a max. looking at the previous Emulsive santa pics these gifts of multiple boxes of 120 film etc. are well in excess of the minimum spend
    and well over 100 dollars / euros which is well outside some peoples budget and probably a put off for those who can’t afford this level of spending at such a expensive time of the year. I feel that this is a great idea but should attract all analogue enthusiasts and from all social backgrounds.
    Brendan Norris

    1. Previous events have had a discretionary “max spend” but honestly, people still exceed it and I’m ok with that. I don’t want to stifle people’s generosity. Messaging saying it’s ok to not be pressured IS important, though. Thanks for taking the time out the leave a comment, Brendan 🙏

  3. Interesting to not see the person who left me hanging wasn’t named on that list. Well, there’s still 2 months and 20 days to go. Maybe it’ll show up any day now. 😛