We know it’s the thought that counts. The fact that somebody cares enough to give you a present is, really, gift enough.
But now that we’ve appreciated that worthy sentiment, let’s talk merchandise.
We’ve all gotten bad gifts. And we’ve probably given them, through cluelessness or a lack of planning, budget or caring. Instead of finding out what music your teen nephew really likes, you ship him Jimmy Buffett’s Greatest Hits and hope for the best.
One local woman, who never wears cosmetics, was given a huge palette of makeup by her mother-in-law. Her husband got expensive cologne. The daughter-in-law quietly tried to return the makeup but discovered at the store that it had been a free gift with purchase.
It wasn’t her first lame gift. Her family used to give presents to the neighbors, expecting nothing more than a “thanks” in return. But each year, one family would chase after her with a hastily assembled “gift.” One year, it was a few swizzle sticks in an envelope.
“Every time they’d run out of the house with some random crap,” she said. (She, like everybody else, didn’t want her real name printed for obvious reasons.)
At least makeup and swizzle sticks go in drawers. What, for instance, does one do about the feathered Southwestern dream catcher that one’s brother expects to be displayed in one’s sleek, minimalist house?
And where exactly do you put the stuffed sharks?
After Mary bought a house near the beach, everybody started giving her fish-themed gifts. “I’ve gotten to where I hate anything with a fish on it,” she said.
When her father caught two little sharks, Mary said, “he just thought it would be a great idea to have them stuffed and mounted (on a piece of driftwood) as a gift.”
“It hangs in my garage. Whenever my parents come down we dust it off and lean it up against the fireplace and make it look like it’s been there. Dad always comments about how nice it looks, and we look at each other and cringe.”
While Mary may be stuck in a bad-gift quandary, she has a liberal attitude toward giving, in particular, regifting, if the match is good. But the practice can be tricky.
Her kids once received a photo album they never used. So later, she regifted the album to another family. “A couple of years later, they forgot and regifted it back to us.”
For kids, even unspoiled ones, disappointing gifts can hit hard. One over-40 woman still remembers the jeans she got when she was 12.
“Grannie bought me a pair of Toughskins with roller skates on the back pocket for Christmas. I really wanted the trendy Luv-Its with the lips on them. I was sad and horrified. I tried to return them to Sears with no luck as she had bought them the previous year. They were so awful I am still traumatized.”
One middle-aged man said grandparents don’t always understand how old their grandkids are. “My dad’s mom gave me a See ‘n Say when I was 7 years old. I was chapped to get such a baby gift. I still remember the feeling of blood rushing to my face.”
Sometimes, he said, a culture shift is to blame. “When my mom was growing up during the Depression, oranges and nuts were considered good Christmas gifts. But I dumped them on the hearth and dug for better treasure. I am pretty sure I sarcastically called out, ‘Look an orange!’ a time or two until my mom got the hint.”
There are “bad” good gifts, like the Kindle that one bookish 58-year-old’s adult children thoughtfully gave him. It’s still in the box. He plans to open it and set it next to his bed before they come for the holidays. (And, he admits, he may end up loving it.)
There are “good” bad gifts, like Mrs. Weasley’s knit sweaters in Harry Potter. And then there are the plain bad ones. Even when the present is supposed to be “bad,” there are degrees.
At one company’s annual holiday party, it’s a tradition to give bad gifts. But one gift will always stand out – the fetal pig, given by an employee who had posed as a scientist to buy it.
His gruesome gift, unwrapped on the lap of a company executive dressed as Santa, stunned the raucous onlookers.
“Almost as good as the gift itself,” said the exec, “is that in the drunken stupor of the night, the fairly large jar was misplaced so that the pig was not found until several days later. It was a bit disconcerting for the host.”