When presented with a Christmas present, do you tentatively peel back the wrapping, your excitement tempered by trepidation? If so, you’ve at one point probably fallen victim to a bad gift.
When presented with a Christmas present, do you tentatively peel back the wrapping, your excitement tempered by trepidation?
If so, you’ve at one point probably fallen victim to a bad gift.
You’re not alone. Many area residents have experienced the same thing, and they’ve agreed to share their stories.
What’s a bad gift? It’s not something that’s simply the wrong size or color. A bad gift is something that is so unexpected and undesirable that it elicits shock, embarrassment or maybe even tears.
But usually a bad gift is good for a laugh — even if it did not seem funny at the time.
Dawn King, 81, recalled a gift her then-husband gave her many years ago. OK, it might be a stretch to call it a gift, since it was presented with payment due.
It was in the late 1950s, and her family was struggling financially. Despite the hardship, on Christmas her husband gave her a large, beautifully-wrapped box topped with a red bow. King opened it and found a very nice gift indeed: an electric vacuum.
Also in the box was a payment booklet. Her husband had paid $5 down, and the $5-a-month payments were now King’s responsibility.
“We were in pretty dire straits, but he could have done better than that,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll tell you, the wrapping probably cost as much as the down payment.”
She accepted the gift graciously, saying she put on a good show, but what was she really thinking?
“If only I could kill him,” she said, still laughing.
Sometimes, recipients can read too much into a gift, finding symbolism where none exists. In other words, sometimes a ThighMaster is just a ThighMaster.
But Tiffany Wavering can be forgiven for being insulted by what seemed like an innocent-enough gift.
About five years ago, she and her husband decided they would exchange small gifts, each choosing something that reminded them of the other person.
So she was understandably offended when her husband presented her with ... a box of nuts.
“At the time, I was going through a little postpartum depression and I thought, ‘Wow, that really just sets it off,’” she said, laughing.
Wavering, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom, said her husband has had to pay ever since. She did not, however, mention any specific acts of revenge.
A subset of the bad gift is the re-gift. It’s not necessarily something bad, and if it’s still unopened, it’s likely that the recipient will never know.
One year, however, Laura McCoy knew immediately when she was re-gifted.
About eight years ago, the 34-year-old from Springfield gave her step-grandparents an old-fashioned oil lantern for Christmas.
“It wasn’t a lot, but I wanted to get them something to show them that we cared,” she said.
The following year, the grandparents unintentionally returned the gesture, and the lantern.
“It was still in the box, and it was all dusty,” she said.
McCoy and her husband thought it was amusing but didn’t let on to what happened — until the next Christmas, when they wrapped up the lantern and sent it back.
“When Bernie (the granddad) opened it up, he got a funny look on his face and said, ‘Where did you get this?’ I said, ‘From you, and you got it from us,’” McCoy said.
So what of these givers, those offering up gifts of a dubious nature? Not surprisingly, none of them stepped forward to be interviewed for this article. But before we paint them all as insensitive, unsophisticated or just plain lazy, we should consider the strains that they may have been under.
Studies have shown that holiday shopping can create anxiety in people when the motivation to please is crippled by pessimism that the perfect gift can be found. Can this tension result in people making poor decisions, such as the guy who presented his wife with an ashtray for Christmas? It’s not really known, but in this case it did eventually result in divorce.
One reader mentioned a Christmas when he and his siblings received from their grandmother a used hairbrush (evident by the hair stuck in the bristles) and a half-filled bottle of aftershave passed off as women’s perfume. One man received a TV remote holder fashioned out of feminine hygiene products.
Another man recalled that during his youth he was terrorized, chased and even bitten by dogs while out on his paper route. That year for Christmas, he received a plastic Saint Bernard.
Sweet dreams, kid.
Bad gifts are a holiday tradition and have been immortalized in the film “A Christmas Story.” In the movie, 9-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) receives a pink bunny costume from an aunt who “labored under the delusion that (he) was not only perpetually 4 years old, but also a girl.”
Ben Donley was around 24 when he received his pink bunny suit a few years back. It wasn’t a bad gift, but a gag gift. It took his sister, Bridgette Donley, about 15 hours to sew. When he saw it, the 6-foot-4 auto technician knew what he had to do.
“For somebody to put that much work into it, you can’t just put it back into the box and put it away,” he said.
Donley gamely put on the costume and now does so every Christmas, much to the delight of everyone except his parents’ dog, who freaks out at the sight of the giant “pink nightmare.”
(This may not count as the strangest gift in Donley family history. Bridgette and her brother, Kirk Donley, once wrapped and presented their dad with a frozen raccoon they found dead on the road. Their mother, Julia, doesn’t recommend you try this at home, at least not without visiting your neighborhood taxidermist.)
Whether it’s bad gifts, re-gifts or gag gifts, it’s important to remember it’s the thought that counts.
Phyllis Roate, who once received a can of Planter’s Cheese Balls for Valentine’s Day, has learned that the cost of the gift matters little.
Every year for Christmas, her husband buys her and their children hats, mittens and gloves.
“I think it’s the sweetest thing because I know he’s taking care of us,” said the 45-year-old executive secretary. “I wouldn’t trade this gift of love for all the diamonds in the world.”
Dan Naumovich is a freelance writer and the author of BlogFreeSpringfield. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smile ... no matter how bad it may be
Roll your eyes. Scrunch your nose. Gasp in horror.
These are not proper responses when receiving a gift — even if it’s a really bad one.
Remember, gifts are almost always given with the best intentions, and a thoughtful person will always accept them graciously — so says Beth Ruetter, corporate etiquette consultant and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“No matter the gift, one should always act thrilled and appreciative no matter how your really feel about the gift,” she said.
Ruetter offers these basic guidelines for “accepting a gift with aplomb.”
- Don’t ditch the gift: “Don’t hide it in a corner and pretend to forget it — take it home and stick it in a corner there.”
- Wipe that smirk off your face: “Unless it is intentionally given as a gag gift, don’t make jokes or wisecracks about the gift.”
- Learn to equivocate: “If you genuinely like the gift, then provide some praise; if not, simply thank the gift-giver ‘for being so nice to remember me this holiday season.’”
- Most of all, say thank you: “We tend to comment on the gift, but then forget to actually say thank you. Sending a thank-you note shows that you appreciate the time taken to select the gift.”