(Originally published on The Billfold, a publication that recently shut down)
It’s Christmas morning and I am 20 years old.
My mom poured some hot tea and my brother whined about getting out of bed. Magic, our family dog, barked and jumped in circles as we all gathered around our sparkling tree to start exchanging presents.
My mom got that new mystery novel she was dying to read.
My dad received a new piece of art to hang in the house.
My brother got some headphones and new clothes, and even my golden retriever received a couple of squishy stuffed animals and a bone to gnaw on.
I also received some great gifts that year, but unfortunately there is one in particular that really sticks out: the shovel. Yes, a shiny, new shovel — plastic and blue, given to me by my dad who genuinely thought I would like it. He told me that, if I wanted, I could keep it in my car in case I was ever stuck in snow. From my perspective, it seemed more like a subtle reminder to help with outdoor chores.
Seven years later and my dad’s present still makes me laugh. It was definitely one of the weirdest presents I have ever received, and it got me thinking about what other strange gifts people have received around the holidays. So I did a little digging (no pun intended) to find out. Let’s take a look at some of the worst:
“I did a white elephant thing and got a box that someone literally dumped their junk drawer in. There were receipts and scraps of paper and dead batteries.” — Stephanie (Michigan, USA)
“My dad game me some Poo-Pourri stuff… I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It’s like toilet bowl spray so your poop doesn’t smell. I guess I can see how that would be useful, but honestly I would’ve preferred cash.” – Marley (New York, USA)
“Thirty years ago for Christmas, we had a Secret Santa at work. At the party, we were exchanging gifts and I was very surprised when opening my gift. I found a solid block of caramel in the shape of a butt! I never understood this gift… and I don’t want to know its meaning.” — Juan Pablo (Santiago, Chile)
“When I was a kid my brother painted a wood block and gave it to me for Christmas. Like a wood block about twice the size of a domino. It was painted yellow and intended to be used as a paperweight.” — Sophie (Washington DC, USA)
“An 8th grade math workbook. I was 26.” — James (Texas, USA)
“A half-empty box of Q-tips, and a box of kitchen trash bags. She (ex mother-in-law) once got my son a Ziploc bag full of used pacifiers that she bought for a dollar at a yard sale.” — Karen (Illinois, USA)
“Twelve huge bottles of terrible beer. My dad. He gave me a few cartons of menthols the year before. I still love him.” — Nicolas (Colorado, USA)
“I received a nice, big sweatshirt that to my horror had a giant Eeyore on the front saying, ’Moody’… I was 26 years old.” — Sarah (West Virginia, USA)
“When I was about 15, I received a personalized mug from my uncle for Christmas. Which would have been perfectly acceptable, if it wasn’t for the fact that it had his name on it instead of mine.” — George (Suffolk, England)
“A VHS of The Wiggles from my grandma’s friend that I had never met in my life. She gave the gift to both me and my sister. My sister was turning 19 in two weeks and I was 16, almost 17 and it was in 2012.” — Elisa (Georgia, USA)
Of course it’s understandable that not everyone has the time or funds to search for the absolute perfect gift. I too, am guilty of gifting a generic Hershey’s chocolate or the occasional boring T-shirt. But I definitely want to do better this year. This Christmas, let’s vow to spend our money on something thoughtful that our loved ones are actually going to appreciate.
To make the most out of holiday shopping, I think it is important to always consider the person first. Sure, YOU may want your daughter to help shovel the snow outside, but do you really think that is what she wants to do on Christmas morning? Pick a gift that reflects the person’s specific interests and style. And just as a general rule, presents should always be age-appropriate, unused, and should never reference the smell of someone’s poop — that’s just weird.
I mean, a VHS of The Wiggles for two teenagers? An 8th grade math workbook or a box of literal junk? I think it’s safe to say that some gifts just aren’t meant to be gifts.
What’s the worst holiday gift you’ve ever received? And — if you’re ready to admit it — what’s the worst gift you’ve ever given?
Jenny Tolep is an American freelance journalist currently based in Santiago, Chile.