You Shouldn’t Have. I Mean It. (Worst Gift Ever.)

This week, City Room’s James Barron asked readers to recall the worst Christmas gifts they had ever received. Here is a selection, lightly edited. Merry, um, Christmas.


I’d tell you the worst Christmas gift I ever got, but I don’t, to this day, know what it was. It was a secret Santa gift from someone at a company I do consulting work for. I can’t describe it. It was something like a plastic, brown mushroom/toadstool thing, with things glued on it, in a box with clear plastic over it. … I really don’t know. I showed it to a friend of mine, an older gentleman who was fond of collecting interesting objects, and he asked me if he could have it. Not because it was worth anything, but because it was the oddest, most inexplicable object he ever saw, and he wanted it as a conversation piece (or as he called it, a corpus delicti). I gave it to him. Someday, scientists will discover the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider. It will look like this thing, but much smaller.
— Tom Neile

My grandmother gave me a large, brown stuffed toad that she bought in Guatemala. I was about 14 years old.
— Tim O’Connor

One year, when I was about 12, I got a boxed set on “How to Play Contract Bridge.” It was very puzzling — I had never expressed an interest in bridge or any other card game. I never opened the box. Decades on, I still have a strong prejudice against the game because of that strange, disappointing Christmas gift.
— Dinah D

Snow pants. I was 10 years old and really, really wanted a book on Pompeii.
— homer

A Harrah’s Casino coffee mug full of quarters given to me by my grandparents. The mug read, “Life begins at 21!” I was 9.
— Sharon

One year my elderly great-aunt game me a box of straws and my sister received a tube of mustard. This remains a longstanding family joke nearly 60 years later.
— John Freitag

As a little girl, I always loved dinosaurs — not Barbies. When I was about 7 years old, there was a huge mechanical T. rex that I absolutely fell in love with, and my aunt promised to get for me. When we went to her house to open presents that Christmas Eve, I couldn’t contain my excitement as she plopped a big box down in front of me. As I tore off the paper, however, that excitement became utter confusion, disappointment, and downright sadness as the package within revealed itself not to be a dinosaur, but an Easy Bake oven. I’m pretty sure I cried on the way home, and I never ever opened that blasted oven. My aunt told my mom she had the T. rex in her cart, then saw the Easy-Bake Oven and thought it was “much more appropriate for a little girl.”
— Whitney

I got a bird feeder last Christmas from my parents. I am 28 and have no interest in bird feeders.
— Dave O

We received a can of haggis (yes, I guess haggis comes in a can) and a copy of the book “The Road.” It was quite the depressing Christmas.
— Stephanie Young

When I was in eighth grade, rolly backpacks began entering the middle school scene. I remember the hapless sixth graders pulling their little backpacks around while the older kids would “accidentally” kick them and say, “This isn’t an airport.”

During Christmas, my sister and I saved the biggest, prettiest-wrapped gift for last. When I unwrapped my present, my eyes opened wide. “It’s … a backpack,” I managed to say, as my sister halfheartedly opened hers. My father, noticing how we weren’t ecstatic, tried to remedy the situation by holding up the box so that we would understand, “Yeah, it’s a backpack! And it has wheels! You can roll it!” (As if we didn’t already know.)

Afterward, I called my best friend, who promptly laughed while I cried. For the rest of the school year, I used my sister’s old backpack (sans wheels), while my sister ashamedly tucked in the handles and wore the rolly backpack on her back.

Oh, the horrors.
— junia

My worst: a rifle-toting, battery-powered toy soldier that crawled along the floor on his elbows. I was at least 32 and it was my ex-wife who gave it to me.
— Esteban

My worst gift may have been when I found out there wasn’t a Santa — because of my worst gift. It was after WWII, and my parents had bought a toy gas station that had to be assembled. It was made with paper pictures of the outside of a gas station printed on cheap boards, plus a platform with the pumps, etc. I had gone to sleep, as per instructions, but was awakened by arguing, shouting, and cursing — not what was expected from Santa. I quietly got up and peeked around the doorway, only to see it was my parents struggling to get the gas station together. After that Christmas, “Santa” had a glass of whiskey left for him rather than a glass of milk.
— Eugene Scanlan

My father came home from New York City with a big gift when I was 8. It turned out to be a sturdy blue suitcase with my initials in gold by the handle. I was worried from then on when I was going to be sent away.
— victoria woodrow

In June of 1974, I went to work as a copy editor for The Press-Register of Mobile, Ala. When Christmas rolled around, I learned that the year-end bonus was $5 for each year of service. Because I had worked there for seven months, my bonus was prorated. After taxes, it totaled $1.26. It was the first (and last) check I ever received that I could cash at an ice-cream truck.
— tom powell

When I was a kid, I had an uncle who was in the garment business. Maternity lingerie, to be specific. Every year I would get nightgowns (with these weird slits) and pantyhose with big lacy tops big enough to cover a watermelon. Needless to say — I thought the nightgowns were just rejects from his factory and the pantyhose were just too big.
— Patricia Bridges

I should have known my marriage was over when I got ice cube trays from my husband for Christmas. I’d survived the coffee-pot-when-I-didn’t-drink-coffee year. And the year of three boxes of clothes all in the wrong size. But ice cube trays? The message was clear. I just didn’t see it for another few years.
— Peggy Bird

The worst as in destructive: My brothers sometime in the 1950s received an air gun and shot the ornaments off the revolving aluminum Christmas tree.
— joan

As I remember back to my childhood, it seems that I was always getting “almost” the real thing when it came to toys. There were many popular toys, but somehow my parents always managed to get something close, but not quite. When I was about 10 years old, everyone was getting pogo sticks. The basic model was a pole with a heavy-duty spring on the bottom and two rubber foot pads to stand on. However, the model I received that Christmas also had large rubber ball attached to the top of the pole. It probably was for safety purposes, but I remember the first time using this contraption, I grabbed hold of the ball and started to bounce. Boy, was I surprised when the ball came off in my hand and the pole went wild, almost knocking me out.
— Norman Aabye

When my sister was newly divorced for the second time and completely miserable, our mother gave her a cookbook called “Cooking for One” and some sort of individual crockpot to go with it.
— Olivia, Rhinebeck

One Christmas when I was about 8, we received a package from our cousins in California. We waited until all the other gifts were open before we cut through the brown paper box. We were all excited because they had never sent us gifts before. There was a bunch of rotten bananas, some old quarts of used paint and other garbage. All three of us kids were very disturbed and confused, and I don’t remember my parents having much to say, especially my father, whose brother had sent the package. Forty years later, I still don’t get it.
— rather not say

A toilet paper holder made of a wire coat hanger and lace, which gave the receiver the ability to tastefully display extra rolls of toilet paper above the tank to prevent unfortunate shortages. Bless her heart, my aunt made these for everybody and really thought they were something.
— Kristin

Dawn dish soap. I was 14. I guess somebody forgot to get me a gift, so they raided the cupboards. It was in a Happy Birthday bag.
— Tara

I think I’m the only child in America who ever received coal and a letter on special Santa stationery outlining exactly why I was on Santa’s naughty list. I was 4 and a newly minted big sister, a role I did not take kindly to. Apparently, Santa (ahem, my father) thought I should be more welcoming of our newest family member. To this day, I still eye my stocking suspiciously before reaching in; I’ll never forget the shame of pulling out that Ziploc bag with a charcoal briquette in it. Oh, and yes, I got lots of other really great toys that Christmas, too. Or so I’m told. I don’t really remember.
— AB

I wrote my “worst” gift comment and then started reading the others. We put too much emphasis on getting stuff and the stuff has to be good stuff and stuff we want. A smile, a hug, a lasting friendship, outweigh the gifts. It isn’t about getting, it’s about giving of ourselves. Happy holidays or just have a happy year and be nice to your fellow earth dwellers.
— michael e murray

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