I thought I was the only one who sometimes received holiday presents that left something to be desired. Everyone else's family was totally sorted, right? That was until I surveyed my Facebook friends and Twitter followers. All I can say is, "Bad Santa!"
When I was 16, my mom bought me Princess Marcella Borghese purple eyeshadow as my one present. I later found out that she only bought it so that she could receive the complimentary gift: a Taj-Mahal scale vanity with 6 lipsticks, 12 eyeshadows, blushes, brushes and a fold-down mirror. And no, she didn't want to share it with me.
When I was writing Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity, and having the classic set of writer's anxieties, another relative, who was on bad terms with me, sent me both a sweatshirt and a t-shirt emblazoned with the message, "Be nice to me -- or I'll put you in my novel." The gift giver tried to make it look like it was sent by someone else he didn't like, but when I looked at the billing address, the true culprit was revealed.
It's the thought that counts, true. But sometimes the thought is more rotten (or weird) than an old, moldy fruitcake.
1. The Gift of "You're Too Fat"
My friend Ashton, crafty goddess that she is, sewed all of her own clothes in high school, so she asked her mother for a dress form. Beside the tree Christmas morning: a size 6-8 dummy. At the time, she was a size 16. "Could I have one that's in my size?" she asked meekly. "No, just lose weight so that you can use it," her mother tartly replied. She recalls, "I kept it, I used it a lot, I stuffed its bra and padded up its hips to make it measure to me. I made some of the most fabulous things on that dummy. Today I am the size of the original and ironically, I haven't made a garment on it in years."
Sara's dad gave her a muumuu in a tacky loud print, when she was pregnant. Another pregnant friend asked for a maternity coat, but received a fleece poncho that could have enclosed four of her.
2. One for Me, None for You
Stacie writes: "One year, I asked for a flip camera so I could easily share videos of my kids with family; my mother bought one for herself instead and spent our entire holiday celebration playing with it in front of me."
3. I Love You Just the Way You Aren't
Jennifer shares: "My parents used to put razors in my stockings every year, in hopes that I would take the hint and start shaving my legs. It never worked." Another woman received nose hair clippers from her mother-in-law. Mara's ex gave her a biography of Ethel Merman. "Which would be fine, if it weren't for the fact that he once told me that my voice was annoying... like Ethel Merman's."
4. Cape Fear
People can really blow it when it comes to getting gifts for their fashionista beloveds. Here's a hint: When in doubt, don't buy her a cape. This came up twice in my survey -- one woman's ex-husband bought her this bit of medieval garb, and another very urbane woman was given a super-expensive "Irish Walking Cape." She donated it; hopefully it found its way to a winsome woman who likes to fancy that she's walking the moors on moonlit nights.
5. Uneven Steven
Author Alisa Bowman confessed, " I once loved a boyfriend exponentially more than he loved me back. On our first Christmas together, I gave him all sorts of gifts to show my love. He had a shocked, blank expression. Then he gave me a box with a sweater inside -- it wasn't even close to the right size. I think it's because it was intended for someone else -- he hadn't thought to get me a gift. But I wore that sweater with pride, because I was that head over heels."
6. For the Reddest-Headed Stepchild
Sometimes the holidays aren't merry because family favoritism runs roughshod around the tree. "One Christmas," my friend Maggie said, "My husband's grandmother gave him a brand new leather jacket... and gave his sister a pair of used pantyhose." Another friend, passionate about tennis as a teen, received an "el-cheapo" tennis bag, just before his new stepbrother unwrapped a $3,000 set of golf clubs.
7. Missed Manners
Jennifer's Christmas gift: a packet of thank-you notes from her aunt, who clearly thought she needed to get on the gratitude stick. Lynn mentioned that her mother always used to suck her teeth after meals to get the food bits out. Her father gave her mother a huge box of toothpicks for Christmas. She was not amused.
8. Gag (Me) Gifts
Emma's father gave her "a ball shaped like a screaming baby face that actually cried when you threw it. It was the only gift that year that I got from my dad, in a year when I was struggling to maintain a new job, my student loan debts were all coming due, I had a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, and no support from family. I wanted to throw it AT my dad, but was able to control myself." Michele, a glamorous woman with progressive musical tastes, received a "Yanni CD, clearly given out of spite from a bitchy sister-in-law."
9. Grandma's Macabre Gift Shoppe
Jessie writes, "My grandmother was a really complicated, gorgeous, intelligent woman that loved to make Christmas awful. One year she gave my mother a set of (broken) taxidermied toads playing mariachi instruments, then got upset that my mom wasn't enthusiastic enough about them." Because, yeah.
10. Clueless or Cruelest?
Becca's boyfriend's mom gave her "a Honey Baked ham for Christmas (I'm Jewish)." And Sally's husband, who had a history of biffing gifts, went with her to a gift flea market "and he said he was going to pay really, really good attention. We went into a stall selling leather handbags. I pointed out what a good deal they were, how beautiful they were and specifically pointed to two I liked the best. I made a point of not singling out anything else in the entire market. Later on we split up to do our 'secret' shopping. I was excited to open the package on Christmas, and surprise! Ill-fitting lingerie... because 'I already owned a purse.'"
Whether you are a grinchy gift giver or receiver, I wish you a holiday free of the presence of back-handed presents. But in the meantime, what was the worst gift you ever gave or received?