Bad Santas

Bad Santas seldom start off with evil intentions. At least, that’s how I’d like to think. But there are times when you really wonder whether the givers’ brains were on hiatus. Why not just settle for giving your loved ones a stick or a lump of coal and get it all over with? Or just nothing? It would have to be cheaper and kinder in the long run.

It’s so easy to fall into that trap of giving someone what we would want to receive. Or what would make the recipient what we’d like them to become.

Maybe I’m being too kind. We can write off gifting fails as acts of the clueless and the cheap bastards, and then there’s unadulterated malice.

There are funny gifts. There are gifts that can be genuinely appreciated only by the recipients. And then there are gifts that are just plain cruel.

The initiation fee on a golf club membership. Not only do I hate golf, I couldn’t afford to pay the monthly maintenance charges and had to let the membership go. The donor may have thought the membership would put me with a more desirable class of people, but it was money wasted.

Diet aids, exercise equipment, and self-help books. “But I was only trying to help.”  In my family, this comes this naturally. My grandmother gave my mother a three-month membership to Vic Tanny’s, good only during the last 3 months of her final pregnancy. My own mother couldn’t help herself when it came to throwing in cheap exercise equipment along with excesses of stuff I really wanted.

Clothing that is obviously too small or too large for the recipient. Now, no one expects every donor to know every recipient’s size, but it’s a fair bet that those who shop Eileen Fisher seldom come in size 4. And folks with size 7 feet rarely will grow into a 9.5.

Framed photos. I already know what you and your family look like, and I don’t need to be reminded. Do you really think I’m going to prop that up on my mantle? Since you adore those images of yourself so much, how about I blow up a really bad photo of you, put it in a cheap frame, and give it to you on your next birthday?

Holiday gift baskets, loaded with cylinders of dried meat that a rat wouldn’t even touch, cheese cultured from toe jam, and stale crackers, and worse. Is there anyone who really is impressed by an assortment of sample-sized nut bars and a few lousy bananas? Why not just send over a sack of dry dog food and a couple of cans of Alpo? If you really know the recipient well, you can deliver the same thrill and for a lot less money by simply wrapping up a box of Kraft non-deluxe dinner and a can of SpaghettiOs.

Tuition at a science conference and a check made out to a math tutor. That kind of gift demands reciprocity of no less than a scholarship to Betty Ford.

A donation made in my name to your favorite charity. How fucking dumb do you think I am? I know you’re taking the tax deduction.

The free travel liquor valise with pictures of liquor bottles, umbrella, and other shit you got for buying office supplies.  A family member once gave that to my mother. Wisely, she handed the gift right back as a going-away present no less than 24 hours later.

A yellow lace baby doll peignoir. When was the last time you saw me wearing anything like that?

A gift certificate that would barely pay the sales tax on the cheapest item available or the tip on the cheapest item on the menu. Really, do you think that anyone could use a $5 Zabar’s certificate or a $10 gift certificate good at Canyon Ranch? The only one benefitting from this certificate is the vendor who never has to redeem it.

Books that have absolutely no useful purpose in my life – not even as donations. How about the Children’s Favorite Fables of Utah? Or a coffee table book about the most interesting gas stations in the San Fernando Valley? Surely there’s something more interesting in the remainder pile.

A jeweled dog collar, signifying a promise to buy a poodle. Really, what is a college student going to do with an unsolicited dog?

Medical devices. Oh boy, just what I always wanted! A sleep apnea pillow. A box of Depends would be easier to wrap. Why not go all out and give someone a year’s pass to the local STD clinic?

Used tacky Christmas ornaments, particularly when given on Christmas Day.

Tickets to an event which was held yesterday.  Even worse would be tickets to tomorrow night’s Morelia boys’ choir concert for someone living in Uganda.

A toilet brush.

A wood flute and a concertina. Someone could’ve saved a lot of money just by buying an LP of the Lennon Sisters singing the von Trapp Family favorites.

Gifts that the donor thinks may spark some new hobby interest. Like macramé or stamp collecting. People over the age of 9 are seldom spurred on to new avocations.

A stick in your stocking. Yes, this did happen in my family. Even if he may have deserved it, and even though he received everything else he wanted, it still cast an unpleasant pall to that Christmas. No wonder he remains frozen when it comes to giving Christmas presents: expect one of those gift baskets from him.

Are you tempted this year to give some a gift certificate for paternity testing? What gifts have you received that just made your want to sit down and cry? Or plot revenge by blogging about them?

30 comments on “Bad Santas

  1. babsofsanmiguel says:

    In high school, someone I was dating, gave me a bathroom scale for Christmas. I never dated him again…..or spoke to him, if I remember correctly.


  2. chris says:

    One year a well to do brother handed his secretary an order catalog and told her to buy all the family a gift. Don’t know what went through her mind but we both received toy rifles that shot rubber bands. I still have a bag of the rubber bands so I guess it worked out well in the end. The next year were two Hawaiian grass skirts. My SO said, “what’s that all about?”


  3. Dean Wylo says:



  4. tancho says:

    Whoa…….don’t hold back!
    I guess I’ll cancel the gift from Tane, the special cigarette case I ordered for you.

    Perhaps, As Seen On TV gift, you know the one, right next to the escalator at Plaza Las Americas.


    • And you probably had that cigarette case from Tane engraved, too, to prevent its return or regifting. You’re such a thoughtful guy.

      Thanks for the idea about As Seen on TV store. Maybe they have some Great Dane-sized dog sweaters I could pick up for your pups, but only if they’re monogrammed. Of course, I’d have to check first to see if there’s a free gift with purchase that could work as a gift for someone else on my list.


  5. I hope you feel better now.


  6. Peter says:

    You will always score with a bottle of wine, paté and crackers. Or pretzels to cry into. My favourite gifts are the ones I can eat or drink.


  7. Steve Cotton says:

    My family long ago gave up the stupidity of mandatory gift-giving. We now simply buy gifts for ourselves — and still end up with stuff that makes no sense.


    • Eliminating the gift-giving is the easy way out. Giving an appropriate and appreciated gift, even if it’s something cheap or a gag that the recipient will enjoy, is becoming a lost social grace that we all need to work on.


      • Droelma says:

        I don’t quite think it’s the easy way out. At least for me it took more courage to stop Christmas gift exchanges than it would have to just go on. I still give birthday presents, because I celebrate the date my friends were born ( I have no blood family, or family of my own…just ” family of the heart ), because without that I would not have them as friends. For their birthday I make an effort, but can no longer be bothered with Christmas. Now I enjoy get-to-gethers with focus on other things than presents.


    • Croft says:

      I am with Steve. If I want something, I buy it. I am too old to wait and hope someone buys it for me.


  8. says:

    Liked your article/rant; Echos my sentiments but better written. I just reject the whole christmas scene as an overblown marketing ploy, and have not believed in Santa Claus or any of the surrounding traditional BS since I was 4 years old and sat up one night watching the fireplace to see if anyone came down. My lies are OK, but yours not??? What rot. jw.


  9. sparks says:

    Just sounds like people giving to others they don’t know well …. or giving as a duty. Hmmmm what can you say?


  10. Norma says:

    Bad Santa’s always think they are giving funny gifts that you are going to love. Flash back to 1983. I had been hinting that I wanted a new car fro Christmas. A red one, not exactly a sports car but certainly more age appropriate than the one I was driving. I kept pointing it out. I wasn’t expecting my SO to actually pay for it just make the down payment and stick a bow on it. I would make the payments. Yeah back then I did buy cars on time. Yes people do get cars with bows on them for things. My friend Sharon got a yellow 1967 Mustang with a bow for her 16th birthday and she did not even have to make payments on it. Free and clear. Christmas morning I peek out the windows, no red car. Well maybe it was parked out of sight or would be delivered later. I start opening presents. MMMM a battery charger, a gallon of anti-freeze, an ice scraper and then the smallest package: A little model red car. Not a real car anywhere just a model car. I think I passed out. I did not even scream. I did not cry until later when my SO ask if I didn’t love the gifts. Then went crazy. I said just buy one nice present. Soooooooo he went to Sears and bought a lime green peignoir with dots in a widely random pattern. Into the trash and his feelings were hurt. He had tried so hard. Yes we are still married and no he has never bought me anything nice for Christmas. Christmas now frightens him. He mutters about how people don’t get depressed at Christmas and comment suicide, they get angry and kill a family member.. :


    • I”m surprised that man has survived to this day, despite the irreparable damage you inlficted. 1983 will be remembered for the Gucci loafers, which I still have, a gift from my sister.


      • Norma says:

        This whole blog has made me spend the day working on a gift basket for our really, really nice neighbors. I planed on buying a huge Godiva basket. Now I am doing it myself. BTW i bought my SO a pale blue cashmere sweater for Christmas 1983, First time he wore it he managed to pull a huge hole in it. You should be very nice to your sister. My revenge was buying myself a dark blue Volvo in 84 and his name was not on the title.


  11. Droelma says:

    I’ve lived almost 20 years in Mexico and many people automatically assume that I like anything from my home country Germany.
    My neighbors visited the country in December several years ago making a tour of some of the Christmas markets. They brought back a ” special ” present which they gave to me for my 60th birthday a few days before Christmas.
    To my horror I unpacked a miniature toilet with wooden lid and a miniature chamber pot on either side, all mounted on a natural shingle of wood. The toilet said ” mustard ” and the chamber pots were imprinted with ” salt ” and ” pepper “. All three vessels had little groves for wooden spoons . I was speechless , yet had to be gracious and thank my neighbors, because they looked so happy and proud with their present from my hometown in Southern Germany. The year afterwards I started to no longer exchange gifts with adults in my life. I am too old for stuff I neither need, nor want. I would however take a decent gift basket….lol.


    • Now that’s a gift which would bring tears to a recipient’s eyes. And I’m not talkin’ tears of joy. I tihnk you may have won the “worst gift of the year” prize.


      • Droelma says:

        The strangest thing is that two years ago when I did a major clearing out of unloved and unwanted items a friend of mine remarked that hopefully I had not thrown out this very ” quaint ” gift. She told me, that if I was going to throw it out, I should throw it her way. I did and she gladly uses this abomination of a gift in her cabin in Tepoztlán. Go figure…


  12. Two words: Banana rack.


  13. Kim G says:

    I was once given a very cheap “travel” set of mens toiletry items, where each piece fit into a molded black-velvet-covered styrofoam slot. The size of this toiletry case was approximately 8″x15″x12″. Needless to say, it was given by someone who never travels, and apparently didn’t consider that less is more when it comes to travel supplies.

    Years later, someone at my yard sale tried to haggle me down from my $1 asking price for the untouched item. I ended up giving it to him just to get it out of my basement.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where the adults in our family have stopped the ridiculousness of Christmas gifts.


  14. babsofsanmiguel says:

    Hilarious comments. So glad you wrote this post!


  15. Don Cuevas says:

    specialty food ingredients or kitchen tools, to a dedicated cook.
    Example: a set of rustic wooden tools for such tasks as pulling pans from the oven.
    Example: a case of Colman’s English Mustard.

    Don Cuevas


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