Best and Worst Holiday Gifts

by: hawkgrrrl

December 25, 2012

Personally, I’m not a big fan of gifts.  I neither like to give nor to receive.  I feel inept at selecting gifts, and I feel awkward about receiving them.  Gifts feel like an obligation, and also like we’re putting a value on a relationship.  I was raised by parents who were not big on gifts either.  Having grown up in the depression, I think they felt that gifts were a luxury, not a necessity.  I married into a family that by constrast is extravagant in gift giving.  However, I discovered that it’s no easier for any of them.  They are just better at it because of high effort over time to meet high expectation.

Pres. Uchtdorf, in the recent First Presidency Christmas broadcast, gave an excellent talk about being gracious at receiving gifts, and he talked about it becoming increasingly difficult the older we got.  I thought it was great that he never actually tied it back to the gift of the atonement, instead focusing on our real human relationships in this life.  How refreshing!

A few years ago I read the book 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman (a gift from my mother-in-law).  Here’s a link to the site (including a quiz you can take to determine your own preferred “love language.”  The 5 languages are:  acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, physical touch, and words of affirmation.  For me, I’d much rather spend quality time together or hear words of appreciation than receive a gift which seems like a substitute for actual time spent on the relationship.  This is probably why we spent last Christmas Day on the Great Barrier Reef eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and snorkeling rather than exchanging gifts.  Gifts make me skeptical.  Of course, I’m aware that one day my own kids will say, “Remember that year we didn’t even exchange gifts?  What was that all about?”

See full size imageI read an article in Time that talked about the worst gifts people give.  As a person who doesn’t love gift-giving, here are the worst gifts to give or get from my perspective:

  • A gift designed to change your behavior.  To me, lingerie is a gift for the giver, not the receiver.  But consider other types of behavior changing gifts:  clothing that isn’t your style, books that are aspirational, or from the article in Time – clothing that you can only use if you lose 20 pounds!  I know I have been guilty of giving this type of gift.  The worst gift I gave was buying my sister some shampoo when I was a child.  I didn’t have  much money, and the shampoo was very popular at the time, but secretly I also thought my sister’s hair could use a good scrubbing.  Bear in mind, though, that all gifts touch on the space between two people:  their mutual interest, or the place where they are aware of the other person’s interest.  Giving a gift where there is nothing in common is extremely difficult.
  • Obligatory gifts.  These are things that you have to give for social reasons or because it’s a holiday or birthday, but not because you really want to.  To me, the classic “obligatory” gift is boss’s day.  I must confess also to having been a very bad gift-giver on this front.  I once gave my assistant the exact same family game two years in a row.  It might have actually been three years.  Yes, I suck.  On another level, though, all gifts are obligatory.  This is why I enjoy giving someone a completely unexpected gift out of the blue.  I was thinking about one of my childhood friends, and I decided to send her an oil painting I had done just because I was thinking of her.  Whether that was great or not for her, the thought counts more when it’s unexpected from my perspective.

Really, the underlying problem with a gift is when it points out that the person doesn’t really know you or that the relationship isn’t as intimate as you thought.  Perhaps I had disappointed hopes around gifts I received as a child which has resulted in how gun shy I am.  Maybe I just don’t like reducing a relationship to economic symbols. 

A few months after my mission, I was in a very zen place, despite feeling like a weirdo with no sense of style and having just suffered an incredibly painful break-up.  When I went home for Christmas, we sat down to open presents.  My mother delightedly opened present after present that she had bought and wrapped for herself (“Oh, lookie!  A salad shooter!”).  Finally she asked why I wasn’t opening any presents, when it dawned on her that they had forgotten to buy me anything that year.  Strangely, I felt pretty okay about that at the time.  I was just in a good place gratitude-wise, and it didn’t really matter to me.  If it had happened five years earlier I’m sure I would have been devastated.

On the upside, I’ll share my best family Christmas memory.  For my 8th Christmas, the new Malibu Barbie had just been released.  I was so excited that I might possible get one.  She was so cool with her removable sunglasses, and you could put stickers on her, leave her in the sun, and the place where the sticker was would still be light but the rest of the doll would be tan and gorgeous.  One of the packages under the tree felt like the same box from the local store – I could run my finger over the front and feel Barbie’s pert little nose pushing against the plastic of the box.  When Christmas Eve arrived and we opened our presents, not only did I have one Malibu Barbie, but the entire Malibu clan, in all their suntanned, bikini’d glory!  There were even two Malibu Kens for confusing double dates.  That was a Christmas that completely surpassed my expectations.  *sigh*

What about you? 

  • What are the best and worst gifts you’ve received? 
  • What are the best and worst gifts you’ve given? 
  • Do you like giving and receiving gifts or do you feel inept like me?


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14 Responses to Best and Worst Holiday Gifts

  1. Douglas on December 25, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    Another young girl “victimized” by the “Mali-Beast” Barbie? HawkChick, let me express my “condolences”. Ordinarily, in this forum I extol the virtues of unfettered Free Enterprise. However, though I may champion the legality of the Mattel Corp. to have marketed their anatomically unrealistic and gender-stereotyping doll, and the right of parents all to dote on their precious daughters (OK, for those that just have to feminize their sons, boys too…) with the purchase of the doll and the myriad of accessories. I remember my older sister getting one of the first versions of the doll, along with Ken, Midge, and Skipper. Now my grandchildren play with my youngest daughter’s Barbies (which she’ll profess to have “outgrown” but will still play with their niece when she thinks that I’m not looking). Still…if you liked the gift and it made a Christmas some thirty years ago memorable, why not? If you’ve saved the doll and the accessories, they might fetch a few bucks on EBay, but the memories…
    Sometimes our means are limited…OR…we recognize that Christmas is NOT about how we can spend ostentatiously, but rather, even though the date of our Savior’s birth is likely NOT December 25th (we accept by revelation that it’s on or about April 6), I say that Jesus IS the REASON for the season, indeed, for our very existence. What ARE the best gifts? Hard to be specific, but given the means of the giver and the ‘deservedness’ of the recipient (that could start a thread all by itself), I’d say whatever will be remembered (or at least well-utilized), just as you experienced. Whether with material things, or services, or just even ATTENTION, the best “gift” is when one gives of him(her)self.
    Merry Christmas to all, dagnabbit…

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  2. MH on December 25, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    I’ll start with the most memorable. When I was about 10, we moved across the country, arriving in New Hampshire just a few days before Christmas. I was expecting nothing, as we were living in a hotel. My sister decided to build a Christmas tree out of paper rolled into a cone, green yarn, and she punched some holes in colored paper. To my surprise, I actually received a gift that I still remember. It probably cost about $1. It was a little track I could hold in my hands. 4 metal cars would go around a magnetic track as I spun a dial at the bottom of the board. It was a fun Christmas, despite the lack of presents.

    I’ve never been a fan of exchanging office gifts. One year after I had graduated college, I felt the pressure to participate in a gift exchange. I had worked there just about 2 months, and while I liked the people I worked with, I didn’t really know any of them very well. One guy came up to me and asked what I wanted. I didn’t really have an answer, so he said he could get me a Manheim Steamroller album (on cassette, because CD players weren’t popular yet.) So, I decided to do the same for someone else. I bought a brand-new cassette for my coworker, and received an obviously used (and scratched) cassette of the exact same album.

    It is my opinion that I only give gifts for people I really care about. I don’t participate in these goofy Christmas exchanges anymore. Sometimes it’s hard enough to find a cool present for someone you care about, and it’s impossible for someone you don’t.

    My best Christmases have been where I really found a gift that I knew the recipient would enjoy. My dad has been especially hard to buy for, and the most memorable Christmases were when I found the perfect gift for him (which has probably happened only about 3 times.) On those occasions, he was always really grateful, and his appreciation made it memorable.

    The most memorable gift I ever received was from my mom. She typed up my mission letters and gave them to me in a binder. I know it took her forever, and it is a cherished gift that only cost her time and a little paper and ink.

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  3. whizzbang on December 25, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    I think my best present ever that I got was a birthday present from a friend of mine. She got me a concert ticket. The reason it was the best present ever because I wasn’t at all expecting her to buy me anything at all and I love her for it-just an out of the blue present and it floored me she was planning on doing that.

    The worst present ever was Aunt AGONY of whom bought my 2yr old son adult sized oven mitts-um maybe when he is older this would be a good idea

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  4. Will on December 25, 2012 at 9:38 PM

    Best Gift Received:

    Christmas 1983, got a Yamaha phaser snowmobile my jr year in high school. Awesome. Birthday 1978 (12) I got a Remington 12 Gague shotgun, a ruger 22 and a 7mm rifle. Best birthday ever.

    Worst Gift Received:

    Birthday dinner on my mission. I swear it was dog food.

    Best gift given:

    Got my daugher an Audi A4 for her 17th birthday.

    Worst Gift Given. I bought my wife some clothes for her birthday just after we were married in 1989. Huge mistake. Never give clothes to your wife.

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  5. LovelyLauren on December 26, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    I adore giving and receiving gifts. For me, it’s a way of showing someone I know who they are and what they like. I like getting gifts too, often because I am hesitant to buy things for myself. My husband and I usually just give each other a list and choose a few things from it and maybe include something surprising as well.

    The best gift I ever received was probably the Molly doll I got when I was 8. I wanted it so bad and I played with that doll for years afterwards. The best gift I ever gave was an engraved zippo lighter to my husband our second Christmas together.

    Worst gifts? I once got my husband a really crappy picket knife not knowing any better. That was depressing.

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  6. Frank Pellett on December 26, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Worst gift ever winner I give to my wife. When she was in her early 20s and single with no near plans for getting married, she was given a gift of Lingerie – from her brother and his wife. Wasn’t a joke; they wanted to give her something to help her feel “pretty”. Just really, really wrong, on so many levels. Despite the commercials, lingerie is never a good gift, even if you expect to see it in use.

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  7. Hedgehog on December 26, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    The best gifts I’ve received are those that are handmade by my mother: a beautiful tiny album with copies of photographs of my ancestors was incredible. Although my husband has a good nose for perfumes as well.

    The worst gifts – I agree with you, those that indicate the giver really doesn’t know me as well as they ought, and I’ve received a few of those over my life; a set of musical DVDs comes to mind (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and the like). My sister would have loved them.

    The best I’ve given: I’m pretty good at picking out the perfect colour sweaters for my Dad.

    The worst I’ve given – I wasn’t very old, maybe 9 or so – my sister and I were clubbing together to get get gifts for family members, and bought combs in decorated cases from a garden fete for our grandfathers, not considering that one of them was bald, and had been for all our lives. Fortunately he had a sense of humour!

    Gift giving can be pretty stressful – especially when gifts are unexpected such as from those you serve with in church callings. Knowing the etiquette of the group can be tricky.

    Every time we visit family in Japan we have to take gifts with us. Gift giving is huge in Japanese culture. Gifts tend to be food items however: beautifully packaged boxes containing noodles, or cakes, or fruit, many sorts of gift-packaged food items can be purchased readily in Japan. It’s harder to find British food items packaged the same way to take over there. Food is a great gift though – it is expensive as a percentage of salary in Japan, but also since it’s going to be eaten, the recipient doesn’t need to find it permanent house room either.

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  8. Juliathepoet on December 26, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    Each year always seems to bring great gifts, and opportunities to share pieces of ourselves. Highlights this year?
    My grandparents, who are giving away “special items ” for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas made it a point to tell me that after plugging in their new Hemalayian salt lamp, they agree that it “would be part of the estate.” This means it is one of the few things they value enough not to give away before they die. My grandfather is going through chemo, so knowing the light is soothing to him confirmed my “weird prompting” to break their rule about on wanting consumable presents that don’t add to the clutter.

    I love white elephant gift exchanges, because they help us be silly and get to know each other, and you don’t have to feel bad about it if no one wants what you brought. This years party had a great exchange, which included my husband getting the one gift we put in, that he was most excited to see go. Lol

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  9. Douglas on December 26, 2012 at 9:22 PM

    Will – that’s a humble confession. “Worst Gift Given. I bought my wife some clothes for her birthday just after we were married in 1989. Huge mistake. Never give clothes to your wife.” – if she’s still putting up with the likes of you 23 years later, thank her and the Lord, she’s a patient and forbearing woman. Not all men are so blessed!
    Always be IMPRACTICAL when giving your sweetie a gift. It’s an “irrevocable” law, for all practical purposes decreed from on high. Violate it, and thou art screwed royally….

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  10. jks on December 27, 2012 at 1:29 AM

    I totally believe in the Love Languages. Gifts is definitely at the bottom of the list.
    Now that I know it isn’t important to me to receive or to give, it eases the pressure. I know my husband isn’t a gift person either. No pressure now to give or receive, so we just get something if we can, or we know just the thought counts.
    As I think about my kids, I try to make sure I hit all 5 love languages. Gifts is just one of them. I don’t think any of them have it as their primary language but I try to show love in all 5 ways so it helps me practice a little gift giving and again, with less pressure because it is only one of 5 ways to show them I love them. I just make sure I give hugs, I say I love you and tell them why, and I help them out with acts of service and sometimes make time to spend with them. That way when I choose a gift I know that it is not the only way my kids receive love and gift giving can be a happy addition to showing love but I fully believe that my kids would be happy even without receiving gifts.

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  11. Will on December 27, 2012 at 10:41 AM


    “if she’s still putting up with the likes of you 23 years later, thank her and the Lord, she’s a patient and forbearing woman”

    You must know me; I thought I was keeping my identity a secret under the stage name Will.

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  12. Douglas on December 27, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    #12 – the sad truth is that you may have well as nicknamed yourself “Legion” (for WE are many), just like the demons that the Savior cast out of the demoniac from Gardarenes (Mark 5:9). It’s a certainty that most readers of this blog know of such a man, so, your identity is still safe, brother.
    There’s a joke about the coed who was taking a shower (her floor had a gang shower; being gender-segregated, if a male was admitted to the building, he was obliged to shout “man on the floor” upon leaving the elevator. This comely lass had taken only one towel, and, having washed her hair, had put it up in that towel, thinking to quickly dash to her dorm room. As the maiden strode quickly, she heard the “man on the floor” shout, and realized that she was too far from her room and likewise too far to duck back into the shower. Unwilling to let her hair fall out, she gathered her washcloth as she meekly made her way past the startled young man.

    Q: WHAT did she obscure with the washcloth?
    A: Her face!

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  13. […] was a big year for difficult family encounters >passive-aggressive presents. (One of the people at the Swiss Post-Mo Christmas party had received one from a family member, and […]

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  14. Carter Fenner on April 11, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    A very special present you can think of giving is a magazine that honors the birthday boy or girl. Gather photos of the birthday celebrant in their forty years and scan these into a computer. Include photographs of notable happenings in their life like their wedding, honeymoon, family gatherings and others. Come up with magazine content on how the celebrant made your life more meaningful and ask his or her other friends and family to give their own touch such as a short letter or well wishes. You could craft the magazine yourself or have it printed at a local print shop.;

    Most recently released short article straight from our very own website

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