These gifts take the (fruit)cake

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  (Tribune illustration by Rick Tuma / December 22, 2010)

Then there's the category that requires the recipient to do something for the giver. Husbands who give wives vacuum cleaners, for example. No thanks.

Or, this story from Lisa Madden of St. Louis:

"My darling brother and his family stopped off in Hershey, Pa., on the way to our parents' home for a family Christmas. He purchased several blocks of unsweetened Scharffen Berger chocolate which he gift wrapped and gave to me. Nice. Except that the card said it was for me to use to make him chocolate sauce.

"So to be clear: The 'gift' to me was to provide him chocolate. I could sweat over a hot stove preparing, then packaging and mailing chocolate sauce for him? Have you ever?"


In a similar vein, Deborah of Oakland, Calif. relates:

"Now let me start by saying that I did not think this was the worst Christmas gift ever — but a lot of my friends did.

"When my boyfriend and I were dating in our 20s, he gave me a toaster. When he told one of the girls he worked with what he'd given me, she was appalled. Seeing the look on her face he told her, 'Well, it's not just a toaster. I'm giving her the gift of toast!'"

Sometimes a lousy gift is one that entirely ignores the style and taste of the recipient. Or is just plain ugly. "When I was 15," says Kerry of suburban Washington, D.C., "my grandmother gave me a pair of orange stirrup pants!"

What did she do with them? "Hid 'em in the back of a drawer," says Kerry. (For lots more like this check out

Then there's the just cheesy gift. Heather says that at a Denver holiday gathering, "My sister gave me a deck of playing cars with a photo of the Grand Canyon on them. After opening the gift up, my heart and the grandeur of one of the seven wonders of the world shrank."

"I opened it in front of a group of family and friends. People were pulling me to the side later saying, 'Why bother? Just do not give a gift.'"

And here's a plea for an end to generic one-size-fits-all gifting. "Please make a case for a five-year moratorium on the gift soaps," says one woman who declined to have her name used for fear of offending the legions of people who over the years have gone the eucalyptus/vanilla/lavender/honey-almond route. "I don't have enough bathrooms (or guests)," she laments.

Finally there's this sad sentiment from Tom, of Oakland, Calif. "The worst gift is the one you were hoping and praying Santa would bring you when you were little. But he didn't."

How to avoid "worst gift" honors:

Include a "gift receipt" so it can be returned to the store.

Beautiful wrapping and a handwritten note ease the pain if you've made a poor choice.

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