These gifts take the (fruit)cake

Some really bad gifts, plus tips to avoid giving the worst presents ever.

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

That department store song that you can't get out of your head says, "It's the most wonderful time of the year."

For some people, I guess that's true. But for others, it brings back memories of The Worst Christmas Present Ever.

For several decades, I thought the gold medalist in bad gifting was my own father who one Christmas morn presented my hard-working mom with a 50-pound bag of coal.

He thought:

--It was a good gag.

--She could use it in the fireplace to keep the Yule log burning.

She thought:


--This is not remotely funny.

--Where is the real gift?

Unfortunately for my father, the large bag of coal was the real gift.

The coal is the Lousy Present Story that will not die. Decades later without fail at Christmastime there's eye-rolling family recollections about this contender for the Gift Giving Hall of Shame.

But ask around and you'll discover that there are so many other This Gift Stinks medalists.

Laura Vessey, of Plainsboro, N.J., will never forget the year she got a beautiful leather handbag from a dear friend who had purchased it on a trip out west.

"As I was ooohing and ahhhing over the gift," Vessey recalls, "I opened it up and found she had stored her dirty underwear and socks from the trip in my new bag."

The friend was right there for the discovery. "She was mortified — but it quickly turned into one of the funniest stories that we have shared over the years."

Also in the ick factor category is this story from Maya, of Santa Barbara, Calif. (Many recipients asked that their last names not be used to protect the hapless givers.)

Maya had asked for a stress-reliever but got the opposite. "I wanted one of those pedicure, relaxing foot baths for Christmas," she says. "I received a used one!"

"I promptly threw it away. That isn't something to be re-gifted and it was very obvious at that."

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