What do these things have in common: Rubik’s Cube, Tickle Me Elmo, and iPad? They are just some of the most popular Christmas gifts of all time — the kind that commands long lines at the cash register and some very aggressive shopping strategies.
And, unless you had a pretty cool “santa,” you might not have found any of those items under your Christmas tree. Instead, you may have had to unwrap some pretty sad boxes that contained these bad presents:
The Box of Handkerchiefs
It’s the typical gift between classmates who: a. Didn’t have the time or the money, b. Didn’t care to find out what the recipient wanted, and c. was too lazy to go up another floor and find other products in the mall. This is a gift that not only shows a lack of imagination, but also a strong desire to say, “I don’t care.” And if you follow feng shui, the handkerchief gift implies you expect the person will see a lot of crying in his/her future.
Instead of a negative gift, try a cool, useful box of table napkins. If your recipient has kids, he or she might love this adorable, eco-friendly back-to-school napkins.
Useful, yes. Exciting, thoughtful, creative— no, no, and no. I know it’s tempting to reach for packaged socks, with multiple colors or two-toned options, when you’re surrounded by other shoppers who are in panic mode in a mall on Friday at 8 PM. But it’s not like Christmas springs up on you, like an unpleasant surprise. You are aware that it comes at the end of the year, and that, at some point, your office is going to organize some type of gift exchange. You actually have more time than you think.
If you’ve got some weird need to give away socks, then at least look into better versions. There are cool girl socks with emojis, angry-looking cats, and ducks with devil horns. There are dude socks with badass flames, old-school rocker tee print, and beer bottles on a bike. The point is you can still get the droll gift, but with more personality.
What’s wrong with a photo frame? Other than it’s the kind of gift that inspires a “sad face” when your recipient opens the present, it’s not exactly relevant anymore, is it? This, being the era of downloadable images, makes a static photo frame boring. Also, there’s a great likelihood that the frame might not match whatever interior décor your recipient has got going at home or the office.
Get creative and take a snapshot of yourself holding the actual gift. Then put it in some OK-looking photo frame. If you’re feeling generous, you can get the person a digital photo frame with Wi-Fi, audio, video, and email content features. Imagine the look on that person’s face after opening the box.
Home Figurines or Decorative Items
It’s probably one of the most worthless gifts you can give: the decorative piece that’s so bad you’ll want to smash it to bits. OK. That is a strong reaction to a bad gift, but if you’ve ever received ill-conceived Precious Moments commemorating home foreclosure or death, or some unsavory figurine of a bear doing ungodly things to one of God’s creatures, or a corn of cob with the face of an armadillo, you’ll have some very strong reaction.
These worthless, queer items not only gather dust in your home. They are also likely to inspire nightmares or a bad way to lose your buzz when you come home from a really long happy hour.
Most figurines are a waste of money and space. But you can find cool stuff that serves a dual purpose: it’s decorative, but also stores or keeps other items. Try a hand-carved animal that also holds glasses or clever key holders.
The Well-meaning Gifts
And finally, we have the gifts that prompted the “invention” of awkward silence between two people. The “I meant well” gifts are a kind-of passive-aggressive way to tell someone they need to get their shit together.
You know the usual gifts: the bathroom scale and the self-help books. Yes. People have problems, and people need help. But is Christmas the best time to remind them of how “awesome” their life’s going?
Only give weight-loss type gifts if you know the person’s on that journey. If they are, go for the cool fitness-themed gifts: workout bag, grownup lunchbox, or a blender with a to-go cup. Otherwise, mind your own business. If you want to give a book, get a title the person’s going to love; a biography of the person he or she admires could work.
Giving gifts is fun. I mean, I happen to dig it.
It shouldn’t feel like a burden or reason to moan and groan about the commodification of the holidays. If you try harder and devote just a fraction of your time to thinking about what you’re going to wrap for that person you drew in the office gift exchange, you’ll find a great deal more satisfaction than if you’d just grabbed some thoughtless trinket at the corner drugstore.
Because when it comes to gifts, it’s not the cash value of what you give, but the thought you put into it that counts.
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Joy has been a vegan for over 20 years. She's done a wide range of stories for magazines, from music and movies to business and culture matters. She continues to write professionally to this day — like, right this very minute.