It’s not rude if you put a bow on it

(Reprinted with permission from the the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor)

Passive-aggressive –adj: “Of or relating to a personality that harbors aggressive emotions while behaving in a calm or detached manner.”

So much is written this time of year about the joy of giving, finding that perfect gift and the true meaning of Christmas. Well, if you’re like 89.6 percent of the world, you probably belong to a dysfunctional family that would give the Lohans a run for their money. And those with sane, normal families are undoubtedly blessed with wack-a-doodle friends that keep life interesting.

Let’s face it, gift giving — and receiving — with these loved ones is not always a fun or healthy process. Who isn’t a little tempted to send an ancient fruitcake to the grandmother who still refers to you by your sister’s name and sends you last year’s calendar that she gets free from her favorite charity? Subliminal message, be damned.

Just so you know, if anyone buys this for my kid I will unfriend, block and disown you so fast your head will spin.

Sometimes the passive-aggressive generosity starts at home. You know, the husband who buys you a brand new, state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner for Christmas because he obviously enjoys sleeping in the den for a week. Perhaps you have a loving wife who buys you a gym membership because there was the time you uttered the words ‘work’ and ‘out’ — not necessarily in that order, but she read between the lines.

One friend looked deep within to appreciate the thoughtful gift from her mother-in-law the year she received “The Proper Care & Feeding of Husbands” by talk show psychologist Dr. Laura. However, based on the string of profanity in the thank you note, I’m not certain she looked deep enough.

My own mother is a sensitive yet practical gift giver, but I’ll never forget the year I received my traditional three pairs of underwear with a dual purpose. It was clear I could use a pair as a parachute if I ever needed to bail out of a plane. I tried to conceal my horror when I delicately questioned if they were the right size.

“What? Don’t you like them? They’re the same kind I wear,” she explained innocently. Hey, my mom is very cool, but I wasn’t quite ready to wear the same bloomers as someone 25 years my senior.

Some people are on the other end of the spectrum without realizing it. A woman told me she was tired of all the gifts she carefully chose for her in-laws ultimately winding up with their daughter, so she was inordinately proud of her solution this year to monogram everything. Points for passing passive and going straight to aggressive.

Countless stories of inappropriate gift certificates, hidden agendas and the blatant re-gifts litter our holiday memories like so much discarded wrapping paper. The key is smiling brightly while digging around for the receipt. When you have “colorful” friends and family, it can be a challenge to remember that time-honored adage, “It’s the thought that counts.”

Especially when you know exactly what they’re thinking.

Merry Christmas and many happy returns. ‘Tis the season to share – tell me some of your best/worst gifts with a hidden message.

136 thoughts on “It’s not rude if you put a bow on it

  1. I loved this! I’m thankful my family is fairly small and we are relatively sane in our gift giving. It doesn’t feel like a chore (mostly) and I think we all do a fairly decent job of considering what the person might actually want (at least I hope my gifts represent tht kind of thought). I don’t recall any specific gifts with a hidden message. Although there was the year (birthday, not Christmas) when my mom gave me a rather large t-shirt, that turned out was actually a maternity shirt. The irony was, I got pregnant around that time and the t-shirt was more like a premonition.

    • Ooh, how do mother’s know?! I think you have one of the most functional dysfunctional families I’ve heard of. Merry Christmas!

  2. My in-laws go way overboard with their one grandkid. It’s just plain sickening. And I get to watch it every other year – and this year is THE year. Lucky me.

    I sort of hate shopping, so I find the key is to get drunk at the mall’s chain restaurant bar and then go… takes the edge off, for sure. 🙂

    • My in-laws do the exact OPPOSITE with their only grandchild. She only got one present from them for Christmas last year & they didn’t even give her a birthday present. Poor thing. I purposefully bought her an extra present for this year to make up for getting one present last year (she won’t notice, but I will!).

  3. @suemaden told me that I would love your post and, she was absolutely right!

    I don’t like to brag but, I am probably one of the world’s best gift givers…it’s true.
    I’ve actually had people ask me to be their personal shopper. I told you…I’m good!
    If you need any advice…Call Me!

  4. OK, I admit to the panty faux pas. Don’t know what I was thinking. However you did miss the toy drum set to the “perfect” child of the “perfect” parents. I, however, am the one exception to the fruitcake rule. Happen to love them and if I don’t I make them into a terrific bread pudding.

  5. I had a roommate that had a young child and her family gave him a battery operated fire truck with buttons that made a different sound there were 5 of them. Considering he was about 18 months old, I knew what we were in for. I asked her as soon as I saw it ” which family member hated her to gift her son with that?” she looked at me like I had three heads? She learned quickily – the batteries were removed within an hour and the toy was “broken.”

    My husbands mother and sister go over the top at christmas time (for each other)and I find it sicking. They know what the gifts are as they shop together, things are wrapped and opened for show. One of our first xmas’s together– Out came a 42 inch TV for Mom ( not the flat screens) then a 36 inch for us and then a 32 inch for another family member. All stacked on top of each other, you could have made a snowman out of the boxes in the center of the living room.

    I try to be thoughtful and or funny when I get gifts for others, but sometimes lately all the gimmies of the season, make me ill and I just want to help someone who has less then me.

    Suz’s it was so nice meeting you in twitardia in September.

    • Sounds like you have the giving spirit even if certain family members don’t. Stick to your guns and ignore the competition!

      It was so great meeting you too! I have a nice shot of you at the beach. *sigh* Forks.

      • Ohh, Forks. How I miss it so…kinda weird missing 4 days out of the entire year. Send the pic to my email, please. I have nice pics of the scenery of the Hoh, * Ahem* it was hard to believe that my camera took them. I can email you mine pics.

  6. I have a mother-in-law who used to say they didn’t want anything chotcke or extra but then proceeded to buy them for my hubby and I. Then the year my sister-in-law got a house (we had ours for about 7 years at that point) and she bought us identical gifts of landscaping books, fix it books, fire alarms, etc – all stuff we have/had. We had great donations that year 🙂 Now she gives us a list and there is rarely anything on it under $100. I love Christmas.

    • Haha! The spirit of gift giving (and receiving) is simply lost on some people. I hope you were being ironic and that you really DO love Christmas. I hope this one is happy and stress-free.

  7. For my wedding, we opened a gift from a close work friend of my then-husband. It was a silver salad set. But it was BLACK from tarnish.

    The close work friend had been married about a year before. It was obvious he was re-gifting!

    Of course, my marriage ended in divorce 11 years later. Perhaps it was a sign?


    • Mikalee, it seems that you are seeing signs everywhere these days! Hats off to you for learning to recognize you intuition. You can learn to trust that knowing! 🙂
      My story is of the pastor’s wife who always gave us USED make up and open packs of gum and candy, etc. Stuff that was purchased, was not what she wanted and instead of throwing it away, she gave it to us as a care package each year. The best on was the year that she gave Mom the shell-covered brick. I was a gag gift in our family until I gave to my son who gave it to his long-gone girlfrine, never to return. But the memory is what counts! Fun and interesting all the different ways people “zing” each other!

  8. Oh, so very true – all of it; and inevitable, I think. Unless you all make a list of what you want (like a wedding list) and friends/relatives pick (or not) from it, we’re all going to have to accept that part of the season of cheer and giving is the psychological revelations that come about when opening those gifts 😉

  9. LOL!! Oh the underwear from your mother…I don’t think it gets any better than that, eh?

    I once received a sweater for Christmas from my grandmother. It had pictures of kittens woven into it. Clearly, she pays attention to my style…

    Hilarious post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂

  10. When we were kids, my cousin gave my sister and I the bead set much like the picture you posted. My mom thought it was cute at first, until for years after, she still found beads rolled under the couch, under the fridge, laying all over the floor.

    That was YEARS ago. Now, with my cousin having two kids of her own, every Christmas and birthday, my mother gives those kids something that will drive my cousin nuts – drum set, permanent markers, yes, a bead set. My cousin expects it every year and it has now been a tradition all because my cousin gave us a bead set for Christmas years and years ago.

    Great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂

  11. Great post. I actually wouldn’t mind getting a fruit cake or a Hickory Farms sausage basket – those are useful gifts to quell my always rumbling stomach.
    But alas, I will probably get some newfangled gadgets that will occupy every waking hour of my day, thus preventing me from getting any work done and furthering my ADD.

    Rob, The Mainland

  12. Just once, and I repeat just once, my husband very proudly purchased a snow mobile helmet for me, the person who hates winter and snow by the way…..and later I find out that it couldn’t be returned because it was on clearance! My son got it, I got nothing and believe me….we’ll never see anything like that under our tree again!

  13. Great article. My dad is hard to buy for and he always says he just wants “World Peace”. How do you giftwrap that? LOL. My dad likes to go to the black friday sales and he always gets the snow globe at JC Penney but one year he could not go and was sad about missing the snow globe so I got him one on Ebay and he loved it :).


    • Hmm. My mom always says she wants “World Peace” too. Maybe we should have them meet? 😉

      Congrats on FP! This was a great post, much better than the rant I have in my draft file that I’ll probably delete.

      I haven’t finished reading all the comments yet, but there’s a couple comments below this that brought to mind:

      Why exchange gifts with a relative who hates you? (rice cooker lady)

      Re the other gal who no longer exchanges gifts and is working on stopping the card thing- what do you have left for the holiday? Don’t get me wrong- I stopped the gift exchanges too! But we still do stockings (we each sneak something into everyone’s stocking) and a white elephant exchange. I’d be afraid of missing some of the giving during the season with the people I care about. There’s a fine line between rejecting consumerism and rejecting the spirit of the season.

  14. Boy oh Boy. Can I relate to this! This is what I am currently doing. I stopped the present exhanging completely. Years and years of giving, worrying, and obsessing, has taken its toll and now I’ve come to the point where I told everyone, “New day, folks. No more presents. Take me, leave me. I don’t really care.”

    And it works, at least for me. Now, I’m working on stopping the card sending. Why? Because years and years of sending them and not getting back has taught me that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    Love your blog!

    • Presents we tend to keep minimal, which usually works.

      Cards, though, I have never liked. They can be nice, but most people just end up throwing them out soon after, myself included – otherwise, they just accumulate and you don’t know what to do with them :/

      • Suggestion for cards: cut off the back side, keep the pictures, and have a snowy day craft project. The children sit around the table and I furnish pieces of cardboard the size of placemats. The children take turns selecting a card, and then paste the cards on their cardboard. When they’re all done I put some Saran wrap over each placemat to keep them waterproof. They use them meal after meal!


  15. This post is so true, and I can totally relate, my family is a little crazy with Christmas. Not only do we have weird, unasked for presents, my mother makes sure to up the drama each and every year so that my brother are left outside in the cold, staring at the car with my mother and father locked in it with her screaming at the top of her lungs.
    I make sure to ask for lists for my family so that I don’t get something where they open it up and say, “This is crap.” So, I’ve got pretty much all of my lists crossed off already to get the shopping out of the way!

  16. Haha. . .I love your post!

    My dad is the hardest to buy for, but thankfully he loves cookies and sweets, so sometimes that’s all he gets, from me at least.

    But I love that my husband thinks I’m smaller than I really am, so if he buys clothes they’re usually too small and I have to exchange them. Now he just gives me money or takes me shopping to buy my presents

  17. The worst Christmas present I received???hmmmm let’s see…an automatic rice cooker from the aunt who hates my guts. She’s never liked my cooking and I got the message with her gift: She REALLY hates my rice. I enjoyed your post very much!! 😀

  18. I’m particularly lucky that my family members generally have great taste in gifts, that are very specific to each person, so we always get things we love! We also do write christmas lists, to help give ideas, just in case 😉 But there are often lots of surprises that weren’t on the lists, and they’re wonderful! 🙂

  19. My dad got me a guitar a couple of years back. I play brass instruments, but I have always had a hard time with guitar and I just don’t like playing them. The guitar was his, but he got a newer one and packaged the old one up with a nice case, music books, etc.

    If I had any interest in guitar, this would have been a lovely gift. But I dont’. Now he asks constantly if I’ve been playing it and if I can play him a song. I can only make up so many excuses!

  20. Glad to learn I am not the only one who, even in middle age, still gets a box of underwear from her (almost) 80 year old mother every Chrstmas. Truth be told, I don’t buy underwear the rest of the year, so that stuff better be there again this December 25th when I start opening boxes! Or else, I’ll be goin’ commando, till my next birthday.

    Want me to prove it to ya? (guess I’m the passive-agressive here)

  21. No hint of a lie, one mother’s day my neighbor who had mentioned that she was unhappy with the landscaping,received 3 yards of topsoil from her husband.
    Yes, they’re still married.

    • I would love this as a gift. I had the husband order me a cubic yard for my birthday. And the kids part of the gift was to get it off the driveway and in the backyard. Most years I just ask for bags of manure. The main gift is everyone else carrying it up to my rooftop garden.


  22. I love fruit cake! My Dad’s Mom used to soak that fruit in brandy for MONTHS beforehand. We kids would eat it and get REAL happy, then REAL sleepy. Crazy, true, Southern memory – and yes, I did love it.

    The worst gift ever? Possibly the hangers I was given when I was pregnant with my last son. They were nice hangers, and I thanked the giver sincerely. It only hit me later, when I saw the lovely gifts others were given, that I had been given…hangers…while pregnant. Um.

    I won’t say WHO did that.

    Most CLUELESS gift was the same year – my husband gave me workout socks and a gift certificate to a sporting goods store HE likes. Yep, that was the same Christmas I got the hangers. He gave his 8 month pregnant wife stuff for…working out. Strangely, I didn’t smack him with the frying pan he got me the year before.


    p.s. I love that you have a comment from your Mom. : )

  23. I have an ex-mother-in-law, who, while I was still married to her son, for years would ask for a list from us. The first few years, I was suckered into it, I handed over a simple list of inexpensive items. She would go down through the list and proceed to tear me apart and the ideas I had. I learned very quickly to not hand over any list at all and just say “I don’t need anything”. Being O/C, she still has every list we ever wrote and still will pull them out and go over them. When we would open a gift, she would say “oh, you don’t like it”, you can return it. Even if you loved it, she didn’t believe you. And if you returned it, she sent a 10 page letter letting you know what she really thought. Every Christmas was drama.

    One of the best presents I ever heard of, was while I was working as a manager at Barnes & Noble in the Jr Dept. A grandmother came in and bought a book for each of her children and grandchildren, and she wrote a note in each book and give it to them in September. By Christmas, each family member was to prepare a “book report” and share it with all of the family members, sort of like a family book club. I guess it was a big hit in her family and the gift to her was the joy she received from it all. The whole family loved this special time together.

  24. I have a tendency to over analyze and search for the symbolic meaning in gifts I give. I work hard to make sure each gift adds to the story of the life of the receiver…It’s ridiculous really how much thought is put into my gifts to others, but I love when it comes together, they understadn the meaning/symbolism and genuinely enjoy the thought behind the gift along with the gift its self.

    Those who have known me lon enough try to take the same approach towards my gifts now too. Much appreciated 🙂

    “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…” Sometimes it works!!!

  25. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! It’s hard to pick a favorite part of this post, but the phrase “wack-a-doodle” is definitely a contender… I think it needs to start sprinkling my vocabulary soon! And the beaded craft kit, yes – many people take a special, evil joy in “spoiling” other people’s children with gifts that will be a nightmare for the parents. Hop ’em up on Ho-Ho’s and send ’em on home!

    I had an overly pragmatic boyfriend who was fond of giving me kitchen gadgets on all gift-giving occasions. But given that we are both extreme foodies, I rolled my eyes but kept the gifts. I’m more disturbed by my step-grandmother’s tradition of putting Fruit-of-the-Looms in her son’s stocking every Christmas, despite the fact that he’s been married to my mom for the last 12 years. Considering his glee, I don’t think it’ll stop any time soon.

  26. To avoid all of this I stil make my grown children do it the old-fashioned way…give me a list…or circle everything you want out of a catalog for all I care. I’m not spending hard earned money for something someone doesn’t want. lol Oh, and love those relatives who seek out the given gift the remainder of the year to be sure you are using it. well, not so much as something like your wonderful undergarment gift.

  27. Christmas used to be horrendous in our house. My MIL insisted she had to buy every toy/electronic gizmo out there for my DD. At 4, the MIL wanted to buy her a cell phone “because all her friends will have one and you don’t want her to be made fun of do you?” At 4! She had a very serious case of buying one’s grand daughters love.

    After the first couple of years, my BIL got into the act as well, and I became the Bitch who wouldn’t let them do anything for my girl. Nevermind that I gave them suggestions for books, and classes she enjoyed, *they* wanted her to have toys, so she had to have toys! Most were returned a month after Christmas.

    Now that my MIL has passed away, and my BIL wants nothing to do with us(we aren’t pot smoking partiers)Christmas is so much quieter. Like it should be!

  28. Every year my aunt spends around $15 on a gift for me from a J. Crew outlet store near her house. I love J. Crew, but she consistently finds the least attractive articles on the rack (most often sweaters no one else wanted to buy), forever unreturnable and two sizes too large. I should have corrected her the first year I got an L instead of an S, so now I suppose I only have myself to blame..

    Loved this post!

  29. I got seriously regifted this year for my birthday- a lovely tote of bath salts from a local spa and in the bottom of the bag was the forgotten envelope from the gift certiciate it had originally come with.
    My Husband and I have started to refer to everything his mother gives us as ‘3-d gift cards’ because they always get returned to the original store…..

  30. Love that you and your mother wear the same type of Bloomers 😉 I think the whole gift giving during the holidays is nuts ! …so much stress ! ..but tis’ the season, right ?
    Congrats on getting Pressed 🙂

  31. Great post!! Captured the true spirit of gift giving, haha. Same song and dance every year. I watch my mother stress every year over what to buy for us kids because she is always trying to keep the gift giving even steven (grand kids excluded). Makes me feel like a spoiled brat, when she puts back something my sister really needs because it cost more than what she purchased for my brother and me. Gift giving should not be so complicated. Frankly I am happy with good company, and one thoughtful gift.

    Thanks for sharing!

  32. My husband’s Aunt, who I’ve never met and lives in another state, gave us Martha Stewart’s book about homemaking. I didn’t know whether to be really insulted or laugh off such a stupid present. I chose laughter!

  33. This was great! Most of my family just gives random gifts that I probably won’t ever use though my sister is actually quite thoughtful with her gifts. The weirdest gift I ever received was from my grandmother who gave me a pinecone with a face on it claiming, “It looks just like you.” I didn’t see it.. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  34. My ex-husband’s first Christmas gift to me was a blender. I was crushed because it was so un-romantic. However, it did make great baby food and margaritas and after 30 years it still works. Unfortunately, the marriage did not.

  35. Yeah. My husband was the one who gave me underwear for Christmas that was two sizes too big. That may have been the year after I gave him the perfect Father’s Day card without realizing the inside said “Grandpa.” We try really hard.

  36. LoVE IT! There is nothing wrong with regifting or picking somethin up from a garge sale or a thrift store. A lot of thought has to go into it…at the brick and morter stores you just grab a bunch of crap and pay too much…I think simple and thoughful is totally chic…But the darn BOW ON IT! LOVE YOUR STYLE GIRL…Theresa

  37. Oooh, my mother-in-law likes to buy all the girls the same gift each year in different colors – typically a scarf or a pair of socks or something. One year I watched as each girl unwrapped a pretty buttoned cardigan. When it was my turn, however, I got something completely different. To my horror, she announced to the entire room “You know, I just didn’t think the cardigan would look good on you.”

    It’s a cardigan! They look good on everyone, right?

    I think if she had framed it in a more positive light, like “Oh, I just really wanted you to have THIS” I would’ve felt better.

    Great post!

  38. Haha. My grandma and aunt keep insisting on doing the dirty santa thing for like the 6th year in a row. My hallway closet is overflowing with kniknaks and reindeer that poop jelly beans. They say it’s less expensive than secret santa but I think it’s pointless stuff we will never ever use and a waste anyways.

  39. A friend of mine received a candle making kit, complete with double boiler, for her 4 year-old one Christmas. To add insult to (inevitable) injury, the kit had already been used.

    ‘Tis the season…to be drinking.

  40. Ah yes, crazy presents. Everyone’s gotten at least one of those.
    As for me it’s the cookbooks. They are given to me yet I never seem to be permitted to test what’s in them. Thank you my dear mother for that one.

    Though I love the books it’s quite vexing just to look at the wonderful cupcakes and such without actually getting to try them. Well, I’ll be able to do that in a few years time. Until then, wish me luck so I won’t go insane or collect far to many of them!

  41. I dated a guy who would mock me for my Christian beliefs (I know… I don’t know why I stayed with him for as long as I did) but one year I got him a Bible with his name engraved on it. I too can play that game. Loved your post!

  42. My mil has always been pretty appropriate, thankfully. I love the humor in your blog and thanks for reprinting the definition of passive agressive as I find human behavior so very interesting (probably explains the need for humor, ha!). Congrads on being fp and may you enjoy the holidays(“-“)

  43. I have been on the other side of the underwear present debacle where the other person is all like “Thanks but why did you get me that size!” when its a perfectly respectable medium and you’re thinking “There’s no way you’re a small honey so just accept it.” and they are all like “Do you have an exchange card cos I’m going to have to get that swapped.” and you’re thinking “Ok whatever you say but you’re deluded if you think you’re going to swap those for a small”.
    Worst gift was from my late grandmother bless her cotton socks who one year gave me knitted cosies for coat hangers and my cousin a bmx bike. Hmmm couldn’t quite see the parity there.

  44. I enjoyed your post. Congrats on being FPd! Enjoy the ride!

    I have 8 siblings and my husband has 6. Three of 4 parents are still alive (thankful, yes!). Do the math on Christmas stuff. At least I have my cards done, all 50 of them. Love to do it. Merry Christmas to you!

  45. Turns out that being “freshly pressed” is almost as good as being freshly fondled. (Almost because it’s been a while, but anyway…) Not sure I could ever catch up on replying to every comment but thank you all SO much for reading and sharing your gift stories. I have an amazing sense of community today, not to mention a renewed passion for blogging. Thank you!!!

  46. I loved this post! My family always had the same problem…it’s amazing that even after living together for 20 years, no one ever knows what anyone else might want and gifts were so often just tossed away after Christmas.

    Now, my family is very blatant. We all pick our own presents. We all know what we’re getting for Christmas. There is no hunting for the perfect gift. We all get online and say “Send out the links to everything you want by THIS date!” And it works, since we all know what happens if we don’t! So much easier 🙂

    Of course there’s always the annoying surprise stocking stuffer here and there. A pair of work gloves “just in case,” though they’ll be an easy argument for why you should help plant the garden this spring, or a cd rom video game that’s so old even those of us with dial up can’t get our computers to play it…

    Merry Christmas, and thanks for the laugh!

  47. Haha! I’m happy to say my gift-giving experiences have largely been positive; as you say though, there’s always someone who merits an extra-well thought out present. One of my friends from high school suddenly turned pretentious as soon as we were in our final year making university applications (she’s studying English at Oxford now, surprise); I was out Christmas shopping and couldn’t resist picking up a copy of a book called ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. A couple of my friends sniggered at the appropriately snobbish title, but I don’t think she got the joke because a few weeks later, she came in and said she’d finished reading it and found it ‘enlightening’.

    You win some, you lose some. I think this was a win.

  48. Wow, I was nodding my head and laughing because your post is so true! Some of the things that people give as gifts are pretty out there. One of my favorite gifts that I have ever received was from a close friend. She actually hand painted a Christmas tree ornament with things that had to do with things that I liked or did as activities (Milky Way bar, Tinker Bell (have a tattoo of her), Batwoman logo (Halloween costume), Facebook logo, and a lot of other things. It told me that she put a lot of thought into it and of course added her personal touch.

    I applaud you and can’t wait to read more!

  49. Really enjoyed the read. My brother in law filled our truck with mothballs and kitty litter the night of our wedding. I purchase the loudest, most obnoxious toys possible for his children each year (ever heard of a zube tube?) and get the hell out of my mother in laws house as quickly as possible – passive aggressive or payback? Hmmm.

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  51. This hit home…. I always thought my brother loved me until he bought my son (age 5 at the time) a “Build your own working volcano” kit from the Discovery store. And then at age 11, an electric guitar.

  52. My family realized we were too desperate to find gifts for each other when we all started giving everyone toothpaste, deoderant, coffee, and soap for Christmas. Time to cut back and actually buy one or two small special items, not everyday stuff.

  53. So insightful and funny! Loved this post. I’m a newlywed and trying to decide what to get my husband. And he’s doing the same for me. Let’s hope we do better than some of these suggestions!

  54. My late grandmother, a devout Catholic used to give my sister low-cut dresses for Christmas presents when we were children. We never could figure that out. Then when I graduated from high school my grandmother gave me this tight red dress with long slits up the sides. Really, it looked like the type of dress a hooker wore. I never did wear it. Not sure what the hidden message was at that time. It certainly wasn’t marriage and weddings.

    Love your post and find it hilarious.

  55. In the saddest of all events of my life, I actually asked my husband for one of those self propelled vacuums for Christmas. But only because he got the blond Labrador who sheds all over! (is that 2 strikes?)

  56. I have the Proper Care and feeding of Husbands but it is definately a book you want to pick out for yourself. If someone had given it to me as a gift I would probably think, “Hey, what are you trying to say? What, I’m not doing it right or something?” It makes perfect sense that your friend was not pleased.

  57. Thanks for the hilarious insight! I did get a vacuum for my 30th birthday but it was a super expensive one that I was dying to own and it’s red. So I really do love it. however I have family that gives me spa gift certificates, which in and of themselves are very nice. But accompanying them once was a coupon for a discount on laser hair removal. Not such a hidden message.

  58. I don’t think I ever got something with a hidden message. At least not with my own family. Now that I am married it is somewhat different, well, the gifts. My mother in law is the one who rarely understands what I like or possibly want. My sisters in law are not too bad. Although one re-gifted a calender she got for her birthday in October to me as a Christmas gift in December. I liked the calender, she not so much, I hung it up in the office (and it is useful there).

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  60. I remember when I was around 10 yo, I wanted to have a small umbrella for Christmas present, but my mom didn’t notice it and bought other thing and gave it to Santa Claus. So when the Santa Claus passed the gift to me I was disappointed.
    My mom then realized that she bought the wrong one, and in the early morning she told me that she found a small umbrella under her bed 😀 hahhaaha
    and she gave it to me.

    Anyway I love your writing 🙂 Do you mind to visit my blog? Thank you 🙂

  61. Tell me about it ….. I much like it when my family slips the dough in an envelope and asks me to go and buy myself something I like. Its a double gift for I can then enjoy the fun of going shopping and having the money to pay for it. Maybe you’d like to gift my book as some of the gifts.

  62. One year my mom gave me the Weight Watcher’s books to count points. Just because she is on a diet, doesn’t mean I am – yikes! Believe me, I got her message loud and clear.

  63. Hilarious – I always think I’d love to play with one of those bead kits! Worst gifts I used to get were cheap used books from my aunt. I used to dread opening a lot of my childhood presents because they were never what I wanted! Now I love to go out after Christmas when things are on sale and buy what I want.

  64. Thanks for the laughs – perhaps the best gift of all in the upcoming season! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one waiting with a hand grenade for the Dreaded Fruitcake which has traveled the world 3 times over.

    Just in case.

  65. Thank you for making me laugh. Not every gift has a thought behind it. Perhaps that is worse? My dad walks into Walmart, grabs a cart, and without thought grabs the first items he sees. If he needs seven gifts. He grabs seven random items…then decides who will get what when he gets home. Oh, and he wraps the gifts with newspaper or puts them in the gift bags his gifts came in last year. 🙂

  66. Hahaha this is pretty good. its a great example for new bloggers like me lol
    but yeah theres always that cheap/ douchy present that ONE person always tries to give. there was a christmas i flat out told my parents, ” just gimme the money on christmas, ill handle the rest”

    haha sometimes the best gift you get is the receipt lol

  67. Bahaha! Amen, sister, amen. I have family members that ask what you want for Christmas and don’t take your answer seriously. They don’t even consider it. You’re lucky if you get the receipt with the gift!


  68. At a low point in family life, on my 18th birthday (in February), my mom gave me the Christmas gift my brother and sister-in-law had given my mom – a basket of bath business. That one hurt.

  69. I loved your blog…isn’t the gift giving fraught with so much angst? We finally gave up the gift giving with extended family at my suggestion knowing it was just so much pomp and circumstance with no real meaning behind it anymore…we unfortunately had grown apart and really didn’t know each others needs and wants which is the true spirit behind the gift giving, so we call and wish each other a Merry Christmas with love and that is more than enough! No more pressure to please, I couldn’t take it! Ha, Ha!

  70. Haha, parachutes! I just saw a teenage girl who borrowed her mom’s underwear arguing with mom about them being inside out. She held her hands up to her bra-line, “I wouldn’t have to roll them down if they didn’t come up to here!”

    I wasn’t allowed any makeup at all. Sometimes I would borrow some at school and I got caught a couple of times. Christmas after I turned 15, I got my first makeup kit. It was one of those dollhouse kind for little girls, you know with the exactly-red grease shaped like lipstick, and blush with glitter in it? Pretty sure Daddy was trying to tell me something there.

  71. A bow on a crappy gift is kinda like lipstick on a pig, right?

    Worst gift ever? The gravy bowl that had been glued – yep glued – back together. I don’t know about most places but at my house, gravy is served … hot.

    Wonderful post and perfect for this time of angst, I mean year 🙂

    Cheers MJ

  72. Haha! I love this!
    I’ve read it a good few times now and it still made me chuckle each time!
    It’s very true though, and quite infuriating when you can’t say anything to avoid appearing ungrateful.
    One of my friends got a bottle of your average Dove body wash and shampoo as her first present from her mother-in-law which could have been easily mistaken for her own shopping after it was given to her unwrapped or anything! Luckily her presents improved after that and her mother-in-law got her ghd straighteners the following Christmas! Still, not particularly reassuring that your in-laws like you with a first gift like that 😛

    Anyhow, thank you for posting! 😀

  73. My mother is the only person I have ever known who will spend money on what I call “spite gifts”. One Christmas I was on her ****list and she gave me a skin-tight sweater made of what appeared to be aqua-blue fiberglass. Emblazoned on the front was a white vinyl unicorn with gold lamé horn and hooves. Where she found this abomination, I have no idea. Merry Christmas, anyway. 🙂

  74. Our neighbours once gave us a bottle of sparkling wine that I KNOW the brand had been discontinued a few years before. Surprise…the wine had lost its fizz!

  75. I have an aunt who lives in the US while I’m in Canada. She has a lot of money and loves to talk about it. She’s always commenting on my clothing, in a good way. So every Christmas she’ll buy me clothes. BUT she gets me fake brand clothing (I’m not a brand snob btw) and pretends it’s real. She’ll go on and on saying how much she spent when in actual fact, I know they’re cheap knock offs that aren’t even my style. I’d much rather her give me a box of chocolates or a coffee gift card for the same amount as the clothing. Why lie?

  76. Regifted hair dryer, a sweater several sizes too small, an old recipe binder (and I mean old) with pages yellowing & falling apart, socks. These are just a few of the bad gifts that have passed into my hands. Loved this post – made me laugh out loud.

  77. Merry Christmas to you too, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    I do once remember my mother buying me tens of mismatched socks for Christmas. You see, I’m a hilariously careless person. I’m so careless that there have been a number of times in my own apartment where I’ve left my laptop in the laundry basket. Heaven knows what gets into me at these points.

    I used to be quite careless as a child too, and no matter how hard I tried to arrange my sock drawer, I’d always find that one in a pair of socks always went missing. So if I was absolutely sure I had a proper pair of two blue socks, I’d find one missing. I guess my mom’s message to me was “Find your socks or wear these ones.”

    And ever since then, I’ve become that much better at keeping myself organized. Aside from the occasional stuff-in-the-laundry-basket-and-under-the-kitchen-sink instances, of course.


  78. I had an Aunt that would give me “crafting for kids” boxed sets like the bead set you had in your post. EVERY year when I was a kid I was guaranteed to get something like that. Plastic made in china junk. Now that I am older I get gifts that she thinks are “unique and very me”…. Apparently she does not know me. Most of the time I re-gift to someone or I say a small string of apologies an as the ‘gifts’ go in the garbage or the goodwill pile. My other aunt likes to give me “jewelry” you know the kind that you can pick up in the cheap section at Kholes or walmart… I don’t think any of it lasts until the next Christmas. One year she gave me a photograph of her family with a chocolate bar tucked into a coffee cup. The cup still had the dollar store sticker on the bottom.

    Lots of Love Aunties. ❤

  79. My mum is basically the best present buyer on earth. She’s the sort of person who shops all year round thinking about little thoughtful gifts you might like.

    Long story short – she’s created a monster – no one can match her awesome gifts so I’m often disappointed.

    Moral of the story……celebrate those crappy, passive aggressive gifts – they’re good for your character!!

  80. This year I am giving more smiles, hugs and gratitude. I plan to speak my truth and epress gratitude through cards and tributes spoken to the many people that I appreciate and love in my life 🙂

  81. Pingback: Christmas Changes | Reviving Identity

  82. Thanks for the good giggle. After I delivered what mom had asked for and found previous years gifts still unused, I’ve decided for future holidays the difficult to shop for will be getting (or really giving) a charitable contribution to the charity of my choice or something that has to be eaten pronto. I certainly won’t be giving panties 😉

  83. lol. i am guilty of giving my mom a vacuum cleaner one year. i’ve received socks before from my husband’s aunt, who’s known for giving bad gifts. but as i’ve gotten older, i actually like these kind of gifts (pjs, slippers, etc)….maybe not undies though.

  84. My x and I were recently married so It was our first x-mas. My mom had this bright idea to give us a bust of Aphrodite. The look from my X when she opened the box was priceless. It was down hill from there. It is a nice piece of art if you are into that. We were not. Not even close. I really disliked that thing. After several years she eventually got it back. I think that was part of the plan.
    Mom and Aphrodite are doing well. Thank you

  85. I just love it when someone blogs what I’m thinking!
    Bloomers from mom: too funny! I received some really nice knickers last Christmas from my mom-in-law. They were quite expensive and a little lacy, and now I just feel a bit weird when I wear them…is that wrong?
    Monogrammed gifts – I’m going to use that in the future. My favorite pass-aggro gift for the difficult relatives: a potted plant (try orchids or miniature citrus trees) that is very high maintenance. Ask after the plant every time you talk to the rel’ly and pretend to hunt around their house looking for it – even months after Christmas!
    As kids we once received an entire-wholesale size box of Ninja Turtle transfer tattoos. I don’t think my mum was particularly pleased with that one….

  86. Great post.Very funny but really true. What is the message behind second hand gifts I wonder?
    My sister buys all her gifts to us at the thrift shop or stores things she has gathered away for years, only to pop them out as gifts each Christmas/Birthday. My husband once got a single pair of second hand underpants and my daughter got a Christmas lolly stocking with ants inside it and a really old use by date. I wonder if any of your other readers have a relative or friend like this and how to deal with it. My daughter cried for ages because she couldn’t eat the lollies but I don’t want to offend my sister or be ungrateful. It’s a really tricky issue.

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