Friday, December 15, 2006

You Shouldn't Have

by Rebecca Drake

I love the holiday season. I love the pageantry of Christmas, the lights that brighten otherwise bleak afternoons, the spicy scent of pine, the warm memories that hanging my favorite ornaments evokes. About the only thing I don’t like about Christmas is the exchanging of gifts.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Scrooge. I enjoy buying gifts for other people. The part I don’t like is the pressure to receive gifts graciously, to smile when you hate it, to refrain from saying, “What the hell is that?”

When I was a kid I used to snoop for my presents, not because I couldn’t wait to see what they were, but to prepare my reactions. I couldn’t bear the thought of hurting my family’s feelings and would practice big, Hollywood-worthy smiles and saying, “Wow! I’ve never gotten anything like this before!”

We’re taught that it’s the thought that counts, but I’ve got to tell you that there are many times when I’m left wondering just what they were thinking, if they were thinking anything at all.

I mean, how do you explain the acrylic sweater with huge black patches on a gray and white background? How did that purchase get made? They’re walking through the store and spot this item of clothing and say, “Wait! There’s the perfect gift! A sweater that looks like a cow!”

And what am I supposed to say upon receipt of such a gift? “My god, I’ve always wanted to look like a barnyard animal!”

So along with my holiday baking I’m perfecting my holiday smile. I’ll hope my gasp is mistaken for pleasure and say with complete sincerity, “Gee, thanks. You shouldn’t have!”

Contest time: What is the worst present you’ve ever received?

(Winner gets the cow sweater.)


Tory said...

My mom dealt with the anxiety of buying Christmas presents by going out on Xmas eve and buying everything in sight. I got it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The present that comes to mind this morning was a white linen Calvin Klein jacket that Mom wanted me to wear to job interviews.

"But, Mom, it's wrinkled!" I exclaimed. Mom said, "Just tell them Calvin Klein says it's all the rage." I'm sorry, except in the fashion industry, I can see the interviewer's comment: applicant can't even iron their own clothes.

Nancy said...

My mother-in-law buys her daughter the same perfume every year. And I get the free gift that comes with it. The good news is that I see the free-gift-with-purchase in the store at least a month in advance, so I can practice my expression.

Pat said...

When we bought our first house, (a duplex in Wilkinsburgs, which we still own and have affectionately named "The Little House in the Hood") we found in the basement the most disturbing taxidermical (is that even a word?) creation. It was a coat rack with four hooks, the hooks were the hooves of a deer. That year I wrapped it up for Christmas and gave it my brother, who waited a few years and gave it one of my sisters. I personally have received this gift TWICE. The hooves are currently in the possession of my sister in Texas. I haven’t seen them for a few years but sometimes, late on a cold Christmas eve I hear “on the roof the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.”

Joyce said...

I must be good at blocking out the bad things, because I can't think of any really horrible gifts. I've gotten things that don't fit, or maybe something I wouldn't use, but nothing that stands out.

My mother-in-law used to shop all year for bargains. One year I remember she gave one of her son-in-laws a shirt. When he took it out of the package, one sleeve was a good six inches longer than the other.

One year, we took her Christmas shopping and on the way home she was talking about her purchases. She started talking about the "Ralph Nader" socks she bought. Jerry and I looked at each other, trying to figure out what the heck she meant. Ralph Nader socks? Why would Ralph Nader be on socks? She finally took them out of the bag and showed us. They were "Darth Vader" socks. Not "Ralph Nader." It wasn't easy trying to NOT let her see us laugh!

Meryl Neiman said...

What a fun post! Nancy, I think your gift from your mother-in-law is hysterical. You have to use that in a book!

I have the same issue as Becky. I always feel on the spot and self-conscious when I receive a gift. I have trouble exuding even when I do really like the gift. Of course, it's more difficult when I don't. The last two problematic ones have been from my in-laws. My problem is the opposite from Nancy. My in-laws are generous, too generous, but their taste is not always the same as mine. I am now the proud owner of 2 Dooney & Bourke bags. I don't know much about fashion, but I know enough to know that the bags are expensive. My ability to exude was dampened by the fact that I don't usually carry a bag (I'm a belt pouch slob of a girl) and I'm cheap and all I could think of was, "you spent way too much on this."

My in-laws on the other hand are tremendous exuders. Before I married my husband, I used to joke that I could wrap up shit and give it to them and they would proclaim great excitement. One year, they were planning a spring time trip to Russia. I thought I was being very clever for Christmas and I bought them several books related to Russia. When I arrived for my visit, I noticed two of the books in their living room. On Christmas day, I presented my gift and began explaining that they could exchange them . . . but before I got very far, they started exuding, as if they had never seen these particular books before!

Kristine said...

Probably the worst gift I ever received was a really odd looking Christmas tree top that didn't fit on any tree. I kept it for a few years just in case the giver ever asked about it but finally got rid of it. Let's just say I put it out of its (and my) misery.

Gina said...

The worst gift I ever received wasn't for Christmas. It was from a guy in a critique group I used to be in. We were going through my (still unsold) horror novel Hannabelle that features a doll. Frank had vacationed in New Orleans and brought me back the most grotesquely ugly voodoo doll with the worst vibes of anything I've ever been near. [The doll in the book didn't look like that at all! She was dressed like a little Pilgrim and . . . oh, well, back to the story.] I thanked him for his thoughtful gift, then put the doll back in the plastic bag it had come in. After the meeting broke up, I put in in the trunk of my car, where it stayed for a few months. I couldn't bring myself to take it into my house, but didn't want to throw away a gift, so I eventually took it out of the trunk and threw it under a thick barberry hedge in my yard, where it remained for several years. Eventually, I pulled it out and chucked it straight into a garbage bag on its way to the curb. [If you're reading this, Frank, please accept my apology for not appreciating your gift.]

Rebecca Drake said... far the winner is Nancy. I've gotten some of those freebies as gifts, too--how insulting.

I love all these stories.

Meryl, you should sell those bags on ebay!

I'm wondering if anyone re-gifts their terrible gifts?

mike said...

Becky--Two words: long underwear!