“My gift is my song and, this one’s for you.”
— Elton John
While a great many of us delight at the thought of receiving just the perfect gift during the Christmas season (wasn’t there something about a baby being born? … It’s on the tip of my tongue … maybe it was just about Santa’s elves or something?) there are people out there — like me — who are among the world’s worst gift-givers. (Yeah, I’m someone who might actually think a newborn baby would like to hear me play a John Bonham drum solo right after he was born … “Little Drummer Boy,” indeed.)
Try as I might, I seem to have a knack for giving just the wrong gift at just the wrong time. I’m usually either a little behind the times, way off base or didn’t read the signs or catch the dropped hints about what my loved ones wanted for Christmas. Thus (among other reasons), I’m usually the one whose invitation to holiday gatherings gets lost in the mail. Or I’m not greeted with an outpouring of enthusiasm when I walk in with often ill-wrapped packages.
(NOTE: When it comes to the holidays, I’ve always been jealous of people who can actually wrap a present without using two rolls of wrapping paper and people who seem to know just what the recipients of their gifts wanted all along.)
Relying on my history of inept gift-giving, then, I offer up this list of 10 gifts not to give this Christmas:
1. Toys that you grew up playing with: Yes, there is a great deal of nostalgia associated with gift shopping, and we often find ourselves erroneously thinking that our kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and those “young-at-heart” family members who are in various stages of arrested development will love to play with the toys we played with when we were young. Don’t be fooled. If your gift doesn’t have something to do with a cellphone or some other kind of electronics, it is destined for the Island of Misfit Toys.
2. Clothes: We think someone we care about would look good decked out in some purple and green monstrosity that looked cool on the mannequin, so we buy it anticipating glowing reviews for our taste in haberdashery. Two months later, we see that garment being used for rags to wipe up dog piddle.
3. Any kind of hygiene products: What message are you sending when you give someone something designed to make their body or their breath smell better? And especially, under no circumstances, should you give anyone soap on a rope. Just don’t.
4. Art or home decor: Even if you are moved emotionally by an artist’s creation, you think the words of wisdom on a plaque will inspire the recipient daily or you’re enchanted by that iconic image of dogs playing poker, you’re putting the recipient of said gifts in an awkward situation. They’ll be forced to find a place for these monstrosities just for when you visit. Otherwise, closet city. (Oh, and don’t expect those invitations on much of a regular basis.)
5. A big container of popcorn: If you give someone this as a gift, it says that you put no thought whatsoever into the purchase. In fact, most recipients will know that this is the one “extra” gift you bought in case you left someone out or someone unexpectedly gave you a gift.
6. Gadgets that are too complicated: Adults who want to drag their parents, grandparents or friends of another generation (kicking and/or screaming) “into this century” will go out and spend serious money on some of the latest contraptions designed to make life easier. What they do, though, for cantankerous old cusses set in their ways, is aggravate the recipient to no end because they can’t figure these things out. (Think Seinfeld’s “tip calculator”/organizer that he bought for his dad.)
7. Massage gift certificates: Two things end up happening: The person enjoys it so much he/she starts spending money budgeted for necessities on additional massages, or his/her significant other is not exactly pleased with how much he/she enjoys it and won’t shut up about it.
8. Pets: Animals should get to live in homes where they’re wanted, not where they’re liable to end up resented or, worse yet, on the dinner menu.
9. Contributions in someone else’s name to some charity: No matter how well-intentioned, someone who fights the crowds (or, most likely, orders by mail) to get you just the right gift is not going to be grateful that you gave money to the Human Fund in their name.
10. That naming of a star scam: Here’s what these clever entrepreneurs at the “Star Registry” do: They, first of all, take your money, and in exchange they send you an “OFFICIAL DOCUMENT!!” stating that some made-up star in some made-up part of this galaxy or another (how can you check?) has now officially been named in your honor. I would imagine these slick con artists are laughing all the way to the bank, imagining some gullible goober telling his friends, “You know, there’s a star out there in that great big sky named just for me.” What was it Shakespeare said about a fool and his money? (Or was it the Electric Light Orchestra?)
So, avoid these gifts at all cost, and you should be OK this Christmas. Oh, and before you ask, I actually like fruitcake.
Email Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.