The best of the worst gifts we ever received


The holidays can be stress-inducing, especially when it comes to the pressure of Christmas gift giving.

Perfecting the art of gift giving often takes time, thought and care. Some gifters have a knack for hunting down the ideal item while others wander aimlessly through store aisles before resorting to something, really just anything, better than the alternative: nothing.

In either case, it is important to remember — it’s the thought that counts, right? But let’s face it, most of us have received a Christmas gift or two that’s left us asking — what were they thinking?

We asked local officials and Item staffers to share their humorous experiences with Christmas gift givers who apparently weren’t thinking!

Tom Younger, Swampscott Town Administrator can readily recall the gift among gifts he counts as the worst he ever received.

“It was a bottle of cologne and I think it was pre-used. The box was unsealed,” Younger said.

Ellen Schumann of Nahant, administrative assistant to Town Administrator Jeffrey Chelgren, can also quickly call to mind her “worst of the worst” gifts: The big box she fantasized opening when she was a kid and finding a state-of-the-art stereo inside turned out to be a 1960s-era hood-style hair dryer yearned for by her mother.

Mother’s seem to get a bad rap when it comes to worst gifts: Just ask Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy. During a Christmas shopping excursion, Kennedy’s mother held up a pair of “hideous pants” and said she planned to buy the offending trousers for Kennedy’s cousins.

“They were knit with patterns and I ended up getting them,” she said.

Trendy, pop-culture themed gifts are great, but usually when they’re received in the relevant era. Lynn City Council President Dan Cahill knows this first hand. He said the best worst gift he ever received was “a pair of silk MC Hammer boxer shorts.” And why were they the worst? “I received them five years after ‘Hammer Time’ was considered cool.”

Gabe Martinez, director of new media at the Item, also recalls that his worst gift came from the men’s accessories department. “My best worst awful holiday gift was in college,” he said. “My mother bought me a pair of boxers that were two sizes too big. I don’t wear boxers, nor am I a 34-34.”

Abbe Smith, Item classified manager, has strong words of advice for gift givers based on something she received many years ago from a family member: “Never give any woman a thigh master as a gift. Never.”

Along similar lines, Item City Editor Thor Jourgensen said: “My mother gave my wife an exercise ball. I spent the next week dodging and deflecting predictable questions from both of them.”

Even more delicate than broaching the topic of exercise when giving are the gifts Item reporter Gayla Cawley received: “When I was younger, every year, I would get a porcelain doll that I was not allowed to take out of the box because it would damage the value. With still being at the age where I wanted to play with dolls, it just seemed like a waste of a gift. To this day, a bunch of porcelain dolls from previous Christmases remain in their boxes, untouched, supposedly gaining collector’s value.

Jewelry is usually a much-sought-after Christmas gift, but sometimes the delivery can ruin the moment. “A few years ago, a family member gifted me a gold chain,” said Beth Bresnahan, Item CEO. “While it wasn’t the worst-looking piece of jewelry I’ve ever seen (though it was close), it was well-intended. However, his awkward delivery helped mark it as the “best awful holiday gift” I’ve ever received.

Before proudly handing me the gift bag, he prefaced it with: “You’ve got a really pretty face, but it would look even better if you wore some jewelry. Gold jewelry.” As I slipped the chain over my head, he topped off his compliment with, ‘You should think about getting a tan too.’”

Item News Editor Steve Krause doesn’t have a worst Christmas gift per se, but certainly had an annual gifting ritual to share: “I had an aunt and uncle, wonderful people, but very practical. While my sister and I got lots and lots of toys as kids, Aunt Viola and Uncle Joe always gave us clothes.

“Uncle Joe was a habitual cigar smoker. Their house, their car, and even the presents they gave smelled like cigar smoke. We’d pick up a package and detect the telltale odor of cigar smoke and know from whom the gift came. We’d open it, and of course it would be clothes (but nice clothes, not anything cheap). And even the clothes smelled of cigars. Not exactly a horrendous gift, but a running joke in our house for years.”

Christmas Day is traditionally a big day for movie lovers and Item Reporter Bridget Turcotte is no exception to that tradition. Several years ago, she received a true blockbuster. “The worst Christmas gift I ever received was a movie about babies,” she explained. “As a teenager, I asked for a copy of a comedy (the name of the movie has escaped me) and instead was given a documentary, with no narration, about babies being born in different cultures around the world. When my cousin finally got the DVD player running, we popped the disk in and were greeted with a very graphic depiction of babies being born everywhere from hospitals to straw huts.”

Saugus selectwoman Jennifer D’Eon, “best” worst gift came from a co-worker.

“I reached into the bag and pulled out a giant Santa Claus head made of yarn,” she said. “Turns out it was a homemade Santa toilet bowl lid cover. It was awful and hilarious at the same time!

My co worker made it special for me,” she said. “At first I held it up and I said thank you! She said guess what it is! Uh oh. I could not guess! I guessed hat!

People tried to top that gift for years. They gave me a remote control as big as an ipad. A calendar of all barns. Nothing was as terrible.”

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