74° Good Evening
74° Good Evening

When gifts go bad: New Yorkers share Christmas memories of their worst presents

Many New Yorkers recounted their desire as children

Many New Yorkers recounted their desire as children for frivolous toys and video games, only to receive necessities or educational aides from either clueless, financially strapped or practical parents. Photo Credit: ISTOCK

'Tis the season to remember gifts gone wrong.

Fiona Harrison, 38, of Richmond Hill, remembers ripping open a Christmas gift from her 14-year-old brother to find a Britney Spears perfume.

"First of all, I don't like Britney Spears. Second of all, I don't like celebrity perfumes," explained Harrison, who did not bother to mask her displeasure. Her brother, she recalled, "was crushed by my reaction," but learned from the experience. "We took it back," exchanging the offensive scent for one more to her taste. "I've never gotten a bad gift from him since," Harrison said.

As an HR specialist, she believes in clearly communicating expectations and providing honest, thoughtful feedback concerning performance. "You keep getting the same thing if they think you like it," she explained.

In a city where grudges are cherished, tastes are exacting and every adverse event can be a story, some remember goose-egg gifts for years. Many New Yorkers recounted their desire as children for frivolous toys and video games, only to receive necessities or educational aides from clueless, financially strapped, or practical parents.

"I was in the fifth grade," recalled Sammy Torres, 16, of the Grand Concourse area of the Bronx, when his mother excitedly presented him with FUBU shoes for Christmas.

But "Air Jordans and Nikes were the wave," and Torres never wore them, prompting his mother to ask why. "She told me not to worry about what other people think," Torres said. The next year, "I told her I wanted to buy my own sneakers."

Similarly, Tyrone McLamb, of the South Bronx, has never forgotten craving a bike and Batman paraphernalia as a 12-year-old and receiving, instead, a calculator from his mom. The bright side? He learned how to use it.

"When I got to high school, math was a breeze!" said the human services program director. "My mom is going to be mad at me," for calling her out, the 47-year-old added worriedly, but, he protested "she got me an educational tool!"

Kids remember such gifts because they "miss who the child is and what the child really wants," and disappointments in childhood have a way of looming large, said Mindy Utay, an Upper East Side psychotherapist.

While some folks may shrug off a gift that misses, others see them as symbolically important and may feel slighted or insulted if a gift seems impersonal, cheap or has nothing to do with them. "A lot of people would rather get nothing than a gift that hurts their feelings and compels them to manufacture fake 'thank yous,'" Utay noted.

Enrico Giolo, 38, a photographer who lives in Flatbush, was utterly mystified when he opened up a Christmas gift from his best friend in 2001 and found a key chain in the shape of the distinguishing part of the male anatomy. "In a big, traditional Italian family, to open up this kind of gift is kind of strange," marveled Giolo. "Her grandmother said, 'what the hell is THAT?'"

While the gift was expensive, "I never use it," said Giolo.

At least Giolo didn't post a picture of the tchotchke on the web, which is where many people go to complain anonymously about the "how to survive a divorce" book they received from an in-law, useless knickknacks and tacky clothes they find under their trees.

While some of the gifts depicted on, #worstgift on Twitter, and other sites are rude (why give anyone a home drug testing kit?!) others -- such as candy given to diabetics and furs bestowed on vegans -- reflect ignorance -- willful or not -- on the part of the benefactor.

Medical transcriptionist Amy Bruce, 57, recalls receiving "a fruitcake -- a classically bad gift," from a pal in a Secret Santa circle at a previous job. "I thought this person liked me!" she said. His lack of effort on her behalf was eye-opening. As for the fruitcake, "I threw it out -- I didn't regift it: The horror stopped with me."

It doesn't hurt to have conversations with people in your gift circle about your hopes, tastes and preferences, and even, in some cases to provide a list of items you might welcome to those who insist they wish to please you. But even if your gifts are all backfires and fails, it's still important to be gracious after opening the wrapping. Many people lack both the personal shopper gene and mountains of cash and the holidays in general can be stressful. "A lot of people don't always get it right," Utay said. "A little mercy at this time of year is important."

You may one day too be on the giving end of a bad gift yourself.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

Things to Do Photos & Videos