When Secret Santa gifts go bad

December 18, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

In an effort to say what others are too scared to, Herald-Mail staffers are calling out bad gifts. We don't condone ungratefulness. We are simply trying to offer levity during the zeitgeist of Christmas consumerism.

We've all been there. After all, gift giving has nothing to do with the gift. It's the thought that counts, right? Maybe our stories will bring you more cheer than last year's socks and underwear.

Struggling to believe?

I know Christmas is not a competition to give the best, most impressive gift. I know it's the thought that counts, so I try to open gifts with appreciation on my mind. But when my brother, Peter, the black sheep of the family, gives a gift, sometimes the thought is hard to discern. Sometimes not.

For several years, Peter has been involved with Ananda, a Christian-influenced Hindu ashram in California. Peter's participation seems to have given him purpose and a supportive community. He's happy about that. So happy that he wants his siblings to learn about the spiritual path that has changed his life.


So, two years ago, Peter gave me a copy of "The Art of Supportive Leadership," a book by Ananda's spiritual leader, Swami Kriyananda. He also gave me (and our three sisters) "The Bhagavad Gita: According to Paramhansa Yogananda," edited by Kriyananda.

I appreciated his intention and started reading both books. But the books' religious views were not mine, and the effort to translate inspiration from Ananda's approach to mine was strenuous. Eventually I stopped reading.

My sisters and I gave Peter some feedback. So last year, he gave us all something different: copies of "Out of the Labyrinth," a book by Kriyananda "for those who want to believe, but can't."

-- Chris Copley, Lifestyle editor

All aboard Noah's Ark

As I tore off the wrapping paper at a holiday work party nearly 10 years ago, there looking back to me was Noah, his wife and a collection of animals two by two.

Frankly, I had to scratch my head. Yes, I had been at the job for only a short time and the chances that my Secret Santa would know my likes or dislikes were slim.

However, I clearly remember not putting a Noah's Ark music box/water fountain on the list of things that my Secret Santa might give me. Or anything about animals or people from the Bible.

As I pulled the music box out, the screech of Styrofoam rubbing against the outer box made me wince. The first thing I noticed was that it was heavy, like, if-you-drop-this-on-your-toes-it'll-hurt-for-days heavy.

I cranked the music box and found it played a collection of four songs including "Hush, Little Baby." I don't have kids.

Coworkers wanted to see this darling in action, so I filled up the reservoir and switched the fountain on. It played as the water poured through.

But I noticed the piece de resistance while reading the directions: The Ark had magical powers. With a clap of the hand it turned on. Pretty cool. Not God-told-me-to-build-an-ark-and-save-wildlife cool, but cool nevertheless.

The Ark became a joke at work. And for years, when someone came to visit my home, the Ark was requested.

In my Secret Santa's defense, in the scope of things, this Noah's Ark music box was not the worst gift I had ever received. But it had to be the most bizarre.

-- Crystal Schelle, assistant Lifestyle editor

The final Secret Santa

I've had my share of bad Christmas gifts. But it's a lump of coal that has made my short list for worst gifts of all time. The coal giver was a former work colleague - I'm not naming names or publications.

Part of this is my fault.

Years ago, I put "lump of coal" as my gift request for a newsroom Secret Santa, thinking it would be interpreted as, "Do not spend a whole lot of money on this gift."

And to my delight, "Santa" had left me a pretty Christmas tin.

It contained a marble-size something wrapped in white tissue. I unwrapped it to find a jet-black rock with jagged edges, like a chisel had chewed off the corners. It was as though it were a lump of coal.

To be fair, "Santa" also gave me a cherry-scented candle.

But a lump of coal, really?

When asked about the gift, "Santa" smiled and said, "You said you wanted a lump of coal."

Point noted.

No really, point noted. That was the last year I participated in that particular newsroom's Secret Santa.

That lump of coal did come in handy, though. It was surprisingly easy to regift.

--Tiffany Arnold, Lifestyle reporter

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