Listener Letters: The Worst Gifts EVER

Listeners share a few horror stories, ranging from a can of spam to a fire extinguisher to "everything on my list" (not always as good as it's cracked up to be. Read on!). It might make you second-guess re-gifting that pink fuzzy alarm clock.

By Qwertyxp2000 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

This week we released our special holiday episode. Think of it like an audio-stocking stuffed with goodies: fantastic music, Yuletide reflections from Alton Brown and She & Him, whisky (OK, vicarious whisky, but still!). These are our holiday gifts to you, and we really hope that you like them.

But maybe, well, you won’t. The thing is, gifting is tricky process that comes wrapped up in so much more than paper. There are often unequal expectations, fraught family histories, the impossible-to-quantify factor of taste… In short, gift-giving can often be more strenuous than an Orange Theory class.

And sometimes it goes hopelessly, hopelessly wrong.

To help us all laugh our way through the season, we collected some of the worst things our listeners have ever received. These presents make a lump of coal seem downright charming. (Take notes, folks, a can of Spam does not a present make!)

In the audio above, you’ll hear a bunch; we’ve added a few more amazingly cringe-worthy ones in the text below. Turns out that terrible gifts, with time, make great stories. Enjoy!

A Can Of Spam

“I have of a large family, lots of siblings, and when I was in high school, most of us were at the age where we were expected to give gifts to all seven of our brothers and sisters. One brother, who did not feel the holiday pressure to find the perfect gift for each person, gave about five of us a can of spam that he bought at the drugstore the night before. The next year, we started to do a secret Santa exchange so we could put more effort — and expenses — into just one person.”

-Katie in Cleveland, Ohio

Everything on My Christmas List

“Because, I found out after the fact… that my boyfriend had used my emergency credit card to make all the purchases. When we broke up, I started receiving threat and collection notices. When I called them to say I had never used this credit card at all, they informed me that in fact the credit card was maxed out. What makes matters worse is I found out he had been laid off… and was still getting up every morning pretending to go to work — when really what he was doing was taking my credit card and shopping all day!”

-Jessie in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Over-ripe Bananas

“Nothing like reaching into your Christmas stockings for warm, mushy bananas that had been hanging over a roaring fire overnight.”

-Grace-Yvette in Nobleboro, Maine

A Lighted Toilet Paper Roll

“It had a picture of a snowy mountain and in addition to that it played ‘White Christmas.’ The reason it was the worst gift is that I was expecting an engagement ring.”

-Cookie in Forth Worth, Texas

My Grandfather’s High School Ring

“I got [it] when I graduated high school, from my grandmother. And the sentiment was completely right but it was kind of weird: my grandparents weren’t married any more, I didn’t go to the same high school as my grandfather, and for my brother’s high school graduation — he got a car.”

-Andy in Los Angeles, California

A Box of Chocolates

“I make Christmas wreaths every year for friends… I had lunch with a friend so I could give her her wreath… She gave me a wonderful presentation box of 30 Ferrero Rocher Chocolates. After showing great restraint all day, I was about to open them [when] I realized they were expired! [T]he expiration date was  November, 13 2015!!! I can’t believe that she would re-gift something that’s two years old.”

-David in Hawthorne, California

Desk Chair

“My parents gave me a desk chair when I was four years old. As a kindergartner, I wasn’t much of a furniture enthusiast. To make matters worse, my older sister got a bike!”

-Kelly in Maplewood, NJ

Really Expensive Bottle of Perfume

“It made me smell like rotting garbage. I can only compare it to  some friends who hiked the Appalachian trail and when they got in my car they smelled like dead animals and rotting milk — this was worse.”

-Barb in Washington, D.C.


“They even had to be assembled- soak the sheep’s stomach was one of the directions! I’d just had our second daughter. Exhausted, feeling very frumpy, my husband gave the gift a BIG build up. He believed I’d love to learn the bagpipes. I was so upset by the nasty looking dried sheep stomach I nearly cried.”

-Nancy in Connecticut

A Schmaltzy Oil Portrait

“An aunt of mine who’s an artist, painted [a portrait] of me base on an unflattering photograph that had been taken of me at least a decade earlier. I had been wearing a dirty dress that I had been gardening in. And the worst of it was that it was from a time when I had been going through a divorce —  she painted it for me as a wedding gift.”

-Kika in Montreal, Canada

A Silky Nightgown

“It was from my Gramma. I was 12. It didn’t have any tags on it — I’m pretty sure she’d already worn it.”

-Lisa in Phoenix, Arizona

A Moose Head Ceramic Egg Separator

“You crack the egg into the moose’s head, and the egg white is supposed to come out the nostrils. Which is pretty gross. It doesn’t even work. But the silver lining is that it has been awesome fun to regift to friends and see the looks on their faces when they open up the package and wonder what they’re gonna do with that.”

-Kate in Hobart, Tasmania

A Fire Extinguisher

“From an (obviously) former boyfriend!!!”

-Nancy in St. Joseph, MI