Every year around this time, we gather for a hallowed tradition – the swapping of holiday horror stories. Nothing is more a part of the holiday season than the giving and receiving of the perfect gift – except the giving and receiving of truly mind-boggling gifts. And over the years, hootenanny participants have shared some doozies. Here are some of our favorites.


I was about 15, and I had been BEGGGINGGG for a kitten since my beloved cat had past away a year before. My mothers take was “over my dead body” so imagine my surprise when I found a wrapped cage under the tree and could hear my new pet rustling around. I tore open the paper to shove my face into my new kitten…and found a white albino hedgehog. With all its quills up, prickly as all hell. [2009]


When I was in fifth grade I desperately wanted the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. It was a double album, super easy to identify when it appeared wrapped up under the tree. I saved it for last! I ripped off the paper and it was…Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits. [2009]


When my nephew was three, he was (actually, still is) one of the most polite and well- mannered children I’ve ever met.
On Christmas morning, he opened all of the cheap little knick-knacks and tiny toys in his stocking with complete glee, although none of it was on his wish list and half of it wasn’t even toys. With every item he pulled out, he’d cry “Thank you! It’s just what I wanted!” “Wow! It’s just what I wanted!”
He finally reached the bottom of the stocking, where my family has always placed an orange to weigh down the stocking and help its shape. He pulled out the orange, stared at it for a moment, and then looked around with a solemn expression and said quietly, “I didn’t ask for this.” [2009]

Nick GalifianakisTrue art is always misunderstood – Carolyn


An excerpt (names changed): “Dan is still living in Berkeley, balding, unmarried and childless. Mark and Jennie are living in Tokyo and are my best hope for grandchildren. Amy is living in St. Paul with her friend Natalie. No boyfriend. John finally finished college with a degree in theatre.” You can imagine how much we enjoyed that. We told her she wasn’t allowed to send us any more Christmas letters. [2011]


My in-laws like the Xmas Gift Exchange: recipients’ names are randomly drawn from a hat and the budget is $25. My BIL’s wife and I have a mutual dislike of each other so as fate would have it, we keep drawing each other’s names. Two years ago she gave me a $2 spice pack “because she knew I liked cooking.” Last year I got her an XL t-shirt of man getting punched in the face by a panda. My mother-in-law has since called off the exchange this year, which is a shame since I have the PERFECT gift picked out. [2012]


For the last five years, my sisters in law and I have all received those white casserole dishes with lids. Different sizes each year, but the same sort of dish. We all make our contributions to the big family meal in those dishes, and share a chuckle at how everything on the table originated with Mom.
At Thanksgiving she asked my husband to go to the basement for more soda, and he was in the middle of a conversation, so I said I’d go. Bear in mind that it’s not really a basement, it’s more like a crawl space that got dug out a bit deeper so my FIL could put in a bigger water heater and an extra fridge. I’d never had a reason to go down there, and never had in five years of marriage.
I found out later that when his mom found out I’d gone, she freaked out. The reason she freaked hit me as soon as I pulled the light bulb chain – she had ten boxes of “20 Piece Bakeware Sets” all marked 90% off, from a store that went out of business five years ago.
Two conclusions: These will be the womenfolks’s gifts until 2015, and I am TOTALLY the favorite, I’ve gotten all the big ones so far. [2008]
When people ask you why you took up knitting, this is the story you tell – Carolyn


Holiday memory for you. Every year, my dad’s company used to have a gag gift exchange at the Christmas party. When I was a kid, I always looked forward to this because the “gags” were usually small toys of some sort that I’d usually snag (one year, he got a windup hopping Woodstock that I still have.) I think I was probably about nine the year he got the penis sweater. It was this long knitted thing in red and green, with a jingle bell on the end. I honestly had no clue, and asked my mom what it was. “Nose warmer,” she said, and the box was gone shortly thereafter before I could ask too many more questions. I didn’t figure it out until a couple of years later; until then, I was sad that I hadn’t gotten to keep the “nose warmer.” [2006]


Several years ago, my grandmother gave my husband a welcome statue with frogs on it. The word “welcome” is written on this very elongated mushroom held sideways by the two frogs. The elongated mushroom looks very much like you would think an elongated mushroom would look like, which is to say, like a certain part of the male anatomy. There are even two smaller mushrooms sprouting out of the base. We all laughed about it, and my husband decided we would keep it, since it was so amusing. So the next year he gets… two more of the exact same statue. And last year, another one of the same statue. We have them all sitting out on our patio. And a few years ago, she gave my 6’5 brother a floral muumuu we’re desperately hoping was really intended for someone else. However, it has now become a family tradition to wrap the muumuu up and give it to another male member of the family on Christmas. Makes for some great Christmas pictures. [2008]

So, be good for goodness sake! And happy holidays!

See more gift ideas from the 2013 Holiday Guide.

Join the fun by sharing your own stories and traditions at the 2013 Carolyn Hax Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors, Friday Dec. 13 at noon ET.