I used to think that getting a crappy Christmas gift was a reflection on the bad judgment and lack of creativity of the giver of said gift. And, in some cases, it is—the plastic bag of anti-aging Avon cosmetics for a woman with a "medium to dark" complexion that my mean aunt gave me when I was a freckle-faced 13-year-old comes to mind.
But other times, a bad gift isn't so much an indictment of the person giving the gift, but rather a reflection of what the giver of the gift really thinks of you. And needless to say, what the gift is reflecting is probably not good.
Luckily, we (I) are (am) here to tell you, unequivocally, what your shitty holiday gifts reveal about the subconscious of others. I've honed these sussing-out skills over years of being an unknowable twentysomething banker dick who once a year paid a visit to my sweet family in the North only to return home with gifts that reflected a hopefulness they felt for me that I did not feel for myself. I make this list not so you can belittle or scoff at the probably well-intentioned people in your life, but rather so you know what they really think: honest self-reflection is really the best gift you can give yourself this holiday season.
Scented lotion basket
When we talk about scented lotion baskets, we're talking low-to-middle end. We're talking, like, the heavily scented kind from a mall store here. Bath and Body Love Spell Middle School Volleyball Practice locker room shit. The kind it was cool to conspicuously consume while having a serious discussion about Y2K. The kind that is not safe for babies or women who are pregnant or may become pregnant or for the woman at work who claims she's "allergic to perfume." When you get this kind of lotion basket, the giver of this gift thinks you seem like the sort of person who likes traipsing around trailed by the wafting scent of an international opera star who just barfed up papaya, or Queen Frostine's nervous farts. Or they really don't care enough about you to smell the gift before throwing it into their shopping basket. Or they did smell it and they were like meh who cares, fuck this stupid bitch and her holiday entitlement.
Your loved ones believe that you live in an apartment that contains a bathtub that isn't a filthy, scum-ringed cave of misery, tears, and the occasional quixotic but ultimately disappointing attempt at shower sex.
Are they occult candles? If so, awesome. If not, :(. Scented candles are a gift that says "I don't think you clean your apartment enough."
As a disgusting person with horrible feet, socks are among my favorite gifts. Running socks make me doubly happy. And the men on my dad's side of the family have a long-running joke where a gift of socks is always, always greeted with cheers at our annual Christmas Eve get together (one year the celebrating got so out of hand that my grandma mandated the sock yelling be toned down or else). But unsolicited non-novelty socks are a troubling gift indeed. They indicate that whoever gave them to you questions whether you're capable of incredibly basic personal care. Unsolicited plain gift socks are essentially a pamphlet called "How to Boil Water Without Burning Down Your House," but in clothing form.
An unsolicited knickknack is the gift that says "I believe that you live in a house with shelf space enough to hold this useless tchotchke and also you are never giving me grandchildren."
An Amazon gift card
From a relative that would have just given you cash if they hadn't thought, at least a little bit, that you'd use cash to buy drugs.
An item of clothing that is very much the wrong size
Your loved one would like it if you ate more (or less).
Booze is a gift given by a loved one who doesn't know the truth—which is that you will drink the entirety of that booze present within 48 hours of receiving it. Nobody should be giving you booze.
A Starbucks gift card
"I don't know you, but you seem like the type who likes coffee that tastes like ashtray water."
A blank notebook
Either a sweet way to encourage you to follow your dreams of writing or a shady way of telling you to maybe think of talking to your diary instead of annoying your loved ones with your incessant emotional yammering. If the notebook is large and unwieldy and decorated with puff painted flowers and glitter that would surely come off in a backpack, the person who gave it to still thinks of you as a seven-year-old girl with a lot of cute feelings.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.