office holiday gift-giving stories: worst gifts and weirdest gifts

We have so many updates this year that I’m going to be posting six to seven times a day this week — so keep checking back throughout the entire day.

In the spirit of the season, let’s hear about workplace gift debacles. Did a game of Secret Santa end in tears? Did a coworker throw a tantrum when she didn’t win a raffle? Did your boss try to give you Hanukkah balls? Were you given a nude, spray-painted gold Barbie? These are all real stories that we’ve heard here in the past. Now you must top them.

Share your weirdest or funniest story related to gifts in the office in the comments.

{ 970 comments… read them below }

  1. juliebulie*

    At a secret Santa party 25+ years ago, one of my coworkers received a can of pork brains. Everyone was horrified. Someone asked, “who did this? Were YOU her Secret Santa? Were YOU her Secret Santa??” to each of us. I was too stunned to respond. The inquisitive someone then said that it must have been me because I didn’t say no. If you ask me I think it was him.

    (For the record, my own gift was an old lead pipe. Haw haw haw!!)

    The brain recipient kept the can in her cubicle until her last day with the company, a few years later. We opened the can at her going-away party. It smelled terrible.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yum!

      I’m guessing someone forgot and just grabbed something out of the cabinet, which is bizarre. If they went out and picked that out specifically for her that’s even stranger.

    2. Sleepy*

      Not at work, but I once received a (unlabeled) jar of pork fat as a wedding favor. I thought it was a really greasy lotion and I was using it on my hands until the bride corrected me.

      1. Liz*

        I have one from childhood that i still remember. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was some kind of holiday party for some group my parents were involved with, a social group. Don’t ask me what, as it was probably 50 years ago, give or take. Anyway, Santa was there, and each child got a gift. I opened mine, and it was a jar of cold cream! All the other kids had toys, adn games, and well, kid gift things, and i’m maybe 6 or so? Again the details are fuzzy, and i open a jar of cold cream. I just remmber crying because i was so upset.

        looking back, i’m guessing that each parent was supposed to bring a gift for their child(ren) that Santa would then give out, and my mom must have forgotten and had nothing and just grabbed that and wrapped it up! thinking something was better than nothing. I can laugh about it now, but i was really upset then!

        1. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

          OMG, this is awful, but I think you’re exactly right – I’ve organized these events before, and it’s always the parent who brings the wrapped gift for Santa to give the child.

          1. Liz*

            Yup. i’m sure that’s what happened. My parents too weren’t the kind to give the “cool” gifts, like lite bright (which I desperately wanted) and fancy Barbie stuff like my friends got, but they gave nice gifts. So i’m sure, knowing my mom, it was an “oh sh*t” moment and she figured something was better than nothing.

            1. SusanIvanova*

              I wanted a Lite Bright too! Now I work in software development so I control all the little lights I want. They still make them, though, and it would still be cool to have one :)

              1. Amy H.*

                I also never got one despite putting it on my wishlist for years, so I bought one when I saw an inexpensive one in a thrift shop. ☺️

        2. juliebulie*

          Aw, that sucks. But I hope your parents realize how lucky you are that you didn’t try to find a way to play with the stuff. It’s probably not very good as, say, a pastry topping.

        3. CM*

          Slight derail, but: when I was around nine years old someone gave me a massive jar of Nutella, basically a small vat, which I hid from my parents and ate with my fingers for the next month.

          1. Global Cat Herder*

            I was on a business trip with someone who saw a vat of Nutella in an airport shop and HAD TO HAVE IT. We’re talking toddler sized cocoa hazelnut yummy goodness. It was supposed to be a display item / advert, but she talked the shop into selling it to her. Checked her carry-on so the vat could take its place. She wrapped both arms around it and trundled it toward the gate, anticipating the look on her Nutella-loving child’s face.

            This is how we found out Nutella counts as a liquid or gel and can’t be carried on an airplane.

            1. Huh*

              Normally stuff you buy in duty free is exempt from that. People bring the litre bottles of spirits and large duty free perfumes on board all the time when I was able to travel pre 2020.

              1. Elisabeth*

                It depends if you have a layover. If you do, you’ll have to go through security again and your liquids will be confiscated even if they are from the previous airport’s duty-free stores.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          We got invited to a party like that by someone we’d just recently become friends with, when the kids were 6 and 8. She did warn us to get gifts (It was a NYE party, so after they’d received their Christmas gifts). I went out and bought some toys and wrapped them up, which the kids were aware of. We arrived at the party and the hostess collected everyone’s gifts. Then one of the dads in the group appeared, dressed as Santa, and started calling the kids one by one, a kid would perform a small number and receive the gift. Well, we had no idea we’d be performing, and had not prepared. Unbeknownst to me, both my sons concluded that, if they would not recite a poem or do a song or dance, SOMETHING, ANYTHING, they would never see their gifts again. One woman’s two daughters performed together, one playing the violin and the other accompanying on an electronic keyboard. The bar was high.

          Santa called on my friend’s son, who said he would sing Jingle Bells. The keyboard could play a few preset songs, including this one. He sang the first verse and the chorus, and got his gift. Santa called on one of my sons next. He said “I’m going to be singing Jingle Bells”. He only knew half of the words, but made it to the end of the first verse+chorus ok and got his toy back. Santa called on my other son. by the time *he* said “Jingle Bells”, the guests were rolling on the floor sobbing with laughter. This one did not know the words at all. We went on to attend parties with that group for another 10-15 years, but that was the only year the kids were asked to perform. I don’t know why the hosts gave up on kiddie art shows after that year, and it’s probably a good thing I never asked.

        5. Magenta*

          When I was 11 my Dad’s sister gave me a travel iron, I neither ironed or travelled and was so furious and indignant at the terrible gift that I angry cried. My parents agreed that it was rubbish but still made me phone her up to thank her.

          1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            Hahaa, when I was a similar age, my aunt (who we’re convinced threw stuff in a gift bag without even looking to see what it was) gave me a VHS tape on how to use a minolta camera. I did not receive a minolta camera. It has been a running joke in our family for the last 25 yrs or so.

      2. idealie*

        If it makes you feel better, I definitely took a jar of “Miracle Whip” out of my grandma’s fridge, spread it on sandwich, and was halfway through eating it before she informed me that *that* was a jar of lard.

      3. Sarah*

        My great grandad was a butcher and swore by lard for keeping skin soft so maybe you were on to something! I was never inspired to try it though

    3. Veryanon*

      What even is that product? I’ve never heard of it before, much less that it was available in canned form. Bleah.

      1. juliebulie*

        I think the name is self-explanatory.
        There was a recipe on the label for scrambled eggs with pork brains.

          1. SyFyGeek*

            My dad used to fix brains and eggs (scrambled) for breakfast on weekends if he was home. Please picture this with me- soft, really soft scrambled eggs, with brains (and yeah, it’s gray-ish, you know, like a brain!) in a bowl on the table. I’m 58, and I still have issues with eggs.

      2. Barbara Eyiuche*

        I’ve been served a pig’s brain, when I was the guest of honor at a banquet in China. A pig only has one brain, so to give it to me was a big deal. I couldn’t eat it.

        1. MsAfleetAlex*

          How do you gracefully bow out of that? I couldn’t have eaten it either; I would have been ill just from the idea. But I wouldn’t have a clue what to say to explain why I couldn’t eat it. (Not much of a meat eater to begin with, really.)

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I’m just thanking my lucky stars that I’ve never been a guest of honour at a banquet in China. I’d probably have vomitted my innards and shat whatever couldn’t got up before fainting and falling in the mess.

    4. OyHiOh*

      Anybody else think the gift was a badly executed reference to Terry Pratchett/Hogswatch?

      No? Just me?

      I’ll show myself out :-)

      1. GoryDetails*

        As someone who adores Hogswatch, I’d like to think so – though a nice pork pie would have been a more likely choice. [I’d love to gift a Hogswatch feast – pork pies and blood puddings and bacon and all manner of sausages, etc. – but most of my family has gone vegetarian. Maybe I’ll make up such a feast for myself, and send marzipan pigs to the family instead… Or keep the marzipan too, as I adore the stuff!]

        I have eaten brains before, but they were fresh beef brains (yes, in scrambled eggs, a good match re texture and flavor).

        One of my own contributions to an office party was a life-sized, anatomically-accurate Jell-O brain (search for “Qwiggle Gel” brain mold if curious); the recipe included low-fat evaporated milk to make the gelatin opaque without wrecking its ability to set properly, and I used watermelon-flavor Jell-O for that nice pink color. It was both awesomely disturbing and surprisingly tasty. [For extra “eek” points, you can drizzle some red sauce on top – I used raspberry for a Halloween occasion, but cranberry might be more seasonal for the holidays!]

        1. hufflepuff hobbit*

          Beef brains = what’s the mad cow risk there, I wonder? wow you are brave, creative and grossness-tolerant!

          1. Alas rainy again*

            The risk is actually quite low if the animal is slaughtered young, i.e. not a reformed cow but a calf

      2. juliebulie*

        I don’t think there was any Hogswatch yet. Even if there had been, no one in this group would likely have gotten the reference.

        I always assumed it was meant as an unkind comment on her intellect. She was a nice person and a great programmer, but made some choices in her personal life which some people apparently felt was their business to judge and comment on.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          Oh, that would be really harsh, if true! But I have definitely known people who were mean enough to do something like that, so I don’t doubt for a minute that you’re probably right. O_o

    5. Dragona*

      That’s crazy because I also had a coworker that was gifted a can of pork brains! And she also kept it on her desk for a long time, but the ending to the story is different. Rather than just opening it one day, someone started an office pool and we gathered up about $110 if she would eat the whole can. She looked like she was going to wretch after every bite, but by golly she actually managed it!

  2. Nanc*

    Honestly I’m not sure if I’m excited or terrified at the thought that anything could top Tantrum Throwing Raffle Loser, Hanukkah ball shenanigans or the HR nightmare that must have been nude, spray-painted gold Barbie awards.
    Perhaps I’ll have to peruse this comment section after hours with a glass of wine . . .

    1. Nice Try, FBI*

      Yes! This is going to be a wonderful read later today. It’s our last day of school for the year, so I’m excited to pour a glass of Riesling and enjoy the carnage after work today!

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      this was supposed to go under pork brains.
      because, pork brains.
      in a can.
      ever.

          1. Barbara Eyiuche*

            You note the ‘also viewed’ items are mostly gag gifts, so this is clearly viewed as a joke item, even though in some cultures pig brains are a delicacy.

            1. Please keep your monkeys from my circus*

              Maybe a delicacy, but pig brains in milk gravy is *definitely* not kosher. In the religious or the colloquial sense…

  3. HailRobonia*

    We had our work holiday party over Zoom the other day. Pretty low-key, basically a seasonally-themed bingo game. Then our executive director whipped out his harmonica and treated us to some tunes… it was pretty cringe-inducing because we were a captive audience.

    1. HailRobonia*

      Update: we had our monthly staff meeting and he mentioned how great it was that “one of his good friends showed up to play some music for us.” I nearly lost a contact lens rolling my eyes.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I kinda love your boss. He was trying to lighten things up. Then when he realized how it went over, he tried to make a joke. Gotta love his earnestness.

        1. Sleepless*

          I had a really difficult coworker years ago. Looking back, he was probably trying harder than I gave him credit for. He committed a pretty big gaffe in a meeting, and more than one person called him out on it. He sent an awkwardly joking email to everybody, apologizing and saying “would you believe that was my identical twin?” Poor guy, in retrospect I think there but for the grace of God.

    2. saltheartedbarmaid*

      You left out how he told us after he was done that his harmonica playing was his gift to us this holiday season.

    3. highbury house*

      My eye saw ‘whipped out his’ and my brain went, “Toobin?”

      I’m very relieved it was a pocket harp, not pocket anything else…

  4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    I shared this one before about the “Come Hither Pirate” https://www.askamanager.org/2018/12/the-come-hither-pirate-and-other-stories-of-office-holiday-mayhem.html

    Another hilarious and awkward one was an old boss that told my old coworkers had to each record her an individualized holiday greeting video for her saying how much they appreciate her and then played it on a loop on her computer until the next Christmas. Thankfully I no longer worked there because I would not have been able to do it without swearing or getting snarky.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Oh do I have stories about her! She very, very, very much wanted constant praise and validation. Aside from her dogs and Siri, we were the only quasi responsive entities in her life. It would have been sad had she not been an all around terrible human

    1. Massmatt*

      OMG she demanded hostage videos, and played them all year!

      If forced to do this, I would Morse-code blink “T-O-R-T-U-R-E” like in that Vietnam POW TV movie.

      1. Helenteds*

        Apparently the Morse code blink thing happened in real life during the Vietnam war, the guy’s name was Jeremiah Denton.

    2. irene adler*

      “I just can’t say how much I appreciate you, [boss name], and how much I enjoy working for you. I. Just. Can’t.”

  5. Duke Flapjack*

    Mine is pretty mundane, really, but I thought it was cute.

    For Christmas the previous year I had an Amazon box sitting around. Every time one of my kids asked what they were getting I told them “a box of scorpions.” Eventually, I decided it’d be funny to get a bag of plastic scorpions and stick them in a box for my kids. They were unamused, so the box of scorpions went back on my shelf.

    I ended up getting a couple bags of good jelly beans and stuck them in the box of scorpions for a company dirty santa. They ended up becoming the unofficial mascot of the office and got stuck in all kinds of weird places. We’re still finding them occasionally after two years.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      … if I had kids or anybody who was asking me what they were getting for Christmas, I would totally do that. (I got my husband a car for Christmas once, while we were still just dating. His dream car. A Dodge Challenger. Hot Wheels version.)

      1. Lalaith*

        The other day my husband and I were bemoaning how adult we’ve become, that we didn’t get each other anything fun because we both want practical things (we don’t have kids yet). He said something like “as long as you didn’t get me tax forms and brussels sprouts, I’m sure I’ll like it.” So I’m going to print out a tax form and stick it in his stocking ;) (along with actual gifts, of course).

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Every year my husband jokes that he’s going to get a box of Fererro Rocher, unwrap them all, and carefully replace the chocolates inside with raw Brussels sprouts, then wrap them back up and give them to the housemate. (He hasn’t bothered to actually do yet, mostly because he doesn’t want to start off that battle :) )

          1. Trotwood*

            One of my coworkers did Brussels Sprouts as cake pops for April Fool’s Day a couple of years ago. She told us upfront that some of them were cake and some were brussels sprouts, though, so everyone knew what they were getting into.

              1. Frieda*

                I let my kids prank my dad with a container of all-flavor jelly beans – some of them were normal flavors, and some of them were things like black pepper and, memorably, eraser.

                It took him a remarkably long time to realize that Something Was Wrong. Once he figured it out he thought it was hilarious. Best $3 I’ve spent, joke-wise.

        2. DefinitelyEnoughDetailToBeIdentified*

          You can get chocolate “brussels sprouts” too if you want to go the whole hog.

        3. EPLawyer*

          Oh gag gifts with the hubby is half the fun. We have a whole collection of little toys from the dollar store that we have given each other. It fills out the stocking without busting the bank and leads to a bunch of memories later.

          The first year we were together, he spotted some construction toys in the toy section of the grocery store. He sent me a pic of the box and said “I’m woooorking here.” I told him to buy it (t was $5). tWe didn’t have a lot to put in the Christmas Village under the tree that year. So we put that construction equipment and said the village was still under contruction. We now put it there every year on the outskirts to show our village is growing.

            1. Artemesia*

              We have small dragons in ours and my daughter’s house has small dinosaurs since I gave the kids dinosaur advent calendar.

            2. Tessie Mae*

              My sister hosts Christmas day for the family (well, except for this year), and she has a pretty elaborate Christmas village. A couple of years ago, we sneakily put a bunch of Army men throughout the village. She discovered them the next day, and she thought it was hilarious.

        4. e271828*

          Please, please put brussels sprouts in the toe of his stocking instead of an orange…!!! Pleeeeease….

        5. Estrella the Starfish*

          And some sprouts or something sprouts-esque. Don’t know where you are but here (UK) M&S do little packets of chocolate balls that are wrapped up like sprouts

        6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          At M&S (in the UK) you can get chocolate balls wrapped in green paper to look like brussel sprouts. I’m sorry it’ll be too late to order them over internet now!

      2. Captain Raymond Holt*

        My partner and I need to buy a new car as ours is, uh, end of life. I keep telling him he’s getting a new car for Christmas. He’s getting a Matchbox car of the car we want :)

          1. John B Public*

            The Bugatti? That thing is sweet. Did you know there’s a full size version? Google “full size lego Bugatti”

          2. AGD*

            If my kids ever get Lego, my productivity is going to go down measurably. I think it’ll be worth it, though.

            1. leggo*

              Not if your kids are anything like mine – I’m not allowed to use the good bits but get tasked with finding pieces from the bottom of the box so they can build things.

        1. Pennyworth*

          I have a dim memory of a company having to provide a Toyota for staff raffle prize instead of the Toy Yoda they handed over, after the matter went to court.

      3. Chinook*

        We kids learned early on not to ask grandma or mom what we were getting for Christmas as they would just respond in French “un petite rien rouge” for the girls or “un petite rien bleu” for the boys. If we followed up by asking for a translation, we would learn that it was a “little pink/blue nothing.”

        My French teachers were always surprised by the fact that I knew colours before everyone else (as well as numbers up to 10, royal titles, as well as the words for hearts, spades, clover and diamond)

      4. Sammi*

        I asked my boss what he really wanted for Christmas- he told me a hot blonde.

        I left a box on his desk, with a blond barbie doll…

        1. Miss Muffet*

          My grandmother made my uncle a set of Barbie cakes (the ones that are 3D with the barbie in a dress) with Barbies of all hair colors for his 18th birthday – I think he had asked for something similar to your boss!

      5. TexasTeacher*

        When I was 11, my best friend at the time loved pickles, and when she would come over, I swear she’d eat half of our jar in the fridge. Which was fine! That year, I bought and wrapped a big jar of the polish pickles my mom kept around and gave it to her, kind of a joke. She thought I’d given her a jar of mayonnaise, for some reason, and on Christmas morning she called me to thank me sincerely for the pickles, and was super happy it wasn’t mayonnaise. I think the joke part went right over her head but I was glad she enjoyed her polish pickles!

        1. Westward*

          I had a friend in high school who looooved Mountain Dew. So, when we did a little friends-group gift exchange, I bought him a 2-liter of the Dew. He quite liked it! :)

        2. TardyTardis*

          When I was an outgoing Jaycee chapter president, I had the children bring out a case of beer for each VP. Save for one on the wagon (who was visibly wincing because he just *knew* I had forgotten) who turned up all smiles when the darlings brought out a case of *root beer*.

          1. SimplyAlissa*

            I can’t even remember what I have my board members at the end of my tenure…..I still have the books they bought me though! I’m the type who buys things during the year when they’re on sale, and then shops the “gift closet” at the end of the year.
            (Also, shout out fellow jaycee!)

      6. Librarian1*

        ha! My parents did that to me one year when I was in high school or college. I’d been saying that I wanted a convertible. I knew they weren’t planning on buying me any kind of car, but I liked to bug them about it, so my mom bought a convertible hot wheels toy and wrapped it up as a Christmas or birthday gift that year. I thought it was funny.

      7. Jen in Oregon*

        This year I’m giving my husband The Clap, aka gonorrhea. In years past I’ve given him syphillis and herpes. I really wanted to give him chlamydia, but they were out. Of course, I’m talking about the giant microbes plush toys, not an actual STD.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I adore those plushes.

          My friend bought one for her 16-year-old son and told him he’d have to tell his friends his mom gave him gonorrhea for Christmas :D

        2. TardyTardis*

          I still keep my Giant Flu and Giant Cold Germs around the house. Their job is to catch and eat all the little ones. Have they come out with the Giant Covid one yet?

          1. ATM*

            Yep, I’ve even seen one with a little grad cap which is a choice.

            In all fairness, I’ve purchased the ebola plushy in the past, so I don’t know if it’s fair to judge … Link in next comment for moderation purposes.

        3. Stopgap*

          My brothers and I used to throw the common cold at each other, so that we could make bad jokes about “catching a cold”. My mother suspended salmonella above the kitchen stove, figuring that if it fell into her cooking, that would be a sign that something was wrong with the food. (Also genuinely unsanitary, as we didn’t wash the salmonella plushie frequently.)

    2. Collarbone High*

      My grandmother once wrapped a gift for my sister in a box labeled “electric wasp trap.” The box is still in circulation among our family as a joke, because the reactions when someone unwraps that are priceless.

      1. Mr. Tyzik*

        I had some boxes I got from The Onion years ago that advertise fake gifts, like a USB Toaster. Great fun for a few years till I gave them all away.

        1. Janne*

          There’s a big advertisement for a “canned can opener” near the train station here, as an art piece. “The most impossible piece of kitchen equipment!” — they also seem to sell training wheels for pumps there. :D

      2. Boxing Day shenanigans*

        When I was a kid, my aunt would always answer “what am I getting for Christmas?” with “sticks and rocks.” So 8-year-old me went and found an old Nordstrom’s box (auntie’s favorite store), filled it with sticks and rocks from the backyard, wrapped it up, and gave it to her at Christmas.

        That same box went back and forth between us for another 20 years, and somehow it was always a surprise when one of us opened it!

        1. yala*

          On my Dad’s side of the family, we used to do Dirty Santa with dvds, and there was ALWAYS a copy of Kangaroo Jack that just got passed around every year.

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          My spouse’s great uncle would always tell his daughter “A stinky skunk!” whenever she asked what she was getting for Christmas. My son thinks this is THE most hilarious story ever told, and for multiple Christmases in a row has gotten this cousin various adorable plush skunks!

      3. Artemesia*

        My parents gave my brother a fire extinguisher in a single malt scotch box; he was disappointed and horrified. I thought it was a great gift. I later included a bottle of single malt in a fire extinguisher box in a box of gifts for his family sent UPS — the driver or handler, stole the liquor and delivered the rest of the box.

      4. The Rural Juror*

        Oh, my grandparents have reused and reused boxes for many years. The cordless phone box from 2001 is still in circulation, as well as a Redwings boot box from 1998 (how is it STILL holding together?!).

        One year I got a Brita Water Filter Pitcher box from them one year (something I was actually excited to get, mine needed replacing). Then an hour later my grandma asked me how my sweater fit and did I need the gift receipt. *Womp womp* It was NOT a water filter! But luckily the sweater came from a department store and I was able exchange it for a Brita!

        1. Simonthegreywarden*

          There’s a Bible box at my parents house that is, maybe, 30 or 35 years old. No idea what Bible came in it or if we still have it. But every Christmas or Birthday, someone is getting The Bible Box. I once gave my sister a Hot Topic gift card in it, wrapped in several layers of recyclable cardboard so it felt heavier. My sister gave me socks in it one year. The year my husband joined the family, he got The Bible Box. Now, he was not raised religious, so he was obviously a little put out but thanked my mom very politely while we all giggled. Then Mom told him to open the box itself.

          Inside was a hardback cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of those Barnes and Noble editions. She’d heard him mention how his copy had been borrowed and never returned.

          And that was how husband learned about The Bible Box.

    3. introverted af*

      My dad this year asked for a million dollars worth of nickels. We put a roll of nickels in each one of the slippers we’re getting him and told him we’d at least help start his collection.

    4. PeanutButter*

      This is hilarious, because my boyfriend and I have a “bag of spiders” as a running joke whenever someone asks “what’s in the $CONTAINER?” It relates to his cat’s habit of killing spiders and selecting something (usually a bag of some sort) to stash their earthly remains in. Unfortunately for me when I’m over my dirty laundry bag is favorite hidey hole for her treasures.

      1. AnonThisTime*

        There is a box at work labeled “box of skulls” and I was mildly curious about what was really in it every time I walked by that shelf. It is a smallish box – maybe 5 – 6 inches on a side and 2 inched tall.

        One day the curiosity got the better of me. It contains skulls. 3D printed ones. I’m fairly certain someone made the skulls just so they could put them in a box labeled “box of skulls.”

    5. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      My dad tried to prank my husband on his first Christmas with us by putting canned beets in his stocking. Dad’s mom used to put random canned things in their stockings – canned mushrooms, canned corn, canned beets – when he was growing up, and they were always the canned things the kids hated. So Dad tried to do that to my husband, but didn’t know my husband loves beets. So Hubs opens his stocking, finds the canned beets and is just ???????? confused but not mad. It was hilarious, but not for the reasons my dad thought it would be!

    6. hamburke*

      I did something similar last year except I told my kids it was live spiders, even wrote it on the box. They thought it was great and kept pranking their friends… I’m still finding plastic spiders EVERYWHERE!

    7. Robin Ellacott*

      This reminds me of the Gerald Durrell story about putting a mother and baby scorpions in a matchbox (he was a budding zoologist and wanted to study them) and his older and very dramatic brother opened the box – intending to get a match, not a scorpion – at the dinner table. Chaos ensued, young Gerald trying to rescue the scorpions, his sister screaming, his brother saying things like EVERY MATCHBOX IN THIS HOUSE IS A DEATH TRAP!!! I laughed until I cried reading that story as a child – thanks for the reminder to find those books and read them again.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, thanks for the reminder. I really loved those books as a teen and young adult, I even took My Family and Other Animals on a trip to Corfu once.

  6. avocadotacos*

    I once worked at a small office that was an extension of larger organizations, and two people loved cookie cake, so we got cookie cake to celebrate everything. A birthday here, a new house there, an intern’s last day, there was so much cookie cake that one of the original cookie cake enthusiasts requested not to have any for her birthday… or anything ever again.

    Alternatively, a friend once bought a cookie cake for his boss’s last day of work, and the boss grabbed the cookie cake and took it home to give to his in-laws, without sharing any at the office.

        1. Pascall*

          Cookie cakes are basically giant cookies created at specialty cookie shops or bakeries that are cut like a cake or a pizza and are made for several people to share! They’re great.

        2. Zephy*

          Basically, yes. It’s usually a chocolate-chip cookie the size of a dinner plate and about a centimeter thick, decorated with piped icing on top the way you would decorate a cake.

        3. magc17*

          I’m an American (don’t you just love how Americans have take over two continents? I think we should be called USians), but I didn’t know so I googled it.

          They’re just big cookies, sometimes in multiple layers. The single-layer ones just look like the bar version of a cookie that was cooked in a cake pan and then decorated like a cake.

            1. Artemesia*

              There is an old archeology spoof called ‘digging the We’uns’ in which a future archeologist tries to interpret various artifacts in an AMerian home just unearthed. US. ‘uw’ thuse the We’uns.

  7. CatCat*

    I still remember the one on this site about the wrapped cooked ears of corn. That has always struck me as one of the oddest I’ve ever heard off :-D

    1. Nanc*

      In my mind someone else in the household took an identical package containing the secret Santa gift to their office potluck and was mortified when they went to set out a random white elephant item instead of the corn on the cob they promised!

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      OMG, this totally reminds me of something that happened at my first job. We had a secret Santa and my friend drew my name. On the day of the event, he accidentally brought his boyfriend’s gift instead of the one for me. We get to the point where folks are opening gifts and he realizes his mistake. He literally tackled me like he was jumping on a grenade to stop me from opening the gift. The gift was a holiday themed butt plug. He explained, apologized, and brought my gift the next day

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Pretty much the only time in my life that a coworker tackling me was an absolutely appropriate response

          1. Xenia*

            Poor guy, he was probably weighing the options if ‘will it be more inappropriate to tackle or to let them open a gift that will probably get me into trouble with HR?’

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          It was an elf, and yes I do have difficulty imagining it. I kind of regretted not seeing it, but I figured I couldn’t ask his BF to show it to me later without things getting even more awkward.

        2. Queer Earthling*

          As a professional sex toy reviewer (no really), I feel obligated to mention that candy cane toys are a thing that exist. D:GA’s actual answer sounds way funnier, though.

      1. Absurda*

        OMG, that’s fantastic, that poor guy! Thank goodness (for him) that he realized the error in time.

  8. Mags*

    I think the most ‘….it’s the thought that counts?’ gift was an ice-scraper that one of my managers gave me. It was so aggressively ‘I forgot and had to stop at the gas station’ that I knew I should be offended, but I had also been dreading trying to scrape the ice off my windshield with a credit card that night so it was actually really useful!

    (First really cold day of the year. I’d been watching frost prickle on cars outside with dread for about an hour. They had bought it on the way in that morning, though, so they’d not known that.)

    1. Bob*

      If it were a rotating head foam snowbrush it may have sent the same message but would have been wrong.
      I say this because its a gift I have given several times and believe me it is awesome at removing snow.

      1. Dawbs*

        wait, what is this product and where do I find it?
        Because I may have kicked my husband’s car out of the garage and this might make up for it a little….

          1. Bob*

            It says foam head but it looks too solid. You want to be careful its meant for car use and states that it won’t scratch the paint.

        1. Bob*

          Seems to be more widely available in Canada. Which is crazy, we typically have far less availability of almost everything compared to the US.
          This is the one i have
          https://www.canadiantire.ca/en/pdp/garant-telescopic-eva-snowbrush-63-in-0304467p.html

          You might be able to find it or an equivalent competitor if you spend enough time on amazon. I did a quick search at homedepot.com. They have one but its not the rotating head. You want that.
          Make sure its not anything harder than foam that could scratch your paint.

      2. Lizard Breath*

        I had no idea what this was but I googled it and I had a legit Oh. My. God. moment at my desk. Our garage is a pain to get into and my husband usually takes the carport in front of it, leaving my car exposed to the elements. This is going to make my life so much better. I’m giving it to him for Xmas as the best “I’m giving you a present that I really want” gift ever.

        1. Artemesia*

          There is an ice scraper that is a sort of cone you swirl over the windshield and it really works well — I got my SIL one a couple of years ago as their car is parked outside in winter.

        2. Bob*

          “and I had a legit Oh. My. God. moment at my desk”
          Thats awesome!
          You will be shocked by how well it works!

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I far prefer practical gifts from people I don’t know especially well. “Thoughtful” gifts from my coworkers and boss are usually a dud because they vastly overthink what I actually want. Just because I have indicated I enjoyed watching Seinfeld, and can enjoy/share a meme or two every once in a while, doesn’t mean I want ANYTHING Seinfeld related.

      1. Liz*

        Yes! this so much! i can’ tell you how many cutesy gifts I’ve gotten from people who don’t know me well, because they know I like cats or dogs or coffee or whatever.

    3. Nesprin*

      Oh man, I work in a lab where we have to scrape out ice buildup from freezers every 6mos or so. My coworker bought like 10 really good ice scrapers for our last deicing but in the past 6mos they’ve all wandered off.

      Plot twist- it doesn’t snow where we live.

      1. JustaTech*

        The only way I’ve ever managed to keep the stuff for my freezer (scrapers, gloves) was when I accidentally bought pink freezer gloves. It never matters how large you write the lab name on the blue gloves, they’re gone in a week, but the pink gloves have never moved.

    4. Librarian1*

      lol. I actually asked my brother for an ice scraper for Christmas one year. I’d just bought a car and didn’t have one yet.

    5. CM*

      I’d be happy to get one of those instead of some soap or chocolate! One of them always snaps or gets lost at some point during the winter.

      1. Chinook*

        The best stocking stuffer I ever gave was a good quality plastic, three-sided ice scraper that had a squeegie on one side and was palm sized, which meant you could use it inside your car to take the ice off the inner windshield (because it could fit down to the bottom of the dash. The squeegie was then used for the fog and ice bits. And they fit in your glove compartment, so you didn’t have to hunt for them during random September storm. The squeals from 4 different people when they each found one in their stocking made me regret not buying more of them.

    6. Uranus Wars*

      This made me guffaw because I have given so many of these as gifts- especially when I lived up north. They were usually to the co-workers/friend who the year before always borrowed my ice scraper or who I knew didn’t have one because I would see them using a credit card!

    7. Bryce*

      Mom just told me a story from back in the 80s, when they moved out to a small company town in New Mexico. In the onboarding package, along with the insurance forms and manuals and all that other stuff, was an ice scraper. Turns out so many folks moving out to the desert for the first time weren’t expecting it to get cold at night, and then the only tool they had to clear their windshield in the morning was their laminated company badges. So they started including scrapers to save money on badge replacement.

      1. Bryce*

        Second-guessing the details of my story, I misremembered when I was told it. It was from a family friend over Zoom a few days ago who still lives in that town, so it could have happened anywhere between 40 years ago and last week.

    8. Totes Ma Goats*

      A Secret Santa gift I got one year was a gift card for the nearby gas station, with a receipt time/date stamped for that morning. Everyone needs gas for their cars, I guess.

  9. Nice Try, FBI*

    The strangest gift I received at an office party was a box of thongs from my boss. I have a nickname that’s just a combination of my first and last name (sort of like J-Lo). Well, this combination is also slang for thong underwear, so my boss thought it would be funny to give me sexy thongs for Christmas.

    We did our gift exchange at our Christmas party, which was held at a nearby cigar bar. Initially, I was highly embarrassed. However, at the party, we had amazing food, expensive cigars, and, unfortunately, an open bar. Over the next couple of weeks, pictures from the party would show up hanging around the office. In each of them, we are dancing and wearing said thongs on our heads. It was the wildest office party I’ve ever attended. Insurance folks really go hard.

    1. HRBee*

      I was young (25) and in my first job after college. I received lingerie from the ladies on my team when I got married. My boss, a man, got me a separate gift and took me to dinner (and refused to even be in the room when the other women gave me the gift). And one older woman also refused to go in on the lingerie and made me some beautiful bride and groom embroidered handkerchiefs. It was so bizarre trying to figure out how to react on the spot to getting exceedingly racy lingerie as a gift at work.

      1. Liane*

        Well, the ladies in on it clearly took to heart Miss Manners (the First)’s tale about students at her women’s college holding lingerie showers for the engaged girls because at the time, “no girl needed pretty underwear before marriage.” Just as clearly, the ladies missed the Past Tense. LOL

      2. JohannaCabal*

        One of the most awkward moments of my life involved my dad taking teenage me to his office’s holiday party (where beer and wine started flowing at 10:30 am). The secret santa was all about gag gifts and someone got the receptionist lingerie obviously from Spencer’s, handcuffs, and lube. All the senior staff were males and they kept making crude comments as she opened it (note my dad was not one of the ones commenting).

        The whole time I’m sitting next to my dad wishing I was at home watching the Star Wars marathon on the science fiction channel. I think Dad instantly regretted bringing me along.

        The whole party was one of the reasons Dad left a year later.

    2. anycat*

      did you work in SF by chance? wondering if this is an old company i worked at where we had to put a person into an uber home with another employee and drunk person kept trying to get out..

      1. Cattywampus*

        A long time ago, I worked in a place with a holiday gift exchange of the “randomly draw a name to give a small gift to” kind. Our new boss said she didn’t want to be in the exchange because she was getting everyone something.

        On the day of the holiday party, she came in late, with many huge cardboard boxes, and commandeered one of the long tables we needed to set up the potluck. Then she sent everyone out of the meeting room and locked it. At noon, she told us the rules: we’d all draw to go into the room and pick an item off the table. Then, after everyone had had a turn, we’d go again, until all the items were gone. She gave us all supermarket plastic bags to hold our treasures.

        Several people went in and came out with stunned expressions and then it was my turn. The table was covered with the oddest selection of used items — hairpieces, costume jewelry with broken clasps or missing stones or other damage, broken toys, opened puzzles, well-read paperbacks, clothes with tears or stains, hairbrushes (with hair in them), combs, barrettes, the free notepads you get left on your doorstep by Realtors, small dusty stuffed toys, on and on. There were hundreds of items. No one wanted any of it. And she expected thanks from each of us each time we exited the meeting room.

        People started taking as many items as they could fit in a grocery bag on each trip (emptying it into the dumpster out back immediately after), but it still took hours. And we couldn’t do the gift exchange or eat the potluck food until it was done. We finally ate lunch at 3:30. We sanitized the table with bleach before we set up the food.

        Among the last items on the table were a not at all new pair of panties and what I think and hope was a large pestle without a mortar. I don’t know who finally broke down and took them.

        1. SC*

          What even is happening in this story? Did she have a side business cleaning out hoarders’ homes? Did she hit the clearance table at a thrift store? Did she drive around dumpster diving after garage sales?

      2. Nice Try, FBI*

        Nah, this happened on the East Coast, and that’s the only identifying thing I’m providing! Note the user name.

  10. OhNoYouDidn't*

    My friend went to a holiday work luncheon where everyone had drawn names for small gifts. My friend was in the midst of her first pregnancy at the time. The woman who drew my friend’s name was not someone who worked closely with my friend and they didn’t know each other well. My friend was curious to see what this person would be giving her. She was expecting a small gift card to a coffee shop, or a mug, or some such item. My friend was handed a gift bag. Upon opening the gift bag, she saw several sheets of regular office paper stapled together. She lifted out the paper and read the words, “How to prevent and treat varicose veins.” This person had gone online and printed up an article about the topic saying, “When I was pregnant, I got varicose veins. I wish I’d had this information back then, so I wanted to gift that to you.” That was the entire gift.

    1. WonkyTonk*

      You have the perfect username for this story! A homemade (office-made?) pamphlet on varicose veins…the mind boggles.

        1. codygirl*

          Now this makes me think I spent too much $$ on my restaurant gift card for our secret Santa exchange – lol & omg!

    2. Jennifer*

      Lol what? I know people like that. They always think that everyone is going to have the exact same experience as them in any given situation.

      I also think she just forgot about the gift exchange.

      1. OhNoYouDidn't*

        Normally, I’d agree with you about her forgetting. But I am familiar with with the gift giver. When I learned it was she who had gifted this item, it all made sense. She marches to the beat of her own drum.

      1. Karo*

        Angela would’ve explicitly told Pam that *she* hadn’t experienced it, but had heard it was a problem for larger ladies (or something equally awful, especially given how skinny Pam is).

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        Ooh, or Meredith! Meredith always gave people ‘helpful’ pamphlets for Christmas! “Vasectomies And You” for Jim after his second kid, “How To Stop Biting Your Nails” was another one she gave out… I could totally picture her giving a Varicose Veins Prevention pamphlet!

    3. WFHHalloweenCat*

      It really says a lot about some of the submissions I’ve seen over the years that I was RELIEVED

    4. Nice Try, FBI*

      Wow. I once was gifted a book about eating healthy to lose weight. I’m not overweight, nor would I appreciate such a “gift” if I were! People are strange.

      1. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

        Your comment just made me remember my aunt giving me a copy of “Your Body, Yourself” to me for Christmas. In my late twenties.

      2. The New Wanderer*

        My then-boyfriend gave me a copy of “How to Sh!t in the Woods” as a gift and personally inscribed it to “the most high maintenance girl I know.” Definite dud gift that may have hit a nerve.

      3. Crooked Bird*

        I move in circles where you normally pass on stuff you don’t need with a “hey, would you like this?” because everyone thinks reusing is good. Last year, cleaning out an empty apartment, I found an unopened box of special Chinese Slimming Tea. That’s what the label said.
        … I still have it. You can’t give someone that!

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          My neighbour has a “give and take” box outside in the street, where you can put stuff you don’t want any more. I thought she’d end up with all sorts of rubbish being dumped there but surprisingly, someone always takes the stuff. I’d totally put that tea in there.

    5. You're so vein*

      This gift is sublime in its strange awfulness and the story will bring me joy forever, thank you. I hope Alison gets a chance to shine a yearly spotlight on it.

  11. Grits McGee*

    An undecorated brown paper lunch bag filled with 8-10 airplane bottles of liquor. By far the most popular gift that particular White Elephant.

    1. Nice Try, FBI*

      I would spend the entire time trying to steal that gift! I’m not much of a drinker, but I freaking love those little bottles. I always buy a few when I’m at BevMo or Total Wine.

  12. Hawkeye is in the details*

    I worked for a small firm, and had been there for a year and a half. We had a tree decorating competition, where we were given tabletop artificial trees to decorate and the owner judged them on the last day before closing for the holidays.

    The boss handed out gift cards to everyone, different places and different amounts. Except there were 7 trees and 6 cards, and guess whose tree came in last! Yup. I got nothing.

    Basically, the procurement of trees and gift cards was left to the boss’s favorite employee/friend, who everyone knew was batcrap crazy and loved to lie and play power trip games. She is the reason the company went from 9 employees to 2 in the 2.5 years I was there (and half a year after I left).

    One of the senior employees was very kind and pulled me aside and gave me her prize, movie theater gift cards, claiming she didn’t go to the movies much but she knew I enjoyed them. Her thoughtfulness saved an otherwise awful day.

  13. Stabbity Tuesday*

    Not horrendous or anything but 2 years ago in our white elephant gift exchange I wound up with 2 clip on mosquito repellant things, which I’m sure someone else would have appreciated had they not been a deeply indoorsy 25 y/o, and had it not been waaay under the $10 price limit and clearly a last second no-thought buy.
    Wound up shoving them in someone else’s gift bag just so they’d have to be the one to throw them out, and both my direct boss and the owner’s wife (who’s also my grandmother) tried to give me part of their gifts cause they felt bad for me.

    1. Juneybug*

      My husband loves those! He uses them when we go camping. But if you are not outdoorsy, then no, they would not be a good gift.

    2. Cheeseboardtruther*

      Two mosquito repellent clip ons are easily $10. I’m not seeing how this is a bad white elephant gift, they can’t tailor it to you and most people leave their house at some point during mosquito season.

      1. Stabbity Tuesday*

        My sweet blood can totally appreciate them in the summer! But this was a 5 Below off brand, not the nice fan type, in the middle of December, and just out of place. I’m not mad about it, I’m pretty sure it was one of the older guys at the office, but it was kind of jarring to go from bluetooth speakers and nice candy sets to bug repellent, y’know?

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          It sounds like most people at your office didn’t understand what belongs at a white elephant exchange. It’s supposed to be weird kooky items no one really wants. Those mosquito repellers were perfect. Most white elephant gift exchanges I’ve been to feature gifts like ugly novelty mugs, a mini trashcan for used toothpicks, an ergonomic ice cream scoop (in december, mind), brightly colored socks, and a mini sampler set of gourmet horseradish sauces, to name a few.

          They should not typically be things most people actually want… like bluetooth speakers or nice candy sets.

    3. Angela*

      I think the issue here is that there’s a lot of misunderstanding about a White Elephant gift. They’re not supposed to be good gifts, or things people want- that’s what makes it so random and fun. But when one or more people don’t go with this, and buy actual nice/wanted gifts, the entire thing is thrown off. Some people get stuck with toilet seats or random items (like mosquito clips) and others get gift cards or electronics. I’m sorry you wound up with one of the less-than-great items- but at least it was practical?

  14. Web Crawler*

    My dad once got half a freezer full of bison burgers from a professional contact- I don’t remember if it was a vendor or a customer or a coworker. We were all very confused.

        1. Quill*

          Look, Meatgate is fine as long as nobody decides to bring the cheap-ass rolls to put the burgers on. Hawaiian or bust!

          1. Artemesia*

            LOL. One of the things that still amuses me about the cheap ass rolls is that her preferred ‘fancy’ Hawaiian rolls are sweet, soft and utterly disgusting and to my taste the worst possible roll choice.

            1. Absurda*

              I love the Hawaiian roles, but not for burgers; they’re best as a snack on their own. I had a neighbor growing up who was Portuguese and every Christmas and Easter she’d bring us a loaf of homemade Portuguese sweet bread. The Hawaiian roles remind me of that bread.

              1. Ev*

                That’s because Hawaiian rolls *are* Portuguese sweet bread! It was brought to Hawaii by Portuguese sailors and became a thing. (This is also why you can get malasadas – Portuguese donuts – in Hawaii and, therefore, why you can feed your Pokemon malasadas in Pokemon Sun & Moon. /Portuguese food digression)

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I joined Costco recently and laughed out loud when I came around a corner to see a giant rack of giant packs of Hawaiian rolls.
            (I did not buy them but I’m still tempted.)

    1. Valentine Wiggin*

      I live in a rural area and have both given and received various cuts of meat as gifts! It’s considered more of a high end gift. Though I know in any other setting it would be super weird.

      1. Rey*

        I just moved to a rural area this year, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. The neighborhood kids were fundraising for band camp and the most advertised item in the auction was a truck worth of gravel. Apparently they do this every year :)

        1. Christmas Carol*

          When I was in high school, we raised band camp money by selling 25-lb bags of lawn fertilizer every spring

        2. Pippa K*

          Oh I would absolutely bid on a truck load of gravel! Sounds like the fundraisers know their local audience
          :-)

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        Agreed. I lived in a rural area where one of the tire places would throw in a side of beef if you bought a set of new tires in February. (I’m a vegetarian, so never took the deal.)

      3. hamburke*

        I live on the edge of rural (I’m definitely suburban but the next counties over in 3 directions are considered rural/farming). Meat gifts are definitely high end gifts. I’ve matched it with homemade baked or canned gifts which are equally well received.

      1. Web Crawler*

        Pretty great! They were … meatier than beef burgers. I don’t have the food language to describe it. And by the end of it, my dad had figured out the best ways to cook it

    2. MCL*

      If those were quality bison burgers I’d be stoked! But I think that’s one of those gifts that need some context.

      1. Artemesia*

        My food coop which is alas suspended during COVID since we meet at members homes to ‘shop’ for the items, has fabulous whole sale meat — I get a case of steaks and a case of lamb chops when we meet and they are so much better than anything we get at the grocery store. And fish from a real fish place is amazing too.

  15. AnotherAlison*

    Well, a few weeks ago, our dept. admin asked for our home addresses. I was assuming a giftcard or something, and they would mail them since a lot of people are not coming to the office. Our company has historically been pretty generous at Christmas and also had black tie Chrismas parties (which I never went to).

    Yesterday I found out that I was the lucky recipient of a family card from my boss. My husband opened it and was like, “Who are these people? I don’t know these people.” My last day here is 11 days away.

    1. MsMaryMary*

      At my last job, I got one of those “I don’t know these people” card from (the wife of) one of the VPs I worked with. I had never given out my address. I can only assume the wife called one of the admins and asked for the new girl’s address. It was well intentioned so I never made a fuss, but it always struck me as odd.

    2. Mr. Tyzik*

      One year, I got a photo card of the SVP with his family.

      I detested that SVP.

      I’m not one to throw out photos, but I made an exception in this case.

    3. Gognog Mug Alugdug*

      Funny of you to mention…My manager just asked for my address to send one.

      My last department I was in I received a photo of all of the management team (most of whom I did not even know or report to in any way) presented like a family xmas card. I was not certain if I was obligated to display it in my cubicle or just stealth trash it so I took the middle road and shoved it into a desk drawer and forgot about it for a year.

      1. Absurda*

        The managers of the team I work closely with does a holiday card for their department and folks they work with. The managers all dress up in different holiday clothes, Santa, elves, a Christmas tree. Last year one manager dressed in a pink bunny suit. Since I’ve worked with these folks for years it’s usually pretty funny.

  16. Penny*

    This one isn’t super weird but it has a sweet ending. Years ago at work we did a Secret Santa, and my gift was a t-shirt with a logo I didn’t recognize, not in my size. I showed it to a couple colleagues to see if anyone knew what the logo was, and then they went down an Internet rabbit hole trying to track it down. Eventually they figured out that it was the logo of a shirt company owned by the husband of the person who was my Secret Santa. They must have just given me a random T-shirt from their stock. One of my coworkers was actually really upset on my behalf and the next day she gave me the sweetest little handmade ornament that related to one of my hobbies– she’d gone home and made it that night so I’d have a “real” Secret Santa gift to open! I still smile every year when I hang that ornament on my tree.

    1. CollegeSupervisor*

      This is beautiful – thanks for sharing. Can’t believe the laziness of your Secret Santa though… really?

    2. Lime green Pacer*

      I still have some nice ornaments that were tatted and crocheted by a co-worker 25+ years ago. But she sold them from her desk.

      1. starsaphire*

        So many “my lovely co-worker saved the day” moments this year.

        Yay for kind-hearted co-workers!!!

  17. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

    Weirdest situation:
    1. The owner was a somewhat rich, definitely entitled, jerk. I could write a book about his misbehavior, but suffice it to say that if I have referenced a cheating boss, a drunk boss, or the pleasure of watching his business implode due to explosives he laid and fuses he’s lit? That’s this guy, just one person.

    2. The Company Christmas Party was to be held on the 26th of December, at the boss’ new house. This particular year, Christmas Day was a Saturday, the 26th was on a Sunday.

    3. I was unable to attend due to family obligations. I emailed the party-planner my regrets upon receiving the invitation, and verified with my VP on Christmas Eve that I wouldn’t be seeing him at the party, but to have a great holiday and I’d see him next week.

    4. Photographs show that boss had invited his side-piece. She was prominently in the photographs. In the family home. Also in the photographs – his two PO’ed looking, side-eye giving, teenaged children. Who were NOT impressed with this nonsense.

    5. Two weeks into January, the owner realized that I was not at the party and proceeded to question “why not?”. My own family obligations were completely unreasonable as an excuse in his eyes, and my spouse and I should have been at HIS party. On our own time (it was on a Sunday).

    6. My feelings were NOT hurt when I was laid off at the end of January. I’d been looking for a new job, and had honestly been planning on quitting the DAY where my husband’s company-provided health insurance was available as he’d very recently started a new job.

    In short, bee-hive full of drunks.

    1. Boadicea*

      I’m still pretty annoyed about how in my first office job as a young woman, when I suddenly had to take my pet in for stressful emergency care on the day of the Christmas party, I got a ticking off by the senior manager. Of course, as soon as I knew I wouldn’t be there, I contacted the party organizers and my direct manager, who were very kind and said no problem. I only had to miss a short period, so although I had taken time off, I spent the rest of the afternoon working in the office, not exactly in party mood. My pet died a couple of weeks later. Yet an older man chose never to go to any of the parties, with no specific reason (as well he should be able to), and he said he was never admonished.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your pet, no matter how recently or not it was. It stings, and I’m sorry.

    2. TooCold*

      Years ago, I worked for a fairly large family owned company. They had downsized the holiday party from a lavish banquet with drinks and dancing at a fancy hotel to cookies and cocoa at their house (over an hour away). They scheduled it for the Sunday prior to Christmas. I declined due to legitimate family obligations (it IS the Sunday prior to Christmas, after all). I got reprimanded twice before the event and twice after the event for not attending. I was further told, “Well, that is when we handed out the Christmas bonus and now you are not getting one!” Yeah, that really put me in the holiday spirit and gave me a feeling of good will toward the owners. Not.

    3. Observer*

      My own family obligations were completely unreasonable as an excuse in his eyes,

      Not surprising. He clearly doesn’t care about his OWN family obligations. Why should he or you care about YOURS?

      Poor kids. What kind of jerk does that?

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        I could write a book about the two years I worked there.

        Answer: a drunk narcissist who grew up wealthy and privileged and had never been told “No” a day in his life until he owned his own company and proceeded to run it into the ground.

        I hope his kids are okay.
        I hope his wife is okay.
        I even hope the side piece realized she deserved better than trash.

        Him? Bees.

          1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

            So an ironic second story related to the mango-baby:

            We had the opportunity to do business with one of his businesses way back then (I think this was apprentice days? Maybe before.) and the Owner refused because “Real Estate Developers are the legitimate worst. They have no ethics.”.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Two common sayings are relevant about your boss here: “it takes one to know one” and “even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

  18. awesome*

    I worked in on campus housing in college, and we had an inflatable pool in our office for some reason, so my boss encouraged me to wrap it as a joke gift for our White Elephant. I’d never given a joke gift before, I’m one of those people who painstakingly put way too much thought and effort into picking out the perfect gift. So when someone had the large box and knew it was from me, they said something along the lines of knowing they could trust me, but were worried that it was a big box. Sweating under the pressure of my bad gift, I let my coworker know she could trust me as far as she could throw me. The rest of the staff just stared, certain that I didn’t understand the idiom or underestimated my weight, or overestimated my coworker’s strength. That taught me that giving a bad gift is not for me!

    1. Web Crawler*

      Giving bad gifts isn’t for everyone. I’m a fan of giving good gifts in bad ways. Like, a giant box that’s empty except for a note that says “look in ” where the real gift is. Or a heavy box of rocks and a gift card. Or my grandpa’s strategy- an awful paperback with cash stuck in the pages (always in $2 bills).

      My favorite was the time I gave my sister a large box with random things she already owned. By the time she got to the bottom to find the note that said “turn around”, I was standing behind her with a giant stuffed bear.

      1. Duke Flapjack*

        Or a box of good jelly beans layered around a bunch of plastic scorpions in a box labeled “caution, live scorpions.”

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Our first Christmas married, I got my husband an Assassin’s Creed themed x-box package, so naturally, I set up a scavenger hunt for it. I did not KNOW, however, that before we started opening our household gifts (which we usually do on Christmas Eve) he had poured himself a (second) stiff whiskey cocktail. So he went out scavenging in the snow, slightly tipsy. He started to climb a ladder that was not relevant to the proceedings and was fairly rickety, and he’s 6’4″ and 225#, so I hollered out that he was going the wrong way – he leaned out and smashed his face into a crossbeam. So he went to work the next workday and told all his coworkers that for his first married Christmas he got an x-box and a broken nose. (They decided it was worthwhile. I dunno about that, but he plays the x-box a lot, so I guess he’s okay with it.)

      3. Lalaith*

        I love doing stuff like that. I bought a very cheap video game that my husband wouldn’t like (I think it was High School Musical karaoke), and put concert tickets inside the case. For some reason we never got rid of the game, so he gave me tickets to something else in the same case a different year :)

        1. Boadicea*

          I love this. I don’t feel like I’m the type who can give bad gifts well either. I love gift-giving, but Secret Santas make me so anxious for this reason – especially if it’s a person I don’t know well. I am totally stealing this trick for all future instances :-)

        2. Fear the Robots*

          I did something similar to my then-boyfriend our first birthdays together. He hates the idea of any Alexa-type product, so I borrowed a Google dot box from a friend. I put a rock inside for weight and carefully taped up and wrapped the box along with his actual gifts. I had him open the fake-Google gift first telling him that all the other gifts were related to this one. The look on his face after opening when I excitedly told him that the other gifts were “to wire up the whole house so Google can constantly listen to you in every room!” (while cackling) was priceless. Once he opened it up and saw the rock, he got the joke. It’s become one of our favourite couple stories!

      4. Quill*

        Once I gave my brother something he desperately wanted (one of the first christmasses where I was spending my own money) and I forget what it was, but he was juuuuust old enough that it being a lego set would be a disappointment because he was “too old” for lego… so I filled the rest of the box with lego, knowing that he was a lifelong present shaker.

        We nearly got whiplash from the reaction.

      5. Jennifer Strange*

        My husband got a gift from his sister and brother-in-law that came in a box that proclaimed that the gift was a cheese printer (as in something that can print pictures on cheese). Apparently there are gag gift boxes you can get that look like weird products, but you then put the real gift inside. (in his case it was a T-shirt for one of his favorite shows). We thought it was hilarious! Still have the box in fact…waiting to see who we can use it on…

        1. Karo*

          My parents always wrap gifts in whatever boxes they have laying around. One year they purchased my (adult) cousin something relatively small and put it in a mailing label box without really thinking about it. She was very gracious, if bewildered, about receiving labels for Christmas – and then my parents told her to actually open the box to get the real gift.

          That was probably a decade or two ago, and I actually don’t think they wrap gifts in leftover boxes anymore!

          1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

            That is a running joke in my husband’s family. What is on the box is almost NEVER what it actually is. So you really do have to open the box all the way to see the gift.

            1. The New Wanderer*

              That’s my family of origin (and me as the mom of my own family) too – we just always keep the boxes for future use. I have a stack of boxes in the spare closet with the gift wrap. My kids know never to expect what’s on the box but at least they are certain they know what it *isn’t*!

            2. Tenebrae*

              My family as well! My parents got me a GameCube when I was younger and I legitimately didn’t realize (my parents weren’t big on consoles). They were deeply confused when I unwrapped it, gave it a completely nonplussed look and started yanking at the lid.

            3. SusanIvanova*

              My grandmother would use random boxes and write the recipient’s name on the box so she’d remember what tag to put on it when she wrapped it, but every so often put the wrong tag on anyway. My brother was about 9 and I was 13 one year when he opened up a box with a dollhouse scale model piano/music box – I was the one who built and collected scale minis.

              He totally adored it. I saw the name on the box – mine – and just let him keep it.

            4. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

              It’s so weird to me that people DON’T do this! Why buy(???) boxes when there’s that perfectly good box from 10 years ago! We bought a few shirt boxes that we’ve been using ever since, and there’s an American Girl Doll box, branded necklace boxes, a box for a CD player, a set of small boxes that fit socks perfectly that my mom made out of shirt boxes, miscellaneous gift boxes that other people have given us gifts in. The best boxes only get used within the family so we still have access to them! Half the fun christmas morning is seeing how well people picked out boxes that precisely fit the item being given.

          2. Beehoppy*

            You have to be careful with this though. My stepdad does the same thing, and one year my Mom opened the wrapping paper to see a box for a new cell phone, and inside was just lip balm or something. It did not go well.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              One year my office raffled some leftover corporatethank you gifts, so I gave mom a small crystal bowl from Tiffany. She loved it. However I did not count on mom’s “box fetish.” The next year I got a Tiffany box to open. Unfortunately for her I didn’t recognize it, so it took me a while to warm up to the wool gloves inside. …

          3. Not real HR*

            A couple of years ago I was at Goodwill and saw one of these joke gift boxes for a ‘teach your cat how to paint kit’ and I thought it was hilarious – but seemed heavier than expected, being a box. I paid about $3 for it and when I came home and opened it, found a picture frame with a $50 Starbucks gift card in it. I guess the person who got it didn’t think it was funny and never opened it?

        2. CupcakeCounter*

          I think my dad bought every one of those boxes…bacon scented dryer sheets, shower coffee brewer, etc…

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            I am now visualizing a 3D printer that prints little cheese sculptures. Like one of those chocolate Santas, only cheese.

      6. OtterB*

        My mother had a story about the year one of her brothers gave their dad a big box that you opened to find a smaller box … and a smaller box … and a smaller box. He got annoyed and threw the next sized box on the fire, and the gift-giver yelled and raked it out with a stick and stomped on it to put it out. The matchbox-size interior box had a $50 bill in it. (And this would have been 1940ish, so equivalent to $900+ today).

      7. Admin of Sys*

        One year, we gave my parents a box filled with crumpled newspaper and nothing else, but that was sort of the present. They’d wanted a New York Times subscription, so we signed them up for a year and then went out and bought a few copies of the paper, crumpled them up to look like filling and put them into a box. There was one full uncrumpled paper at the bottom with the subscription details in it, but it took them a bit to figure out what the gift was.

    2. Lexie*

      White elephant gifts aren’t supposed be perfect or thoughtful, they are supposed to be gag gifts. Which is why I don’t like white elephant exchanges, I don’t want stuck with a piece of scrap that’s purpose was to make people laugh for 30 seconds.

      1. Karo*

        I think the problem is that people have different definitions for white elephant, yankee swap, secrect santa, and what level of thoughtful theyr’e supposed to be. That’s why you have to have real explicit rules set out from the start!

        1. Sparrow*

          Seriously, the definitions are all over the map, and I think it’s something most people don’t think about – you tend to assume the way you learned it is The Way it is played! Clear rules are very important so that everyone knows what’s expected and no one accidentally makes things awkward by bringing a gag gift when everyone else brought legit gifts or vice versa.

          I grew up with an extended family white elephant that was always a mix of gag and real gifts, and not knowing what kind you’d get was part of the fun. But that only works if everyone is on the same page going in so you’re aware that the gift you leave with may or may not be of the same value as the one you brought and can decide how much you want to spend with that in mind.

          1. JustaTech*

            This is very much my experience, that you need to be very, very clear about what exactly White Elephant means here, today, at this work party. When I’ve been explicit and everyone’s read the instructions, we’ve had a good time. When they haven’t read the instructions … let’s just say it’s a good idea to bring a spare gift if you can.

        2. not_salad*

          Yes, last year I was so excited for a white elephant exchange for which I had bought a Golden Girls board game on sale months early. Other gifts included gift cards and other actually nice stuff. Oops!

          1. cat wrangler*

            I know several people who would prize a Golden Girls board game above all else. You never know what will be the ‘hit’ gift, I guess. (I hope someone appreciated it.)

        3. Boo*

          Oh god, the one time I went to a white elephant exchange was a cringe fest for this exact reason. I was taught that white elephant exchanges are supposed to be about gag gifts, so I brought a creepy looking clown doll as a present. Yeah… everyone else went with the other interpretation and brought decent gifts. I’ve avoided white elephant exchanges like the plague ever since.

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        Ironically, a white elephant gift from 24 years ago actually turned out great! I got a Q-tip holder. It is literally just a clear plastic rectangular box that is sized to fit Q-tips. And it’s followed me from my parents’ home to college to many apartments and now lives in my bathroom drawer… holding Q-tips. I use it at least once a week. I was so disappointed when I got it, but now I just love it.

  19. megaboo*

    We had a Yankee Swap at my former job. We had a money limit and people usually put in mugs or gift cards for coffee. Each year someone would put in something weird. Once, someone was excited about a heavy feeling, beautifully wrapped gift. It was a sack of potatoes and a peeler.

    1. KateM*

      Considering I have about 30 unmatching mugs at my house and go through 3 pounds of potatoes each day, I wouldn’t mind a decent sack of potatoes! You can keep the peeler.

  20. Mr Mike*

    Working on a factory in the 90’s after the all- hands cafeteria Christmas party in the cafeteria, the CEO handed out one of those little canned hams personally to everyone. Vegetarian, Jew or Muslim; you got one handed to you, too!

    1. Thanks?*

      For years our business group would give everyone a coupon for $20 off a whole turkey or ham. I never used it in probably 10 years. I never needed nor wanted a whole turkey or ham. Though I always wondered why they didn’t think about people that didn’t want turkey or ham, let alone vegetarians. I had a couple years off in a different business group, but re-orged back in this year. They’ve improved the coupon. Now we can buy any combination of whole or canned turkey, ham, or fruits and vegetables! I may actually use it this year.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I used to get something like this from a vendor every year. I always donated it to the food drive.

    2. Turkey queen*

      Oh, you’re bringing back memories. In my first job out of college I worked for UPS, which had a long-standing tradition of giving out turkeys to all employees. At the time most UPS management folks were promoted from within, and I was one of the first “outsiders” in the district office. Every year during the Xmas rush the management team would get called out to help deliver packages but since I had no experience, they put me in charge of turkey distribution…for about 3000 people, at multiple facilities statewide.

      So, palletloads of frozen turkeys arrived in identical boxes, and I had to count out how many of each went to each location, make sure all permanent employees got a “turkey ticket,” and all sorts of other logistics. The main location had about 2000 turkeys to distribute, and it was a 24 hour operation, so I had to recruit night shift folks to help, but otherwise it was me, standing next to a pallet of frozen birds by the guard shack in the freezing cold, handing people turkeys. Did I mention I’m a vegetarian?

      A couple of years after I left, they finally started giving people coupons for free turkeys at the supermarket – but every Christmas since I’ve been glad that I’ll never have to do that again!

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        About 20 years ago, the company I worked for sent Honey Baked Ham Co. turkey breasts to the managers at Thanksgiving….somehow, I wasn’t given a heads-up to be on the lookout for one. Monday after Thanksgiving, the head admin manager asks me how my turkey was…..”what turkey??”……turns out it was parked on a shelf in my apartment management office, no notice for me to come by and pick it up, fully thawed, been at room temp for several days, packaging was ballooning at this point.

        Company went to Honey Baked gift cards after that.

    3. Person of Interest*

      My dad used to work at a company that gave every employee a Christmas turkey, which my mother would freeze until spring and then cook for Passover :)

      1. Christmas Carol*

        My dad was the foreman at a company that gave out Christmas turkeys too, huge ones. Dad had hired on his brother, who lived in a very small cottage with just his wife, no children. Every year the extended family had Uncle’s big turkey for Christmas dinner. Our big turkey spent the next 11 months in our tiny refrigerator top freezer until it was used for the next year’s Thanksgiving dinner. One month later the cycle would repeat itself.

    4. Artemesia*

      The place I worked gave out a turkey for the holidays, but you could actually arrange for a tofurky if you were not a meat eater. The turkeys not claimed went to the food bank for distribution to homeless shelters.

    5. Amethystmoon*

      We got offered turkeys twice where I work. The choice was, take it or it goes to charity. The first time, I turned it down because Thanksgiving was banned and a whole turkey for a single person living alone is just too much. The second time, I had to turn it down because I was waiting on Covid test results and couldn’t come in to pick it up. (A co-worker tested positive, I tested negative.) This is the second year I’ve been with the company after they bought out the company I was at for a number of years, and I’m guessing they give away turkeys every year. Not a great idea though, we shouldn’t be forced to donate to charity what we can’t use and is supposed to be a gift to workers for performance. I’ve mentioned this to my boss a couple of times, but there are not enough people who are interested in pushing back to change it.

  21. Amber Rose*

    This is kind of a weird case, but everyone got shafted this year because my coworker has a bad attitude and thinks we work with terrible people.

    We don’t do a gift exchange, rather we buy enough gifts for everyone in the company (so, if we have 30 people we buy 30 interesting things) and then draw names to see who gets what. This year we had a few extra grocery gift cards and such so I wanted to add them to a few of the prizes to make them a little nicer… and my coworker got upset because “what if you got the one without a gift card, it would be so unfair! People will complain!” But it’s a prize raffle. I thought it was understood that what you win is random and some things are nicer than others? The grand prize this year was easily three times the cost of some of the little gift baskets, for instance.

    Anyways. Basically, I was trying to make the smaller gifts this year extra nice but my coworker who has a generally bad attitude about everyone even though I work with a group of awesome and chill folks, convinced my boss she was right and people would complain about fairness in a random draw that is by default as fair as it gets without giving everyone the exact same thing.

    :/

    1. Duke Flapjack*

      That would certainly make the raffle boring: “you get…EXACTLY THE SAME THING EVERYBODY ELSE GOT! YAY!!”

    2. KayEss*

      Ha, almost the same thing happened the one time I was on a party planning committee… one member insisted that every one of the 200+ employees had to win a wrapped gift in the group trivia game (a story in its own right) in order for things to be “fair”, to the point that she went out and spent her own money buying dozens of the cheapest, junkiest candle holders and picture frames she could find at TJ Maxx, all without committee authorization. We had to reimburse her out of the prize budget, and therefore couldn’t afford any legitimately good prizes. At the party, people literally left their “gifts” behind on the tables after unwrapping them.

    3. Temperance*

      I’m so overtired that I actually thought that you buy 30 sets of 30 weird gifts (like 30 plastic scorpions lol).

      1. Amber Rose*

        Lol, no. It becomes a burden when people don’t want their stuff and leave it behind. One year I ended up with a bunch of commemorative coins nobody else wanted. Ugh.

        I tried to get a wide range of fun and exciting things, and then we put the list up of who won what so people can trade if they want. I traded my prize this year for a gift card to the zoo. :)

    4. BatGirl*

      I don’t know, I guess I’ll be the stick-in-the-mud that kind of agrees with your coworker. If I got a really nice box of chocolates and someone else got a gift card with the same value, I wouldnt be thrilled.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Considering we don’t have to give people anything and we’re just trying to have some fun, yeah. That’s not super great of you.

        1. TimeTravlR*

          As long as one person doesn’t get a gag gift and others get something normal, IDC. It’s okay if some of the door prizes are nicer than others. That’s the nature of the game!

      2. LDF*

        Agreed, I get that it’s a raffle but still wouldn’t necessarily feel great. Not like it’s a random charity raffle, it’s a work thing so feels like it should be pretty equal imo.

  22. TerraTenshi*

    Probably doesn’t hold a candle to most of the stories here but my department has one coworker who always buys everyone holiday lottery scratchers for Christmas. A couple of years ago the director was telling everyone at our annual holiday potluck that she had never won anything (ANYTHING!) from these lottery tickets. One of her direct reports who had been there a few years at that point said that she had never won anything either, so they could be unlucky together. At which point the director literally SCREAMED in her face that “YOU HAVEN’T BEEN HERE FOR THIRTY PLUS YEARS OF CHRISTMASES SO SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

    The director proceeded to spend the rest of the day pretending that nothing had happened and not noticing when people gave her odd looks. Within a year she had made a “voluntary” move to a lower grade position without any direct reports.

    1. The Starsong Princess*

      I’m weirdly sympathetic to that director. Last year, I finally won something at my company’s United Way bingo after an epic 18 year losing streak. That $10 Tim Horton’s gift card was sweet!

    2. allathian*

      Oh dear… But I hope that outburst was a wake-up call for the director that she was out of her depth in that job. How did the report take being screamed at?

  23. Laurie*

    One good thing that happened to me in 2020 was that I got a job at a wonderful company with a wonderful boss. At this time last year, I was working at a horrible company that had a suck-up culture. My team in my office location sat very close together and included my direct supervisor, “Donna”, and other team lead (who I didn’t report to), “Kelso”. These two people were the biggest sycophants I ever worked with, they were very much the obvious kiss-up and kick-down type. Management couldn’t see through it and LOVED them. Our team had a director-level person, “Bob”, in another office location so he was pretty oblivious to how inefficient Donna and Kelso actually were.

    Anyway, a few weeks before Christmas, I overheard them whispering about buying Bob an ugly sweater from the NFL shop for his favorite team. Granted the price was marked down from around $70 to around $40. I thought that was super weird…who buys their boss a clothing item? And what kind of supervisor accepts that gift?

    About a week later, Donna left Amazon gift cards (around $30 I think) for the rest of our team on each of our desks, which was a generous gift to everyone. Kelso, who typically strolled into the office around 10am every day, brought our team a box of doughnuts around Christmas after 10am, on a day where our office had catered lunch at 11:30am.

    Very strange people at that company.

    1. Sally*

      These examples don’t actually seem that strange? Giving out gift cards and bringing in donuts sounds completely normal.

      1. Laurie*

        They gave the director of our team (their direct boss), a more expensive, personalized clothing item, and gave everyone less expensive gifts. I find that weird.

        1. Beehoppy*

          Yeah, but the price difference wasn’t THAT huge, and I think most people would rather have a gift card than have an awful coworker guess what you might want.

      1. Roci*

        I was very confused because in Scrubs the character’s name is Bob Kelso and I thought they were the same person.

    2. Joel Davis*

      My first Christmas working at an office job, one of my coworkers collected $80 from everyone to buy the bosses gifts. The guy at the head of the company got an iPod, the two assistants got spa massages.
      This coworker also collected money for and organized bosses day celebrations.

  24. BlueBelle*

    I worked in the HR department of a university. The head of HR was a real piece of work. She insisted that everyone come to her house for a Christmas party. She called it a Christmas party, despite the fact that we had many employees who were not Christian and didn’t celebrate Christmas. When you arrived at her home, she took you on a tour. This was a normal middle class 2 story home in the suburbs. Her bedroom furniture was IKEA. This was not some glorious mansion, it was a normal middle class house.
    If that wasn’t cringy enough, every single person had to participate in the White Elephant gift exchange. One of her direct reports, who would have been at a director level, gave a clearance Hillshire farm smoked sausage with the big orange clearance tag still on it, with a price of $4.99. I am sure it was a giant FU to the crazy head of HR, but it was very awkward for the student employee who got it.

    1. Haha Lala*

      Oh man, that sounds so similar but so opposite my college white elephant parties!
      For my work study job, we had about 15 or so student workers and a handful of full time staff. The department head hosted every year, in his beautiful, historic home that was fully decked out with lights and multiple trees, so we all loved the tours! I think it was called a “holiday” party, but it was a distinctly non-religious Christmas celebration- mostly about eating a great dinner and blowing off steam during finals week. Pretty much every year, there was a “log of meat” as one of the gifts, and it was a big hit every year! It always ended up with someone that wanted it, and I’m pretty sure I took it one year and then served it at a party the next week!

    2. Sparrow*

      To be fair, some people seem to see house tours as a thing you’re supposed to do when a new person comes to your home, regardless of the home. I’ve had multiple friends be like, “Give me a tour!!” when I live in a very average one-bedroom apartment. I can literally point to everything from the front door and none of it is particularly exciting, and yet they are surprised when I don’t automatically offer to show them around.

      1. Artemesia*

        This has always been kind of a thing everywhere we have lived such that when hosting dinner parties I always made sure the whole house was presentable. But I think it is super cheesy when it is a boss’s house. My boss had a gorgeous suburban mansion and everyone was curious to see it but no one went upstairs or asked for tours. It seems just wrong somehow with one’s boss.

  25. KayEss*

    We did a themed Secret Santa where you drew a letter of the alphabet and all your gifts had to start with that letter. The owner drew ‘B’ and spent $50+ (WAY over the limit) ordering her recipient… *cough* Rocky Mountain oysters. She then gleefully demanded he eat them in the office. We vetoed her.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Slightly off topic, but my brother-in-law likes to tell the story of eating out with co-workers and someone ordered the Rocky Mountain oysters, not realizing what they were. He ate them (still not knowing) and noted that you could really taste the ocean water in them…

      1. iglwif*

        Are … are they …

        Am I correct in guessing that Rocky Mountain oysters are the same thing as prairie oysters … ?

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          It looks like in Canada prairie oysters are the same as Rocky Mountain oysters (though prairie oyster can also refer to a hangover remedy drink).

          1. iglwif*

            Thaaaat’s what I thought. (Prairie Oyster is also a band, although their name is basically all I know about them.)

    2. Jaid*

      I can eat practically anything fried and with hot sauce, but she sounds like she would have kept mentioning that this guy ate bull testicles at every chance. To heck with her.

      1. ggg*

        I had to explain Rocky Mountain oysters to a very nice Japanese person at a conference in Aspen. He was very interested in the salinity of the local waters.

  26. InsufficientlySubordinate*

    At the place that did a White Elephant (always a mix of terrible and nice-ish things). There was stealing allowed up to 3 times. New people were warned there would be terrible things because some of them had been around for years.
    1) The ugly bottle, liquor maybe but 20 or more years old. It was non-translucent olive green and had a sculpture of a man in a sombrero on the outside. Yeah, like that. It would sit at someone’s desk until the next year.
    2) 2 empty binders, white (multiple years)
    3) A string of battery operated Xmas lights turned on and stuffed in a tangle into a box
    4) Size small sexy Santa lingerie
    5) an empty bottle of cheap Russian vodka

    By nice-ish, I mean there was sometimes chocolate or wine as opposed to neutral vanilla scented candles.

    1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

      I also should’ve added the Ugly Bottle was rumored to be “cursed” so that whoever ended up with it would leave the company within the next year. So, naturally, there was jockeying to try and get the bottle without too obviously trying for the bottle and then joking about “Oh no, I got the bottle, I’ll have to leave”. If you did leave, you presented it to someone else to keep.

  27. cactus lady*

    Back in the ’90s, my parents somehow won an autographed picture of Al Gore (I don’t remember exactly how we came by it but it was in our living room for years). It was the #1 gift at my dad’s office white elephant gift exchange in the year 2000.

    1. Rainy*

      My office had an “office gift” that got recycled in the white elephant every year or two (I can’t be specific, anyone who’s ever worked there would know instantly), until the year it came up and a coworker who bikes to work and lives a minimalist lifestyle got it and looked crushed. I on the other hand immediately texted my husband and was like “WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF I BROUGHT HOME $UTTERLY RIDICULOUS THING” and he was like “HELL YEAH” and I promptly stole it when my turn came up.

      Everyone kept predicting it would come back, but I love that silly thing and have bought it several friends, because why the heck not.

      1. TimeTravlR*

        Ours wa a stuffed armadillo! I really wanted that thing and would never have parted with it had I gotten it!

    2. Artemesia*

      remember microfiche? I once won a set of microfiche containing all of Jimmy Carter’s speeches in a raffle.

  28. RC Rascal*

    Several years ago we had an off site Holiday lunch. I was working for a Terrible Boss we shall call Fergus. Ferguson showed up to lunch wearing a sweater reading “ I Can Get You On The Naughty List”. His contribution to the gift exchange was a book of creepy family photos including one of a teenage cheerleader with an exposed maxi pad. A male employee who is very religious ended up with the gift. He was horrified.

    After that we all knew that not only was Fergus a bad boss, he was a Creep.

  29. Veronica's Triumphant Cigarette at the End of Heathers*

    This year my boss kept stressing we were getting “a big surprise” instead of a holiday party and kept talking it up throughout the month. Well, yesterday my bag was dropped off and it contained:
    -1 expired bag of chips
    -1 tiny bottle of sparkling grape juice
    -1 package of two small cookies
    -1 $5 gift card to Starbucks
    -a few pieces of ribbon, I think for decoration? But they just looked pitiful.

    Honestly if the boss hadn’t talked it up so much, I wouldn’t care but she kept emphasizing how great this all was for us. And after a year where morale is especially low, where staff are risking their lives due to working in schools, and where our salaries are already so low, this feels more insulting than just cancelling the party and getting us nothing. I would like one (1) new job this year, please!

    1. GuitarLady*

      This sounds like the S1 episode of The Office where Michael keeps telling everyone there will be a big surprise, and then the best he can come up with is ice cream sandwiches.

    2. Doing the least*

      In lieu of a holiday party and a half-day off, my husband got: a tin of roasted nuts. No note to staff regarding the change in plans, no plans to donate to the local food bank in lieu of party, just a tin of nuts. At least they are from a local business?

    3. Liz*

      we just had a virtual meeting where we were told we’re getting a gift from the company. Having been here enough years to know that any gift from them is usually the cheapest crap known to man, i’m not very excited.

  30. Amber Rose*

    And now that i’ve shared my complaining, please let me share this little heartwarming moment:

    Everyone in the company got an identical small gift bag with a candle, a sugar cookie, some hot chocolate and a hand sanitizer. One of my coworkers when I gave it to him was SO excited. Like a kid on Christmas day level of excited. It was completely adorable. He’s the biggest cinnamon roll I have ever met, and he’s also one of my most competent and helpful coworkers, and basically I just adore him. <3

    1. Monty and Millie's Mom*

      Legit asking, when you call a person a “cinnamon roll”, what does that even mean?! It SOUNDS nice, but….squishy?!! Please help, I don’t know my slang!

      1. Rainy*

        A cinnamon roll is like a beautiful squishy sweetheart of a person. Like, innocent but not naive, kind and generous to a fault, good-hearted and genuine.

        1. MxLibrarian*

          It’s from an Onion article, headlined “Cinnamon roll too good for this world, too pure” with a picture of a cinnamon roll.

      2. Amber Rose*

        Squishy is probably a good way of saying it. xD

        I just mean he’s a sweetheart. An objectively good person who makes people around him happy.

      3. More like Darcy, myself*

        I have heard it in context of Pride and Prejudice that Mr. Bingley is a cinnamon roll. Sweet, naive, makes the world around them better, etc. Enthusiastic for things because cinnamon rolls see the world as someplace to enjoy and people as wonderful potential friends. Not fake, because it is just in their nature to be sweet.

        1. Artemesia*

          I have been around almost as long as Jane Austen and have never heard this expression — so something new!!

  31. Marzipan Dragon*

    Not the weirdest gift, perhaps, but rather surreal. It was a small company so the party was at the boss’s house. Twelve of us sitting around his living room. One of the first items opened at the swap was a live lobster. (We’re coastal so this is almost a run into the drug store and buy booze at the last minute gift) The weird part was the person who got it took it out of it’s container and let it run loose in the living room. So there we are pretending it is not strange and cruel to have a sea creature wandering around. I was 19ish and everyone else was at least twice that and it was my first company party so I tucked my feet under me so the sea roach couldn’t touch me and thought to myself that grown up parties were weird as h*ll.

    1. Quill*

      Oh my god, the poor lobster!

      When I was a child we kept a pet crayfish but we kept it in the (non functional, but appropriately wet and equipped) downstairs shower.

      Though it did scare the pee out of someone who didn’t realize it was nocturnal during a sleepover. She woke up to use the bathroom, approached the toilet, and disturbed the invertebrate.

      The human screamed loud enough to wake the dead. The crayfish hid under a rock.

      1. CarCarJabar*

        Aw man, I’m kind of jealous. Our 3 y/o nephew kept going on and on last night via facetime about wanting to see our pet lobster…. “You know! The pet lobster in the cage!”… We finally figured out that he meant the guinea pig, but I actually did ask my husband if we could have a pet lobster..

        1. DyneinWalking*

          There’s a gif of a pet hermit crab eating a banana in tiiiiiiiny little pieces, and ever since then, I kind of wanted to have a pet hermit crab. I actually looked a bit into their maintenance as pets. It’s not that trivial, though, what with maintaining the proper level of salinity and such, so I’ll guess I’ll just go with a cat as I would either way, but…. that gif sure is too damn cute!

    2. Absurda*

      There must be something wrong with me. I got a big giggle out of the image of a lobster roaming someone’s living room.

      1. Maxie*

        I think it is updating because it will die. The lobster is also probably disoriented. Using animals for entertainment is never a good idea.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      OMG you just reminded me of the worst ever present I’ve ever had (not from a colleague but still).
      Now, I’ve been a vegetarian for 40 years; I don’t wear leather or fur, I want nothing to do with anything that involves killing animals. It’s like a religion to me, and this friend knew it.
      She gave me a Real Pearl, still in the oyster. The gift box came with a chain and a clasp to make your own pearl necklace once you’d extracted the pearl from the oyster.

      Small digression if you have timel: I remembered watching a TV show with Madonna as a guest star, and a fan presented her with some gruesome part of her body that had had to be removed in an operation (like an appendix, but more gruesome, I don’t remember). I watched, being careful to blink a lot in case my eyes popped out. Madonna accepted the box containing the gruesome body part, inclined her head graciously and told the fan “Thank you, I will always cherish it”. I’m no Madonna fan but I was totally wowed by how graciously she accepted this gruesome gift.

      So, here I am with my own version of a gruesome gift and so I rose to the occasion with a “Thank you, I will always cherish it” and quickly put the box away.

      Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of it. The gift-bestower pulled the box out exclaiming “but I want to see you wearing it”. She went to find the pearl, making stomach-churning remarks along the lines of “yuk it’s still moving, the damn thing is actually alive would you believe”, and she put the damn necklace round my neck and took a photo. Once the conversation turned to something infinitely more interesting I quietly removed the necklace. I must have thrown it away there and then because it’s never turned up in any spring-cleaning or search for things to give to the charity shop.

  32. Valentine Wiggin*

    This is mild compared to some, but in lieu of a bonus or gift of anything, we got zoom invites to three meetings during work hours: a yoga session, a meditation session, and a stress seminar session. Kinda neat that it was during the work day I guess but I also dont’ feel like letting my coworkers watch me in bendy positions on the ground.

    1. Liz*

      oh heck no! and maybe TMI but I’m at an age where a simple movement can result in an involuntary toot. so yeah, i’ll pass.

  33. midwest katie*

    I worked in an ob/gyn clinic for 3 years and at my going away party they made me a hat to wear at the bar. It was a plastic top hat with gyn related items all over it. Condoms, nuvarings, tampons, there was even a speculum on the front. After I wore it to the party, it somehow got gifted on the white elephant gift exchange the next year and might still be going around! (My sister once attended the holiday party with me and ended up with a Frankie says relax tshirt and speculum key chain, so this definitely fit right in)

  34. Totally Minnie*

    One year at an old job, we decided to do a theme for the white elephant exchange and everyone was supposed to get a book. It was supposed to be a funny exchange, so most people brought stuff like romance novels with cheesy titles or a biography of a pop group written when they were really popular 20 years earlier, that kind of stuff. When it was my turn I opened my present, and it was a copy of The Book of Mormon.

    Cue the yelling.

    The non-religious members of staff were appalled that anyone would give a religious text as a gift because “what reason would you have to do that apart from proselytizing?” A few of our employees were LDS, and they were SUPER hurt that anybody would include their religious text in what was clearly supposed to be a jokey exchange. At the end of the gift exchange, half the staff weren’t speaking to each other and we were all VERY glad to be taking some time off from work.

    I ended up asking one of my LDS coworkers if her church gave the books to guests or new members who didn’t have their own copy, and she said they did, so I sent it off with her.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Yikes. :(

      Years ago I came into possession of a sort of how-to guide for proselytizing that was mistakenly left behind by a Jehovah’s Witness, and it has gone the rounds among my friends as a joke gift because it’s just… hilariously rude.

      I would never in a million years bring it to work. Not even that.

    2. Miss Annie*

      I was on vacation in Utah several years ago. One thing I noticed was that you could get free copies of the Book of Morman in gas stations. And, there were copies in several languages, too. I can’t help but wonder if the gifter’s kid snagged one on vacation and this was how the gifter decided to dispose of it.

    3. Turtlewings*

      Wow. Yeah, as an LDS person myself I would not have been amused. You handled it very gracefully, though.

  35. What the...*

    Gift giver at my organization’s Dirty Santa gave a framed photo of his French bulldog one year.

    Another year, a calendar of said bulldog.

    And yet another year, a calendar of his feet. Festively posed and accessorized depending on the month.

    1. Scrooge McDunk*

      Wait, the bulldog’s feet or the gift giver’s feet? One would be kinda cute, the other….. eeeeuuuuwwww.

    2. Partly Cloudy*

      I love the Frenchie-themed gifts year after year! What an adorable tradition. Hopefully the giver was keeping copies of everything for himself, too.

  36. Carlie*

    Not specifically office related, but always be sure you understand the local terminology of your particular gift swap. When you are raised with “white elephant” meaning “the kitchiest junk in the back of your basement” but the rest of the party thinks it means “nicest thing you can get for about $15”, the gift opening is… painful.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      haha, I think that’s what half these stories *are* every year, is the discrepancy between people’s understanding of gift swaps :)

    2. CatCat*

      Yes! My office has a small contingent of folks from my department, the rest are at another location. So we end up at a gift swap at the other location that is anything goes and a mix of jokey bad gifts and good gifts. But there’s also a gift swap at our location that is good gifts (multiple departments participate). I was sure to clue in some new folks to my office location about the difference.

    3. Jane Plough*

      Yep this was me. We had a “Sustainable Secret Santa” one year, which I interpreted as “don’t buy new crap and gift something you already own” (which I’ve learned from this thread is called White Elephant?) and everyone else interpreted as “buy someone a really nice quality reusable coffee cup”. I felt so guilty when I saw the disappointed look on my recipient’s face :-(

    4. Sleepytime Tea*

      I was in charge (effectively) of the christmas party for my team one year. In addition to this, we also had people with a wide variety of backgrounds on the team, some of whom had never even heard of a gift exchange like this before. I wrote out all the rules for the version we were going to play which was very appreciated by everyone. It appears 2 people (out of 40) didn’t read the rules. The first was a guy who was on the planning team, but who refused to do anything. He was IN THE MEETING where we agreed on the rules, and (supposedly) read them and signed off on them before I sent them out. The second person was whoever brought the used, still dirty, electronic can opener from the 80s as a gift (no one owned up to it).

      Fittingly, said guy ended up with the can opener, and because he didn’t pay attention to the rules, missed his opportunity to get something else. He was the only one unhappy about the gift exchange that day, which… I considered a success.

    5. Dezzi*

      Oh gosh, I wish I’d known this earlier!! The first time I did a gift swap thing with coworkers, I was responsible for my grandboss ending up with a Spiderman Chia Pet. She was *not* amused.

      1. JustaTech*

        Which just shows gifts are hard, because the year that there was a Bob Ross chia pet in the White Elephant/Yankee swap it was a top gift!

    6. Mslibrarian*

      My sister never got this for our family swap, despite the fact that we switch off every year and they are very clear which year it is. One year she brought a bag of twigs she gathered from a type of tree people used to use for tooth brushing. The next year she brought an almost complete set of 90’s Lion King trading cards. You guess which is which :)

    7. carolinakudzu*

      This is why we are Very Very Clear Every Year that our office white elephant should be some junk lying around your house. And offer examples of past gifts as evidence. And tell people to just bring in one of the random things from the office if they don’t have anything (ex stapler, tape dispenser, etc).

      Where I grew up, Yankee Swaps were a $5 limit but not necessarily a ‘terrible’ gift.

    8. Admin of Sys*

      I mean, it can depend on the attitude of the office too though? We had a couple of work parties years ago that was mostly the ‘vaguely nice but under $10’. But one year the star gift was the inflatable candy cane that the boss brought, that was horrifically kitch and 100% what everyone wanted. The next year same thing – folks brought decent chocolate collections, I brought in a mocha kit, someone brought in a nice stationary set, and the gift everyone traded for was the slightly chipped, seriously creepy christmas garden gnome. I guess it was understood that no one bring in actual trash or random junk, but ‘weird kitch’ was absolutely welcome.

    9. Absurda*

      My department doesn’t do anything , but every year (but not this one) a department we work closely with does a holiday party with white elephant gift exchange. They are always “nice” gifts, the theme is always “your favorite beverage” and the limit is $20. Bailey’s Irish Cream and Whiskey are always popular. Though there’s always at least one person who just wraps a $20 bill.

      Last year the department had grown enough, and there were enough people who don’t drink alcohol to have 2 groups, one for alcoholic drinks and one for non-alcoholic drinks.

    10. Ev*

      Yeah. The tradition for the last several years at the library where I work is to have a yearly Cursed Object Exchange*, where we deliberately bring in the most horrifyingly weird ideally haunted junk we have in our houses or can find for a dollar at Goodwill. The point is to make people laugh, no one expects to get a “good” gift, and everyone has a good time. But that’s because everyone who works here knows what to expect (and is in on the joke) and guests have the parameters of the exchange explained to them before they can accidentally bring a nice gift.

      *Alas, not happening this year.

    11. CupcakeCounter*

      We have that in my own family!
      We did a white elephant a couple years ago with my mom’s sister and her family. Our side went funny and her side went all nice. There was a mug in the shape of the poo emoji, a set of “glasses” that let you read laying down without craning your neck, a really weird candle (bacon and eggs or something like that) from our side and a bag full an Trader Joe’s best goodies, a nice winter scarf, and mulling spices and bottle of wine from theirs. Hilarity did ensue on our side as they opened the gag gifts (my aunt’s face when she opened the “Coffee Makes Me Poop!” mug will forever be a favorite moment of mine) but it quickly became obvious thing were not equal. Last year we did kids only and a Secret Santa for the adults.

  37. Sleepy*

    A gift that was simply crappy: After an incredibly difficult year working at a nonprofit, in which they staff had been told we would all be laid off, then told we would *not* be laid off, the wealthy President of the Board gifted each staff member a travel-sized hand lotion.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      I mean, gift it back with a travel size tissue pack?
      I am trying to find a AAM approved way to say that the guy was a d*ck so . . . that’s what he gets.

  38. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    This isn’t outlandishly weird, or anything, but I have a side-hustle as a tutor, and several years ago, I taught a lad who needed a bit of extra help with his exams, once a week at his house. His dad worked as a rep for the drug firm that makes men, er, firm, if you know what I mean. At Xmas, the family gifted me a nice bottle of wine (thank you very much) and then dad asked if I needed any stationery because he had ‘loads’ of freebies knocking about in his office. And who says no to FREE STATIONERY and that is how I came to possess a VERY LARGE box of Viagra-branded biros, notepads and post-it notes, which we are still working our way through at home to this day.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I was excited about the Prozac-branded post-its given to me from someone who picked them up at a trade show, but this is much better.

      1. vampire physicist*

        My father is a psychiatrist and I was like…7 or so before I realized most people had post-it notes that didn’t say “Prozac” on them

    2. Cat*

      I used to work at “the drug firm that makes men firm”! Sadly the only freebie I ever got from them was the only umbrella I have encountered in my life that was not actually waterproof. Imagine my surprise when not-particularly-heavy rain just comes right through the material onto my head. Wasn’t even a freebie from the company but from a colleague when she was leaving.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        We should have a thread on the weekend for the best/worst/funniest trade show/conference/vendor fair swag we’ve ever encountered.

        1. Web Crawler*

          That sounds like fun!

          I went to a job fair once (a few years ago) with the goal of collecting as many branded fidget spinners as possible. I ended up with 16. My roommates hated it, but our cat loved them.

          1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            Had one where they were giving out those foam stress toys that come in hundreds of shapes. These were in the shape of feet…tiny disembodied feet…about the size of a toddler’s foot. They had a giant bin full of disembodied toddler feet. I’ll post a link in a reply. People were snatching multiples of these.

            1. Partly Cloudy*

              I had one of these! I forget what the company was, but it wasn’t a podiatrist or foot medicine or shoes or anything, it was way more of a reach. Something corny like “get in step with us” or something.

        2. Director of Alpaca Exams*

          A coworker just shared a photo of a cap that had the vendor’s logo on it… done in mini Lego that was then Velcro’d to the front of the cap.

        3. Drtheliz*

          Oh I have one for this: a branded foam brain! It was about 90% life size, had all the squiggles, was *bright* orange and made of stress ball foam. One of my parents brought it home from a medical device conference, I think. I loved that brain!

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          Would be a lot more metaphorical if the company made condoms or if the umbrella failed to open properly.

      2. linger*

        Their only concern is whether you can get it up.
        Having adequate protection is the user’s responsibility.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        ah we got umbrellas in the company colour (vomit orange) with the company name on on year. I made sure to forget it on the train going home!

    3. Mary*

      I was in high school when the pharmaceutical reps started handing out those items to physicians. My father’s a doctor and I definitely used a pen branded with that product at school for a while.

    4. M*

      My mother, who worked in nothing even slightly related, somehow ended up with a branded pen from a fertility clinic in her supply of random pens from corporate events. It was one of those ones with a clear-liquid-filled section with things floating in it, in this case *tiny little yellow plastic sperm*.

      I stole it and for years used it as my go-to “oh, sure you can borrow a pen” pen. Never not returned.

    5. Nea*

      My grandfather was a doctor, with all the medical freebies you’d expect. The To-Do list notepad advertising Valium was a HUGE hit with my friends.

    6. Other Duties as Assigned*

      At my last non-profit job, I would on occasion buy office supplies out-of-pocket to help stretch the budget. I found a surplus/liquidator store that sold misprinted promotional items. They had a 4’x4’x4′ box of ballpoints available by the pound. Nothing too interesting though–mostly clinics and auto repair places. However, I did score a bunch of misprinted post it notes for cheap from some prescription product like Preparation H. The product had a logo of a fire extinguisher (really). I used them (the post its, that is) for years.

  39. Fire Ferret*

    My office had Christmas party with a white elephant exchange at the home of one of my more senior coworkers. The only rule was you couldn’t spend any money and the gift was supposed to be bad. Most people brought silly things they had at home – a cheap romance novel, a kite, ugly ornaments, etc., but one young employee decided to bring a signed copy of David Duke’s autobiography (for those who don’t know, David Duke is the former grand wizard of the KKK and a failed politician in Louisiana). The employee who opened the gift was a brand new hire from New York who was clearly horrified and I think assumed she had just entered a company of racist, white Southerners. You could hear a pin drop, while the offending employee who clearly did not understand the problem as she did indeed bring a terrible gift, explained to everyone that she had the book because her boyfriend’s graphic design company did some work for him and he received it as a thank you. (The fact that the company and her boyfriend were willing to work with David Duke is its own horrible story.) Later several employees got drunk and read the most salacious parts of the romance novel out loud in front of the young children of the host. Easily the most awkward work party of my life. I’m not sure exactly what happened after, but I think the boss spoke to several employees about using good judgement the next week. I’m not sure what happened to the book, but I can only hope it ended up in the trash where is belongs.

    1. allathian*

      Oh my goodness! Was the new hire a woman of color as well? If so, that would have made it even worse…

  40. Will doxx myself for sure*

    Commenting under an alt because I KNOW my coworkers read this site (and TW for anyone who struggles with alcohol):

    For many, many years, we had a very light hearted white elephant swap in our department for many, many years. Our two admins facilitated, they always got good takeout, and they were very clear about the gift exchange parameters. Recently (maybe in the last 4-5 years?) morale – which had been slowly decreasing due to issues beyond our control – took a nose dive. And the party basically turned into a liquor cabinet. Previously, there was at least one or two people who brought in esoteric bottles of booze. Then people started bringing in alcohol in earnest. The array of gifts went from a few bottles to what amounted to a liquor cabinet. The $25 maximum was ignored. Literal wine cases were among the selection. Our poor department head (who tries his best but cannot control the toxicity above him) keeps trying to redirect everyone and continues to bring in silly gifts. I recently had to leave for a better opportunity, but I will never forget the 20 or so bottles of alcohol in their specialized luxury padded bags, with a misshapen wrapped gift nestled in the middle.

  41. COBOL Dinosaur*

    We were in the middle of a white elephant gift exchange one year when a coworker’s water broke. A coworker drove her to her chosen hospital (which she later got in trouble for… not allowed to transport another employee for medical emergencies). We all ended up pitching in to have that employee’s vehicle cleaned and detailed afterwards. We never finished the gift exchange.. not even sure what happened to all the white elephant gifts that were left to be chosen.

    1. TiffIf*

      (which she later got in trouble for… not allowed to transport another employee for medical emergencies)

      Huh. That never crossed my mind that it would be a problem. I had a friend who was also a coworker; when she was pregnant with her first child she got rather ill at work (pre-eclampsia complications) near the time she was due. I drove her to the hospital and a few days later she gave birth and started her parental leave. I later drove her husband to the office so he could pick up her car.

      (This is a friend who referred me to the job and so I had known her for years both before and after we were at the same company; she’s been a stay at home mother for the past few years.)

      1. Camellia*

        Yes, lots of legal liability reasons for not transporting anyone for medical reasons. Our company has several trained people on each floor, identified by flags on their doors, and we are directed to simply call 911 and then alert one of these people.

  42. Keymaster of Gozer*

    The one that sticks in my mind was in 2009 when a secret santa event at a christmas party ended in a very irate and rightfully pissed off senior manager storming out and refusing to come back to the office till he got an apology.

    The gift given to him was a mug, with “I’m a “ and the C word on it in sparkly letters. He did not appreciate it, never had anyone used the c word in the office before and when he held it up to say ‘who thought THIS was appropriate?!’ we reacted with stunned silence.

    Two days later we found out who it was who’d brought it. A lad in his mid 20s in his first IT job who thought it would break the ice at the party. He had a serious chat with his boss after!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        According to office scuttlebutt after, the guy had tried to defend himself in the meeting with ‘but my friends call each other that all the time!’

        He was a very, very confident guy if I recall, just he was confident about all the wrong things. Like when not to call the financial director a massive *expletive*

    1. Littorally*

      This definitely feels like a case where “the failure mode of ‘clever’ is ‘asshole'” is extremely relevant.

      1. allathian*

        Sounds like this should be put on a mug and given to the c-mug guy. Assuming he’s managed to stay employed…

        1. allathian*

          Somehow I get the idea that in the UK it’s much more common for people, especially men, who are friendly with each other to trade insults than would be considered acceptable elsewhere.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Oh yeah, in public you’ll regularly get friends who’ll refer to each other as ‘my best mate but a total bellend’.

            At work though? Not so much. That’s when we discuss the weather.

  43. Ginny*

    A coworker of mine had a family member purchase his gift for our annual secret santa gift exchange. The family member wrapped the gift and dropped it off at said coworker’s house and he had no idea what it was and didn’t care to inquire. Only problem was the family member thought it was a white elephant exchange. When it came time for everyone to open the gifts, the receiver of the gift got an item that, while humorous and appropriate for a white elephant exchange, was really just a piece of junk. The offending coworker thought this was all hilarious and did not understand everyone’s issue with the fact that he, an adult, didn’t take the time to select his own gift and pawned it off on a family member without bothering to even check what it was. Thankfully this year there is no agonizingly long 4 hour lunch and party and no secret santa – one of the few upsides to the awfulness that has been 2020.

  44. gala*

    This isn’t that bad, but I used to support a team of people, and one year they chipped in to give me an Amazon gift card. Impersonal, yes, but totally understandable and appropriate and appreciated.

    By the following year, they’d added an additional person to the team. My gift from the team that year was a gift card to a store that had no locations in our state, which I’d never once talked about or mentioned shopping at, in a lesser amount than the year before when the team was smaller. I definitely get that they didn’t have to do anything, and I eventually found a use for it, but it sort of had the opposite effect in terms of making me feel appreciated.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have one SIL who used to get our teen kids gifts cards to places that had no stores anywhere near us. — I mean if you are without a clue you can always get a starbucks card – there is one on every corner — or send a crisp $20 and be done with it.

  45. Captain Raymond Holt*

    I worked at a small, close-knit startup for the past three years and we had a fantastic Secret Santa gift exchange. I was known for being a very good gift giver – if someone liked their gift, they often guessed it was me. It’s also a well-known fact that I knit a lot and LOVE cats.

    Last year I kept waiting for my gift to arrive – checking the mail, checking the office and running back and forth. By the time our gift exchange started, I didn’t have a gift. I made my giftee a beautiful hand-knit wool fair isle hat and wrapped it in a homemade drawstring bag with Santa cat fabric. Might as well have signed it “Sincerely, Captain Raymond Holt.” Everyone oooh’d and ahhhhh’d over the hat because it was truly spectacular! Then the gift opening passed to me, and trying not to cry I said, “I didn’t get a present.” We awkwardly moved on to the next person and I watched everyone else open presents and laugh while I spent an hour holding it together. After the exchange, I left the office, made it to my car and had my Annual Christmas Meltdown.

    I did get a gift later, and it was quite funny and thoughtful. That person had a history of not doing actual work on time and set an end date a few months later.

    1. AnonInTheCity*

      This is why I think white elephant/Yankee Swap style gift giving at work is way better than Secret Santa. You can’t participate unless you bring a gift, so everyone ends up with something. I’m kind of a grinch but even I enjoy a good Yankee Swap.

    2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      We all know Captain Holt would have preferred a plain English muffin and a sweater for a corgi. But, as a cat person myself (and only a mere crocheter), I felt bad for you!

  46. Cat Tree*

    Not the weirdest, but I found this surprising. Years ago, we had a white elephant exchange at work, with a $5 limit. I ended up buying an extremely specific kitchen tool while I was at the grocery store. I wanted something no one else else bring, and it technically wasn’t useless. It ended being a big hit and got “stolen” for multiple rounds of the game. I have a small kitchen so I’m sort of a minimalist (I don’t have a toaster or coffee pot). But I guess a lot of people really love specialized gadgets.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Hmm, I’m slightly paranoid about a coworker recognizing my story, but I guess it’s not likely. It was an avocado tool. It could do 3 or 4 different things to avocados, like cut, scoop, remove the pit, maybe peel it? All things I can do with my existing knives and spoons.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Is it a hot chocolate frother? I bought one once as a joke and it was very popular despite being relatively useless.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        I use a milk frother to evenly mix powdered creamer into my coffee in the morning. It’s pretty useful!

    2. Quill*

      My best white elephant was when I went to an antique store and got an… actual white elephant. (Small sculpture, done in some sort of stone.)

      It got stolen a LOT.

      1. GinnyDC*

        My best white elephant gift every was a dozen (new/individually packaged) toothbrushes They were stolen 3x (which was our limit) and the person who ended up with them was quite happy!

        1. Cat Tree*

          I actually love toothbrushes like that and try to always keep a few in the house. I use an electric toothbrush normally, but it’s a pain to travel with. So when I travel for work or visit family for a few days, I just grab a new regular toothbrush still in the packaging. I use it at my destination then throw it away right before I head home. I never have to deal with transporting a dirty toothbrush or cleaning out a travel case. They’re also nice to have around in case a guest needs one unexpectedly.

          1. Absurda*

            I have a friend who keeps a collection of new toothbrushes in her guest bathroom. They are for people who have a little too much to drink and either throw up or end up staying the night. Very useful!

      2. Makare*

        We did a White Elephant gift exchange with friends one year in college, and my now-husband went to a fair trade shop and found little white elephant magnets made from elephant dung. Best white elephant gift ever, as far as we were concerned, although our friends didn’t seem as tickled by them.

      1. TimeTravlR*

        I have one of those that’s been in the family for generations. Belonged at least to my husband’s grandmother and I am old enough to have grandkids, so it’s been around a minute!

      2. Admin of Sys*

        Those things are absolutely worth it if you have a ton of strawberries to process! I got one for family as a gag gift (we used to exchange weird kitchen gear) and they loved it! I think the only thing that got more use was the garlic peeler.

      3. Aldabra*

        Strawberry hullers are great, I get pounds of strawberries in season and hull them, chop them with my alligator chopper tool, and freeze them. They later go on my breakfast oatmeal. Anyway the huller works great and really speeds up the process.

  47. Watermelon lip gloss*

    As a team we donated to get our boss a Christmas gift, everyone gave between $5 and $10 for a gift card to her nail salon. Our co-worker who brought in our boss pricey coffees (claiming they messed up her order and she got them free daily) threw a fit and would not give or sign the card because she had her own gift that wasn’t “cheap”. At our Christmas lunch we presented our boss with the card and crazy co-worker presented the boss with her own gift only from her (an Ipad) seriously she bought her an engraved Ipad. Our boss took her aside and told her she could not accept the extravagant gift. She yelled so loud the entire restaurant at lunch was watching that she had spent a great deal of money and effort getting her a non returnable personalized gift because she was a better more important person than the rest of us and that she was going to have to leave our lunch to tell her important land rover sales husband about the ungratefulness.

    Crazy co-worker would not take the Ipad back and boss would not take the Ipad home so the Ipad sat next to the printer until just before Valentines day until someone (presumably crazy co-worker) took the Ipad home. Oddly the Starbucks did not mess up any more drinks after christmas that year.

    1. Pascall*

      Aw they should have donated the iPad to a kid or teenager in need. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if it had someone else’s name engraved on it as long as they knew it was donated! But wow, what a crazy, entitled person. I know plenty of people who would do something like that.

  48. Rita*

    I guess this isn’t really a gift but maybe I can call the company party a “gift”, since the company didn’t get us a gift anyway. It had started out as a family company, but had grown with time, so only about half of 50 or so employees were actually family and friends. I wasn’t.

    They took us to a restaurant owned by the same guy as my company – he was over 80 and very very very rich, some kind of a patriarch, super eccentric and no one ever dared argue with him.

    They hired a very nice magician to entertain us. He had red hair, and his nickname was the Ginger Magician, but the owner misunderstood and to everyone’s dismay (and amusement), throughout the night, he called him nothing other than Ginger Minger.

    Also, one of my colleagues had recently come back from maternity leaved. She passed the CEO while getting a drink and he stopped her and asked her “is everything in working order?” She was confused but said “yes everything is great thanks” to which he asked again, pointing at her crotch, “no, I mean, is EVERYTHING in WORKING ORDER”.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Okay, but did the Ginger Minger play mournful pop ballads at any point during the evening?

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        I think we just collectively found out what Classic Bad Party Date took up when his teaching contract went into non-renewal…

  49. CatPerson*

    Last year we had a “dirty santa” exchange in which a gift can be swiped from the recipient up to three times. The gift cards were popular and one associate acted like a 5 year old every time she had to give one up. The rules of the exchange were that the gift should be thoughtful, unique, and something you’d like to receive yourself, with a price limit. I’m a birdwatcher/nature lover, so my contribution was a lovely wreath for birds that was made of seeds, nuts, dried fruit–it was very nice, and birds love it, will bring woodpeckers around, etc. After this associate had to re-select a gift, having lost her gift card again, she drew it out of the gift bag, yelled “BIRDSEED” in disgust and threw it halfway across the room.

    When my turn came to draw I took my own gift back. Needless to say she didn’t get the spirit of Christmas. No wonder why she’s always complaining about what beasts her two daughters are–they got it from her.

    1. Grateful DIL*

      I actually think you just gave me a great idea for my in-laws! I didn’t know such a thing existed and they love birdwatching themselves! Thank you!

      1. Ankle Grooni*

        I’d love to get that. I can’t keep my birdfeeder stocked from the hungry birds and squirrels out here. Great entertainment for me and my cats.

    2. Pascall*

      Aw! A wreath for birds sounds so cute! I would love to get something like that. I’d have to figure out where to hang it since I’m in an apartment but LOL it’d still be fun to get!

      1. Slicejmar*

        Just placed the order. Bonus, the recipient is in Virginia, the company is in Virginia, and the shipping is free, and it will get there on time. Whew.

    3. Green Mug*

      I LOVE this idea! It’s festive and unique. My parents and my cats will love this. Thank you for sharing.

  50. SD*

    Worst Santa suggestion ever: Last year when my granddaughter was 7, Mom took her to the mall for Santa photos. She really doesn’t like mall Santas, so when he asked her what she wanted she just sat there mute. In the spirit of the holiday, he said, “Well how about a hoverboard?!” Leery of Mall Santa or not, this idea totally took hold and she enthusiastically agreed. She was 7. She thought Santa had made her a promise no matter that Mom and Dad tried to discourage that thought. Come Christmas morning there was no hoverboard; there were however tears, lots of tears. Santa had promised. OMG.

    Moral of the story: If you ever do the Mall Santa gig, do not suggest that the shrinking violet on your lap should expect a hoverboard on Christmas morning. 7 year olds are rather literal creatures.

    1. Facepalm*

      My mom took my son one year to see Santa. I didn’t know anything about it. My son asked for a sibling. Santa suggested a puppy. I was a single mother. There’s no way I could afford a puppy!

    2. Santa's favorite sister*

      So my 76 year old brother just went to Santa School online so he can do Santa for special needs kids via Zoom. He said the first thing they tell you in Santa School is to never ever promise anything. This guy must have flunked Santa School.

    3. NotMyMonkeysNotMyCircus*

      My niece took her daughter to see Santa when she was 5. When he asked her if she had been good that year….apparently there was a pause, and then she looked down and answered, “I’ve been good this week”.

    4. Alex*

      I imagine the guy was thinking of a self balancing scooter (which are often refereed to as hoverboards or swegways) when he mentioned the hoverboard idea rather than a literal hoverboard as in Back to the Future. Admittedly they’re still not the ideal gift for a 7 year old but they do exist and were a craze amongst older children a couple of years ago so he was probably just repeating something that he had been asked for by another child earlier in the day.

      1. SD*

        I don’t know what “Santa” was thinking, but granddaughter was thinking of the real deal. Being a little monkey, I’m sure she could ride it, but the adults in her family prefer her to remain in one piece. ;-)

    5. Salymander*

      My grandmother took me to see Santa one year. I think I was about four years old? Not sure. I refused to speak to Santa, and had to be forcibly placed on his lap for my picture. I thought he was weird, and he smelled funny. I now realize that he smelled like he was reeeeally drunk (my parents didn’t drink, so I just thought he was stinky). Santa was trying to get me to smile, or speak, or anything other than glaring at the floor. Finally, he said that if I was good that maybe I would get a pony, which got me smiling for sure. In my four year old mind, Santa had made a solemn promise that there would be a pony for me under the Christmas tree. I was very confused and quite put out by the absence of any ponies on Christmas morning.

      Still waiting, Santa.

  51. Jennifer Strange*

    This one’s pretty mild, but at a previous job one of my supervisors gave me a gift that was a stuffed Christmas tree ornament shaped like a Christmas tree. Pretty standard. Except that whoever made the ornament must have been a fan of Georgia O’Keeffe because parts of the tree seemed to resemble a specific part of anatomy generally associated with women. We also worked in a fairly conservative (not politically but just in terms of demeanor) office so it made it all the funnier in my mind.

    At first I thought maybe I just had the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old (which, to be fair, I do) but when I moved in with my now-husband and was unpacking it for our first Christmas together he definitely did a double take.

      1. Rainy*

        I believe that’s a depiction of the rare and celebrated Abies concolor var. vulva. What a treat (or tree-t, as the case may be) for you!

      2. Thankful for AAM*

        I just showed a coworker. She looked confused, said, that’s a tree, right? And added, it looks like Georgia O’Keeffe decorated it!

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        To be fair, I don’t think it was at all intentional on her part. I think she just didn’t notice it…somehow…

    1. Anima*

      Hahaha, no way! Either we are both 12 year old in mind or this is really inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe.

  52. Quill*

    Unfortunately my mom’s boss was relatively tame at christmas, as opposed to easter, when she kidnapped the janitor. But her gifts were routinely kind of funny:

    – 1 year she bought a 24 pack of seasonal candles, wrapped them, and handed them out to staff and teachers. Somehow the kindergarten teacher, the ONLY person in the school who wasn’t at least culturally christian, got the only one was christmas themed, and not even “merry christmas” but “Blessed Noel”

    – During a particularly stressful year for the staff she handed out dollar tree “desktop zen gardens” that were… a plastic tray, a plastic rake, a little baggy of sand, and two “rocks” that turned out to be made of, you guessed it, plastic. Careful examination of the packaging uncovered that not only were they originally $1, they were also bought during the ten percent off sale… For a full dollar she could have splurged on real rocks, I guess.

    – Not intended as a gift but she canceled the annual ugly sweater competition after my mom nuked it from orbit with a thrifted shawl full of plastic-canvas candy canes with a bunch of jingle bells and a battery powered set of lights, because the principal hated being shown up. The rest of the staff took my mom out for drinks because it was one less terrible, week-of-christmas staff meeting item.

    1. IndustriousLabRat*

      Wait wait; haaaaang on:
      “…kidnapped the janitor”? You’re just going to leave that dangling there?! Please tell us this story, too!

          1. Quill*

            That place had ZERO boundaries. I still get stories about how bad it was, (they just mostly rely more on knowing the people involved than this one does)

        1. Karo*

          Ughhhh I just read the kidnapping story and this is giving me bad flashbacks to the time I accidentally kidnapped a coworker…One day a co-worker needed a ride home because his ride had to leave work early, so I offered to drive him since I was the only one who lived anywhere near him. The only problem was that it was New Year’s Eve and I had a box of contact lenses waiting for me at Walmart, and because I was paying for those with my leftover FSA, I *had* to stop and get them that night. I expected this to be, at most, a 10-minute detour and I gave him a heads up about it.

          It took so much longer – at least 30 minutes, which was about the length of the whole commute home – and every single minute I could feel him getting more frustrated and I was getting more uncomfortable. It was the absolute worst.

          1. Quill*

            I don’t think it’s technically kidnapping unless you’re holding him against his will, instead of holding up his schedule against his will…

  53. kbeers0su*

    I worked with groups of college students for years, and out of respect for the fact that they were poor, we typically arranged something low-cost for our holiday gathering. One year the team voted for a white elephant exchange and each present was supposed to be handmade. One poor team member’s present was a white plastic grocery bag with several oranges in it. The rest of us just sort of gawked…we couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be a joke of some sort or if the giver had literally forgotten and just grabbed free oranges from the dining hall and tossed them in a bag right before the party started. I can’t remember who the giver was, but I remember them being very nonchalant about the whole thing, too. I still feel bad for the recipient of that gift.

    1. MCL*

      Oranges can be holiday season treats in some parts of the world. For example, St. Nicholas Day in Germany the traditional gift is a clementine or an orange. I’m also guessing the person wasn’t crafty, or just wasn’t a planner. I’d be okay with nice consumable bag of oranges, though! :)

    2. Kimmy Schmidt*

      In my family, we always get oranges in our stockings on Christmas!
      At least the gift was edible and therefore useful? I was imagining much worse “last minute crap a student has lying around”.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          I can totally attest to this. Every decade or so, I think to myself “I’ll just MAKE gifts this year! It will save me so much time and moneys!!!!1” I thought that to myself this year, in fact. Guess who spent about 50 hours making gifts, when I could have been making stuff to sell– not to mention the cost of the raw materials.

          Will I learn? Mmmm, we’ll see in another 10 years.

    3. Delta Delta*

      I have a relative who was in hiding and got an orange at Hanukkah one year. It was the most special gift she ever got. She always gave oranges to people in December after that.

  54. Lyudie*

    It’s not *that* bad, but one year we had a new employee in our department participating in our Dirty Santa game. I ended up getting his gift…three paperweights. They all said things like “Breathe” on them. Price tags from Marshall’s still stuck to the bottom. My gift was not stolen, as you might expect, so I went home with three paperweights. I really didn’t care that much but a coworker was indignant on my behalf and after the game apparently was telling people (where the new guy could hear!) “Did you see what Lyudie got? She got ROCKS.” I don’t recall now if she knew who had given the paperweights at that moment, he had left a card with his name on it in the gift so I did know who it was (I am guessing he was not familiar with the game).

  55. Young and Dumb*

    This still makes me cringe over 15 years later…

    When I first started college I got an on-campus job so I mainly worked with other students. As an 18-year-old freshman, I was the youngest person there, and most of the other student workers were between 3-5 years older than me. There was a guy Fergus* who was one of the older student workers and I remember thinking that he was very cool and I was much less worldly than he was. He had mentioned going camping several times so I also was impressed that he was outdoorsy (I was easily impressed at the time, and clearly pretty sheltered).

    We would all attend the same parties and one weekend Fergus was having a birthday party and he invited everyone from work. I was excited to be invited to the party and went to get him a small birthday present. Since I was too young to buy a bottle of wine and didn’t have a lot of money I went to a store that sold novelty shot glasses because that was the only thing I could think of.

    I saw a shot glass that said “I Hunt Beaver” with a picture of a beaver on it and since I was so naive and sheltered I took it at face value and thought it was perfect because he was into “the outdoors” and I assumed that meant hunting. This was also during the time that everyone had “vintage” t-shirts that had random expressions. I did NOT know the other lewd and true meaning of the statement.

    So I bought that obscene shot glass and gave it to him at the party in front of people. I remember he looked a bit perplexed but I didn’t think anything of it until another coworker told me what it meant and I was so mortified that I really don’t even remember much about that night afterward and I was too embarrassed to explain to him. I think I avoided him at work for a good two months afterward. Shudder.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If it makes you feel any better, when I was a teenager I realized I’d forgotten to get my mom a birthday gift and her birthday was that day. I went to a bookstore in the mall and grabbed a book that seemed to be about mothers and daughters, figuring that would be appropriate and maybe even affectionately sentimental. I later discovered that the book I had given her was a fairly explicit book about how mothers mess up their daughters’ sexuality. She never brought it up, so I still don’t know if she thought it was some kind of pointed message.

      1. Pascall*

        Oh god, I just got my secret Santa a book about inspiration and I really hope it wasn’t disguising something like that inside of it LOL I made sure to skim it before I bought it but still!! Haha.

      2. Artemesia*

        I took my mother and my then teen daughter to a well regarded Broadway play — The Beauty Queen of Leenane. It had won many awards — I didn’t know the story. Both my mother and my daughter are rather fond of happy endings. So there I am between my elderly mother and my daughter watching a play where the mother ruins the daughter’s life excruciatingly over two acts and the daughter eventually kills her in the third.

    2. I feel this.*

      You made me remember a related incident, though because not a work event, not quite as excruciating:

      A friend tells a story of a Christmas morning on which he and his brothers (all of them college-age) each received from their very straight-laced and sweet mother a pair of Christmas-themed boxer shorts. They had “Kiss me under the mistletoe” printed on it–cute! Christmasy! . . . with one little cartoon mistletoe branch, printed just above the fly.

      They all were delighted. “Whoa, Mom! Didn’t know you were so edgy and cool!” Mom laughed along but clearly was a little confused, and they realized she had no idea what she had bought.

      She clearly figured it out, though, since apparently all the boxer shorts mysteriously vanished that afternoon, never to be seen again.

    3. Not A Morning Person*

      Oh we were all young and some of us as sheltered and naive! Thanks for the laugh…and the memory. Not a Christmas gift story but a naive story. While I was in college I worked summers at a job that was mostly men. During lunch time the main activity was playing Gin while we ate lunch. One lunchtime all of the players were distracted by talking with a few other men who were standing around chatting. I clearly remember that I had a great hand and we only went two or three rounds before I could claim “Gin!” They all stopped and looked at me and one said, “How did you get Gin so fast?” I said, “While I was playing cards, you all were playing with yourselves.” The whole crowd of players and bystanders, all men, roared with laughter. I recall thinking, “It wasn’t that funny.” It was seriously years later before I learned what the phrasing meant. They were a really good group of guys who obviously knew that I had no idea what was funny. They all treated me like I was their little sister and took good care of me. Thanks for bringing back those memories!

    4. Slicejmar*

      When I was young and sheltered, a guy I worked with wore a t-shirt that said, “Give me Rosingnol or give me Head.” I knew nothing about skiing, or – ahem – anything else, and grilled him for several minutes, asking if his shirt was meant to be funny, what is Rosignol, oh a brand of skis? A good brand then? But that must mean Head is a really bad brand, and the joke is a take on “Give me liberty…” in which case, “Head” must be the worst thing you could get…No, he said, they’re equally good brands…

      I was determined to understand, and of course he was equally determined not to explicitly tell me. Although a friend who was there (and gently explained the truth after neither of us worked there anymore) told me that he thought I was being a cold witch and was simply embarrassing him. He avoided me and I could never understand why.

  56. Less Bread More Taxes*

    Thankfully I’ve only had awkward gift giving once. It was my first job ever. I was 16, and worked at a buffet restaurant. We were a small staff of maybe 10 people, with three of them managers. In November, I was informed that there is a secret santa which was mandated for all employees. I guess I wasn’t overly enthusiastic or something because I was called into a meeting the next day and told that not participating would be considered anti-team working behavior and that it was a fireable offense.

    The day of secret santa arrives, and I’ve bought one of the managers a Starbucks giftcard. I wait for the exchange, and towards the end of my shift, I just hand my recipient his envelope so as not to get fired for not participating. I figured everyone would do their exchanges later after I left.

    They did not. My next shift, the other two managers told me they thought my $10 Starbucks giftcard was so thoughtful… especially since they didn’t have time to participate that year. Out of our whole albeit small team, I was the only one who actually brought a gift for someone! I was so mad and vowed to never ever do a secret santa at work again. Thankfully it’s never come up since.

  57. Aepyornis*

    My partner is interning at Well-Funded High-Profile Prestigious Foundation doing projects for the federal government intended to raise the profile of the country in the all-important lama grooming industry. They are paid below minimal wage (very grey area as to whether this is legal). They just received the corporate Christmas: a literal bag of peanuts with a handful of cheap chocolates (a common gift for children in public schools here). The postage cost about twice as much as the gift.

  58. Joan Rivers*

    Someone once gave my brother a garage sale T-shirt because it had his name printed on it. That’s an interesting find. Odd but apt.
    But if it’s a more random “gift” think about whether it’s really “funny” or just goofy. Is it attractive or is the taste level lacking? I.e., is it corny?

    1. Lalaith*

      My brother-in-law and one of my friends share the same (common) first name. Friend had a John Hodgman book that he didn’t want any more, but he had gotten it at a book signing, so it was autographed with a message to him. Husband and I thought BIL would get a kick out of it, so we took it. BIL loved it :)

  59. HGS*

    One yeah I was going to be out of town for our office white elephant but I arranged for a coworker to bring a gift on my behalf. It was a scoby in a jar (wrapped). I knew approximately half the office would welcome a free scoby, and the other half would be horrified to receive an unexplained slimy, rubbery disk floating in dirty tea. As I hoped, someone from the horrified half opened it (and promptly handed it over to someone from the delighted half).

    1. Morticia*

      I don’t know about others, but I had to google scoby. Here’s the wikipedia definition: “SCOBY is the commonly used acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”, and is formed after the completion of a unique fermentation process of lactic acid bacteria (LAB), acetic acid bacteria (AAB), and yeast to form several sour foods and beverages such as kombucha and kimchi.”

    2. Thankful for AAM*

      How do you work in a place that fully half would welcome a free scoby??!!

      I had no idea what that is or how to use it. And many thanks to Morticia for the definition!

      1. Admin of Sys*

        I mean, I didn’t know about all the folks who were into baking and brewing before the lockdown and everyone going work from home, but there’s definitely a collection of folks in our office who have been posting weekly pictures of their sourdough or craft beer since?

      2. pancakes*

        I’ve worked with a fair amount of people who make their own kombucha. It gets expensive to buy regularly!

      3. Urban Prof*

        I’m in academia in a major city, and in my demographic, you’d be a little bit unusual if you wouldn’t welcome a scoby!

    3. Mentalrose*

      My immediate mental response to this was “ Name it Scooby the scoby, set it on the desk and love it forever.”

      I don’t like kimchi or kombucha. I just like weird sciency things. ;)

  60. Ali + Nino*

    White Elephant at a small company (less than 20 of us total, with less than half in the office and the others working remotely). Our price limit was $10. There are different ways to hold a White Elephant exchange, and I think that our new coworker was familiar with the gag gift/”I found this random item in my house” version. He brought a used ladle, which I believe was unwrapped by the owner of the company. There was still a hard piece of pasta crusted onto it. The coworker was pretty mortified.

    1. Young and Dumb*

      I went to a white elephant like that where half the people (myself included) bought gifts that were actually kind of nice. I think mine was a camping flask or something, it was fought over. Then the other half of the people brought borderline-trash and I ended up going home with a bag of junk very similar to the “my coworkers gave me garbage” story items.

      1. Rainy*

        My office still talks about the year that an as-yet-unidentified person put a bunch of trash into a takeout plastic bag, including a single used chopstick, several Target receipts, a used gift card to a restaurant (broken in half), an empty soda can, and several crumpled post-it notes, then into a box and wrapped it nicely and stuck a bow on it.

  61. Just a PM*

    This is mundane and very tame, compared to others. My department did a holiday potluck with an optional white elephant game (if you brought a gift, you could participate, no pressure either way). I bought a board game and put it in one of those jokey gag gift boxes. The box advertised a coffee maker that you installed in your shower and brewed fresh hot coffee from the showerhead.

    I learned that day I work in an office full of very gullible coffee addicts. My box was the most popular gift at the exchange. Everyone stole it. The winner opened the box at the party because everyone wanted to see how it worked/what it looked like. It was deathly silent for about five second when he pulled the game out of the box. Then everyone cracked up. The office grouch even had tears in his eyes, he was laughing so hard. The grouch asked the winner if he could have the box and he put it on display in his office next to his employee awards.