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

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 jar of mold as a gift? 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. CM*

    The year before I started at my last job, they gave company-branded plungers to everyone at the staff holiday party.

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

        Agreed. Unless you work for American Standard or Kohler, what a fabulously odd gift!

        1. Clisby*

          Yeah, is this like how companies used to give away branded yardsticks? And paper fans? (I don’t think my parents ever had a yardstick that wasn’t some company freebie. Not from their workplaces – it usually came from a hardware store or paint store.)

          1. Worldwalker*

            Yardsticks from a hardware or building supply store make sense. But I can’t imagine anyone but a plumber giving out imprinted plungers.

            For a plumber, it would make sense: when you realize you’re going to need to call a plumber, you’ve got one’s phone number right in your hand!

      1. Hello-There*

        That’s what I was thinking. If you work for Root-Rooter, this makes so much sense, but if you work for FedEx, not so much.

        1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

          I worked for FedEx for a year, and a plunger would have been an excellent gift, symbolically speaking, to represent my experience working for them.

            1. AnonForThisOne*

              What is going on with FedEx? They used to be fine but I’ll no longer order from companies that use them as their only delivery service and if I order from somewhere (such as Target) that uses various services, I’ll cancel the order if they choose FedEx. I never get those orders any more. Every purchase I’ve made in the past year that uses FedEx has never arrived and had to be refunded, except for one, and it took three weeks to go 80 miles.

              1. Worldwalker*

                A package I shipped to the home office (we’re very distributed) was supposed to be delivered today. But according to tracking, it’s not even in the right state yet.

                1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

                  I once tracked a pallet that we shipped via Fedex that needed to be delivered to a city in NJ (I don’t remember which one). It got to a different city in NJ, then decided to take a detour to Iowa, then back to the same city in NJ it left from, then eventually got to it’s destination in NJ. I was…flummoxed. But oddly enough, since the customer had taken control of tracking by then, I didn’t have to call to raise hell about it, but instead go to just track it’s position and ponder the mystery of Fedex’s logistics.

              2. DJ Abbott*

                At my job we often get documents shipped by courier. Last spring when we were having a lot of rain, we received a FedEx envelope that had been sitting in a puddle long enough to completely soak through the envelope and all the 12 or so pieces of paper inside. It was a crumpled, sodden mess. I had to take the paper out and carefully spread each page out to dry overnight. It was so wrinkled, I ended up making copies so we could work with it.
                Not the only problem I’ve noticed with FedEx, but the most dramatic.

              3. Rob aka Mediancat*

                I had one, intended for my home in Maryland, go from Anaheim, CA, to Hershey, PA, to Orlando, FL, before finally reaching me. Apparently someone at FedEx thought my package needed a theme park vacation before finally getting down to business.

                1. Erica*

                  When I started my current job, my company shipped me a laptop from their HQ in San Francisco to my house in Sacramento, about 80 miles away. It didn’t arrive when it was supposed to, and turned out it had taken a *slight* detour through Memphis on the way.

                2. Indigo a la mode*

                  A couple weeks ago, I ordered three small shipments of olive oil from a place in Modesto, CA (been shopping there for years). They always ship super fast through FedEx, and indeed, the gifts I ordered to Medford, OR and Washington, DC were both delivered within three days.

                  I live just north of Portland, OR. My olive oil traveled from Modesto to Portland…to Los Angeles, for some reason, before coming back to me a week later. Maybe also visiting a theme park?

      2. CM*

        Ha, no — it was a nonprofit national sports organization. Nothing whatsoever to do with plumbing or household maintenance!

        I lived with two coworkers at the time too, so we had multiple branded plungers on standby in our house.

        1. Certaintroublemaker*

          Your houseguests must have been so confused (and worried about the plumbing) when they used the facilities!

    1. Morgan Proctor*

      Honestly, this is great. It’s practical, it’s funny, it’s iconic, it’s of the moment. It’ll be talked about for years after. A+

      1. rayray*

        Kinda what I am thinking. I don’t need anymore fleece throws or tins of hot chocolate. This is very practical.

          1. Pudding*

            I have a small sink plunger in my kitchen cabinet, that has ONLY EVER been used one the sink. The other one never leaves a 2-foot radius area of the bathroom.

      2. Artemesia*

        i’d rather have gotten that than the fancy metal bookmark I got (hoping for a moment it was a nice pen — but no, a stupid bookmark.) Does anyone actually use bookmarks other than the envelop that is handy?

        1. Brrrrr*

          I once bought a nice little 10-pack of magnetic bookmarks in a cute tin. I still have the tin kicking around but lost every one of the bookmarks years ago. Guessing some are hiding in cookbooks, some probably made the journey to the library and into new hands, and the rest probably fell behind my bed. So agreed, pretty fancy bookmarks are not very useful.

        2. Ofotherworlds*

          Yes, there are people who actually use bookmarks. My mother would actually remove the bits of paper I used to marke my place and put in a proper bookmark instead.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I use random bits of paper, or cut up pieces of ribbon that were wrapped around various pet blanket that we’ve ordered.

        3. Bronze Betty*

          I love bookmarks and use them, but inevitably misplace them and, yes, end up using an envelope or card that is handy. Heavy-duty cardstock junkmail items make excellent bookmarks; I cut them smaller if they’re too big.

          1. Pennyworth*

            Our local art gallery always has surplus cards advertising their exhibitions, with artwork on them. They make excellent bookmarks, and there are always new ones available through the year.

          2. allathian*

            I used to collect bookmarks when I was a teen, and I’ve kept the nicest ones and still have several dozen. We’ll never run out of bookmarks at our house. Even so, I’ve used envelopes and random bits of paper as bookmarks…

          3. PhyllisB*

            I once used a photo for a bookmark in library book. It was a photo of me posing in front of my new car. The librarians all know me so they called me to tell me.
            When I went to retrieve it, they shared stories of different things people had left in books. Money is very common. I think the oddest one was a strip of bacon!!

        4. I take tea*

          I do, actually. I love bookmarks and always take any that are handed out. But I prefer the kind that goes in the book, usually thicker paper. The ones that goes outside the book, like metal ones that you stick to the page, might damage the book if you put it anywhere else than on a table.

          1. Brain flogged*

            You just reminded me that I have one of those fancy metal ones lurking around somewhere in the house. Never used it.

            I pretty much just grab the most convenient (and clean) thing whitin reach: random pieces of paper, pens, silverware and even other books.

        5. Inkhorn*

          I do. I kept losing the emery boards/old train tickets/whatever I’d stuck in there, so I made myself a set of ribbon ones long enough to have both ends between the pages. One end stays at the back of the book, the other marks my place and just hangs over the back while I’m reading. Never had to scrabble for a bookmark again.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            When I was riding transit in the pre-electronic fare days, day passes would be my most frequent bookmarks. Patrons of the same used bookstore that I frequented tended to do the same.

        6. madge*

          Yep – I love bookmarks, use them daily (books in most rooms of the house plus car, work, etc.). I generally only buy practical souvenirs and love my bookmarks, including some metal ones.
          But I also prefer books to e-reading when it’s practical. I may have reached the “Get off my lawn” stage of life.

        7. Here for the Insurance*

          I totally use bookmarks, I have a whole collection. I didn’t always but had to break myself of the habit of using random stuff — one too many times of not paying a bill (back in the days when we got paper invoices) because I’d stuck it in a book.

        8. coffee*

          As a teen I read a lot of books (I have less time now that I’m older), so people used to give me bookmarks. However, I am quite a fast reader, and I prefer to read one book at a time, so I could pretty much always find my place without a bookmark (or had read the whole book in one go). I had so many bookmarks that I never used!

    2. Texan In Exile*

      Is it wrong that I think that would actually be a way better gift than another coffee mug or shirt that doesn’t fit properly?

      Also – I like how they subtly play on what we sometimes think about work.

      1. Giant Kitty*

        I never minded getting ill fitting junk swag work t shirts because I can wear them for sleeping, dying my hair, or doing dirty/sweaty work, or at least cut them up for cleaning rags.

    3. Mockingjay*

      But what kind of plunger? The one shaped for the sink, or the one for the toilet? (I was this years old when I saw a YouTube video explaining the purpose of the different shapes.)

    4. SunriseRuby*

      Well, that’s more original than the standard water bottle or traveling coffee mug, I’ll give them that.

      1. Random Biter*

        The resale shops in my area always have an amazing collection of water bottles and traveling mugs and now I know where they come from.

    5. bamcheeks*

      My little girl LOVED the plunger from about 18 months to four. I had to buy a spare clean one so she wasn’t carrying the in-use one around the house or taking it to bed or cuddling it in her pushchair. Could have really done with this.

      1. The Eye of Argon*

        That’s adorable! And you were a good parent for letting her keep her rubber bestie instead of forcing her to give it up in favor of a “normal” toy (not that I’m still bitter 40 years later because you threw away my Battery Family, MOM!)

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Aw! My youngest was hung of on taking flatware with him everywhere. Had to talk him into taking serving spoons to bed instead of pointy serving forks. He loved his spooning spoon so much.

        2. Here Comes Christmas Again*

          Ex-job – Boss’ young son was obsessed with sprinkler heads. He would sleep with them.

        3. Avery*

          Not a toy exactly, but my cousin was fascinated with ceiling fans as a baby/toddler, to the point where his parents made a special book for him with pictures of all sorts of ceiling fans in it.

            1. Muscovy Duck*

              My sister was the same way! My dad even wrote a ceiling fan song for her (I still know all the lyrics 20+ years later).

            2. PhyllisB*

              Yes!! Most babies love them. Sometimes I would attach balloons or small stuffed toys to the blades and run on low speed. They loved it.

        4. froodle*

          Awww! My younger brother had a bunch of those stick on bows you get for wrapping/decorating presents. He called them ribbon hedgehogs and they had names and familial relationships. Can’t remember all of them but the son was called Danny, and he make them a little house out of a box and a blanket.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Mine was a folding camping saw one year. (My parents wisely took the blade out!) I have dim memories of “feeding” it cheese spread. So in one sense I can kinda understand people who stuff credit cards into computers, but on the other hand, I was four!

          2. Random Biter*

            I am dead. Just how adorable is that!? I will never look at a stick on bow again without wondering about their family.

      2. Co in KC*

        My middle daughter had a back scratcher and graduated to a strap wrench/jar opener. She was perfectly happy for hours in her room talking with it, creating symphonies, directing plays and god knows what. Kids are weird. I saved them for her wedding bouquet.

      3. Sally Forth*

        My son was in love with a clear plastic medicine spoon. All of his pictures from about 10 months to 14 months feature the spoon. His son is now that age and his best toy is a “snot sucker” syringe.

        1. STAT!*

          OMG. Ten years of OT & various other therapies for my son, & I only now find out there is such a thing. Wish somebody had mentioned this years ago, so he didn’t wreck the skin of his nose by wiping it all the time during cold/ hayfever season (he can’t blow to clear his nasal passages, alongside various other challenges). Anyway, thanks very much!

          1. Princesss Sparklepony*

            Are you talking about the Nose Frieda or the bulb thing? The Nose Frieda works really well once you get over the creepy factor. I used it on my dog all the time!

      4. NateTheGreat*

        When I was a very little kid, I would pretend I was a bus driver and the plunger was one of those really long steering wheels that busses have.

    6. ecnaseener*

      Lololol the jokes write themselves. Why yes, an unmanageable amount of shit does make me think of this company! How did you guess?

    7. Michelle Smith*

      Everyone keeps saying how practical and useful this would be and I’m baffled. I would not want this. I bought my own plunger, specific to my bathroom decor, over 7 years ago. It has barely been used–maybe less than 5 times. I probably won’t need to replace it unless I move. I can’t think of why I would want a second plunger and would just throw it out.

      1. The Eye of Argon*

        To each their own.

        Speaking for myself, my plunger definitely does NOT match my bathroom decor, and I would think a company branded plunger was hilarious (and useful to me, since I have a bathroom and powder room and could keep one by each toilet that way).

      2. ThatGirl*

        Sorry, your plunger matches your bathroom decor??

        I mean, I get it, not all plungers are created equal but I’m having trouble with the idea that a purely functional item needs to match any particular decor :)

        1. Zelda*

          I’m afraid my bathroom decor is “Yup, there’s a towel there, sure enough.” But those people I have known who do have *actual* decor in their bathrooms have also taken steps to *hide* any plungers entirely from view. I am bemused by the concept of a “matching” plunger…

          1. callmeheavenly*

            I have one that fits in the cabinet under the sink, but I have a very specific color scheme to my (bedroom and en suite) bathroom, and if I could not hide it, I would 100% bedazzle the hell out of it, or whatever it took. I think it boils down to being able to control very little outside my immediate environment and therefore overcompensating in that way….

        2. RussianInTexas*

          That is where I got stuck too, lol.
          Mine is black rubber I think? I am not sure how a plunger can match decor.

          1. Adds*

            Mine was The One at the grocery store. And I was really glad they had one on the shelf so I could just pick it up with the groceries instead of having to go to another store.

          2. Artemesia*

            ours comes in a little container that flips open and I suppose those could be colored to match decor. We’ve never used it but it is one of those things that you have to have even if you only need it once.

        3. Worldwalker*

          I’m having trouble with the idea that they make plungers that match bathroom decor in the first place. Mine is the reddish rubber kind.

      3. Morgan Proctor*

        I’m struggling to contort myself into the mental gymnastics it would require for me to feel offended that my company gave me a plunger that didn’t match my bathroom decor. Truly, this is not a sentiment that needs to be verbalized. You can simply shrug and throw it out. Not everything is a personal attack. Sometimes a plunger is simply just a plunger.

        1. another glorious morning*

          Request for an ask a manager t-shirt that says – “Sometimes a plunger is a just a plunger”.

      4. Texan In Exile*

        You need a plunger in every bathroom.

        And it needs to live in the bathroom, even if it doesn’t match. IN THE BATHROOM – looking at you, beloved friend who kept hers in the utility room that could be reached only by walking out of the kitchen, onto the porch, and down the stairs. And that my husband and I, who were visiting her, found only after a desperate half-hour search one morning while she was out of the house. We wanted to resolve the issue without having to resort to texting her.

        1. straws*

          THANK YOU. My husband insists on keeping our plunger in the garage “because it’s dirty”, which requires me to go out of the warm house into the frigid garage and locate it wherever he decided to move it to while working in the garage last. We have an 8 year old who does not understand toilet paper and is constantly clogging up the toilet, and we’re constantly bickering over the plunger’s home base lol

        2. Jedao*

          Yeah, when you need it, you need it right then! You should keep the plunger right next to the poop knife.

      5. Deirdre Barlow*

        Is having a plunger a necessity in North America? I’m British and old, and I can count on the fingers of one finger the times I’ve needed a plunger… Colour me intrigued!

          1. Canadian Plunger Fan*

            Amen! One night when I was out at a work thing, our toilet became a problem and started to overflow right before my young son went to bed. My husband panicked because there was no plunger to be found so they had to run out and buy one. My kid kept saying “Oh Daddy, I don’t know if we’re going to survive this one!”

        1. DataSci*

          Yep. You needed one. Not frequently, but when you do, you really don’t want to have to find a store that’s open and has one.

        2. Rebecca1*

          Yes, I read about a whole technical plumbing reason for it but can no longer remember what that reason is.

      6. Curmudgeon in California*

        It must be nice having new plumbing that seldom clogs.

        I use my plunger at least once a day, because my plumbing is very old and clogs if you look at it funny or have a normal bowel movement.

    8. ThursdaysGeek*

      It wasn’t a company holiday gift, but that reminds me of that Memorial Day when we were visiting the graveyard, and an employee came by handing out branded pizza-cutters. So I now have a good pizza cutter with a funeral home name on it, that I refer to as ‘the pizza cutter of death’.

      1. Clisby*

        When I was growing up, the church we attended (and at least a few others in our small town) didn’t have AC, so along with prayer books and hymnals, they supplied paper fans so the entire congregation wasn’t gasping for breath and keeling over in the SC summer heat. These were *always* branded by funeral homes. I guess they thought churchgoers might be a good target audience; I don’t remember seeing them anywhere else (other than, presumably, the funeral homes themselves.)

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          And if you did keel over in the heat, you know who to call! I guess… same if I choke on a piece of pizza…? Advertising is weird.

    9. Melanie Cavill*

      I mean, a plunger is a thing you forget about buying until you need it, and then you really need it. I’d rather have that than a company branded ill-fitting jacket.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        At a time, my employer gave out gizmos to break car windows and cut through seat belts safely if you’d find yourself in an accident. Not quite plungers but similar in the way that you hope you’ll never need it.

    10. Vesuvius*

      I have a cat who is obsessed with the plunger. She tries to steal it regularly. If we had a second plunger I would let her chew on it because she likes to chew plastic, too. At least the plunger is less likely to be swallowed.

    11. Divergent*

      My mother bought my brother a plunger for his birthday once, but he was 7, Ghostbusters was popular, and he kept stealing the bathroom one to bust ghosts. He was pretty happy about it. I can’t imagine the staff at the holiday party were quite as enthusiastic?

    12. AdAgencyChick*

      Was the HR or admin person who chose this gift not-so-secretly salty about something work related? Because this is kind of awesome.

    13. Electric Pangolin*

      This reminds me of the software vendor that was handing out stress balls with their logo on it one year! Did they mean to imply something…?

    14. Worldwalker*

      You win the Internet. I can’t imagine something weirder than that.

      I get catalogs from several imprinting places, and over the years I’ve read through a lot of listings to source imprinted things, and that’s one I’ve *never* seen. Where did they even get them?

    15. Jess*

      Please tell me I wasn’t the only one sitting here thinking “A plunger? That’s not that weird, kind of same vibe as giving things like branded coffee cups,” then reading the comments and having an “Oh…OH…it WASN’T a coffee plunger….” moment?

  2. Pivottt!*

    I worked at a law firm throughout college and worked my way up from a file clerk to a legal assistant. The partner’s legal secretary was lazy and vindictive. She didn’t want to work, but she didn’t like that I had made myself indispensable either.

    One year for Christmas, she gave me a box of saltwater taffy. When I opened it, she had clearly eaten half of it and left the wrappers in there.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      What an ass. I would have put them out in a common area with a note that these were from Assie and let people think she gnawed on them.

      1. nm*

        My cat is named Cassie and Im gonna start calling her Assie whenever she has an “accident” in the car on the way to the vet XD. Poor fluffer hates the car more than anything.

    2. DeeDee*

      “Thanks so much for thinking of me, but you might want to contact the company you bought this from and ask for a refund. They sold you a half-eaten box!” The sincerely concerned tone would be the hardest part to pull off.

  3. TheTickMS*

    I’m sure people will have worse items, but I still remember when the call center I worked at when I was younger gave us mugs with candy in them that were clearly several years old. That, or they’d been stored on a factory floor. Never seen that much dust both on box and inside it.

  4. ThatGirl*

    This is pretty mild, but last week we had a holiday luncheon/festivities during the workday that included a raffle – they had a bunch of smallish ($20 range) prizes they drew names for and then a drawing at the end for a stand mixer and a TV that everyone was a part of.

    I was standing there with my coworkers making comments on the gifts as they were presented when a wine decanter came up. Oh, I said, I really don’t have anywhere to put that. … and a split second later they called my name. It was perfect comedic timing. But I have no idea what to do with this wine decanter.

    (We are not big wine drinkers, I don’t know anyone who is, and no, I don’t have any white elephant gift exchanges this year.)

      1. ThatGirl*

        Don’t really need a vase (have several, rarely get flowers) or a juice pitcher, honestly.

        It’s a nice decanter – I just have no need or space for it. Might end up at Goodwill.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I will almost certainly donate it. I’m amused by how many people are telling me to regift it — I would! The point is that I have nobody in my life who would use it! :)

            1. Dust Bunny*

              It doesn’t have to be a gift to somebody close–your spouse could regift through their office party or something.

              1. ThatGirl*

                I know everyone is trying to be helpful, but I have thought of all of this. Really, truly, we have no one to give it to. Yes, it will probably end up at Goodwill. I just found the situation of how I acquired it to be funny.

                1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

                  These replies are starting to get into “but have you tried yoga?!” territory and your calm and measured responses are making me laugh.

                  Also I agree that the solution is clearly to start drinking.

    1. Morgan Proctor*

      That’s not a white elephant gift! A wine decanter is actually nice. Just give it to a local thrift shop! I promise you your wine decanter is not a burden.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I’ve been to plenty of white elephant style gift exchanges where the items were at least somewhat nice and practical. And yes, I will probably end up taking it to a thrift shop.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Might be a regional difference, but for many people a white elephant is specifically for joke gifts, while a yankee swap is the non-joke version.

          1. NeedRain47*

            I’m in the midwest and this is what I thought until I heard multiple reference to nice white elephant gifts in the past few weeks.

            1. Laufey*

              This is exactly why I gave up on gift exchanges. I got so much stress and anxiety from worrying about whether I got the right type of gift and how to deal with it when I got it wrong that I just stopped doing them. I am much happier now.

              1. NeedRain47*

                Same- I generally don’t unless it’s a group I’m very socially comfortable with (not at work).

          2. tlmic*

            I always thought it was a one-person’s-trash-is-another-person’s-treasure game: you bring things from your home or a thrift shop that someone might actually want, then watch as people fight over a toy fish on wheels or a change sorter. The joy is in the silliness of it all.

          3. Autumnheart*

            My work has a white elephant exchange as our holiday party. Some gifts are nice, some are jokes. There are also perennial gifts that started out as a gag and have turned into standards—like the foil ball that gets bigger every year, and the trucker hat. It’s a lot of fun, and there is a certain amount of “One person’s trash” too. I wound up with a light-up football that I couldn’t have cared less about, but it got stolen immediately. Someone else got a homemade dresser/mayo kitchen gadget and were clearly un-thrilled, but I stole that! I actually want to make my own aioli sometime. It’s a hoot.

          4. Giant Kitty*

            I grew up in the 70s, and a ‘white elephant sale’ was basically a rummage sale, where people donated both used stuff in good condition and new stuff they just didn’t have a use for. Might end up with some strange things but not intentionally as jokes or pranks.

            1. londonedit*

              I’m British and the only use of ‘white elephant’ I knew before I started reading here was a ‘white elephant table’ at a jumble (rummage) sale – you’d have tables for clothes, books, toys, etc and then the ‘white elephant’ table was for the random stuff like ornaments and small electricals and whatnot.

        2. NeedRain47*

          This is a conversation I had last week- to me, white elephant means something funny, weird, borderline offensive, airplane bottles of alcohol, etc. If the gifts are nice and practical, that’s just a gift exchange. The chances that people are going to show up with the wrong type of gift seem high.

          Anyway, when I’ve “won” something I didn’t want at work, I just gave it to a coworker who did want it.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        What makes a good white elephant gift depends on the group. The can be nice, as long as they’re also useless.

        For example my family had the same bottle of nice bourbon bouncing around our annual white elephant party for almost a decade. None of us drink. None of us know anyone who likes bourbon. I’m sure loads of people would think it was a lovely gift but it was 100% white elephant material for us. Eventually mom decided to put it out of its misery by making a humongous batch of bourbon-chocolate balls for a potluck.

    2. Brooklynlite*

      Do you have a local Buy Nothing? I bet someone in your neighborhood would really like it and that saves you the trip plus the risk it will break during processing at Goodwill.

    3. Artemesia*

      There are probably charity stores in your town that sell used merchandise to support this or that causes. We have one whose profits go to those dealing with HIV/AIDS and they have a really nice store. We have bought things there but it is also a great place to donate nice furniture or household items. A wine decanter would be perfect.

    4. Willow Pillow*

      A coworker at an old job was given a nice wine decanter… But we worked at a satellite office and it was broken on arrival. Maybe a big glass item isn’t best for shipping!

  5. R*

    This will sound absurdly ungrateful, but last year we received 6 pints of ice cream. Fancy ice cream. Only trouble is, I live in an apartment. It was the holidays. My apartment sized freezer was already full. I had nowhere to put the 6 pints.

    1. Blisskrieg*

      Not ungrateful at all!!! I know a terrific gourmet ice cream company and I’m always tempted to consider as corporate gifts, but imagining situations like yours has always stopped me. I may do gift cards for the same company one year so people can time delivery with an empty freezer…

      1. ThatGirl*

        I think gift cards are a good solution, and better yet if they have vegan options for folks with dietary restrictions. But at least with a gift card then you could give it to someone else if needed.

        1. Nannerdoodle*

          And gluten free/nut free options! So many fancy ice cream places put cookies/cookie dough into their ice cream or all of it is contaminated with nuts so people with allergies can’t eat any of it. I’ve received more than one “fancy dessert” gift card where I can’t eat anything the place makes other than vanilla ice cream or plain overpriced chocolate due to the gluten issue.

      2. HellifIknow*

        If they had been thoughtful, they’d have done a pint a month for 6 months o something like that…. We LOVE ice cream but… yeah no way to store that much at once. Although, it’s pretty darn cold here….

        1. Zephy*

          I’m betting six is the minimum order and they don’t ship single pints – I’m sure it gets expensive really quickly when you’re trying to ship frozen goods, especially the farther those goods need to travel, so probably the company decided that the price point for six pints was enough to be worth shipping it X distance.

        1. Phony Genius*

          Did this once when my city had a major blackout that was going to last for at least a day. I knew whatever I didn’t eat would have to be thrown out. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Several hours later, however, still in the dark, it didn’t seem smart anymore.

    2. LIZZIE*

      Not ungrateful at all! I’m in the same situation. apt size freezer with generally not a lot of free space! I’d be really disappointed if i got this. And scrambling to find a friend WITH freezer space!

      1. Hannah Lee*

        We get free turkeys at work every year the day before Thanksgiving.

        I rarely host, and have a fridge with a small freezer with drawers. Some years I find someone who is hosting who would like a free turkey. Other years? Well let’s just say I’ve gotten very good at turning a 20 lb turkey into turkey parts and have explored many turkey leg, turkey wing recipes through the months of December – February.

        1. ferrina*

          Growing up my mom’s work would always give her a turkey. We were a small family (single parent) and inevitably went to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving. So my mom would put it in the freezer, then forget about it through the holidays and re-find it in January. So she’d have me invite friends over and she’d make a Thanksgiving meal in January. The first couple years it was just an attempt to use the turkey- by the third year my friends were asking for invites to the January Thanksgiving.

          1. Belle of the Midwest*

            This is awesome. January is always such a bleak month and I would totally want to come to a Thanksgiving meal then!

        2. Le Sigh*

          That sounds excellent. I love to make a bunch of homemade pot pies with turkey leftovers. Make one fresh and then freeze a few for myself and give away the rest. They’re really nice to have in the middle of winter — just pop in the oven for 45 and you have a fresh pot pie.

          1. Zelda*

            We have done a little experimentation with moles– AIUI, Native people were more likely to use the meat in various stew or casserole kinds of dishes; the “roast the bird whole and serve on a huge platter” approach is more of a European thing.

            1. Shirley Keeldar*

              For a minute there I thought you’d found some moles (the little furry critters) to try out turkey recipes on. I was picturing them in little hats and suits around a mole-sized table, eager for their samples.

              Perhaps I need to get out more….

              1. MigraineMonth*

                I assumed they were eating the little furry critters! I know there are plenty of recipes for muskrat and similar…

              2. Zelda*

                No, I just need to know more about inserting accents/Unicode into text! Oops.

                So, pronounced roughly like MOH-lay. One useful search term is “Rick Bayless.”

                1. Giant Kitty*

                  Are you on mobile? On an iPhone, all you have to do is hold down the letter for a moment and it gives you the option to choose an accented or alternate version of that letter (if it exists): molé, ß, æ, ę, ø, ÿ, õ, û, etc.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          So… I’m one of the people who does that on purpose. My mom’s father died early in the great depression, and I married into a restaurant family, so naturally the first purchase for my house was a deep freeze. (Yes before the lawn mower!)

          When turkey comes on sale, we buy at least 2 of them. One for Thanksgiving, and 1 or 2 eat later as ingredients.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            We have multiple chest freezers. We have been known to buy multiple turkeys when they go on sale after thanksgiving and chuck them into the freezer for next year.

        4. BlueSwimmer*

          When I was just out of college, I taught at a school that ran on a shoestring. They gave out frozen turkeys as our Christmas bonus every year, but two thirds of the faculty were young singles with no idea how to cook a turkey, me included. The more established faculty members took them off our hands, cooked them, and then brought in lots of leftovers for us to eat at lunch. A few years later, they switched over to giving us gift cards to a local gourmet market, which everyone loved, but I really missed the leftovers!

        5. DataSci*

          I’m impressed you find someone the day before Thanksgiving who is hosting and doesn’t have a turkey yet! If I’m hosting, my turkey is already dry-brining in the fridge on Wednesday.

    3. Prefer my pets*

      Not ungrateful at all. I have the freezer space for that (a couple chest freezers) but like half the world I’m seriously lactose intolerant. They might as well have been gifting me 6 pints of poison. :(

    4. Cyndi*

      Yeah I know this is a “my diamond shoes are too tight” problem–but I live alone and every year I have problems with desserts piling up in my home far beyond my ability to actually eat them. I buy myself the seasonal desserts and candy I actually want–and then I have friends giving out treats, and coworkers, and parents, and by January it turns into a situation where I either have to turn around and unload as much candy as I can onto other people, or feel obligated to eat a daily dessert quota to get through it, before things go bad and have to be thrown out.

      This past January I got so tired of chocolate that I threw up my hands and left a large bag of (wrapped, unopened!) candy in the Little Free Library on my corner.

      1. desk platypus*

        I totally get that! Before I moved out from my parents place I would participate in the annual cookie exchange at my work because I had fun trying out the samplings with my family. If I didn’t like something someone else definitely would. Now I live alone hours away and no friends in the area so I can’t dump all these holiday treats on anyone but myself.

        1. Sally Forth*

          In high school I worked at Zellers, a Canadian department store that actually had a great work culture for back then. At the Christmas party Secret Santa I got a perfume/bath combo Love’s Baby Soft knock off called Luv U. It was just fine except the giver had underlined the Luv U in red marker.

          I figured it was from one of the high school guys and was trying to figure out which one. Then a friend told me she saw one of the married 30 year old managers wrapping it.

          Ugh! I could only hope he made a mistake and meant it for his wife.

          1. Jennifer+@unchartedworlds*

            Or maybe it had been doing the rounds for a while, the underlining had come from someone else giving it to someone else previously, and he just didn’t notice?

      2. Lalaith*

        A friend of mine gets tubs of cookies and treats from his mom on his birthday and Christmas. His friends are very appreciative :)

        (I believe she includes vegan and/or gluten free ones for friends with dietary restrictions)

      3. Clisby*

        LFL is a great idea! That reminds me I need to go drop off a bag of unopened plasticware I’ve been saving. These are the packages with napkin/salt/pepper/fork/spoon/knife) that lots of places give with takeout or delivery. So many times, I forget to say I don’t need any and then end up with another few. I figured people picking up things from a LFL might be able to use them.

      4. MigraineMonth*

        I am blessed with a roommate who makes sure I get at least some of each of the ice cream/cookies/candies, and then will finish the rest of it for me. I did need to ask her to stop buying the same thing as replacements, though, because I didn’t actually want an ever-replenishing pint of brownie ice cream.

        She bakes too!

    5. ChemistryChick*

      I’m lactose intolerant, so I’d actually be really bummed to receive 6 pints of something I can’t eat.

      1. another glorious morning*

        Same! Ice cream is one of the worst offenders for me. Also what is someone is vegan?

    6. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      I would find a way to make room, and be glad to have the several different flavors — but I eat a lot of ice cream, and am one of the local weirdos who will stand outside with an ice cream cone while it’s snowing.

      That said, while half a dozen pints of fancy ice cream are a great gift for the right person, it’s a bit like buying someone your own favorite liqueur, without checking whether they even drink.

    7. Zephy*

      My grandma, bless her, offered to send me and my husband six pints of fancy ice cream as a “get well soon” gift after he had major surgery last year. Six pints was the minimum order, you see. I had to figure out the most diplomatic way to convey that I did not want six pints of fancy ice cream that I had no space to store. I think the phrasing I landed on was “I understand that you want to help, and I know your intentions are good, but the thing you are proposing to do is not actually helpful to us. Your well-wishes and prayers for a speedy recovery are more than enough.”

    8. Artemesia*

      When my son died this year a friend send us a 12 pack of Graeter’s ice cream — sure was better than flowers which made me cry every time I saw them. We gave half of them to our daughter’s family and managed to find room for the others.

  6. Akcipitrokulo*

    After making a big deal of ensuring people got something they would actually like in secret santa, by having everyone nominate 3 “helpers” who would be available to ask, teetotal me got a bottle of wine.

    Would not have minded if it wasn’t so obvious no effort was made!

    (Mine got pressie all 3 of theirs agreed they would love.)

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Not a holiday story, but a co-worker wanted to throw me a going away party when I left Capitol Hill. The organizer specifically asked me what I wanted.

      Here’s what I said:

      “I get that Boss always does the same thing for everyone. But I don’t want a store bought cake, an awkward party, a card signed by everyone, a flag, a photo with Boss (already had one), and a special coin. None of that is useful or special to me. I want a dome tour because I’ve never had one and then do an Irish goodbye. That’s it.”

      Here’s what I got: a store bought cake, an awkward party, a card signed by everyone, a flag, a special coin, and a mob of people walking me out on me last day at 5 PM. No dome tour to this day. (only chiefs of staff and members can give those.) All of that stuff sits in my attic to remind me of how no one listened to me.

      Don’t bother asking me if you don’t care what I want.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Anything is possible.
          There are museums and private collectors that are proud to own a slice of one of Queen Victoria’s jubilee cakes. Not the recently departed Queen Elizabeth 2, but her great-great-grandmother.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            It’s even a plot point in an episode of Seinfeld that Elaine’s boss pays some ridiculous amount for a slice of antique British cake, and then (of course) Elaine eats it, mistaking it for office birthday cake.

      1. NeedRain47*

        When I left my old job I actually got to choose whether I wanted to have an awkward party and whether the whole org was invited or just my department plus a select few. Apparently leaving was the only way to get to feel listened to or appreciated.

      2. Rs*

        I still haven’t had a dome tour, because they changed the rules to require a member to actually accompany the group up the steps to the dome…

    2. AY*

      I, as the only pregnant person in my work section, received the only alcohol-themed gift at our office white elephant. You have to laugh!

      1. La Triviata*

        Two or three years in a row, when we had staff gifts, I would end up with the gift I’d brought. (This was before we added the option to “steal” a gift from someone who’d already opened a gift.)

    3. Another accountant*

      We fill out a form for “Helping Santa”, and one of the items is for ‘ Absolutely None’ of these. Other items are: fav store, always need more of, fav sports team, etc. it makes the entire process so much easier, and helps avoid any issues with allergies or dietary restrictions.

      1. HellifIknow*

        Oh, can you post a pic of the form? I’ll use it for our family swap. It’s gotten very large with many marriages and extended families and this would be helpful!

        1. T*

          You might want to check out Elfster, it’s a website that provided these kinds of forms and will also randomize Secret Santa assignments for you.

            1. Adds*

              We use Draw Names for the adults to do the Christmas gift exchange for our (immediate? previously nuclear?) family. You can make a wish list that links to online stores and whoever draws your name can see it. Very handy.

    4. Zephy*

      The solution to this, which my team implemented, was to have everyone list some things they might like along with their names on the little slips of paper we drew for our secret Santa exchange.

    5. Artemesia*

      I cannot fathom ever giving a colleague liquor without KNOWING they would like it. Yes, lazy.

      I hope you said when you unwrapped it ‘oh I don’t drink, is there someone here who would enjoy this?’ And passed it on right there.

    6. londonedit*

      Not Secret Santa, but there was someone I was friends with at uni and for a few years after (we’ve since lost touch) who would get me a bottle of red wine for my birthday every year. I had never, in their presence or anyone else’s, drunk red wine. I don’t mind the odd glass, but I am absolutely a white wine drinker and this person would never have seen me drinking red, only ever white. So it was always a little bit of a disappointment every year when they’d proudly present me with something I didn’t want to drink! (Of course I could have said something, but I’m British, so what I said was ‘thank you’ before taking the wine home and saving it for the next time I went to someone’s house for dinner). It’s just a bit of a bummer when you get a gift that makes you think ‘yeah, this person hasn’t got me at all’.

  7. the Cat's ass*

    one of my patients (with free range bats in their belfry, bless them) gave me a strange quasi-Staffordshire figure of an Edwardian era guy waggling a thermometer, wearing a stethoscope, and sitting on a pile of medical books, with a note saying, “This reminds me of you.” BTW, i am a woman.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      OMG I work for a medical school library and we get stuff like this donated to us all the time. I’m not sure what my boss does with them–they just seem to disappear.

    2. Niniel*

      Commenting to say that I LOVE the phrase “free range bats in their belfry”!! Are you from the UK by chance?

      1. the Cat's ass*

        mom was (Man U all the way!) but i’m in the US. I stole this phrase from Carolyn Hax’s Holiday Hoot from last week, where its use was sublime!

  8. Love to WFH*

    The president called up a guest — the wife of an employee — and gave her a wrapped gift. Then he began what he intended to be a funny White Elephant Swap process with her. Unfortunately for him, she had perfect manners and had never heard of such a thing, so she politely insisted that she was very grateful for the box he’d given her, and of course she wouldn’t dream of exchanging it for something else. He eventually gave up. ;-)

  9. The Eye of Argon*

    Oh, man, I wish I had saved my underwear story to post here instead of the “crazy holiday party” thread :( Are we allowed to repost stuff?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      You can re-post it! There’s a good chance there are people who are reading this thread who missed the “crazy holiday party” thread.

  10. CheapskateBoss*

    One year, my coworkers and I gave our boss a gift card to a local chain of restaurants he frequented (I know, no gifting up but we were young and naive). The next year, he took us to lunch at one of those restaurants. As he is paying the bill, the server comes back and tells him what is left on the gift card. HE USED THE GIFT CARD THAT WE BOUGHT HIM THE YEAR PRIOR. WE BOUGHT OUR OWN HOLIDAY LUNCH. I never bought another gift for him again, and when he took us to the same place the next year, I ordered the most expensive item even though it was a spicy paella and my stomach paid for it later. Worth it.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        And the gifted hard-to-find limited edition covetable underwear from the other story- your tale, no?

    1. 10 Days to Go*

      I fail to see the problem here–he spent his gift on his employees, which to me seems like a kind solution to being “gifted up.”

      1. Sassenach*

        I think there are two ways to look at this. 1) he thought he was being thoughtful by using the gift card for his team rather than just for himself. 2) it was a cheap way to treat the team to lunch.

      2. CheapskateBoss*

        I supposed the context lost here is knowing the boss and that’s definitely not what he was thinking. We had received gifts from vendors we work with before and he would take them home for himself so when this happened we all just had it with him

        1. Hlao-roo*

          The context makes the story. I can totally see all of you thinking “our boss is actually doing something nice for us!” only to have it revealed that “nope, we paid for our own lunch :(“

          1. CheapskateBoss*

            100%. And we were working at a small non-profit so the three of us were scraping by while this guy was at a level that he was doing well.

        2. Artemesia*

          This is the hallmark of a real jerk, someone who takes all the vender gifts. My husband’s small law firm would always disassemble the vender gift baskets and lay them out in the copy room/break room and invite everyone to take a few things. People were polite and everyone got to take a few things home from partners down to the runner.

    2. Software engineer*

      Since you shouldn’t have to get your boss a gift, using a gift from employees to treat them out to lunch actually sounds like a gracious way to handle it. Like if you brought them a snack gift basket and they opened it up to share with everyone

      Take the generous interpretation! But still don’t buy your boss a present anymore

    3. IndyDem*

      Just curious, how do you know it’s the exact same gift card? We buy gift cards all the time from our favorite restaurant, especially when they have a sale.

      1. KateM*

        Ha, that reminds me how I once gifted my mother an not-her-usual shampoo or something like that and when I visited her again several months later, she specially showed me a bottle of same shampoo and told me that this is NOT the same bottle – she had taken a liking to is so when shampoo ended, bought a new bottle of the same herself.

      2. Tired of Working*

        That’s what I was wondering – how do you know it was the same gift card that you gave him? Maybe he’s gotten that gift card from other people, too. I wouldn’t expect him to remember that you gave him a gift card from that restaurant, so he had better take you to a different restaurant. Maybe he really likes that restaurant and goes there frequently and was really happy that you gave him a gift card for it. And maybe that’s why he’s given a number of gift cards to that restaurant. It’s a better way of looking at things than saying, “I’ll show him! I’ll order spicy paella because it’s expensive! And I don’t care if it makes me sick!”

    4. ggg*

      This is sort of why we stopped giving our admin Costco gift cards — we wanted her to spend the money on herself but she would turn right around and use it to buy snacks for all of us.

    5. SaffyTaffy*

      That’s honestly exactly what I would do if my employees gave me a gift card, since they shouldn’t be giving me anything but I wouldn’t want to embarrass them by saying so.

      1. ggg*

        We’re not her employees though and in fact I was her boss for some time. She shouldn’t have been buying us anything!
        In the end we got her department store gift cards and that worked well; she will sometimes show us the nice things she bought with them.

  11. raincoaster*

    Many years ago I worked for a household name coffee company. Year one of their operations in Canada, everyone got a turkey. Gradually over the years it ratcheted down to the point where one year we each got a single apple. One year we got nothing, called HQ, and were told that the bags of popcorn our last shipment of decorations was packed in were our gifts. One year the company made a deal for their coffee to be served on a certain airline, and everyone got a $15 gift certificate to that airline, which obviously offers no flights where $15 is even a blip.

        1. Nanc*

          Right? Richard Saunders deserved an Emmy for that performance. BTW, Cincy Shirts sells a really nice WKRP turkey drop t-shirt. My family always wears them at Thanksgiving and we don’t even like Turkey.

      1. Clisby*

        A LOT of turkeys don’t make it through Thanksgiving. – Jennifer Marlowe, on the phone with an enraged humane society representative

    1. turquoisecow*

      A $15 airline gift certificate? I’m surprised you can even get them with an amount that low. Doubt it would even cover a drink on the flight.

    2. No Longer Working*

      This is kinda off-topic but your popcorn used as packing material reminded me…. Years ago, loose popcorn WAS actually used as packing material. A neighbor got a lamp delivered and a bunch of us were outside playing and our eyes opened wide to see the huge box filled with popcorn getting thrown out…. and I sent a younger kid home to get a salt shaker. I was too young to know it wasn’t for human consumption.

    3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Was it at least a good apple, or was it one of those mealy red delicious that aren’t even worth eating?

  12. Notmyrealpseudonym*

    Our safety initiative committee gave us beautiful logo’d mugs, lovely huge ones – that had a shiny gold enamel on the outside. They were neither dishwasher nor microwave safe. About an hour later, they came and took them all back after someone microwaved one and caused major, massive sparking, panicking half a lunch room.

    1. Season of Joy (TM)*

      I definitely killed a snowman mug that had a pretty shiny around the mouth by microwaving it…

      Just this past weekend my FIL nearly caused a fire at our Christmas get together trying to reheat some leftovers on a paper plate….that had foil designs on it. Why in the world would you make a non-decorative paper plate with foil designs on it??

    2. Missing person*

      Many moons ago, our safety committee held a half-day “Safety Superbowl” offsite extravaganza. The t-shirts they gave out said “Safety is #1”. Unfortunately, the exaggerated way the ‘1’ was printed caused it to look more like a ‘7’. So, “Safety is #7”, which was actually pretty accurate.

      The catered buffet lunch looked like dog food, so several coworkers and I went out for lunch on our own dime. About 2 hours after everyone else got back to work, they started dropping like flies. People puking in trashcans, running for the restrooms and going home hours early.

      Yes, the Safety Superbowl lunch buffet gave everyone food poisoning.

  13. Ragged and Rusty*

    We’ve banned Secret Santa’s and now do exclusively White Elephants after multiple years of multiple people forgetting to even bring presents. (This is after attaching an interests list to the name for the random drawings).
    So now the point is to get weird. Prior to 2020 someone gave a 4 pack of nice TP and a gift card. Someone else gave a screaming goat figure.

    1. Hmm*

      Sounds like people didn’t care or maybe couldn’t afford Secret Santa. I may totally be wrong, but now you made it White Elephant to drive the participation?
      White elephant exchange in my mind should be funny. People putting interests sounds like there is an expectation of certain gift/amount. What parameters are put on the gifts and the amount spent? I hope you are not expecting too much out of your employees, regardless of what they’re hourly rates are. Times are tough and people have personal responsibilities that come with a budget.

      1. GoLightly*

        I think the draw of White Elephant is that in the original spirit of the event, the gifts should be random things from home so no money would have to be spent. Anything can be a funny gift out of context. They’ve evolved to include new gifts and prank gifts in lots of workplaces, but I would think almost anywhere it would still be okay to regift something.

        1. Becca*

          I did that once (mostly I forgot until last minute) and people were complaining it was too nice, definitely over the limit.

          1. Becca*

            It wasn’t that nice. It was a used kids book. For teenagers (tho theatre kids so might not have been as hung up on it being uncool as other teenagers would).

            1. GoLightly*

              Honestly, that is the struggle with White Elephant – you always end up with a mix of legitimately nice gifts and legitimately crappy gifts, even if you mention it’s okay to regift things!

              1. triss merigold*

                Once my sister was invited to a white elephant exchange but it was actually just a regular Yankee swap and her present that she brought was very much not in the spirit of actual gifts. I blame the organizers for using the wrong words but it was pretty uncomfortable for her.

        1. Jaydee*

          I think the issue was that with Secret Santa they’d have 20 people sign up for it, draw names, then the day to exchange gifts would come and a few people would forget to bring a gift (or “forget” to bring a gift) meaning some people who participated didn’t receive anything.

          With white elephant, if you forget to bring something the day of, you just don’t participate. Only people who brought a gift participate, so everyone who brought something is guaranteed to get something.

          1. Ragged and Rusty*

            That’s exactly it. It’s a mixture of helping with participation and also making sure the that someone didn’t get a $20 USD gift for someone but got nothing in return. The group largely wants to do this, or I’d just let it die off as a tradition.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              Yeah, one employer that did a gift swap set a budget limit, and then did the yankee gift swap. I brought a nice set of adult coloring books and a fair sized pack of colored pencils. It was popular.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        I think the point is that with a White Elephant there’s always enough gifts to go around because you bring one in order to participate and if you forget, then no big deal, you give nothing you get nothing. But with a Secret Santa, you have a specific person to get something for, and if you forget then you’re probably still getting a gift and there’s someone who brought a gift who gets nothing. So White Elephant is an easy way to make sure no one who wants to participate is left out.

        And it does sound like they’re being funny with the White Elephant, since they mention nice TP and screaming goat figures as gifts. You’re totally right that some offices are awful with Secret Santas and demand participation and too high gift prices, but I’m not immediately seeing it in this instance.

        1. Ragged and Rusty*

          Our limit has been $20 after we all discussed, and some of them were actually forgetting, and a couple were “forgetting” out of spite because they drew someone they didn’t like. This year I got a T-Rex boiled egg mold to give out because it’d make at least 4 of my team members laugh.

      3. ecnaseener*

        I think the point of switching to white elephant is that if you forget to bring your gift, you just don’t take a gift – no harm done. Vs a secret Santa, if you forget to get/bring someone their gift then it’s too late to assign them a new Santa.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Whoops, and i see the whole peanut gallery chimed in with me while I was typing! Didn’t mean to add to a pile-on lol

      4. HellifIknow*

        I think the reason for the switch, is with a Secret Santa if people forget, someone who bought a gift will not get one, but with a White Elephant, it’s limited to the people who brought in a gift, and the swap is between all of those folks. So, there’s no “oh crap I forgot Sue’s present” nonsense.

        1. HellifIknow*

          Ok I should read an entire thread before I throw in my 2 cents, I see! Sorry for the repeated, redundant, and repetitive comment :)

      5. Le Sigh*

        One year someone brought an entire rotisserie chicken, freshly purchase from the nearby grocery store (they bought it right before the event so it wasn’t sitting out long). Rotisserie chicken + an office full of competitive adults = absolute white elephant chaos.

    2. Anon for This*

      Our gift exchange game one year included a box of 5-1/4″ floppies and miscellaneous cables from IT. The recipient was not pleased.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Having a computer with a 5.25” drive (even if it is in a closet) and a constant need for weird, and frequently obsolete, cables, that sounds great. Yes, I know I’m one of like five people who would think that, and I know three of the others.

    3. Netlawyer*

      That’s the crazy thing about white elephants – some places do it nice – so there are bottles of wine and gift cards. Others you are supposed to being something weird. My mom got invited to one and thought it was supposed to be weird so she went to goodwill and bought something funny, and well it was one of the nice ones.

      At my former job, you’d bring something you already had at home – so passing along something in like-new condition rather than buying something. The first year at my current job, I did the same and the person who got my gift (chalkboard contact paper and a pack of chalk that I wasn’t going to use which I thought would be good for someone with kids) was like “eww, this has already been opened.”

      So live and learn.

  14. Please, not like this*

    One year, the CEO (my boss’s boss) came up to my desk and insisted I open my gift from her in front of her. It was makeup. I was one of a very few women in my area and none of my male coworkers got anything.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      Wow, singling you out and woman-shaming you for not living up to HER standards of “femininity” in front of your male coworkers. I hope she never has a plunger handy when she needs one.

      1. Please, not like this*

        Yeah it was pretty bad. And I’m someone who wears dresses to work everyday! I just save makeup for special occasions.

    2. Frickityfrack*

      Wooow, that is really flippin rude. My boss once gave me makeup, but she knew makeup is one of my hobbies and also knew that I loved the brand in question but couldn’t afford to buy much of it. If she’d just rolled up with some eyeshadow like it was a hint, I would’ve been so annoyed.

      1. Netlawyer*

        When I was a supervisor – I received a makeup palette from a new team as a gift my first year. I’m not a makeup person and just chalked it up them delegating gift selection to someone who was. Didn’t take it one way or another and just appreciated the gesture bc most other teams didn’t exchange gifts. (And bc of whole dynamics around gifts and the fact my previous team was really close and did gifts – I did homemade gifts every year. So sewed zipper bags out of fun fabrics, made cookies, felted dryer balls … that sort of thing. Everyone else would do similar – so one person took a trip to the UK so we each got a British flag fidget spinner for Christmas, or macadamia nuts if someone had taken vacation in Hawaii. It was actually very thoughtful and nice – never expected or required but we just sorted ended up using our staff meeting the second week of December every year to exchange our little gifts. I miss them.)

    3. Bagpuss*

      Woah, that’s rude. (I would have been very upet had someone done that to me when I was younger. I have a bunch of contact allergies and as a result, wear make up very, very rarely (becasue what tends to happen is I find something I think is safe anthen after using it a frew times find that my unhelpfully over-zealous immune system has jut been biding its time before deciding that Nope… I have thrown out so much expensive, partly used make up.. When I was younger I was pretty self-conscious about not being able to wear make up, and whther it made me look unprofessional)

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        If someone gave me makeup or perfume I would have been ticked. I’m non-binary, but AFAB. I am allergic to most perfume, and most makeup irritates my skin. Fortunately I tend to work on the engineering side and I don’t get that much fem coded stuff.

  15. Hannah Lee*

    While I’ve been involved with Secret Santas and Yankee Swaps that have had their quirks, and have seen a few OTT battles where the gloves came off over for $15 bottles of Kahlua, and one old sign and unwieldy sign from our old location that got regifted year after year (represented by a decoy gift under the tree, which when opened revealed a message “you’ve picked the sign”)

    But the weirdest one to me was a White Elephant Yankee Swap at my previous company.

    The idea was for people to re-gift something they had but didn’t need or use. Like, a coffee table book or cookbook they’d had that they’d wouldn’t ever use, or box of soaps, or a bottle of white wine when they only drank red. People put in some great stuff.

    But one guy who either didn’t understand the instructions or thought he’d be funny, put in an old candle … like a formerly 3″ tall candle in a plain glass cup that had been burned down to almost nothing. It was sooty and also dusty. It was basically trash. The guy who’d brought it giggled when it was being opened, giving himself away. And to a person, the rest of us were like “not funny, not okay, dude, why on earth did you bring that? did you not see the instructions?” Our manager wound up following up with the person who got stuck with it and slipping them a DD gift-card.

    1. Ashloo*

      That’s really obnoxious. Re-gifting swaps have actually become my favorite type because most of the stuff is useful. Otherwise, I would just like clear rules so everyone knows going in whether it’s jokey crap or meant to be desirable.

      1. ferrina*

        Hmm, I wonder if the manager had pre-planned to have a gift card in case a crappy gift came up. I’m hoping they did- I would love this (new life goal: become the manager with the Just In Case Gift Card)

        1. Foyer Office*

          I worked for a total psycho at my last job and people quit so regularly because of her (like the whole office turned over in 6 months, including me!) that I kept a bunch of thank you/good bye cards and Amazon gift cards in my office drawer in case someone quit on the spot.

    2. Girasol*

      I dunno. I’ve done Yankee Swap where people brought the most unloveable things they’d ever been given, new or used – a box of powerfully scented soaps with one missing, ugly monogram towels from a wedding, that thing from the bottom of the office supply closet – and people laughed and fought over them and ended up going home in good humor mostly with something just as useless as what they’d brought. It makes sense to me. You give things of value to people you love, but why waste money and effort on a team building event when you can have such a ball making jokes over who brought or got the funniest junk?

      1. T*

        The difference between what you’re describing and what happened here is whether or not everyone agrees that that’s the point of the exchange.

        If you’re told to bring something nice, put in some thought and effort to find something worthy of re-gifting, and end up with a piece of trash, that’s kind of a bummer.

      2. Missing person*

        I once came into possession of a mantle clock made from a wood burl. It was fine, but it looked like a tombstone and I didn’t have a mantle. I took it to the White Elephant exchange and watched in awe as people nearly got in fist fight over it.

        It was more popular than the bottle of Jack.

        1. Artemesia*

          The most fought over gift in a yankee swap I have seen was a toy submarine for the bathtub. We were among the only people there with a toddler and I hoped to keep it, but no — everyone wanted the dang thing. It was a very nice toy.

          1. Netlawyer*

            The most coveted item at our gift swap today was a neck massager that draped over your shoulders. It gave people an opportunity to make (mostly lighted hearted but somewhat pointed) digs at the big boss about being stressed. It was out of play after three steals but people kept making jokes about it. (And we did some silly games – which I was not expecting – and one person challenged the massager-having person to a game *for the massager* – it was a game where you blow ping pong balls between cups of water(????) we collectively dubbed it the super spreader game so it only went one round and the original person kept the massager.)

          2. Francie Foxglove*

            Bright pink pig wearing a biker jacket and cap. Chris P. Bacon. So fought-over, woman who ended up with him went immediately to her car and put him in the trunk.

    3. Mrs Vexil*

      The last holiday white elephant at my workplace, some people (like me) brought nice stuff they just didn’t use. Some people brought junk and weird stuff. The weirdest was my co-worker who made a pair of slippers out of (new) maxipads, then wrapped them in an annoying “huge box with 4 more nesting boxes inside” wrap job. I ended up with 3 vouchers worth around $4.00 from a used book and CD store 15 miles across town.

    4. MAC*

      I’ve been in a couple of these types of gift exchanges where people definitely had different perceptions of what the expectations were. At one, the gift I opened was a broken, rusted out electric can opener. Other gifts in the mix were wine, gourmet popcorn sets, and plush throws. I was pretty young and new to this networking/sales tips group and despite my STELLAR acting skills (LOL), my puzzlement and disappointment must have been obvious because someone took pity on me and “stole” my can opener so that I ended up with a nicer gift. At a different job, I ended up with a sad clown figurine – the person who brought it was 100% a clown (in the “he’s a total jerk” way, not in the “he’s such a goofball” way), so it was appropriate at least. My mom & sister have a hilariously embarrassing story about *being* the ones who brought the awful gift because nobody explained to them what that group’s definition of “white elephant” meant. We ALWAYS ask clarifying questions now.

    5. Elevated Learning*

      I’ve found the regifting swaps frequently highlight financial inequality across the board in my workplace. We starting the “regifting” idea for the gift swap as a sustainability initiative, but it quickly became apparent that people with great means have nice, funny, or interesting things to regift while those without means do not and it gets REAL awkward.
      I still remember the feeling when the person who walked away with a set of “tacky” (but definitely still quite nice) wineglasses mentioned in passing that they were going to try to sell them to help cover their bills. They made around $15/hour, the person who brought the glasses made $100k/year.
      We don’t do gift exchanges like that any more (we’ve also had several salary reviews since then, but the nature of the company is that there’s always going to be a wide range).
      The best approach I heard recently was a company that funded the White Elephant exchange themselves. They chose a variety of gifts that were similar in price, wrapped them, and ran the exchange as usual. They tried hard to make sure there weren’t any “dud” gifts, and participation was fully voluntary- you just had to RSVP to make sure they had the right number of gifts. This also didn’t count as the company Christmas gift. Those were gift cards distributed earlier, the White Elephant things were just a bonus for anyone who wanted to participate.

    6. t-vex*

      My former company used to do Yankee Swaps and the best year was the one where, completely by accident, 75% of the people brought a Snuggie as a gift.

  16. Cat Tree*

    I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry (engineering). Years agomi worked at a place with a male boss, 5 other engineers (all men), and 2 lower paid technicians (both women). My boss got gifts for everyone with his own money, which I guess was a nice gesture. The men all got individual gifts relevant to their interests, such as a bottle of wine, gear with the person’s favorite sports team, or even just a Target gift card. But there were no repeats among the men; at least some thought had gone into picking an individual gift. All three women got the exact same gift. One year it was throw blankets and the next year scented candles. I used to feel bad for being disappointed because he didn’t have to get us anything. But honestly I would have preferred nothing to spare me the hassle of throwing away the useless home decor.

    Maybe it’s not the most egregious example, but was one of the constant little reminders that I didn’t really fit in with the group and would always be an outsider.

    1. Morgan Proctor*

      Nope! This is egregious. It reminds me of the Susan Fowler’s story she told in her essay “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber,” where all her male coworkers got leather jackets, but because the jacket manufacturer didn’t make a jacket small enough for her, she got nothing. She was then told that her getting nothing was “equitable” because the company would have had to go out of its way to find a solution for her, and that wouldn’t have been fair to her male colleagues. Toxic, toxic stuff.

      1. In the corner*

        On a recent project, I was the only one who didn’t get a team shirt because they didn’t order any women’s sizes. I put in a lot of extra time and effort on that (very successful) project, won’t be doing that ever again.

      2. Missing person*

        I used to work in an industry where we had to have fire retardant uniforms. I could wear the men’s shirt, but no way in hell was I going to attempt to wear the men’s pants. The only women’s FR pants available were cargo/carpenter pants.

        The amount of carping I had to put up with because I had ‘nicer’ pants than the men. Never mind the fact I couldn’t get electrical gloves that fit, nitrile gloves that fit or that I was expected to crawl in all the wet, grimy little holes because I fit and they didn’t.

        1. Morgan+Proctor*

          I worked a job that required me to wear nitrile gloves everyday. The gloves available were L and XL. This was a male-dominated role in a female-dominated industry. My boss was a woman. She VERY RELUCTANTLY bought me a box of XS gloves, and then passive aggressively muttered, “These are expensive so you better not quit.”

          I did quit, though not at that moment. There were many moments before and after that when I should have quit on the spot.

          1. Rocket Raccoon*

            After years of working in kitchens that didn’t stock XS gloves, I started buying my own to cover the first few weeks until the buyer could get some. I still keep a box or two around the house. Misfitting gloves suck.

      3. ScruffyInternHerder*

        This (behavior) is so typical in male dominated industries, that our at the time new safety director was shocked that I was profusely thankful that he took the time to order me PPE that fits. He didn’t just hand me the off-the-shelf made for a man twice my size stuff, he actually found out what size company shirts I typically requested, and got me size specific PPE.

        That the previous safety directors had to a one sent me to the field in ill fitting gear appalled him when he found out about it. Maybe there is hope for my industry.

    2. Quinalla*

      Ugh, another woman who works in engineering here. Not a holiday thing – for that he gave either real bonuses or gift cards to everyone depending how much $$ we made that year – but he would sometimes give just the women in the office a dozen roses or potted plants. It was clearly fundraiser stuff for his kids that he would buy and then gift to us, but it was so uncomfortable to have gendered gifts. He meant well truly, but ugh it sucked. He really should have just given them to everyone, FYI some guys like flowers too or will regift to someone and some women actually don’t like flowers and will also regift to someone. And it was also extra awkward since he didn’t get the guys anything so it seemed really ungrateful to be like, um please stop giving gifts to just one gender. If it happened today, I’d totally speak up, but this was almost 20 years ago where this kind of stuff was usually a /shrug.

      1. Meaghan Halligan*

        I am also a female engineer in a mostly male industry, and just went to an event in the fall that was recognizing people who were leaving a board after serving their time there. The man (1) who was leaving got a gift certificate to a sports store, the women (3) got, in no particular order, a spatula, a walking trails with your kids book, a cooking with your kids cookbook, a cookie cutter, a transformer that transformed from a car into a sexy woman, and a speech from the (of course male) president about how he was “amazed that these women could do such an amazing job with kids at home”. I complained to the other female board member an told it was “just the way he was”. We really need to do better.

        1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

          I am AGHAST. That collection of gifts is like a conceptual art installation about sexism.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Ugh. As a CF enby, I would have been very annoyed at the “with your kids” stuff.

  17. Starchy*

    I was 16 years old working at a Veterinarian office and my male boss gave me lace underwear for Xmas, which apparently his girlfriend had picked out for me.

    1. Llama Identity Thief*

      >”which apparently his girlfriend had picked out for me.”

      Assuming that wasn’t a CYA lie from the boss, that’s the detail to take it from “astonishingly creepy and disgusting” to “still astonishingly creepy and disgusting, but with an added dose of WTF hilarious given emotional distance.”

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, like… I thought I knew what type of creepy this was, but it’s actually a different and unexpected type of creepy!

      1. Cat Tree*

        My eyebrows rose so high they circled all the way around my head to land in their original position.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      Awful, but I am absolutely picturing the lazy male boss shoving the emotional labor of gift shopping for HIS employee onto his young (early 20s) ditzy girlfriend, and her with the best intentions in the world thinking that the 16 year girl old would love some fancy underwear.

      #AAMfanfic

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        See my mind went the other way. Weaponized incompetence by the girlfriend… “He told ME to do HIS Christmas shopping? I can make sure he never does that again!”

        1. The Person from the Resume*

          That is another possibility I envisioned. She not ditzy and clueless, she’s pissed off that she’s being asked and possibly haranged by him to do the “woman’s job” of buying presents. But that’s quite mean to the poor employee so I hope it was good intentioned cluelessness.

      2. Turtle*

        I was picturing more like the vet asking his girlfriend what women like to get for Christmas, and the girlfriend thinking he meant “what do *you* want for Christmas *wink wink*” and pointing out the fancy underwear she likes.

    3. Can't Sit Still*

      This is worse than the work lingerie party (read: old-fashioned bridal shower). At least we were all adults!

    4. Vito*

      At my second job out of college (first job lasted 13 weeks) 0ne of the CSR’s (older woman.) gave me a pair of Christmas bikini underwear and had me open it in front of all the female workers in the office. she was a really nice lady but is really creepy (and the correct size.)

  18. Ho-ho-holey hose*

    We just had our holiday party yesterday, and they had a raffle draw for prizes. My one co-worker got this giant gift wrapped basket. After the party we were chatting and a few of us asked him what he won. He opened it and revealed….a 6 pack of coke. Christmas themed coke, but still… they probably would have been better off doing fewer presents and putting more in the ones they had!

  19. M of the North*

    In 2019 someone decided we should do Secret Santa at the office. In addition to the gift at the end, a few of us also did some extra stuff like leave some treats or funny little notes or did VERY innocent pranks earlier in December.
    One day, someone had double-taped someone’s office supplies to her desk as a little prank. Well, one item – a privately purchased notebook (used for work stuff) – got a little torn when removing it from the desk. The recipient was INFURIATED and went on a huge rant targeting her main suspect – a coworker who was the office prankster, but who also was innocent!
    So who was the culprit? The CEO! The recipient didn’t know how to target the CEO with her fiery anger, the CEO was embarrassed about the outcome, and that was the one and only year we did Secret Santa in the office.

    1. KateM*

      Speaking about killing a fly with a cannonball, wouldn’t it have made sense to just ban pranks in office?

  20. CreepyPaper*

    I think this year’s one that we got kind of qualifies. We get a little personalised food hamper every year and we are asked to fill out a thing which details any allergies or things we can’t eat for various reasons…

    …this year I received a hamper full of products which I am violently allergic to.

    Thanks, I guess! I’ve informed the person responsible for the hampers that I was basically given a lovely personalised gift that could kill me, and thank you very much but could I possibly swap it for something a little less… lethal?

    1. Siege*

      I want this to be an episode of a sitcom. Sort of Passions meets The Devil Wears Prada. Clueless Intern is handed a stack of forms by Cruella De Boss, who snaps orders to “get those gift baskets assembled!” as she sweeps out the door to a fancy corporate social-climb, where she will try to shiv the CFO for interrupting her attempt to drug the CEO so he’ll hand over the company to her.

      Meanwhile, Clueless Intern makes haste to the stacks of boxes and baskets and all manner of containers and begins building gift baskets, going religiously down the list and carefully ONLY including the marked items. There should be a training montage here.

      Cut to: ~1 week later~

      In the fallout from Cruella De Boss’s theft-and-murder attempt, someone finally sees the list Clueless Intern was using. “My god!” Sane New Boss exclaims! “These are the lists of allergies!”

      And it is at that moment that Clueless Intern flees for the relative simplicity of her rural upbringing, taking her into an entirely different genre of film. The End.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        There ya go, instead of a sitcom episode, there you have the perfect first half-hour setup to a Hallmark Christmas Movie.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yes, this is the perfect setup to “career girl forced to leave prestigious internship and return to her humble beginnings where she and the boy-next-door rekindle their romance”.

          1. Madame Arcati*

            And she gets a job at a bakery to help out a wise and kindly older man with a white beard, who shows her the True Meaning Of Christmas and advises her to let love and joy into her heart but mysteriously disappears on Christmas Eve. In the final scene as she shares a magical kiss with OldFlame by the Christmas tree in the town square, she sees a twinkling light crossing the sky and hears the wise old man laughing, Ho Ho Ho, as the snow starts to fall…

    2. Zombeyonce*

      I feel like this is something I would do accidentally. I sometimes have difficulty thoroughly reading instructions (thanks, ADHD) and can see myself reading the list and interpreting it as a list of wants rather than a list of 50 ways to kill your colleague.

        1. Emily H*

          Just poison his snack, Jack
          Hit him with a frying pan, Stan
          Crush him with a highboy, Roy
          Just get yourself free

          1. Madame Arcati*

            Feed him cheap-ass rolls, Joel
            Stab him with a paper clip, Chip
            Confront him by Wednesday of this week, Malik…

    3. OtterB*

      Oh dear. Sounds almost like someone misread the list of Don’t Give for a list of Please Give. I was thinking of a similar, but much less hazardous, problem when I suggested a gift for myself this year by saying “I like any of the colors except the lavender.” I am now waiting to receive my lavender whatsit.

      1. KateM*

        They do say that don’t tell [toddlers, dogs, coworkers, etc] what they shouldn’t do but what they *should* do. “Not” is a word which so easily slips from memory and all that you remember when you are in the shop is “ah, there was something about lavender”.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yup, positive reinforcement is usually more effective than negative, but IMHO allergies are an instance where you absolutely need to say what you cannot have. I mean, especially since the list of things one is allergic to is usually a lot shorter than the list of things one is not allergic to, but also because it’s easier for someone to say “oh, they said that they are allergic to pineapple. Is there pineapple in this?” rather than trying to guess what things *might* be okay.

        2. MAC*

          There was a hilarious Dave Barry column about this, him trying to train his dog Zippy not to pee on the carpet. Alas, all Zippy’s walnut brain retained when the urge hit was “Blah blah blah … something about the rug. YES – TO THE RUG”

        3. MigraineMonth*

          This is also a staple of teaching. Never write something incorrect on the board; one of your students will copy it down in their notes.

        4. GammaGirl1908*

          Not to generalize, but I also run into this when ordering at fast-food drive-throughs. Whether I tell them what I DO want on my burger (yes: lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard) or what I DON’T want on my burger (no: mayonnaise, pickle, ketchup), I get at least part of the wrong set, usually after they argue with me that the sandwich I have chosen does not actually come with pickle, so they can’t leave it off (or, alternatively, that adding tomato is an extra charge). Sigh.

    4. DataGirl*

      last year we got a food box from work- it was not personalized and full of things I am allergic to (gluten, nuts). At least they didn’t include meat or alcohol.

      This year we got a $25 gift card to a grocery store (one I don’t normally shop at) from the President- who has a $10,000,000 /year salary. Somehow I’m having a hard time appreciating it.

      1. BubbleTea*

        Ten. Million. Dollars. Why would anyone ever earn that amount of money a year? I won’t earn that much in my entire life.

    5. HellifIknow*

      Hah this reminds me of my husband. I have repeatedly mentioned the one wine I absolutely hate and cannot drink, as it gives me an instant migraine. Whenever he stops to pick up wine…it’s the only name he remembers and he proudly brings home “that wine you like!”…. cue the Sigh.

      1. Artemesia*

        told my mother I don’t like or drink herbal tea — she remembered ‘tea’ and I got a giant assorted pack of fancy herbal teas for Christmas. Promptly donated it to our break room at work where it was welcome.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Slightly off-topic, but my roommate and I have been buying Braeburn apples for years, both of us thinking that the other really liked them.

    6. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind the Curtain*

      I would immediately think that you got the wrong hamper meant for someone else and the “To” card just got mixed up.

  21. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    This reminds me of the company where we got a box of Christmas fixings like stove top stuffing and crap instead of s sensible gift card and then my mom made fun of me for getting food relief.

    Also a different company gave me beans and a turkey for Thanksgiving. My company now does it right by simply giving me days off, although I did get coasters with the company name for 3 years of service. ( An unusually long time to work with company, yes but still strange)

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Also my dad’s coworker used to give him handmade nativity scenes. Like dad doesn’t… celebrate Christmas? He’s technically a Jehovah’s Witness?

    2. Snoozing not schmoozing*

      Decades ago, when my husband had just started at his job and was the lowest-paid person, he got a gift box of food. It was mostly dented cans and items past their expiration dates, so completely unusable.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Ugh. I shop at our local factory seconds food store. They don’t even sell past date stuff.

  22. The Eye of Argon*

    (I posted this in “share your funniest office holiday stories” earlier this month, but I’m reposting it because it fits so well here!)

    My first job out of college was at a department store. One of my coworkers, “Carol,” was an older woman who was nice but quirky: she hoarded paper products like toilet paper and paper towels, and this was 20+ years before Covid so that wasn’t her reason. She also hoarded underwear – unopened packages of Jockey women’s briefs. She admitted to having about 100 packs of undies in one closet, and every time Jockey came out with a new color combo she had to add it to the stash. When we had to evacuate our town due to a flood threat the first thing she made sure to pack up to take with her was her underwear stash.

    Come the holidays, each department had a little party on Christmas Eve and we exchanged gifts with each other. Usually fairly inexpensive things, with slightly fancier gifts given by the manager. When Carol was handing out her gifts, she handed me a bag and solemly said that she hated to give it up, but I deserved something special.

    So I dig in and pull out a 3-pack of Jockey women’s briefs, one size too small, taken from her precious underwear stash. In front of all our other coworkers from the department and any customers who were around.

    I knew how much it meant to give up a package from her stash, so I thanked her fulsomely and spent the rest of the day shaking my head.

    Yes, I did wear them because they were nicer than anything I had at the time, even though they were a size too small and given to me by a coworker.

    (There wasn’t anything sexual or pervy about it. It was just Carol being Carol: she had no boundaries, no shame, and was just a bubble out of plumb overall.)

    (Afternote: I call it “hoarding” because that’s what Carol herself called it, tongue in cheek. It wasn’t the sort of thing that created a health or safety hazard. Carol is now 92, and as sharp and feisty and kooky as ever.)

    1. AngelicGamer*

      I am not surprised about Carol still being sharp at 92! Has she given up her ways or is she still “hoarding”? :) Although her TP stash probably became very useful a few years ago.

        1. RIP Pillow Fort*

          I fully expect that Carol gazed upon her glorious TP collection and said quietly “your time has come.”

      1. The Eye of Argon*

        They did have to break into the paper products stash, although it broke her heart. But according to her son in law, who I see a few times a year, her comments were along the lines of “You all thought I was crazy for hoarding this stuff, but you’re not laughing at me now, are you?”

        She still has the closet full of undies, though I don’t know if she’s still adding to it since she can’t drive anymore.

        1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          Some lucky women’s shelter is going to be the happy but bewildered recipient of a hoard of vintage unused undies sometime in the next decade.

        2. GammaGirl1908*

          I am always getting teased for being reinforced for the wrong thing (like, I’m usually late … and then the one time I’m early, everyone else is late, or the thing gets canceled or delayed, et cetera).

          Carol is glorying in the reinforcement given to her by the pandemic.

  23. JAnon*

    This was during a particular tough year where my boss had done nothing to the point that he almost was fired and I was the one doing the work. I worked the morning of Christmas Eve in the office while he was at home and got an email from him that after signing off included “btw, merry christmas.” …thanks guy.

    1. rocklobsterbot*

      yeah, getting an email when I was the only one working Christmas Eve, addressed to everyone including the schmuck who had been barely working for years, about “thanks for all your hard work”. that hurt.

  24. Taylor*

    I once went to my office party before a formal embassy event, and planned to go directly from the first to the second. I wore very high heels and a more formal gown than the rest of my coworkers, even though the office party was at a five-star hotel. Everyone told me I looked nice and that I didn’t really stick out, but imagine my mortification when I won a raffle prize.

    Instead of small, compact prizes like everyone else got (AirPods, a Starbucks gift card, etc.) I won a gigantic espresso machine. Not only that, but they made me walk up in front of everyone and collect it. I had to teeter up onto the stage in my heels, accept the thing, and then wobble off. Naturally I slipped and it looked like I was taking a knee smack in the middle of the floor, and the entire room let out a soft gasp before I stood back up and made it to my seat. I was beet red *and* I had to go back to my house before the other party. I’m not sure whose idea it was to give away a ten pound espresso machine at a holiday party, but it wasn’t a good one.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yikes! I prefer what my company used to do –anything too big to fit in a blazer pocket was given as a photo, with.contact info for the person whose office contained the prizes.

  25. Tree*

    I worked in a Big Law firm. To give you an idea of the atmosphere … We were in a management group. Think lawyers who became executives for the work-life balHAHAHAHA. Sorry, there was no work-life balance. Think ex-lawyers with even bigger control issues than practising lawyers so they decided to control the whole firm.

    We had a Secret Santa exchange. One person from our group couldn’t make it for legitimate medical reasons (that had our senior director apoplectic with rage, see above re control issues). You should know that her work persona was very, very reserved.

    The last present was earmarked for her. She had a chocolate allergy, so a couple of us decided to unwrap the present to make sure it didn’t include chocolate.

    It was a Christmas-themed, adult-sized onesie. With reindeer on it. Having sex. Some were having threesomes. They all appeared to be having enthusiastically-consented to fun.

    The person who contributed the present was mortified when the group figured out what we were seeing, because she thought it was just a cute pattern and was trying to win the unofficial ‘I gave the most popular gift’ contest. She tried to throw it out. I was delighted, however, and offered to take it away and give our missing team member the candles I’d received.

    I still wear the humping reindeer onesie. (Not at work.)

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      That sounds like an awesome onesie, though entirely inappropriate for office gifting. And also, being allergic to chocolate makes my own extremely annoying food allergies sound less bad.

        1. Netlawyer*

          I have a flying squirrel onesie that was my go-to for Halloween at work since my team would dress up. One year my org had Marine Corps birthday early so I ended up attending with top management from my org and the then-head of my agency as a flying squirrel. I had to go with the bit so I swooped to the table to get my piece of cake that year. Luckily it was not career limiting and at least I thought it was funny.

      1. anonomized*

        While not technically allergic in the anaphylactic sense, I can’t eat chocolate anymore due to it causing me horrendous acid reflux issues, and I gotta say, it makes life significantly less cool to live.

    2. Mississippi*

      “ex-lawyers with even bigger control issues than practising lawyers so they decided to control the whole firm.”

      I’ve never read a more apt description of people who go into management in general.

    3. Jess*

      Funny how the holidays can be a time when those of us whose eyes are now more decorative than useful figure that out. I ate a tiny cylindrical slice of pepperoni that i thought was a pepper in a salad at our holiday potluck. Who knew pepperoni comes in the diameter of a pinkie? Anyway, I haven’t eaten meat since 1993. To the eye doctor I go in 2023.

      1. Noodles*

        Reminds me of the horror of a few years ago, when my ageing great auntie bought me a sexy gift set for Christmas. At first glance it could have been a cute toiletry set or something. It actually contained a mug with cartoon images of a man and woman in their smalls, some furry handcuffs, and some “love tokens”. My family is quite conservative and I unwrapped it in front of them. Then had to immediately hide it and be glad they didn’t ask questions.

        I gave the furry handcuffs to a friend for a joke; she was delighted.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          I’ve also learned the value of thoroughly inspecting a gift the hard way. When I was a youngster, maybe eight years old or so, my dad let me pick out the anniversary card that he would give to my mom. I settled on a very pretty card, with flowers and a big block of text written in an elaborate cursive font…that I mostly couldn’t read, but from the bits that I’d puzzled out, it was a sappy love poem of some kind.

          My dad purchased the card, and we went on our way. A few days later, I was sat down for A Talk. It quickly became clear that I had no idea what I’d done. I had to sheepishly admit that I mostly couldn’t read the card, and then my dad had to admit the same. Unfortunately for us both, my mom was a secretary; she was used to such Victorian manuscript style scribblings, and could read it perfectly. More unfortunately, the card was indeed an anniversary card – the anniversary of the intended recipient’s divorce.

          Learned my lesson, and never made that mistake again.

          1. Karstmama*

            When I was little, daddy took me to the local tiny grocery to get mama a present. I don’t remember if it was birthday of Christmas, but I wanted to get her the box with the very happy woman on it so mama could be that happy. Yeah, no, thank goodness he had a bit of sense. It was a douche. She still uses the colander we got her instead.

  26. ILoveLlamas*

    A work colleague gave me poo-pourri. I simply stared at her. She stammered that she uses it as a general deodorizer at home, not just in the bathroom. I still stared. My work bestie, who is always up for an awkward gag gift, was beside me and even she was speechless. For the record (& TMI), our work bathrooms had deodorizer, so I always politely used it when appropriate. I quit 3 weeks later for a much better job….

    1. Siege*

      Scent allergies alone should suggest not doing that. I’d be like “Carol, I don’t care what you use it for, I don’t feel like spraying my home with migraine-inducing pain. I would rather fill it with pepper spray.”

    2. Love to WFH*

      That happened to me, too! I had never heard of the product, and laughed, thinking it was a gag gift. The coworker was embarrassed and hastened to explain that it really worked, which made her even more embarrassed.

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

        Same. Someone left a small bottle in the bathroom, and eventually it was all used up, so I contributed a new bottle. I would never give it as a gift. Unlike the ones you spray around the room, this gets sprayed into the toilet so the smell doesn’t really linger much after you flush. It’s odd to me is that the coworker explained that she uses it as a room spray. It’s oily and not intended for that at all.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I actually use that stuff if I have to go in to an office. It’s one of the few bathroom scent things that I’m not allergic to.

        I would never give it as a holiday gift, though.

    3. squirreltooth*

      At an old job, we had rampant complaining about poo smells in the bathroom (in retrospect, telling the young adults in their first job to get over it, people use the bathroom, would have been a better use of our time), so I suggested Poo-Pourri. Only it was still kind of a new product, so I was forced to send a company-wide email explaining how to use it. And then I was also the recipient of the rave reviews for the product, like I was its creator. (But not from the people who were complaining about poo smells—they just complained that the lemongrass smell still made it obvious that someone had pooped. I guess they wanted to live in a world where no one had any bodily functions ever.)

      1. John*

        I know it’s a polite fiction, but I’d prefer not to know what just happened in there and if I get hit with a face full of “Tropical breeze” I know someone just blew it up and the seat is probably still warm.

        Why hasn’t anyone invented wintergreen air freshener? I could lie to myself and imagine someone had just brushed their teeth after lunch.

    4. Bitter Angel*

      I have given Poo-Pourri. I have given it to all our employees. They love it. BUUUUUT….we own a plumbing company. Context is everything, folks! Our employees and their spouses find it hilarious, but I don’t think it would go over as well if we didn’t do what we do every day.

    5. Em*

      I was recently looking through some lists of office gift suggestions to get ideas for our exchange, and one of them actually suggested Poo-Pourri! I was absolutely baffled, but I guess she wasn’t the only one to think that was a reasonable gift.

    6. Worldwalker*

      It’s beyond weird for the office, but that stuff *does* work as advertised. I keep some in the bathroom for when I’ve eaten certain foods.

      But do *not* use it as a general deodorizer! It works by putting a thin oily film on the surface of the water; you don’t want that anywhere else. But after you’ve eaten industrial amounts of chili, at least if you have my intestinal flora, it’s invaluable.

      1. LIZZIE*

        Yes! I have digestive issues, and also am very sensitive to smells. I was visiting friends once, they had it, so I tried it out. It really smells nice, and it WORKS. I use it as well when I’ve eaten things that I know will upset my insides.

    7. GoodyScrivener*

      Poo-Pourri is actually one of my company’s clients, and yes the stuff is amazing. Just not as a gift, regardless of the occasion. And certainly not as air freshener/deodorizer.

  27. nessie*

    At my first full-time job, our Christmas party that year was at a local restaurant, with open bar provided by the company. I was still developing a sense for drinking norms and how much alcohol I could tolerate (not a lot!), so whenever people would order a round, I would get another drink too. This quickly worked against me when the accountant started ordering round after round of tequila shots. Thankfully I managed to stumble my way to the train and faceplant in my bed back home with no incident! And I now have a self-imposed one drink maximum at corporate events.

    1. Artemesia*

      long ago learned to have one cocktail at the company party and then switch to tonic with a twist — served me well.

  28. a red star of unknowable quality*

    This isn’t my story, but was passed on to me by another coworker named Jason, since it happened a few years before I started at my workplace.

    This is a story about Darcy, who was my boss for about a year after I was hired, before retiring. Darcy was a complete nightmare, evidenced by the multiple people who told me they were sorry they hadn’t warned me about her before I took the job. Anyway, Darcy was taking place in her first gift exchange within our department since she’d started. With only about 14 regular employees, we aren’t exactly huge, and once you’ve worked here for a short while, you tend to know at least the basics of who everyone is. And even if you don’t, there’s plenty of people you can turn to and say “hey, I don’t know this guy, what should I get him?”

    You already know where this is going. Maybe.

    Gift exchange starts, everyone gets their gifts…everyone except Jason. Things are a bit awkward, because he is the only one without a gift, and apparently has been passed over. But wait, there is still one gift left under the tree! Someone goes to pick it up, and Darcy tells them, “No, that’s for Theresa.”

    Silence.

    There is no one here named Theresa. There has actually *never* been anyone here named Theresa.

    So because there is one giftless person and one personless gift, Jason gets to open “Theresa’s” gift of a souffle dish. Because apparently, Theresa, who, again, does not exist, likes to bake.

    It turns out that yes, Darcy drew Jason’s name. And for some reason, as soon as she read his name, thought “Ah, yes, Theresa. I will get her a souffle dish.”

    A few years later, during the one holiday season that Darcy and I worked together, she gave me a weird little handmade vase (handmade by whom, I do not know) with clay bits stuck to it to give the vase the face of a grumpy old man with a beard. This was outside of the usual gift exchange. “It made me think of you,” she told me. Thanks.

    *All names fake, of course.

    1. What She Said*

      Wait, what?!

      “It turns out that yes, Darcy drew Jason’s name. And for some reason, as soon as she read his name, thought “Ah, yes, Theresa. I will get her a souffle dish.””

      1. a red star of unknowable quality*

        Yeah, I don’t know what wires got crossed, but she ended up doing her gift exchange shopping for this non-existent employee. Maybe someone from a previous workplace? Either way, I am pretty sure that souffle dish ended up at a thrift store somewhere.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Some people’s brainwires cross a lot more frequently than others’. I’m guessing Darcy is one of those people.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Hopefully Jason’s gift list included a baker, or someone who grows houseplants in untraditional containers.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yeah. This one is so very very strange. Darcy seems to live in an alternate universe and occasionally come visit this one, or else she is an actual alien living on Earth.

        1. a red star of unknowable quality*

          Darcy had so many moments that made me feel like “this lady is not from this planet.” Some of her more memorable ones:

          “I knew a guy who was pretty homely and his parents were too and it just made me think, thank goodness my parents were okay-looking.”

          (about movie theaters offering showings for neurodivergent kids with different sensory needs) “I didn’t even know you could take an autistic kid to the movies!”

          The time she had a space heater under her desk but pointed at her PC tower so it started melting a bit and the disc drive couldn’t close properly ever since.

  29. IndyDem*

    Our department gave out a coupon that allowed 1 extra work from home day (one time use) for the next year. Our busiest months are January and February, so you weren’t able to use them until March. It was December 2019 when they gave them out.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Okay its cute when kids give their parents coupons as gifts for things like I will do the dishes one extra night or Good for One Hug.

      But a coupon from your employer? For an extra day off? Why not just give everyone a floating holiday and not pretend its a GIFT from the company.

        1. EPLawyer*

          OMG I missed it was a work from home day. That makes it even worse. If you can randomly work from home day, you can do it any day.

      1. lb*

        It’s not even a day off though! It’s an extra *work from home* day! Obviously the timing made it spectacularly useless, but even in a non-pandemic year that’s only a so-so gift. Just giving everyone an extra day of PTO is 100% the right move.

        1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          Interesting to read the perspectives! I would have actually enjoyed that. In many organizations PTO can be pretty rigid so this seems like a way to give some flexibility.

          1. LawBee*

            It’s still not a day off though. And if it were given to me it would be wasted, as I hate working from home.

            Weird tone-deaf gift.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            Permission to work from home for a single day, only allowed to be used starting in March 2020, when most of the world went into lockdown/everyone who could work from home was asked to do so. That’s the punchline.

      2. Name (Required)*

        Not even a day off! Just a day to work from home! And they couldn’t use it until March – of 2020.

        So not until Covid times when everyone worked from home anyway.

      3. Netlawyer*

        This was a WFH day – but I have in the past made up little cards using the “Get Out of Jail Free” Monopoly card to give folks who went above and beyond a day off under the table rather than having to go through the spot awards process to give them 8 hours of leave. Basically a WFH day where I wouldn’t check if they were actually working – *wink wink* *nudge nudge* *nowhadimean?*

    2. Mim*

      Oh that went from terrible to terribler!

      It reminded me of how for Valentine’s Day 2020 my kid’s teacher gave every kid in the class a coupon where they could choose a special lunch thing — things like lunch with the teacher, or a special indoor recess activity with a friend or something. It was really sweet, and she is the kind of teacher who kids would actually want to hang out with like that. She was basically committing to giving up 20+ planning/lunch periods to hang out with her kiddos as a special treat.

      Anyway, kiddo never got a chance to use it. Had that coupon up on the fridge for quite a while. So sad. (Almost 3 years later honestly still really sad that my kid got cheated out of 3 months of school with that teacher — she was so freaking amazing. One of those little covid consequences that isn’t really a big deal given the larger scope of the world, but makes me disproportionately upset.)

    3. Mrs. Pommeroy*

      I was thinking “That’s not a bad gift, actually! Not *great* but definitely useful!” until the unfortunate timing of it became clear. :/

    4. Hamburke*

      I mean, you could turn it around with positive spin and say that the coupon was greater than face value

  30. Best day ever*

    A boss one year got me a scented candle so stinky I knew what it was before even opening the box. It got even better when I pulled it out and discovered the glass had golden silhouettes of a full nativity scene and in giant gilded boss babe font was the phrase “best day ever!” wrapping around the container. I immediately texted photos of it to all my friends so we could cackle about it. It then spent a few days on our porch until I could donate it.

    1. Season of Joy (TM)*

      I long to see a picture of this candle. By the way, you don’t donate that, you save that for regifting!!

      1. Artemesia*

        Storing it in cellar or attic. I bought my granddaughter and daughter scented bath bombs for their stockings this year. I did my shopping locally and basically went into the Lush shop just to support the business.

        Those things stink so much that the whole back of our house is scented by them — I had to move them from the drawer I was keeping them in because they were smelling up the other gifts like sweaters and put them in the den closet with the printer — now the den and the guest room and back bathroom are all scented by them.

        1. Gumby*

          I have a special airtight glass container that I use for storing my Lush henna. I bring it to the store with me so my car doesn’t pick up the smell as much from the 3 mile trip between the mall and my house.

        2. Bagpuss*

          A fried once sent me a Lush gift box and even wothout unwrapping it I had to go put it in the shed so it didn’t stink out the whole house. It was a dead loss to me as scented products trigger my allergies, I gave it to a different friend who loved it.

        3. dot*

          Unless your attic gets hot enough to melt candles (as I unfortunately found out this year after moving into our new house which has an attic, which I’d never had before. I pulled out my fall decorations box to find that all the candles in there had melted all over everything else.)

    2. AFac*

      I understand that Jesus is the reason for the season, but somehow announcing His birth as the “Best day ever!” (or is it ‘Best day EVAR!’?) like a Spongebob meme struck me as unbelievably hilarious, and I’m not sure why.

      1. Best day ever*

        I personally read it as “evar” because that amuses me more. It was also puzzling because I knew she went to church but I sure didn’t and would make the occasional quip in the office about not being a church person. I don’t think it was an attempt to proselytize, she never did that. Normally she gifted us all small bottles of Prosecco, which I, at least, appreciated more!

  31. Anon For This*

    I used to love the stories my boss told of their management white elephant games. One year a someone brought a nice box with a piece of turf on the inside. Our high school football field had been redone with turf and I guess this was as a small left over piece. Or the year someone gave a portable toilet lid. So this gift was just the toilet lid, part you sit on and the it’s lid. The worst part is half of the gifts were gag gifts while the other half were really nice gifts. These two were extra special though.

  32. NoCookiesPlease*

    In my case, it wasn’t so much the weirdness of the gift as the situation.

    I had a director who gave out enormous tins of butter cookies to everyone on staff every year for the holidays. Nobody liked them. The thing was, she KNEW nobody wanted them, but she continued to do it. There was no escaping it. She’d show up with one of those little red wagons kids use and wheel the cookies around the building to everyone.

    One year I happened to be in the room where she had them stacked prior to wheeling them out. I tried to leave quietly without taking one (binge eating is a problem for me, so I try to limit my proximity to excess sweets) and made it halfway out the door before she demanded I come back and take a tin of cookies. I tried to politely demure, but no dice. She told me I wasn’t going anywhere without taking the cookies.

    1. Taking the long way round*

      Wow! Some people are definitely weird and it’s not a gift if you force it on someone!

    2. ThatGirl*

      Dump out the cookies and you have a wonderfully useful tin for sewing supplies or kitchen odds and ends :)

      1. Season of Joy (TM)*

        I was just talking about this with a friend this morning…always wondering as a child if this tin would have cookies, or if it were the old one with the sewing supplies!

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I have three of them in my office right now, and my husband was looking for a needle and thread last week and didn’t get the sewing one until his third attempt :) (He took cookie tax out of the first two.)

        2. EPLawyer*

          Apparently this use of cookie tins for sewing supplies is not just a US thing. Someone on Mastadon who is from Europe posted the same thing. I was all “oh you too, huh?”

          1. ThatGirl*

            I think every country and ethnicity thinks they invented it (along with a plastic bag full of other plastic bags).

          2. Vio*

            I’m in UK and my parents home as well as my maternal grandparents home were both filled with biscuit (our word for “cookie”, apparently a biscuit is a very different thing in US) tins containing all kinds of sewing supplies. Even though my mum would hardly ever find any time to do any sewing, there were still dozens of tins of different supplies in our home.

              1. Pippa K*

                My southern (US) grandmother would say darlin’ if they’re hard and flat you didn’t bake ‘em right.

      2. NoCookiesPlease*

        It was too big for an odds and ends tin. It was maybe 8x11x4-5 inches. Weighed several pounds when full of cookies. It was physically burdensome just to carry it home.

        Also the boss was an abusive narcissist, so I wasn’t about to keep anything that would remind me of her.

    3. Blisskrieg*

      I am one of the few people who loves those kind of cookies. Sign me up for a wagon of butter cookies!

    4. Artemesia*

      It would have been a service all around to collect them and take them to the nearest food bank. Plenty of families would enjoy a tin of butter cookies.

  33. NewJobNewGal*

    Bibles. The owners gave everyone pocket sized bibles.
    Just imagine walking to your desk and seeing a black book with a big white cross. And when you get close enough you realize it’s a bible. And then you see that they are on everyone’s desks.
    That’s some weird exorcism stuff.

    1. nm*

      Not a holiday gift but there were some missionary-types outside my office once and my office-neighbor had to go in and out several times for work reasons. He is just too much of a people-pleaser to say no to anyone about anything. So every time he passed through the doors, these people gave him another mini-bible and he just couldn’t say no. We still have them stacked in our office to this day.

    2. pookie*

      Awhile back I worked with a woman who was LDS. She got everyone in the office a one-year subscription to their national magazine. I try to be open minded so I read the first one. The rest went in the recycling bin before they got in the house.

      1. Primordial Nan*

        As someone who grew up LDS and has since left, I am SO sorry you were on the receiving end of the extremely pushy and offputting brand of missionary work the LDS church likes to mandate. AT WORK, no less. **shudders**

  34. Season of Joy (TM)*

    I’ve told this recently and it’s not that entertaining, but there was the time in my first job out of college where I brought a regifted infomercial microwave pasta cooker to the white elephant exchange, only to discover that people were taking it seriously and had brought nice, thoughtful gifts. I never owned up to the gift and guiltily wound up with the most coveted gift (a bottle of sparkling wine).

    Oh, there was also the time I worked at a fast food restaurant when I was 16 and one of the grill guys (aged 20) left me a gift under the mini-tree in the breakroom (a VHS of the movie Pleasantville, if anyone is keeping track). That was just awkward, especially when my manager encouraged me, over the headset with the gifter also on the headset, to accept a date with that guy.

      1. ggg*

        I brought some amusing 70s-era cookbooks to a white elephant and was also ridiculed for being the only person who didn’t bring a “nice” gift.

        However, the gift I got with was a cute cookie mix in a jar which turned out to have bugs in it, so I got my come-uppance, I guess.

        1. Season of Joy (TM)*

          I laughed at your come-uppance – I found out immediately after receiving the wine that I was pregnant, so I got mine as well!

      2. Season of Joy (TM)*

        I assume you mean the fast food place – I can’t remember how much longer I worked there, but I did go out on an entirely awkward date with the guy. I can still feel the cringey-ness of that experience.

        (If you mean White Elephant place, I also left that job a few weeks after Christmas)

    1. Thunderingly*

      I’ve done that. I brought a golden girls board game I thought was hilarious and other people had brought gift cards and so on.

    2. Oh, John*

      Not as bad as your story! But I had a coworker with whom I had an allllmost flirty thing going? Not quite, though. We were both awkward people in very different ways.
      Anyway, our supervisor gave said coworker a gift certificate to the suuuuper cheap movie theater nearby (movie tickets were I think $1.50) with a wink and a nod that coworker should take me on a date.
      1) that never happened
      2) supervisor was a fantastic boss and normal like 98% of the time, so this was so weird and out of character

    3. Rocket Raccoon*

      When my family moved to the US my mom signed me up for Girl Scouts to help me integrate. It was mostly a great experience, but still cringe when I remember the first holiday party I went to. They did a White Elephant exchange and explained to me that I should bring something “silly or useless” so I wrapped up an empty wine bottle.

      All the gifts were real gifts. Cheap, likely regifted, but real gifts. I got a little Christmas themed tin of Lifesavers. Still embarrassed.

      1. coffee*

        In Australia we have parties where you “bring a plate” – it’s basically what Americans call a pot-luck.

        My grandmother, a young war-bride who recently migrated from England to Australia, dutifully brought along a nice china plate – with nothing on it. Literally a plate.

        I hope that makes you feel less embarrassed. :)

    4. Gigi*

      I did something similar with the White Elephant at my job last year! I understood white elephant to mean silly, regifted, or secondhand. So I went to a thrift store, found a silly snowman clown statue, and wrapped it up. Got to work, we start the gifting and to my absolute HORROR everyone else had nice things. Not expensive, but nice. A mug with hot cocoa and cozy socks, a throw blanket, a multi-tool, a card game, hand cream collection. And to make it worse, mine was the last one left unopened (odd number of people) so the boss opened it in front of everyone and I had to own up to my misunderstanding. Luckily for me, one of my coworkers squealed with delight at seeing it and asked if she could have it, so now it lives in her house and she thinks it’s incredibly cute.

      1. LIZZIE*

        Therein lies the problem; people’s understanding of what a white elephant, yankee swap, dirty santa, or whatever you call it IS. My feeling is, if you’re going to do it, you need to be up front and clear about what the gifts are supposed to be. Since I think a lot of people have their own interpretation of what they are. This way no one is embarassed by bringing something that isn’t what the exchange is about.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          My go-to in those situations is something a) not gendered, b) both nice and lighthearted at the same time, and c) not likely to trigger allergies. Adult but not sweary coloring books fit the bill.

  35. Chichester*

    I already posted this in a previous thread but when I worked a mall retail job we never got gifts from corporate, except for one year when they sent us an enormous cardboard box supposedly full of “swag”. We were told not to open it until our store party, so of course we opened it immediately.

    Inside, for a staff of eight (8), we found one (1) beanie with the store logo, two (2) cheap plastic drawstring bags, also with the store logo, twelve (12) of the ugliest button pins you’ve ever seen that said “you are amazing!” in an almost unreadable font, and six (6) small unmarked boxes. When we opened the boxes they contained unbranded pop sockets which might have been cool except they were filthy. Covered in dirt. I have no idea how they got like that while still in the packaging.

    Even if we wanted any of this stuff, there was absolutely no way to divide it equitably. I also cannot stress enough how huge this box was and how little of the box the junk actually filled.

    We ended up giving the beanie to the youngest employee who had been taking a lot of customer abuse, a few people took the ugly pins and wore them as a joke for the next couple of days (I still have mine), and everything else went into the trash. Our manager was so disgusted that she damaged out a ton of candy and snacks and gave them out at the store party. Corporate never sent us anything again.

    1. IndustriousLabRat*

      On the 12th day of Forced Cheer, our Corporate gave to meeeee:
      Twelve ugly button pins,
      Six umarked boxes,
      Two drawstring bags,
      AND A CORPORATE BRANDED BEEEEEEANIEEEEEEEE!!!!!

  36. KareninHR*

    When I was in college, I worked in the lab a large medical office. One of the lab techs had a fun reputation throughout the facility – he was loud and funny and everyone liked him. He had a tradition of giving lap dances as a birthday gift, complete with a hot pink feather boa. People would call down to order these lap dances as a birthday surprise for other coworkers (for men or women – it didn’t matter). In reality, they were pretty mild and generally involved him shaking his butt at you and twirling the boa. I truly believe it was all intended in good fun (although as a current HR professional – I realize how EXTREMELY problematic this all was). On the last day of work before Christmas, he made the misguided decision to perform one of these lap dances as a “gift” for the (female) CEO. He was let go on January 1st.

  37. Frinkfrink*

    I *would* say that the oddest gift my institution (academia) ever gave us was the branded bottle of hand sanitizer we each got…except that was coincidentally the gift for fall commencement 2019 and shortly became the only useful workplace gift I ever received!

    1. NoCookiesPlease*

      My corporate job gave us all branded cloth masks in 2020, quite a while after the pandemic started.

      I had masks by then and was not interested in wearing that one.

      1. Season of Joy (TM)*

        I received a mystery branded cloth mask at my university on two occasions in 2021. To this day, I still don’t know why I got one, which department sent it, and why the other people in my department didn’t get one.

      2. Mim*

        We got those too! To be fair, it was not the main thing we got. But of course they were one size fits all, which means that they didn’t come remotely close to fitting most people properly. (I could practically cover my entire face with that thing. But it didn’t matter, because the non-adjustable ear loops would mean that it would just kind of hang there under my nose anyway.)

        1. Sanity Lost*

          My poor son has a large head (he is 6’7 so proportionately speaking, its right) and they were required to wear the company branded ones. Only problem was he couldn’t stretch it from ear to ear, so he asked me for help. I ended up cutting off the straps and sewing it onto a custom made one. The DM came in and demanded that he wear a corporate one, Son tried to explain and the DM wouldn’t let him. So Son put it on and in order to go from ear to ear…it only covered his nose, or his chin.

          DM let him wear the custom one.

    2. ferrina*

      My company gave me hand sanitizer once. It was right before a big conference that we hosted, and it definitely cut down on the post-conference illnesses. I didn’t exactly feel appreciated, but I guess the company got a strong ROI from avoiding productivity loss?

    3. singularity*

      I work in public ed. and we all got hand sanitizer with the district logo on the bottle, except I think they were giving us surplus hand sanitizer ordered by the state government or something, because it quickly turned a strange shade of orange-yellow in the bottle and it reeked like cheap tequila.

      I put it in my classroom for students to use, but they refused, citing its strange smell.

      1. Shira VonDoom*

        I bought a couple of bottles of sanitizer made by drink companies repurposing, early in the pandemic

        they smell like DEATH

        the contents are watery and a higher percentage of alcohol than actual rubbing alcohol though, so I use it as glass cleaner and to disinfect clothes that can’t be machine washed (and are best infrequently professionally cleaned). it works great for that. LOL

        1. GoodyScrivener*

          OOooooooooooooh was it Malört? I know they got into the sanitizer project early on in the pandemic. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I would have loved to get a bottle of that one, but distribution was limited to hospitals and care facilities.

    4. squid*

      I was looking through my institution (also academia)’s swag closet for some items to give out to a visiting alum and I saw a whole box of branded pocket tissue packets. Gave me a bit of a laugh but I went with the much more sensible and popular umbrellas.\

      Universities really will slap their logo on anything and everything.

      1. Logo Overload*

        Heh, I can speak of a university where they took down the solid metal soap dispensers in all of the bathrooms and put up plastic ones that were — you guessed it — printed with the university logo. Just in case you forgot where you were pooping, I suppose.

    5. A non*

      My company gave out hand sanitizer that a) smelled horrendous and b) was later recalled for carcinogens

    6. Netlawyer*

      Because we couldn’t have office parties in 2020, my employer decided to send a gift to every employee at their homes. They sent out an email letting people know this and that it was a shame that we couldn’t celebrate with our teams.

      So they took the company-wide office party budget and sent us … very inexpensive branded backpacks. Sort of what you would get at a conference to hold your materials. And I know you can’t please everyone and folks will always cap on corporate gifts – but I could not get over sending out backpacks, a thing you use to carry other things when you go someplace else, during the first winter of the pandemic when everyone that could avoid it was not going anyplace else much less needing to carry things while doing it. Bless their hearts.

  38. Panda*

    Someone at the holiday party yesterday won a pair of boxed “emergency underwear” in the white elephant.

  39. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

    Weird: A huge company branded crystal snowflake ornament that was far too heavy to hang.

    Insulting: I worked for a used car dealer in a satellite office that was just for finance. My boss made a big deal all week that the Big Boss was coming that Friday to give us our Christmas gift’s because he wanted to see the look on our faces when we opened it. This was about 17 years ago, so I can’t remember if it was $10 or $20, but it definitely wasn’t over $20. I’m sure the look on our faces was something.

    1. Heather*

      I worked as a teacher in an international school. We had a staff meeting on the last school day before the winter break, and our principal said, “Be sure to check your mailboxes before you leave; there is a gift in there for each of you.” I assumed it was a year-end bonus; however, when I went to my mailbox, it was in fact a bar of chocolate.

    2. VeggieBubba*

      My wife got an weird ornament like that one year, except it was a crudely painted ceramic ball. Thing must have weighed at least 5 lbs and was bigger than a grapefruit. I insisted it go on the tree, so we squeezed it in nestled up to the trunk on some branches. It’s been ages since I recall seeing that thing. I’d forgotten about it, so thanks for triggering a funny memory!

    3. Queen Ruby*

      My Christmas bonus last year was a $20 bill and 5 beat-up, partially torn ones. In a legal envelope with my name on it, spelled wrong.

  40. Off Plumb*

    Grad school internship in a small department of a large government entity. Our department did a holiday potluck/white elephant gift exchange. The department director was nearing retirement and I guess wasn’t as much of a stickler for professionalism as he might otherwise have been. Someone opened a gift that was a large plastic puffer fish (fully inflated) and he joked, “is that a sex toy?” And then it became a running gag. Tool kit for emergency car repairs – “is that a sex toy?”

    And then someone opened a vibrating massage wand.

    1. The Eye of Argon*

      Yes, we really need to cherish the sweet but clueless souls who enter our lives. They’re few, far between, and unforgettable.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      This is not about a clueless person per se. I’d go with busy and not a great gift giver.

      It must have been a work party. I was in middle management. I was gifted a small handheld massager. I was baffled and no doubt looked confused, but I was open the gift in front of the audiance. Then I had a surprising stroke of genius (because I am not gifted at improvision) and said “I guess this is for the next time I go skiing and come back limping” which had actually happened recently. But I was pretty confused.

      My employee who had been tasked to make the purchase (with money from the organization not her own) because she knew me best (I guess) explained that she got it because it kind of looked like a computer mouse. I had been complaining that my mouse for my personal computer had flaked out, and I was having to navigate without using a mouse. [This was years and years ago in the early days of the world wide web when I was probably using the Windows NT 4 OS.]

      I see the flawed logic. She needs to get me a small jokey gift. Neither of us are jokey people. She comes up with the idea for a computer mouse. And then doesn’t find one at the store she is shopping in, but the logic goes off the rails when she buys something that sort of looks like mouse but isn’t a fake one so the joke is very much not obvious to me when I opened the gift. Instead I try to figure out why she gave me the item she gave me and not the one it sort of looked like.

  41. Lalaith*

    Gonna tell on myself here. Just out of college, I worked in a research group, and we had a “naughty and nice” gift exchange, where we all brought one nice gift and one not-so-nice one. I heard tales of previous naughty gifts (the only one I remember now is slippers made of feminine products), probably told as a warning, but instead I guess I decided I wanted to try to top them? So I brought in my homemade fruit fly trap – a can of apple cider vinegar with some plastic wrap rubber-banded over the top. Oh, by the way, this was my *already used* fruit fly trap. And it had been at least somewhat successful!

    I don’t remember what my nice gift was, but I hope it was enough to make up for that!

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      I am gobsmacked that there are two stories in here of slippers made from feminine products. Just, wow.

  42. Corrigan*

    Debacle is too strong of a word, but in years past we’ve had a “White elephant” rules gift exchange. All our leadership changed and this year we were just told “gift exchange” with no info other than the $25 limit. Wine was a common gift so I decided to get some alcoholic cider from a local place. A 4 pack was $10 so I bought two different varieties. As you can imagine, 4 cans was a bit heavy.

    Well this type of gift exchange started with everyone having a gift placed in front of them while someone else read a story. Every time “right” or “left” was said, we had to pass the gift back and forth….including my heavy one. The tables were in a U shape rather than a circle so there was one poor person standing up front passing gifts back and forth between tables….including the heavy one repeatedly. It was Remarked Upon. When we finally opened people were asking “What the heck was in the heavy one??”

    I think the person who ended up with it was happy with it, but I feel badly that people had to lug it back and forth like that. I never would have brought a heavy gift if I’d known.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      How large were these cans? I’m trying to picture this and can’t figure out how four cans could weigh more than about 5 lbs…

      1. ThatGirl*

        If they were 12 oz a 4-pack would weigh ~3.5 to 4 lbs; it sounds like the OP bought two 4-packs. So we’re talking 7-8 lbs which is not insanely heavy but is a lot to shuffle back and forth. If they were 20 oz cans, then even more.

    2. T*

      Oh that’s so unfortunate. It probably didn’t occur to them to say anything because they figured people usually don’t bring something heavy to an office gift exchange (since you have to lug it in from your car and all).

    3. Unkempt Flatware*

      That’s a cute story! I would have just made a surrogate gift like a piece of paper that says “heavy gift” so it wouldn’t need to be lugged. I bet it was appreciated! Sounds yummy.

    4. GammaGirl1908*

      Oh no! Frankly, this is a casualty of people trying to get too creative with these events. This office was just doing the most, and Corrigan got caught out.

  43. Jenny Islander*

    At my husband’s former workplace, they play Steal a Gift every year. That isn’t the weird part. (Steal a Gift: Everybody brings a wrapped gift below a stated value limit, and puts it on a table at the office holiday party. When your name is drawn, you choose a gift. You must unwrap it where others can see. The next person whose name is drawn can either pick a wrapped gift, or steal yours. Gifts can be stolen twice before they become “dead.”)

    The weird part is that before word came down from on high that gifts must have a rating no higher than PG-13, they…

    Well, one year my husband unwrapped a pair of polished wooden bookends that were, shall we say, very happy to see him. Unfortunately for them, he is straight and married.

    But that wasn’t the worst. That honor belongs to the time when somebody, somehow–this was before easy online shopping–found a mechanical Christmas decoration whose name rhymes with Back-Off Fanta. And wrapped it, and brought it to the party for Steal a Gift.

    1. Corrigan*

      I feel like “excited” bookends are inappropriate for most workplaces, independent of sexuality and marriage status…

    2. another glorious morning*

      Steal a gift is THE ABSOLUTE WORST. We played it once with close to 20 people (this was family mind you). It took close to 3 hours after all the stealing. There were tears from the kids involved and it ended up with someone leaving in a huff and then gift exchanges period being banned from the family get togethers.

      1. netlawyer*

        Wait – isn’t that usually the rule with White Elephant gift exchanges? With ours the “steal” is limited to three steals – so (1) someone steals rather than take a gift, (2) the stealee can steal or go to the table and (3) if 2 is a steal the sub-stealee can steal or go to the table. Rounds ends.

        We also have a rule that a particular gift can only be stolen three times then it out of the game, meaning the person who made the third steal keeps it.

        1. LIZZIE*

          I think it depends on how its played. My BF and I go to an annual holiday party for an organization he’s a member of. This is how we do it, after picking numbers to see what order people pick in. Most of the gifts are booze though, and it actually gets quite funny, certain things are stolen multiple times, others not at all. Last year I got a bottle of whiskey, which I don’t drink. The next person came over and was kind of apologetic about stealing it from me! Hahaha. And I ended up with a bottle of something I actually enjoy.
          But this was all adults. I can see how with adults and kids it could get ugly, esp. if the adults are being greedy and childish!

        2. New Jack Karyn*

          Sure–but this involved kids. They unwrap a present they like, and it’s stolen from them. So they try to steal something, and are told not that one, it’s already been stolen three times. Or they unwrap a present that’s for an adult (like a bottle of wine) and they’re confused. And the whole thing goes on FOREVER. Adults can get this game, but for kids, in a range of ages? Meltdown city.

  44. OklahomaMama*

    This was around 20 years ago and I am still quite salty about it lol
    Our clinic was really into Dirty Santa and I am that Crafty Person. I bought a 2 ft artificial Christmas tree and made several different beaded ID lanyards which I used as garland. Then I made umpteen different pairs of crystal French hook earrings and used them as ornaments. This took me a couple of weeks to create, mind you. It nearly caused a riot because to be perfectly humble, it was pretty freaking awesome.
    I ended up with *drumroll please* a dogeared paperback Harry Potter book in a plain brown paper bag.
    I strongly suspect it came from one of the doctors which makes it more appalling.
    Pretty sure this was the same party my supervisor got the *ahem* anatomically correct teddy bears and opened them in front of the hospital chaplain

    1. ChemistryChick*

      Anatomically correct…teddy bears?? I had no idea such things existed.

      Though I’ve got to know, how did the chaplain react?

      1. ferrina*

        They exist. And in a wide variety. As a teen I somehow found an edgy gift store with a whole display of these teddy bears. It was…..educational.

      2. linger*

        Ah, that not-so-subtle difference between “giving presents” and … “presenting”.
        In the wildlife documentary sense.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I have no idea what a Dirty Santa is, and I’m happy about that.

      Also, why are there so many different ways for a large group to give each other useless gifts? I get the idea behind Secret Santa (reduce the number of useless gifts) but all the others seem unnecessarily convoluted.

      1. Jenny Islander*

        With the right group and the right gifts, Steal a Gift can be lots of fun.

        Although we did end up with two meat smokers, eventually. And a turkey fryer we still haven’t used.

  45. Iconic Bloomingdale*

    At my former job, I had a colleague who was single, but who was well known for being “man hungry.” She would constantly bemoan the fact she was single, lonely, looking for a relationship and wanted to get laid.

    During a Secret Santa exchange one year, a fellow team member gave her a “personal vibrating device” made by the Trojan condom company, as well as a bottle of wine. It was rather cringeworthy, to us team members. However, our lonely colleague was amused and seemed pleased with the gifts.

    1. Trojan Maker*

      Yay! Those things are always good for a laugh around here (part of the surveillance testing program and made for interesting product give-a-ways).
      I knocked a case of vibe rings off a pallet once-set about half of them off…

      1. The Eye of Argon*

        That’s the X-rated version of the time my brother was at Walmart and accidentally set off a whole display of Tickle Me Elmos.

        1. Cyndi*

          At my very first job I worked in the “cards and gifts” section of a bookstore for the holiday season rush, and “gifts” included a whole row of talking and singing stuffed animals, each with an unboxed one left out to test, each of which had totally different little songs or dialogue or whatever…and of course people LOVED to go down the shelf and set them off all in a row. This was in 2005 and I still haven’t recovered emotionally.

  46. Lady In Pink*

    I work for a small business and we have a white elephant exchange at our Xmas party every year. Everyone who wants to participate brings a gift costing no more than $20. A few years ago, one of the gifts was 20 $1 bills stuffed in a mason jar. Our new employee “Jane”, who started that week, picked this gift first. The owner of the business “Julie”,who Jane hadn’t met yet, wanted to steal the gift. Jane got very angry and refused to hand over the gift to Julie. Instead, she stuffed the $1 bills in her bra. Julie wasn’t in the mood for drama so she let it go and picked another gift. Obviously nobody else tried to steal that gift. I think Jane only worked with us for another week before she quit (or got fired?)

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      To steal a phrase from AITA, ESH. What kind of jerk CEO steals $20 in cash from an employee, much less a brand new one? Sure, Jane’s reaction was immature, but Julie sounds awful.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        “Stealing” the gift is supposed to be part of the fun of these types of gift exchanges. Jane is the problem here.

        Julie (who wasn’t in the mood for drama) let it go and isn’t a jerk. She sounds fairly professional about the situation.

        1. I agree, ESH*

          Right, but the business owner probably didn’t need $20, but maybe it would make a difference to the new employee’s life. Especially having just changed jobs!
          I’m guessing/hoping Jane would not have put up a fight for a candle or some such item.

          1. Yuh*

            If $20 is that important Jane shouldn’t have been playing anyway since she presumably also had to offer a gift. Jane was a baby.

      2. Loafs*

        Agreed! Clearly it’s the best gift, the boss should never steal that. I’ve had bosses who took the best gifts in swaps and let me tell you, knowing that they make a ton more than us and were willing to take from us? It definitely soured the party.

        1. The Person from the Resume*

          Eh, it wasn’t clear to me it was the best gift. To some people it would be. I was actually picturing Julie thinking it wasn’t a great gift and trying to give the Jane an opportunity to select something else more “festive” than cash. I do understand Jane thinking it’s the best gift, but people’s opinions very at these things.

        2. netlawyer*

          My boss always ends us with the worst gifts and it is always the new hires who steal from him. (I did it myself the first year.) he’s good natured about it and we always have fun.

          My last boss was *not good natured about it* and once she had something we knew she wanted – well, she kept it.

      3. Lady In Pink*

        To clarify, I still work for Julie and she is an awesome boss! Stealing gifts is part of the game-a gift can be stolen up to 2 times.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I don’t get gifting games where “stealing” from colleagues is part of the fun. (Then again, the only time I’ve participated was in elementary school, which ended in a simultaneous tantrum from have the class.)

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            Agree. I think the gift-stealing thing is boring, goes on too long, and is kind of mean. Thankfully I’ve only had to do it at one party.

            1. I need a new name...*

              I think that’s why the caps on how many times a gift can be stolen is so necessary.
              Twice per gift (once I think is also fine) should be the absolute cap on that, or I agree it just becomes too much

        2. Summer*

          While she may be a great boss there is something…kinda unseemly…about the owner of the business participating and wanted to take the cash gift. Jane behaved like a child, no doubt about that, and I completely understand the rules of the game. But the optics aren’t great for the owner either.

  47. Mrs Jameson*

    My first year in my current office, I participated in a white elephant gift exchange. Everyone put in things that were fairly typical, except for one guy, who put in a literal bag of glass, in reference to a vintage Saturday Night Live skit. The woman who ended up with it was our office director’s secretary, who not only didn’t get the reference, but had a literal plastic bag of shards of glass.

    1. ThatGirl*

      That sketch was on last night during the SNL Christmas special and … ok, I would get the “joke” but it’s not funny? Because it’s a literal bag of glass?

  48. MicroManagered*

    Last year, my employer distributed “covid packs” that were like, a nice company-branded mask, two generously-sized bottles of hand sanitizer, some disinfectant wipes, etc. Those were not holiday gifts but since we were (and are) still working remotely, we received them at the same time as the actual holiday gift. Our grandboss actually drove to people’s doors and dropped both off together.

    The actual holiday gift was a fun little gift bag with some “office-related goodies” – so like, snacks, a nice YETI drink tumbler, a small houseplant, stuff like that, and a gift card. One of those goodies was one of those little hand sanitizer key-ring things from Bath and Body Works, and then of course the hand sanitizer packs to fill it.

    Ended up being a LOT of hand sanitizer…. like 32 oz. of hand sanitizer at once.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Forgot to add: It’s been a full year now and I still haven’t opened one single container (of like 9 containers total) of the hand sanitizer.

      I use it regularly, but I had some already and just haven’t needed quite that much hand sanitizer!

      1. Season of Joy (TM)*

        We were given liter sized bottles of hand sanitizer in summer 2020 for anyone who came back to the office. By the time I switched jobs in August 2022, I still had 90% of my bottle left. I just do not use that much hand sanitizer…

      2. Nanc*

        You might check with your local Meals on Wheels or visiting nurses company. A lot of their clients can’t afford hand sanitizer and if your bottles are still sealed they may be able to pass them along to someone who could use it. Public libraries, too.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        Do you use it infrequently, or only a little at a time? I know it’s pretty common for folks not to check the amount specified on the packaging, but if you use too little at once, it’s not actually sanitizing. JFYI.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      Ugh! I went crazy buying hand santizer once it was available again and now I suspect I have a lifetime supply. Because I’m not a hand sanitizer user. I wash my hands with water usually and rarely use hand santizer but I got caught up in the excitement and bought two medium sized bottles once they became available in 2020.

      1. LIZZIE*

        That was me with Clorox wipes. Every time I saw them, I would buy some. I think I now have 30+ containers! I also got caught up in the “OMG you can’t find them ANYWHERE”.

  49. Midwestern Communicator*

    My first year at my current company we got to pick a jacket or a blanket with a goodie box of branded swag. Last year, we got this great snack box where we could spend $100 on snacks for ourselves.

    But this year too many people complained about the snack box (MAY I ASK WHO IN THE WORLD IS MAD ABOUT SNACKS). So now we’re back to branded swag.

    1. PsychNurse*

      My husband’s job sends high-end snacks every year. I get so excited! I eat dried pears and fig jelly and exotic cheeses. My husband teases me because I could just go buy those foods if I like them so much, but somehow it seems luxurious when they come wrapped in a cute little box.

      1. another glorious morning*

        I get excited for my husband’s work gifts too. Now he often gets comfy company branded sweatshirts he doesn’t want that I can steal for lounging.

        At an old job he used to get all kinds of things for the Holidays. A giant box of cheesecake, wine basket, snack basket lol. When he left Old Job the first thing I said was… yay but no more cheesecake at Christmas. LOL.

  50. Been There*

    My first year at CurrentJob, which incidentally was also 2020, my boss and over half of the department got laid off. I had no direct boss and was a bit of a floater, so I was really looking forward to our holiday zoom.

    Not only was the holiday zoom a HUGE BUST, but he sent us all leftover Halloween candy and a badly cut slice of printer paper with “Happy Holidays” printed on it in 16 point Times New Roman. It came in a bubble pack. I think there were 5 or 6 pieces. It probably cost him more in postage than actual product.

    Thankfully we didn’t have to open them all on zoom together, because I don’t have a great poker face.

  51. Ace in the Hole*

    A customer once gave me a dead seagull he found by the road.

    It’s not as bad as it sounds. He was one of our regulars and a really sweet guy, just… not all there. He remembered me saying I like animals and he thought I’d like having a seagull. He carried it all the way across town on foot just for me.

    Other things customers gave me at that job: half a plastic flower, a painting made with spray paint the dude had obviously been huffing (came in with the paint still on his face), a bunch of trivial pursuit cards from the 80’s, and a can of baked beans.

    1. Persimmon*

      That’s… kinda sweet, honestly. He carried it all the way across town just for you!

      I just hope it was relatively fresh, and ideally in a bag or something.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        It was in a bag!

        Fortunately I worked at a garbage dump. So I thanked him and as soon as he left the seagull went in the garbage pile.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          To be fair, I might actually like a taxidermy seagull or a seagull skeleton (provided it died of natural causes). Just not one that’s… um… “fresh.”

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Not sure. He had some cognitive disabilities that made communication difficult. We’d been talking about how I volunteered at a wildlife rescue… I assume it was either a misunderstanding or he just didn’t think it all the way through.

        1. Turtlewings*

          Maybe it wasn’t (quite) dead yet when he started on his journey, and he meant to bring it you as a rescue. Which is sad in a different way.

    2. birdlawisweird*

      I’m pretty sure every type of gull is protected by the MBTA so technically it would not have been legal for you to keep it anyway

  52. lb*

    My husband’s department head just gifted him a copy of “The ‘What’s Happening to my Body’ Book for Boys.” And while there is context to it (they teach teenagers! We have two sons! My husband is on record as having loved the book as a child!) I maintain that it’s an objectively weird gift to get from your boss! (My husband loved it and was very touched. Weirdo.)

    1. KJ*

      Lawd, I remember those books. Got one as a kid. The neighbor kid tried to take it from me & I held on for dear life in fear of being supremely embarrassed. (I was 7 or 8.)

    2. Industrial Tea Machine*

      OMG my mom got me and my brother those books and this is the first time I’ve seen anyone else mention them! Both times it was handed off with a very end-of-meeting-type “Welp (slaps hands on thighs and stands up) let me know if you have questions.” My mom was generally great at communicating with us but apparently what was happening to our bodies was between us and a book and that was that.

  53. Twisted Lion*

    Worked for a small bank in Texas and everyone in my department received bibles from our supervisor that Christmas. Then she wanted to do readings during staff meetings. It was.. not normal. LOL

  54. Shelley*

    My husband’s work always give us a huge expensive box of Xmas themed food. Each year it is different and we usually get it on Xmas Eve. It’s lovely but I never know what to buy before Xmas (eg will we get a Xmas pudding? A choc gateau? Posh stuffing?).
    Anyway, we are vegetarian but I suppose his boss forgot last year. We got a joint of pork, one of beef and one of lamb. Huge joints. And they were unlabelled as they came from the bosses’ local butcher so we couldn’t even donate them to a food bank. They didn’t even have a label with a best before date, who wants a donation of anonymous meat?? Worst year yet. Shame!

    1. Artemesia*

      neighbors? friends? lots of my friends are vegetarians but I could still find people to unload that largesse on.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Honestly, if I had the freezer space I’d be happy with the meatbut I can see that as a vegetarain it would be unwelcome!

  55. desk platypus*

    I skipped the staff Christmas party one year due to a family emergency but on my return my work bestie immediately told me drama that happened. The party had been going pretty well especially since it was the first time family members were also invited and everyone was getting along. Until the staff White Elephant. (Fake names ahead.) Most gifts were fairly standard, usually sets that you’ll find at Target/Walmart to appeal to wide audiences. Martha ends up with an envelope that has a generous gift card to a popular local restaurant but all she saw was the holiday card it was held in. She threw a tantrum saying all she got was a card but hadn’t even tried opening it. Alice (who brought it) sheepishly said to look inside. Martha finds the gift card but is still throwing a fit, saying she didn’t want it and it was an awful gift. Her adult son had to tell his mom to calm down and was clearly embarrassed by her behavior. Martha ended up stealing something else but was still fuming to the point she was later pulled aside by another staff member and told she needed to stop being rude. Alice was mortified at first but glad her gift ended up with someone else who was very excited about a nice dinner. Sadly I don’t think Martha got an official reprimand because that was kind of on par with her usual condoned behavior.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      I never understand people who get truly upset at these things. Sure, you can be annoyed when someone brings a lousy/cheap/bad gift or bummed when someone steals a gift you wanted, but to actually vocalize these feelings and throw a tantrum?? Yikes on bikes it’s always so embarrassing (but somehow never for the person throwing the tantrum!).

      1. LIZZIE*

        I don’t either. I’ve been the recipient of crappy gifts, both during exchanges and just gifted. I just act like I like it, and then give it away, regift, etc.

  56. A Simple Narwhal*

    A company I worked at years ago gave out hams to everyone for the holidays. Not only was I vegetarian at the time, but they gave them to us mid-day and there was nowhere to refrigerate them. They told us it was cold enough out that we could put them in our cars and they would probably keep fine. Probably.

    Even if I was eating meat there was NO way in hell I would eat that salmonella factory ham.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I also worked for a company that gave hams. Canned ones. Particularly popular with the Jewish employees. One of them, to the credit of his people, organized a group donation to the Salvation Army from those of us who didn’t want our hams.

      1. Artemesia*

        my company gave frozen turkeys that could be picked up the week ahead so in plenty of time to defrost — or could be kept frozen to use later. It was very popular. They also did a drawing so a few people also got hams. BUT if you requested you could order a tofurky. The left over turkeys were donated to a local homeless feeding program for their Christmas dinners.

  57. TyphoidMary*

    We had a company Christmas party where everybody was given a bottle of wine. Ok, pretty standard.

    The messed up thing was that there were two types of wine, one clearly more expensive than the other. When it was time to leave the party, you’d go up to the tables and the person attending them would ask you if you were clerical or clinical staff.

    Clinicians all got a bottle of expensive wine, and clerical staff were directed to the cheaper wine!! And they were EXTREMELY transparent about it!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Wow, that’s beyond tacky. Would it be so hard for them to buy the same kind of medium-priced wine for everyone if they didn’t want to spring for the more expensive ones for everyone? (And of course they should have reversed who got which bottle, but still, equality is fine for this type of present-giving.)

      1. Artemesia*

        or if they were going to be jerks, they could have put every bottle in a sack with a tag with the employees name on it to make the ugly less obvious.

    2. ferrina*

      The weird thing is that it’s really easy to find cheap, nice-looking wine. Trader Joe’s in particular has an exquisite selection of cheap, classy-looking wine (and it’s usually quite good!).

  58. KatKatKatKat*

    During a White Elephant gift exchange (limit $20), I brought a Razor Scooter. I ended up with a fart phone.

  59. kel2.0*

    Maybe not the most mature gift given, but one of my faves nonetheless. Years ago I worked with a bartender who was universally despised. The only woman who was friendly with him did so literally out of a sense of Christian obligation.

    Anyone who sat down at the bar got to hear about his screenplay whether they wanted to or not. Solo diner, sitting alone with a book? No, you definitely came here to talk to ME and hear about MY life. Constantly talking AT people, not with people. Thought he was god’s gift to the world.

    One of my friends pulled his name for secret santa. She got him a book on film-making and a book called “You Might Be a Narcissist if.” He got a hernia or something and we never saw him receive the books, he came back for like a week after medical leave and got fired for calling in like an hour past his calltime and saying “I’m too tired to work today.”

  60. Dona Florinda*

    Many years ago, my dad got the richest guy in the office for Secret Santa. Guy was literally an heir who had everything and worked a regular job just because. So dad decided to go for a ‘joke’ gift: he bought a beach towel with a, uh, very explicit printing of a naked woman on it, and wrapped in a really nice package.
    As a teenager, I thought that was hilarious, but apparently his grown-up coworkers were even more immature: when the package was opened, people cheered, some howled with laughter and the heir LOVED IT.

    When I think about it now, I just can’t believe my dad bought a NSFW gift for his company’s Christmas party (kids were invited!!!) and it was hit.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      Those sound amazing. In my family that would end up being the family gift exchange bonus gift that keeps on giving.

  61. Agnomen*

    My mom was an ER nurse in the late 90s. For the hospital’s Secret Santa she got a pack of cigarettes and a lottery ticket. She had just quit smoking.

  62. Veryanon*

    I don’t have anything to top the plunger story, but a few years ago I briefly worked for a manager who was legitimately bat-crap nuts. One minute she’d be standing at my desk, screaming (literally) about some perceived failing on my part, and the next minute she’d be telling me how great I was. It was quite the emotional rollercoaster.
    Anyway, that year for Christmas she gave me this scarf and glove set that had clearly been sitting in her closet for some time. They were really dusty and covered with dog hair! She told me she had purchased it especially for me as she thought the color would go nicely with my blonde hair (reader, I had and still have red hair). I thanked her politely, took the bag with me when I left the office that day, and dumped it in the nearest garbage can. I didn’t even want to bring it into my car. It was not worth donating to charity.

  63. Name changed to protect the guilty*

    Somebody thought it would be a good idea to let our eccentric, genius, but totally socially unaware of what might be considered offensive, company Owner/President join the factory gift exchange. We had already switched to Toys for Tots instead of employee gifts in administration office to keep him out of trouble with the admin staff.

    He bought the only AAPI employee, who was the only non-white factory employee and one of only two non-white employees in the whole company, a 50 pound bag of rice. He was banned from employee gift exchanges company-wide after that.

  64. LeggoMyWhiteClaw*

    I worked in a small events company in 2019, and there were a lot of issues created from an informal work environment that was half entertainment-focused, half warehouse job. But there were crazy costumes everywhere, huge set pieces, it was a little magical sometimes.

    I was only there for one white elephant gift exchange, and overall it was a fun time where I think everyone pretty much got the gist of how it should go. There was one woman who brought a 6 pack of hard seltzers… then picked it herself… then would NOT let anyone steal it from her. She ran from the building with it and stashed it in her car when someone tried. Turns out she had some problems with alcohol, which became clear a few months later when she ghosted multiple events… go figure.

    1. FrogEngineer*

      Why not just… buy two packs and gift one but keep the other? I guess addiction is not conducive to logical behavior.

      1. T*

        My guess is she probably forgot to actually buy a gift and this was the solution she came up with the morning of. (Source: have had certain relatives do similar things at our family Yankee Swaps in the past.)

  65. Alexander Blodgett*

    A couple years back one of our contractors sent me a whole box of different kinds of steaks as a “thank you” for using them on a project. I don’t love the custom of sending gifts as thanks for something that should be strictly merit based, and don’t eat a lot of meat, so I just out an email to the division and handed them out to everyone. People were pretty happy with me that week.

  66. Shoo*

    We had an employee RSVP to our Christmas party for himself and his longtime girlfriend. They broke up a few days before the party, and he let us know in he was not going to be attending the party after all because he was too upset over the breakup. Imagine our surprise when his now ex-girlfriend showed up at the party anyway! Our boss didn’t want to make a scene so she let her stay.

    The ex-girlfriend proceeded to get very drunk. During the gift exchange, she grabbed a gift that had been set aside for the owners of the company. Let’s say we sell teapots, and this gift was a teapot that the staff had spent time covering with photos and memorabilia and signatures. It was not a useful item – it no longer was a functioning teapot, it was very clearly a sentimental and personal gift and was nowhere near the gift exchange pile but the ex-girlfriend found it, claimed it, and refused to give it up. The staff were upset, the owners were upset, and the employee that orchestrated the creation of said teapot was in tears. Someone messaged her ex, our employee, to see if he could help but he was just upset that we let the ex-girlfriend stay and he didn’t want to get involved. People were trying to trade gifts with her, but she would not give up the teapot until she was bribed with cash to do so – the staff took up a collection and gave her $100 to buy our gift back. She stayed for the rest of the party (which wasn’t long because the mood had been ruined at that point) and then drunkenly staggered out of our lives and into company legend.

    1. The Wizard Rincewind*

      Dang, I have social anxiety showing up to parties thrown by friends I’ve known for a decade. I cannot IMAGINE the mental freedom involved to crash my ex’s work party without him!

      1. The Eye of Argon*

        I wouldn’t be surprised if the ex-GF had already partaken of some liquid courage before she showed up at the party.

        1. HellifIknow*

          That was my first thought. She either was hoping for a reconciliation, or more likely, to stir up some “How could you do this to me right before Christmas,” drama!

  67. MabelQ*

    Years ago, during a city government office gift exchange, we had a temp worker give our 45 year old African-American female director a 1) Black baby doll; 2) slinky sweater dress for nights out on the town. The temp was definitely oblivious to how both of these were entirely inappropriate in an office setting. Still hysterical to think about after 20 years.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      For some reason, the baby doll is the present I can’t believe. With all the R- or X-rated gifts on this thread, I almost expect weird lingerie or a slinky dress.

      Buying a 45-year-old woman a baby doll is stunning.

      1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

        YES! Me too on the baby doll… eyes crossed with confusion & vicarious embarrassment

  68. Msspel*

    When I was an intern at a nonprofit, right out of school, I volunteered to help with the holiday gifts. I spent a lovely Friday afternoon with the office manager packaging Hershey’s Kisses in decorative bags, with ribbon, and nestling them in coffee mugs. The mugs had the company logo plus the word “staff,” so they were distinctive and I was looking forward to the symbolic legitimacy of graduating from an intern to an intern with a Staff mug. The office manager’s plan was to put the gifts out on everyone’s desks so they’d have a nice surprise on Monday morning. I went away feeling like I’d done a good deed, and looking forward to my new mug.

    Can you guess what I saw on Monday morning? That’s right, my lovingly prepared gifts on everyone’s desks – except for interns such as myself. We got nothing.

    Some months later the nonprofit hired me as an employee, and I did finally get a Staff mug. It’s still in my cupboard, long after leaving the organization, and I’m still salty about it.

  69. A Tired Queer*

    I think I’ve mentioned this before, but for the past two years, management has given our team gift cards for Panera Bread. Great! Expect that they were $10 gift cards, not nearly enough to buy a meal, and they expired within 3 weeks, making the gift a rare mix of terribly cheap and still a waste of money!

        1. ggg*

          We give DoorDash gift cards as awards and they have a pretty quick expiration date. HR found that people forget about them if they don’t have to use them right away.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      I would have used this for coffee — which, if your username is any indication, might also have been a decent use for you. :D

    2. HellifIknow*

      Our company sends everyone a $35 Butterball “check” that you can use at the grocery store. It’s so… weird to me. I’ve informally polled my staff and they’re all like “Nope, I never use it because I don’t want to be that person holding up the line while the cashier figures out how this works.” Because it isn’t a gift card, it is literally a paper check where you have to write in the store name, etc… I’d rather have had the $35 on a generic gift card or the cash. Sigh. I do wonder what the percentage of redemption is on them every year….

  70. Mrs. Not Loving-et*

    During university I did professional theatre work and one year ran into something straight out of am 80s movie. This one show had a holiday party with a Secret Santa. Our absolute frat boy of a stage manager got me, the most stereotypically nerdy girl you can imagine. On top of that, and important background info, we went to the same school and both had taken a history elective with the most professory professor ever. Tweed jacket, horned rim glasses, the works. I was also a Dean’s List student and really enjoyed the class, something Stage Manajerk had mocked me for relentlessly. So he got me a framed photograph of the professor and a box of condoms. Luckily everyone else on the show were decent people so he ended up kicked out of the party, fired from the show, and blacklisted in our city. Last I heard the condoms (which I did not keep) were being used to make prop sausages for Sweeney Todd.

      1. Cyndi*

        As someone who gave up working in theater because I worked on a show with multiple rape jokes where all my fellow designers and crew laughed at them, every time, all the way through tech week–I’m honestly pleasantly shocked people turned on this guy for acting this way.

  71. Not a Grinch*

    One of my colleagues is very creative. She made this amazing wreath, using doll parts! I loved it and I’m sad that I can’t find a photo of it anymore. Our boss ended up with the wreath and was super disappointed that no one would steal it from him. The wreath ended up back with it’s creator, but I think it was lost during the office COVID move.

  72. V moon*

    worst gift: i gave him a set of mugs, SB, each filled with a different bag of name brand treats.. he went to his truck, got a book he was reading – softcover and #2 in the series – wrapped it in newspaper and gave me that. everyone said i was lucky, as he was a dude, and that was HARD for him.
    the actual worst was when I had a family to buy for, they got NICE gifts each, max allowed spend – she got me and my family – nothing.
    Both of these were drawing names things, and each time the other party very enthusiastically participated in the drawing of names – i have refused every other ‘name draw’ type thing at work.

    1. ferrina*

      Yeah, I think that there should be a safety net for that sort of thing. I did work somewhere that kept tabs on the secret santa to make sure everyone that participated got a gift (and it was optional and no pressure to participate, so if you didn’t have the money/desire, it was really easy not to). I appreciated that.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I know this is beside the point, but I cannot imagine giving away a book I was in the middle of reading! You’d have to wrestle it away from me.

    3. Giant Kitty*

      Reminds me of a friend’s story of a crummy guy she dated as a teenager. For Christmas, she had gotten him something as nice as she was able to. He went in the other room, grabbed an old beer stein, wrapped it in a *pair of leggings*, and gave that to her as her gift.

  73. LeighBlack*

    In previous years, we had some really nice lavish parties. Then our company was bought and things started to go downhill. We were given gift cards to a local grocery store for a couple years, which was useful but not super festive.

    Then we were invited to a meeting and it was stated that we were to receive an exciting gift. It was a plate. A decorative plate. With an image of the mural they had painted in our Louisville office, to much fanfare. We were not in that office and did not care about that mural. HR looked so dejected as they had to hand us out plates. And since they were decorative (with a gold trim), you couldn’t even use them as a real plate since you couldn’t eat off them. Just a useless plate to look at. Someone tried to sell theirs on eBay to raise money for a real gift.

    The next year we got fleece blankets, so that was a definite upgrade.

    (I still have my useless plate, btw)

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I don’t think it was a Christmas gift, but I worked for a company that gave everyone cheap wall clocks with the company name, and little foam stickers to put on it for every year you worked there. For some reason, I thought this was really cool at the time.

  74. another glorious morning*

    Not the worst but not the best either – we got black company branded fleece jackets, with the company’s logo in black as well. You couldn’t see it at all. The company apparently took a poll, and asked people what color they wanted to embroider it. Everyone said black fleece with black embroidery. No one remembered being polled, lol. I sort of understand not wanted ANOTHER piece of company swag. But at that point just give us non-branded jackets (or something else in general). The jackets were so cheap they ended falling apart in like 6 months.

    This company was so cheap when it came to paying its employees or giving anything to us in general. So I shouldn’t be surprised.

  75. Brain the Brian*

    I — a person with horrible skin sensitive to every detergent and soap known to humankind — was gifted a lovely set of exotic soaps from a country where one of my colleagues had recently been on a business trip in our Secret Santa one year. It made guessing who gave it to me very easy, and although I don’t use the soap myself, the set still makes a lovely decoration on my bathroom vanity all these years later.

  76. jenny rl*

    This is a workplace gifting disaster story, but one that was all my fault.

    When I was in my very early 20s, at my first non retail job, I worked as a receptionist in an industry where the norm was that around christmas all the major companies would send their clients/vendors/etc giftboxes, usually of cookies or candy but sometimes stuff like cheese or sausage. This was very exciting to me, because my boss instructed me to open them when they arrived and leave them in the break area, and anyone including me could have some.

    We bought some very small gift boxes for most of our clients and sent them off with no mishaps, but my boss wanted to do something a little special for his best three clients, and had me pick out these big fancy tiered boxes of cookies online with a budget of about $100 per client. I was really overwhelmed by this because that was a lot of money to little ol me, and I worried about picking the wrong one! But I chose one, bought three, and had them shipped to the office so we could send them out.

    Every few days more gift boxes arrived, and every few days I opened them and set them in the break area as instructed. One day, two of the three gift boxes we had ordered for our clients arrived at the office, and I addressed them and sent them back out, wondering about the third. Surely it would arrive any day?

    Christmas drew closer, and my boss asked after the third box. I looked up the tracking and to my shock it said the third box had already been delivered– and had arrived a day before the other two. My blood ran cold as I realized the truth: since it had arrived on its own, I’d opened it, thinking it was from another company, and put it out in the break room. It had already been totally eaten.

    Horrified and not willing to admit my mistake to my boss I immediately went back to the site and bought another box with my own money, paying for overnight shipping, which was not cheap. I told my boss the tracking said I was on its way, and it was– the new one at least. When it got here, I addressed it to the third client and sent it out.

    I don’t think anyone else in the office ever realized, but I still get email blasts from that company to my personal email, even though it’s been ten years and I’ve worked three jobs since then, and every time I cringe a little.

    (Oh, and to add insult to injury, the year after that they got a new office manager, who stopped letting us open the gift boxes and instead took them all home! The Nerve!)

    1. MigraineMonth*

      You made an innocent mistake, then spent a large amount of your own money to fix the problem. I don’t think you have anything to be embarrassed about.

  77. HellifIknow*

    So one year I wanted to bring a funny but not “too out there” gift to the exchange, so I bought a Tacosauraus (https://www.thegreenhead.com/imgs/tacosaurus-rex-dinosaur-taco-holder-1.jpg) because I legit laughed out loud when I saw it in the store. Well the guy who got it complained, LOUDLY that he got the WORST gift there. He complained until another person said they’d swap their gift for it since it was cute and their kid would like it. THEY opened the actual box and found the $50 gift card I’d tucked into Tacosaurus’s mouth. First guy immediately sputters he’s changed his mind, wants it after all, etc… but got quite firmly told “no backsies”.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      How big is that for a whole gift card to fit in the mouth?? In any case, that’s hilarious. Even if I didn’t want it myself I can think of at least 3 people off the top of my head that would be ideal regifting recipients

      1. HellifIknow*

        Oh it’s probably 6-8 inches tall with a big TRex mouth on it. I tried to post a picture, but if you google “Tacosaurus” it comes up.

  78. Llama Llama*

    Not overly crazy but always baffled me. My department head gave everyone scratch off lottery tickets. One coworker refused to scratch off the tickets as it was wrong to gamble. She gave it to others to scratch off BUT if she won anything she would get the winnings.

    1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

      I think Jesus can probably see through that scam (or Buddha or whoever does not want her to gamble, but I have only heard of Christian prohibitions on gambling. Wesley?)

  79. Totally Minnie*

    I think I’ve told this story before, but here goes.

    One year, my coworkers decided to do a books only white elephant exchange. It was supposed to be silly rather than serious, so most people brought in weird cookbooks or old romance novels with goofy titles. I think somebody brought a biography of The New Kids On the Block, and we all marveled at how someone managed to either find it or hold on to it for so long.

    When it was my turn, I opened a copy of the Book of Mormon, and a fight broke out. There were accusations of proselytizing on one side, and my LDS coworkers were rightfully upset that somebody thought their religious text should be put in the same category as the cookbook about how to make fish based jello molds. It was a whole entire mess. We never found out who brought it.

    Afterward, I went to one of my LDS coworkers and asked if her church keeps extra copies on hand for people who don’t have their own, and she said they did, so I sent it with her.

    1. Turtlewings*

      LDS church member here — yeah, I would not have been amused! You dealt with it very gracefully by donating it back to the church.

  80. HellifIknow*

    So one year I wanted to bring a funny but not “too out there” gift to the exchange, so I bought a Tacosauraus, which is exactly what it sounds like: a TRex that holds 2 tacos on it’s back, because I legit laughed out loud when I saw it in the store. (I tried to post a picture link but the comment wouldn’t post). Well the guy who got it complained, LOUDLY that he got the $h!tt!est gift there. He complained until another person said they’d swap their gift for it since it was cute and their kid would like it. THEY opened the actual box and found the $50 gift card I’d tucked into Tacosaurus’s mouth. First guy immediately sputters he’s changed his mind, wants it after all, etc… but got quite firmly told “no backsies”.

    1. HellifIknow*

      Ugh I got an error posting this and well ended up posting it twice, because I think the link to the picture made me think it had failed the first time. My apologies if you read this story twice!

  81. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I have a previous employer whom I left on mutual bad terms. I refer to my time with them as “being an inmate” and am on record as saying I’ll literally eat a dollar before I spend it there.

    My previous employer gave me a gift card there during my only yuletide with that company. My current employer also gives me a gift card there on the years we remember to celebrate Christmastime.

    1. linger*

      Oh dear. So … do the gift cards at least taste good?
      Or is this a way to technically not spend a dollar there?

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Most of them are in a gift card folio at the moment. I’ve passed a few along to friends and family when they mention they’re going to shop there (usually for want of any alternative).

  82. Corydyceps*

    My first job out of college was for a small company of about 20 individuals. Had been there for several years at this point and had worked awfully hard through that time. One year, the higher ups decided that we had had a good year so the holiday bonus was taking everyone on an Alaskan cruise. Sounds amazing, right?

    The catch was, each employee had cover their own airfare to and from Seattle (from Texas), 2 nights of hotel in Seattle before and after the cruise, and all extra meals during any time not officially on the cruise. So, essentially, you would have to spend a few thousand dollars of your own money to even be able to go. And the kicker? If you didn’t go on the trip, you got no bonus at all.

    Surprising absolutely nobody, all the higher-ups (who’s salaries were well into the six figures) went on the trip, while all us little peons (making $30k per year, or less) simply couldn’t afford to go.

    I heard they had a great time. I started looking for another job soon after.

  83. Out of hand*

    Many moons ago, in a prior life, I was young woman working in a professional office in a rather junior position. We had the annual Christmas gift exchange in the office boardroom. The office bought all the gifts. Some of the gifts were neat and some were gag gifts. But hey, we got to cut out of work a bit early, so no complaints. This year 2 of the gifts were blow up dolls. Yes. Blowup dolls. Everyone is drinking and visiting and all is well. When it wraps up, myself and one of our very sweet and quiet admin staff head to one of our male friends cubicles armed with 2 blowup dolls, packing tape, and the giggles. We got to work taping the dolls into a compromising position on his desk. We thought we were hilarious. Our friends cubemate was working late and saw everything, as did a partner who came to the other employees cube and looked in to see what we’re doing. No one said a word. This story should in theory be able to end here and already be horrifying. But no. 2 nights later on a Sunday evening I go into the office to grab some items I need from my desk and while I’m riding the glass elevator to our floor all is dark and closed up but I see the most miraculous thing. Our office took up 1 floor of a fairly tall office building. And the middle of the entire building was glassed in and hollow. So I’m riding the elevator up at night and I see one light on. I’m getting closer to our floor and all I see are these 2 blowup dolls, still taped together, but now in one of the managers offices and taped to the interior window. Basically glowing from the light in the office. I called our admin and she got so scared she called in sick the next day for work. I was away from work the next day but other staff told us that another partner came in early Monday morning and saw it from the elevator and went on a rampage stabbing the dolls with pens until they deflated and then started screaming and insisting that someone tell him who was behind it. No one gave us up as being behind the original prank. I still have no idea who moved the dolls to their new ‘position’. We weren’t suspected by anyone else because we were the least likely suspects.

    1. KateM*

      I’d say that the prank originates with whoever bought the dolls as gifts in office in the first place.

  84. Common Corvidae*

    I don’t have any bad/weird gift stories, but I do have a tale of a white elephant exchange that turned ugly.

    This was my mom’s office, so I don’t have all the details. One thing I *do* know is that there’s always a lot of wine at their holiday parties. One employee, Angelica, took full advantage and by the time the exchange was starting, she was well and truly hammered.

    The exchange started and went for a while without a fuss, until Angelica had her gift stolen. Then the sulking and muttering began. Eventually the game ended, and she was left with a nice set of kitchen/hand towels from a high-end store. She made such a racket about how she didn’t WANT towels, she wanted her ORIGINAL item, what kind of an idiot would even BRING towels as a gift, Christmas was RUINED and this was the worst party EVER, and so on.

    Someone else offered to take the towels off her hands if she hated them so much, because hey, free towels! Angelica responded by literally THROWING the towels at that employee and yelling, “THERE, now I don’t have ANYTHING!”. This all happened in full view of the firm’s partners, by the way. And as for the lady who brought the towels in the first place… That would be my mom, who never admitted that she brought them, and never forgave Angelica for her tantrum.

    There’s also my own ex-boss who would host a Saran wrap ball game every year and throw the dice across the room when his turn came up… Alas, my lunch break isn’t long enough for the book I’d need to write on THAT one.

  85. NYWeasel*

    I was only at Really Old Job for one holiday season, but there were two big highlights. First was the gift basket raffle, in which all the VPs were supposed to hand over any gift baskets that came in, and they would do a drawing among all the employees to hand them out. Of course, there would always be mysterious rips in the plastic and iPod or camera shaped divots in the paper grass so you could tell the VPs had pulled out anything of value before sending it on. The rest of the employees were competing to win handfuls of strawberry candies or peppermints and maybe a box of petit fours if we were lucky.

    Then there was suddenly a large shipment of gold foil boxes in the mailroom. We saw them every day and wondered where they were headed, but no one seemed to do anything with them until a week later when we found out our gift was Harry and David fruit baskets. Nothing like getting a box full of fruit almost about to go bad, especially because I lived alone at that point!

    1. NYWeasel*

      Also, I think I’ve told this story before but at the Job After Really Old Job, I was working there in NYC on 9/11. That holiday season, they, along with most of the big companies in NY, decided that “this is not a time for partying”. The legendary shindig (which made one of AAM’s lists haha) was canceled and they announced that there would be small localized “celebrations”. This was a giant entertainment company, so we were shocked when the parties consisted of 2-3 packs of cheap knock-off Oreos thrown on the table and door prizes of DVDs and cds that we produced—all notched so you couldn’t even go exchange what you got for something you wanted. Someone saved the company boatloads of $$ that year!

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      We had a big parcel arrive at work one day, and I opened it because it wasn’t addressed to anyone. There were loads of small packets of sweets. I just started handing them out to everyone. Then suddenly HR was on the phone telling me to put it all back, because this was payment from a sweet manufacturer (for translations that I had done as part of my job) and the boss was intending to hand them out to clients at some event or other.
      It was petty and cheap all round: I mean, who negotiates to be paid in sweets to start with? They were just industrial sweets, like jelly babies and stuff. And what kind of client is going to be impressed with an agency that hands out cheap sweets? And what kind of boss will begrudge their staff having a few sweets? And why have the sweets sent to our address when nobody in our office knew anything about the sweet deal?

  86. pepperonimama*

    OMG, I have a crazy secret Santa story!
    Last year, since we had under a dozen people on my team, we shared our addresses for secret Santa via spreadsheet. Some context: we were fully remote with about half the team living in the same city with the others spread out across the country. We did a virtual team party, with everyone opening their secret gifts on camera. Well, I never received mine in time for the party—so I was a little bummed, but assumed it was just lost in the mail. It was also easy to tell who my Santa was, as they were the only teammate that didn’t show up to the virtual party. During the party, I kept getting calls from a random number, but didn’t recognize it, so I didn’t answer (and I was on camera with my team!). I went on with my day.
    Later that night, I’m hanging out with my SO at home, and he tells me he got an odd message on social media. “This person said they are your teammate at work, and wanted to know if you would be home today at all?” He never responded, and I realized that my ss had been downstairs at my apartment, trying to get in, while I was at the virtual party! The whole thing left me so uncomfortable and I let my boss know—but didn’t want to get them in any trouble since it was a nice gesture that just was taken a little too far. I did set all my social media profiles to private after that, though.

  87. Potato*

    Every year, at my company holiday party, they place a sticker under one chair at each table. If you happen to be the lucky person sitting in the sticker chair, you get to take home the centerpiece! Wow! Except no one ever wants the centerpieces, and people tend to say they don’t have the sticker even if they do. (They’re lovely, but large, and not convenient to haul around the after party and public transportation.)

    Toward the end of the party, if it seems like no one is leaving with the centerpiece from each table, the CEO will go around and start identifying the lucky new owner of each centerpiece. There is a polite but forceful questioning if you decline.

    People tuned in to the sticker situation and started pre-inspecting their seats so as to choose one without a sticker. But! The planning team caught wind of this, and there were no stickers under chairs this year. We became hopeful! Perhaps this year the awkward centerpiece hot potato dance could be avoided! Sadly, we were fooled—after his remarks, the CEO proudly announced the stickers were under the plates instead!

    1. Turtlewings*

      Alternatively, they could decide to stop giving away something that CLEARLY no one wants, but I guess that would involve logic!

    2. MigraineMonth*

      If I got the sticker, it would silently disappear. Hmm, maybe someone ate it by accident, I guess we’ll never know.

    3. Betty*

      Many nursing homes and hospices will take donations of fresh flowers after events, and you can then write off the cost of the centerpiece as a charitable donation. (You can also write off the cost of hiring someone to collect and transport them.) You might suggest this to your company!

  88. Kris Kringle*

    We had a “White Elephant” gift exchange at my first job after college. The cap was $20. I decided to come in way under budget and brought a t-shirt plastic wrapped to look like a cruise ship, which my parents had gotten as swag due to being travel agents.

    I felt pretty confident in my gift, it was silly and inoffensive. Most other gifts at the exchange were on par with mine (used books, small desk accessories, etc.) but two co-workers had each gotten married during the year and brought in beautiful glass bowls and serving items worth easily $100 apiece.

    I was so ashamed of my t-shirt contribution and wondered what their deal was up until I recently got married and found myself with a few items I’d also love to offload…

  89. Ellen*

    In a previous job, I reported to 3 managers. I gave my notice there at the beginning of October, and one of them said, “Well, I’m glad I hadn’t bought you a holiday gift yet.”

    (One of the other two sent a gift to my new workplace! Really illustrates the spectrum…)

  90. Seriously?*

    My favorite gifts were when I taught 3rd grade and the kids would tell me if it was a regift. The best of the bunch was a candle – a cow candle. Dressed as a lifeguard. I had never expressed any particular interest in cows or swimming! Kid was thrilled to give it to me and I laughed pretty hard, and still remember it decades later.

  91. VivKeill*

    We did a version of a cake walk only with Christmas gifts – and a $10 limit. So I stopped at the drug store on my way home and bought a $10 alarm clock radio thing that was fun; it was a cube and each side had a different function/light so on one side it was a clock, another did the weather – perfect for the limit. Most of the rest of the team brought gift cards, so it shouldn’t have been a big deal. Except it was – the person who got to pick my present was my grandboss and she was…inelegant. She immediately made a sour face and questioned why anyone would buy her an alarm clock – she woke up naturally every morning. Bear in mind, I didn’t buy it for her and had no way of knowing she would end up with it, but she brought it up a few more times that day as if it was the dumbest thing anyone could have done. I declined to participate every year thereafter.

    1. Corrigan*

      “She woke up naturally every morning” just cracked me up. Just the absurdity of someone saying that. And having such a strong reaction to a completely normal gift.

      1. Cyndi*

        In my completely anecdotal experience as someone who’s terrible at mornings, people who can “wake up naturally” are usually baffled by people who can’t. It’s automatic for them, so why can’t other people get it together?

        1. Mother of Corgis*

          If by “wake up naturally” you mean “wake up when my dogs start crying for food half an hour before the alarm” then yes, I do wake up naturally, lol

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I wake up naturally, any time between 3 and 6 am. Once I’m awake, there’s no going back to sleep. I would love to sleep through till an alarm woke me at the last possible minute.

  92. AnonForThis*

    I (she/her) was a recently promoted project lead, in a very male dominated industry/company. I was on a busy project where I spent a lot of time doubting myself and needing to disagree with people more senior to me.

    I got a book entitled ‘how to be more assertive at work’. And due to some mess up, I found out it was from someone who up until recently had been my manager. I didn’t know whether to take this as a compliment, an insult, or actual career advice, so instead I cried in the bathroom.

    (The gift giver did apologise profusely afterwards, he thought I was confident that and would immediately see it was a joke (WRONG!), had sort of missed the entire ‘women struggling to be assertive but not too assertive’ thing, and was simply passing on a funny gift he had got the year before. So it was all alright in the end – but not the nicest secret Santa I attended).

  93. Radar*

    My first three years at Company, everyone received a Christmas bonus of roughly a month’s salary. This was by no means guaranteed but people came to expect and semi-rely on it. The fourth year, we all came in to find a knock-off of those collapsible Razor scooters on our desks, and no bonus. I gave the scooter to my nephew, one guy used his to get from the bus stop to the office, but the majority ended up in the bin.

    The year after, we got a crate of fancy chocolate that lasted even chocoholic me through to August. Every year after that, it was a single Freddo!

  94. Phillippe II*

    First, I work at a wastewater treatment plant. One year, the gift I supplied for the Yankee swap was a coffee mug with a smiling amoeba on it. It was one of the earlier gifts opened and competition was fierce for it. The plant manager pouted about it until somebody stole what he had and he was able to do the last steal of the mug. He later took a demotion and works for me now – still uses the mug.

  95. Everyone got Pinkeye*

    One of my coworkers was crunchy. Like very, very crunchy. Reused everything, would take dirty plastic forks and stuff from work parties home and (hopefully wash) and reuse them.

    The last year they allowed gift exchanges in the office, she had reused toilet paper rolls to make “eco friendly packaging” (you fold the closed ends and tape it shut) and we all thought it was cut down paper towel roll or from the inside of a wrapping paper roll. Nope toilet roll.

    Three days later, about six of the nineteen staff were all out with pinkeye. By the end of the week, fourteen out of nineteen of us had pinkeye. We figured out where it came from when Crunchy Coworker asked reception to ask maintenance to save her empty cardboard toilet paper rolls. The receptionist asked what she wanted them for, she said she used them for wrapping holiday gifts and then everyone put two and two together.

    HR/Management put a stop to in-office gifting after that, for a lot of reasons but that one was probably high on the list.

    1. Mississippi*

      I really doubt that the fact that the cardboard from tp rolls, rather than gift wrap or paper towel rolls, is the source of the conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is so, so transmissible,, anyone could have been the office’s patient zero. Even if the crunchy coworker had been patient zero and it spread bc she was touching the wrapping material, it would have spread via any wrapping material she chose. Even if she did get it from one of the rolls, it may have been the receptionist or a maintenance worker who contaminated them, which could happen with paper towel rolls, too.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, agreed.

        I know some people are squeamish about toilet paper rolls, but they’re just cardboard – the fact that they’ve been in the bathroom doesn’t make them any more dangerous than the clothes you’re wearing (which have also been in the bathroom).

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Presumably they might be exposed to e-coli if someone handled it after using the toilet and before washing their hands. But to be real, *everything* is is covered with e-coli.

          (MythBusters had an episode where they tried to determine how far from a flushing toilet one should put one’s toothbrush. Except even the control, in a completely different room, tested positive for e-coli.)

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          I actually put them in the paper/cardboard recycling. They don’t get wet, and are essentially unused except for rolling paper on it. Probably cleaner that shipping boxes.

      2. SwampWitch*

        Yeah it could have come from other stuff, but also it could have come from the thing that sits close to a toilet. Either way, I feel like paper towel roll would be better. Yikes.

      3. detaill--orieted*

        Finally, a use for this random fact!

        The Risky or Not podcast (food microbiologists) answered a question about using toilet paper tubes for preschool crafts. Verdict: Not Risky. (Highly recommend that podcast, too.)

      4. ferrina*

        Yeah, I would trust a re-used toilet paper roll over my (wonderful) (petri dishes) children. They get so many germs and their handwashing is spotty at best. And pink eye is notoriously contagious- easily could have come from anyone.

      1. Vio*

        Me neither. One of the things I love about the internet is learning all the strange differences in word meanings and figures of speech from all over the English speaking world.

      2. beep beep*

        Usually I’ve heard it as some being very “crunchy granola”, indicating that they’re a hippie because… I don’t know, hippies eat their granola without milk, I guess.

          1. Giant Kitty*

            Yep, it was considered hippie food/“health food”. And people who ate health food were “health food nuts”.

      3. linger*

        The New American Oxford Dictionary entry for crunchy lists a meaning ‘politically and environmentally liberal’, after the primary meaning ‘making a sharp noise…’ — which suggests the connection may be ‘expressing beliefs (that others find) not easily assimilable’.
        The Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) contains 214 tokens of crunchy from after 1990. However, only 4 tokens have the relevant figurative meaning, viz:
        1997 “…too ‘crunchy’, too hippie…”
        2006 “…crunchy granola New England upbringing…”
        2006 “…crunchy Gen-Xers…”
        2013 “…the earthy-crunchy youth…”
        These few examples aren’t much to generalize from with confidence, but are consistent with an external, and slightly negative, view on a person’s environmental views. The recurring use with younger referents may reflect the greater idealism of youth in general, rather than being an inherent part of the meaning.

  96. KK*

    At a former job, I worked for a LARGE multi-national company in the corporate office. We decided to do a Secret Santa in ALL of finance which encompassed many accounting departments. We drew names and each name had a small wish list, likes, dislikes, allergies, etc.

    The gist of it was that for 5 days, you anonymously dropped them a token gift (a cute notepad, candy bar, canned soda, pen) and on day 6, we had a luncheon where you got to meet your Secret Santa and everyone got their gift (limit $20).

    The person who drew my name did NO daily token gifts. Irritating. But what was worse was that they did not show up for the luncheon & just left my gift on the conference room table. The gift was caramel dipped candy apples….expired LAST Christmas. Gift value $11.99.

    You can best believe I went I went to the SS organizer & got their name and sent them an email with my displeasure of receiving an expired edible gift with nearly half the allowed value. They apologized and said they’d spent the week on company travel & did not have time to participate but thought it would be fun to try anyway.

    I made sure to throw away the moldy apples in the givers trash can in their office.

      1. BubbleTea*

        It is pretty rude to participate in an entirely optional gift exchange that you know you won’t have time to do properly, but want to benefit from anyway. I’m too British to confront the sender but I’d be quietly seething.

        1. Zelda*

          Oh, certainly, the ex-apple-giver was in the wrong. Complaining to the organizer is absolutely warranted, and if that person was made to come up with a real gift and/or barred from future exchanges, that would be just. But to lash out directly against the (non-)giver, in multiple ways, with obvious vitriol, and still tell the story later as if the lashing out in anger was an admirable thing to do? Somewhat lacking in perspective, shall we say.

      2. Shira VonDoom*

        It’s unclear why you think it’s embarrassing to be upset about receiving moldy food in a gift exchange meant to be…not gross or gag gifts

        1. I need a new name...*

          I don’t think anyone is saying it’s embarrassing to be upset about moldy food.
          Or that it’s embarrassing to bring it up to the Organiser.

          Being upset was fine. Complaining to the Organiser was also fine. Asking that the Organiser speak with the Offending Participant to explain was this wasn’t okay and asking for them to provide a more suitable gift also fine. All reasonable, understandable actions.

          I think the idea is that then asking for the identity and email of the participant (which the Organiser probably shouldn’t have given), and sending a complaining email both about the moldy food & the money spent is the ’embarrassing’ part. Or at the very least doing that and then presenting it as some hero moment on the internet is the ’embarrassing’ part.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I think the thing is that gift etiquette generally requires that one NEVER complain about a gift directly to the giver. It comes off as extremely bratty. That’s why there are so many stories above and below about people trying to keep their composure about crappy gifts. There’s a lottery aspect to gifts, where you have to accept that sometimes, you get a dud.

            Now, it’s also a kindness to let people know their gift is generally unacceptable so they don’t repeat. I think pointing out, kindly, that food is expired or something is broken would be ok, for example. But you’d have to maintain the polite fiction that it was an oversight. Also making the organiser aware would be ok, and then he could handle it more directly.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        Complaining about being given a year-old apple is absolutely warranted. Complaining that “$12 isn’t the maximum allowed” isn’t really worthwhile.

  97. Meep*

    The only two things I got were my former manager giving everyone in the office poinsettias (her favorite!) knowing we all had cats… (And pretty environmentally friendly) and cheap solar-powered bobblehead reindeer like we were five and then acted like we should be thrilled.

    Overall, pretty harmless as far as things go. But really showed she thought we were all children.

    Actually, that is a lie. She gave me a 6 pack of sanitary wipes in December 2020 after trying to infect me with COVID all year long, because she would not stop coming into the office after being exposed.

  98. hiptobesquare*

    We had a white elephant exchange and I ended up with sample baggie of bean meal (worked in the office of an agro-processing plant).

  99. Cookies for Breakfast*

    Can’t remember whether I posted this last year!

    At an old workplace, we once had a themed Secret Santa, where the gift had to be an object that started with the recipient’s first name initial. There’s at least one more great story it generated, but I’ll stick to the gift I got: a penis-shaped kitchen item (specific for a dish I don’t ever make).

    I can tolerate a useless gift, given how easy it is to give away on Freecycle or similar. This one puzzled me for two reasons, though:

    1) I’m as asexual as they come. Not that any of my colleagues would know – I’m a fairly private person at work (which, I guessed wrongly, should be enough of a clue for “don’t gift Cookies a phallic object”). What’s not so hard to notice, though, is that sexual innuendos are completely absent from my brand of humour. I don’t use them, hearing them makes me cringe, and if others try to joke with me in that way, I remain completely stone-faced.

    2) I have a very mainstream, safe-for-work interest that begins with my first name initial, and it’s incredibly easy to buy for. Everyone who has spoken to me longer than five minutes would know about it. That colleague DEFINITELY knew about it. Let’s say, the equivalent of being called Barbara and liking books – so the gift could have been anything ever published, and it would have counted.

    Upon receiving the gift, I faked a quick laugh and hid it from view. The gift-giver (also a woman) later told me that she was glad I didn’t seem offended, and she was sure, when she bought it, that I’d have enough of a sense of humour to find it funny. I always thought I had no poker face, so…guess I should have taken it as a compliment?

  100. JMR*

    One year while I was a post-doc in a lab at a large midwestern university, all the research personnel were gifted an 8-pound turkey as a Christmas gift. First, that was insulting – I was making $28K as a fully PhD-ed research fellow, and my Christmas gift was a turkey. Second of all, it takes a lot of work to prepare and cook a turkey, and an 8-pound bird is basically 6.5 lbs of bones and 4 servings of turkey, so who was going to do all that work for so little reward? In addition, in most academic research centers, the research personnel consists of about 20% PhD-ed professors and non-tenured research faculty, and about 80% graduate students, post-docs, and fresh-out-of-college research assistants – meaning that most of the people who received this gift did not have families, would not be the ones to host their holiday dinners, and had no need of a turkey. And finally, once we all went and picked up our turkeys and carted them back to the labs, we realized we had nowhere to store them, as the lunchroom had two fridge/freezers for the whole department. We ended up cleaning out and disinfecting a freezer that had previously been used for storage of laboratory reagents. There hadn’t been anything biohazardous in there but still, ew, and EHS definitely would not have approved. Most of the turkeys ended up abandoned in the freezer and were pitched a few months later when we needed to reclaim the storage space. (I vaguely recall that we tried to donate them, but no food banks wanted them.) So, yeah. Not the worst gift, but definitely rather tone-deaf.

  101. Paralegal Part Deux*

    Well, this year our holiday gift exchange actually got cancelled because they decided there’s not enough people to have one. I can’t believe how thrilled I am because I don’t have to end up with something weird like the microwaveable butt warmer.

    1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

      I didn’t know such a thing existed and am now off on the internets to find one! Thank you for bringing it’s existence to my attention! :D

  102. Anonymous Llama*

    I am a teacher. For our end-of-the-year gift from our school district governing board, they gave everyone pocket knives.

    Pocket. Knives.

    Apparently they had actually given these out 7-8 years ago and they were so popular, they did it again.

    1. Zelda*

      You say that like it’s obvious why it’s remarkable, but I’m afraid I’m missing it. What’s weird or outrageous about something that seems pretty useful and innocuous to me? I mean, literally nothing (but cash) will ever please *everyone*, but…?

      1. Artemesia*

        You can’t fly, enter a concert venue, anyplace with security with a pocket knife. And it is easy to forget to remove it before setting out. Thus pocket knives end up confiscated a lot.

        1. Zelda*

          That doesn’t make it a bad gift, though. (If anything, it might be a reason some people need replacements.) I mean, you can’t wear headphones in the shower, but that doesn’t mean that obviously no one should ever give anyone headphones as a gift.

          1. I need a new name...*

            You also typically can’t bring knives into schools.

            I think that’s where the disconnect is. Especially if they’re being gifted these on the premises.

            It might be a useful gift that people will appreciate afterwards but, in the moment, that’s a jarring gift.

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

        This is probably more a cultural or regional thing. Weapons are generally frowned upon in schools; it would be really ODD to give teachers pocket knives at an inner city school in Los Angeles, California…but maybe a lot more acceptable in Pocatello, Idaho? If it was more of a multi-tool that just happened to have a knife…eh okay…those can be handy in most places. But just a knife?

      3. beckercheez*

        One of my high school classmates was long-term suspended (not allowed to enter the school for several months) for having accidentally brought a pocket knife into the school building. So giving teachers something that students cannot have on their person seems pretty tone-deaf.

      4. Anonymous Llama*

        It’s a k-12 school district and our state has laws against weapons on campus, so our district gave us weapons on campus.

  103. Rage*

    OK so this wasn’t a gift necessarily, but it is a funny story involving the CEO’s attempt to pawn off a bunch of candy.

    So my boss, the CEO, wasn’t big on sugar or sweets. But our client families often brought him gifts of candy, chocolate, etc. So one day he was looking at all of this stuff piled up in his office and had a brilliant idea: I’ll give all of this to Rage, my phenomenal EA. She likes sweets.

    So he comes out of his office and approaches my desk, his hands filled with Christmas goodies. “Rage,” he said, “would you like some sugar?”

    Unfortunately for him, the HR Director was walking past and she performed the most beautiful double-take. Truly Oscar worthy.

    CEO turned bright red (very festive). He stammered a few times, and a few moments later I’d stopped laughing long enough to say that, yes, I will happily take the chocolate and assorted candies off his hands. But he should reserve the sugar for his wife.

  104. Thepancakebreakfast*

    One company I worked at we got a pancake breakfast the week of Christmas. Cooked by one of the Execs. Your manager had to take your order and serve you. It was just kind of strange. My manager at the time was really strange and awkward so the whole thing felt odd.

    I will say they did offer a Breakfast with Santa for employee’s kids, spouses and grandparents if they wanted to come. A guy in the office was a professional Santa with a real beard and it was awesome. Great food, the kids got presents, there were crafts and games. It was really nice.

    Then later we all got a cash company bonus. So at least the awkward pancake breakfast was offset by those things.

    1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

      I read your first sentence and thought “Aw, yesss! Awesome idea!” (so long as they provided an alternative for people who couldn’t partake in pancakes). But then it was followed by the weirdness of your second sentence, and I am glad, a family-friendly Breakfast with Santa *and* a cash bonus were there to smooth things over again!

    2. General Izable*

      Oh gosh I have the awkward reversed version of that story!

      The year after I graduated college, I did a nonprofit fellowship similar to Americorps. We worked for pennies and lived in shared housing all for the ‘greater good.’ Every year, the nonprofit hosted a big Christmas cocktail party for its top donors, and all twelve of us fellows were invited. A big draw of the party was the chance for donors to mingle with us “young people,” who were supported by their donations.

      While this is great in theory, our board chair decided that in the past, the donors had too much trouble identifying the young people. So, he made us all wear BRIGHT RED BANDANAS LIKE WE WERE 1960’s FLIGHT ATTENDANTS! And to add insult to injury, we had to work the event! That’s right. An event thrown ostensibly to show us off to donors as the bright future of their country instead featured us more as a poorly-dressed waitstaff. To add insult to injury, I had invited my parents as my guests, who were left to fend for themselves while I worked the welcome table.

  105. Still Shaking My Head*

    A number of years and several jobs ago, I went to my first work Christmas party and there was a white elephant gift exchange as part of the party. The Big Boss of the group brought edible underwear as his contribution. And then forced his wife to steal it when it was her turn. And then, when we were back in the office after Christmas, he shared his enjoyment at using the gift over the break.

    1. starsaphire*

      Oh man. We had one of those bosses at an ex-job several decades ago.

      Long story short, he was running around at the end of the Christmas party trying to round up a set of the godawful ugly reindeer headbands we’d made (complete with bells and glitter) to take home “so he and his girlfriend could put them on and chase each other around the house.”

      Every time I go through harassment training at work, I think of that guy.

  106. Amber Rose*

    This is a very silly example, but one year we did a gift giveaway at the holiday party by assigning every seat a reindeer name, and then drew reindeer and table numbers out of some boxes to determine the winner. It was a good idea in theory…

    And then one guy won like four of the prizes because we kept drawing his number and reindeer over and over. We didn’t have any way to avoid repeats. xD

    There was no drama over it thankfully, just a lot of teasing of that one guy for his ridiculous luck.

    1. Artemesia*

      LIke have a policy of no repeats and the drawer sees the number and says ‘oops repeat’ and picks another?

        1. KateM*

          The way I understand it, they didn’t have unique numbers for employees. It was table numbers in one bowl and reindeer names in another, and they pulled one from each – Rudolph at table#1 would be different from both Rudolph at table#2 and Prancer from table#1. Not putting numbers back would mean that once someone at a table has received a price, nobody else on the same table can have one.

  107. Silicon Valley Girl*

    One company gave out nice end of year gifts, ranging from small electronics to fancy branded swag (like a duffle bag I still use, 15 years later). But during an economic downturn, one year they gave out envelopes & inside a card stated that a charitable donation had been made in your name. We were all pretty grumpy bec. of course *the company* got a tax break plus we didn’t get to choose the charity.

  108. Limotruck87*

    We had a yearly secret santa at my old workplace. I am not super social and am money-conscious, but wanted to participate in team bonding. I tried to thoughtfully find things my person would like, spending a bit to get in the spirit (not crazy–probably only $30–but more than the normal zero I would spend on a coworker).

    Meanwhile, some coworkers got their best buddies and spent lavishly, upwards of $50-$75. Whoever had me got me a candy bar on the last day and a couple of dollar-store plastic items. Of course I understand financial constraints, but it occurred to me that the absence of any guidelines meant there would be a likelihood of some feeling pressured to spend more than they wanted, and others to feel disappointed or resentful at getting far less than the value they spent, with the overall effect of limiting the fun.

    I went to my supervisor and suggested maybe we could do a spending cap so everyone could expect to spend and receive about the same value and no one in financial constraints would feel pressure or shame to go over budget.

    Supervisor said “Well I can’t tell people not to spend money on their friends if that’s who they get.”
    Me: “Sure, but if they’re such good friends they are spending close to $100 on each other, they will probably spend money on each other anyways and it doesn’t need to necessarily be under the banner of Secret Santa. It sort of defeats the purpose of a fun way to connect with coworkers if people are in wildly different financial situations and some are getting very minimal or low quality gifts while others are spending more on each other than I spend on my family.”
    Supervisor: “I can’t tell people a maximum spending amount, but we can do a minimum amount”
    Me: “That…is not a solution, it makes this into something that excludes those who have a different budget, and you ABSOLUTELY can tell people a max amount, you’re the supervisor”

    Spoiler: the conversation went like that until I gave up, and I never participated again.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I don’t know that a minimum would have been that bad, it just needs a maximum too. “If you sign up for this, you’ll be expected to spend between $10 and $15” seems like it would work.

      1. linger*

        It works if (a) the range between minimum-maximum is narrow, so all gifts are of comparable value; and (b) the minimum is easily affordable for the lowest-paid worker. But if some participants are spending up to $100, and manager doesn’t want to set a maximum below that, then those conditions cannot be met simultaneously.

        1. ferrina*

          Exactly. These guidelines help make it comfortable and more equitable for all participants, and folks that get their best friends can always do additional presents.

          And the manager’s argument of “if I say it it’s set in stone and no one can do anything else” is utterly ridiculous. 1) the rules are only for Secret Santa, not for life (as LW pointed out) and 2) people break Secret Santa rules all the time. I would regularly go over the max by $5-10. The rules just let you circle back when someone is breaking the spirit (ridiculously lavish or total junk gifts).

  109. PotteryYarn*

    Our department does a Secret Santa exchange every year. It’s entirely voluntary, but everyone always participates because we are a tight-knit team and most everyone has been there for several years.

    Our budget is about $25. Many people like to do a couple small gifts (like an ornament, candy, or $5 gift card) leading up to the event where we exchange the “big” gifts. We use a web-based platform to draw names, create wishlists, and ask anonymous questions to our recipients. Last year, we asked our new boss if they would like to participate, and they agreed.

    In the lead-up to the event, a coworker (Sam) mentioned that they hadn’t heard or received anything from their Santa, while almost everyone else had either gotten a gift or a message already. Because we all like figuring out everyone’s Santas, we strongly suspected Sam’s Santa was New Boss. Another coworker brought up to New Boss that our Secret Santa exchange was coming up to hopefully prompt them to act, but New Boss seemed to shrug it off.

    On the day of the event, Sam had still not received a gift. The event started, and still no gift for Sam. When it was Sam’s turn to open their gift, Sam told everyone they didn’t ever receive one.

    New Boss then asked Sam who they thought their Secret Santa was, which made Sam extremely uncomfortable because who would want to accuse a coworker of not getting you a Secret Santa gift, let alone your boss!? Sam demurred and said they didn’t know, but New Boss insisted that Sam guess. Sam again resisted, saying they didn’t want to call anyone out, but still New Boss insisted, so Sam finally “guessed” New Boss. New Boss said it was them and just kind of shrugged it off like “Oh, silly me!” and showed absolutely zero embarrassment or remorse. It was extremely awkward for everyone at the event.

    A group of us decided to each purchase a $5ish gift card to send to Sam in the aftermath because we all felt so terrible about what had happened. A day or two later, New Boss finally apologized to Sam and said they waited too long to order Sam’s gift and it would arrive in a couple weeks, so Sam did eventually get their gift, but it left a horrible taste in everyone’s mouth.

    1. FrogEngineer*

      What on earth? Surely New Boss knew they were the culprit, so why badger Sam into guessing who it is? Is this some kind of bizarre power move??

      1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

        Looking forward to PotteryBarn’s letter to AAM! Surely a boss this unfathomable will give rise to some interesting work dilemmas…?

    2. Cyndi*

      I absolutely can’t fathom taking that much PRIDE in having made a mess of being someone’s Secret Santa.

  110. Phillippe II*

    Reposted from the earlier bad party thread.

    At a $PreviousJob which was an office full of Civil Engineers the holiday party was at the Director’s house. Very nice party, but no one had bothered to tell the new guy (me) that there was a dirty Santa gift exchange after. So wife and I didn’t bring anything and sat it out. Damned good thing, because the tradition in the office was that all the gifts were sex-themed. So there I am watching the people I work with opening and trading ‘personal massagers’, cock rings, nipple clamps, etc and getting more and more uncomfortable.

    I didn’t work there the next holiday season.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I think you could get a default judgement against the company for sexual harassment by saying “sex-toy themed office Secret Santa”.

  111. definitely anon for this*

    One year when I was much closer to entry level, I did a favor for a now-former coworker just before the holidays and she gave me a very nice little snow globe with a church with a big cross on top. I thanked her with what I hope was an authentic-seeming reaction, and saved the rest of my reaction for when I was home alone later (it mainly involved laughing). It’s possible that this coworker didn’t know I’m Jewish, but that was definitely the least appropriate holiday gift I’d ever received.

  112. AdAgencyChick*

    We had a work Yankee swap, and coincidentally the client was in town. So our account executive decided to buy a couple of gag gifts “from the clients” for the swap. One of the gag gifts was the Chic Shaper, an undergarment sold via infomercial. So one of my writers, a lesbian, received a shaping undergarment “from” the heterosexual male client.

    Not that it would’ve been any less inappropriate if anyone’s sexual orientation had been different, but boy was that awkward.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I don’t understand what her being a lesbian or him being heterosexual has to do with anything . It would be ridiculously awkward (not to mention inappropriate) regardless of the sexual orientation of either party.

      I am baffled as to why anyone of any gender or sexual orientation would pick that as a gag gift. It sounds like a one way ticket to Sexual Harassment City.

      1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

        I can imagine a scenario where a gay male friend of mine gave me a shaping undergarment in order to celebrate our shared mocking of the heteropatriarchy’s attempt to constrain my fabulous butch roundness into the correct shape. But in a homophobic/fatphobic society where lesbians are associated with fatness, a straight man giving a lesbian a corset adds an extra layer of connotations around the physical “correction” of lesbianity which (to me at least) is extra icky.

        Fully agree that the gift is every kind of awkward and wrong regardless, but for me at least there is that extra layer of cringe (or maybe just a very specific flavour of cringe) with this configuration of genders/orientations.

  113. Anonymous ID*

    The first December my boss, who is thankfully former, worked here she decided our team was going to do an ornament exchange during a holiday potluck. A coworker had recently converted to Judaism and pointed out that they would not be celebrating Christmas and had no need for an ornament. Our boss basically said “Oh, but you could participate anyway!” and apparently didn’t see the issue.

  114. Unflavored*

    The weirdest work gift I ever got was a fancy vibrating massager, plus a small assortment of oils and flavored lubricant that I ended up offloading onto friends with more use for them.

    These *were* pretty standard in my company (considering it was an ‘adult novelty’ chain that liked to give us tester products), but it still always felt a little weird to say “Oh, my company got me this”, or to politely get around questions about whether we got anything if it would be awkward to answer.

  115. the cat's pajamas*

    One job had a mug swap where everyone who participated had to bring a new mug. I have too many already, and didn’t John but it was fun to see what others brought. There was the whole spectrum from hand-thrown pottery to academic mugs, like a medical poster, to silly but work safe ones.

  116. Lou*

    My boss is OBSESSED with a monogrammable product that my office provided to participants at the beginning of our fall session. Absolutely obsessed. The product was her idea in the first place. So now, for a holiday gift, she has monogrammed this product for our office staff. But no one wants it, at all. In fact, when we were packing them at the beginning of the session we all joked about how terrible it is. But she loves it, therefore everyone else must love it, right? She will not be swayed.

  117. OneBean TwoBean*

    I had a boss who gave his direct reports toys (one toy per person!) from Dollar Tree as his year-end gifts. I was a middle manager at the time and gave my direct reports $50 gift cards.

  118. HoHoOhNo*

    I’ve been waiting for a chance to share this one! My husband worked at a tech company just evolving beyond startup stage, and one year as part of the holiday gifts, they printed up company-branded decks of playing cards. Seems pretty innocuous, right? EXCEPT. They had the cute idea to use headshots of senior leadership for the face cards in the deck, broken out by gender and seniority. So they had four C-Suite men as the Aces, four VPs for Kings, four more high-ranking men as the Jacks… then apparently they couldn’t even come up with four women in any leadership role at all, so two of the Queens cards were just left BLANK.

    Oh, and the best part is they printed the headshots on the BACKS of the cards, so the deck isn’t even actually usable or playable. I still have it somewhere, though, for the sheer wtf of it all!

    1. PsychNurse*

      Oh, that is truly amazing. I feel like when they got to the planning stage and realized they didn’t have four Queens, they should have scrapped the playing-cards project and also taken it as a sign to diversify!

  119. FrizzleFrazzle*

    One very long-serving (male) employee would give these plastic ornaments to all the women (and only the women) in the office. Inside the ornament? UNDERPANTS. Not only was it creepy as hell, but the sizes were all over the place, leading some of the recipients to all go into the bathroom together to try to swap. For several years we asked various people in the company to try to intervene, including his supervisor, but nope – we all got our annual holiday underwear from Bill until he finally retired.

    1. Season of Joy (TM)*

      How were people not going into the bathroom together to dump the underwear in the trash???

  120. AMFM*

    In my first job out of college, I worked at a radio station in the sales department. We, along with our sales manager, would help gathering gifts for the holiday party. As in, we could offer advertising in trade for the larger gifts. And then there was a drawing of sorts. Honestly, it was long enough ago (and these details aren’t particularly important to the balance of the story) I don’t remember how prizes were drawn/given. Some may have been through tickets, some may have been in recognition of individual achievements.

    One year a part-time, on-air personality was particularly miffed about the gift they received. This was someone who was still pretty young…like lived with their parents young, and maybe still in high school young. They won a nice leather jacket with the station logos embroidered on it. Pretty neat, right?

    The next person won a gas grill. Nothing over the top, but a decent gas grill. Well the younger person left the party UPSET because they wanted a grill, too. Someone may have even explained that management thought they wouldn’t need one because of their age and living situation.

    Well, that individual THREW A FIT over the next several days. I don’t remember entirely, but their parent(s) may have gotten involved to advocate on their behalf for the grill. Finally, management relented and secured another grill.

    That individual got some significant side eye from many others because none of us got anything as cool as a grill or a leather jacket.

  121. Ahoytheship*

    A gift I (luckily) did not receive in a department Yankee swap, but the *Head* of the department gifted a black lacquered box, about the shape and size of a large book, etched with a giant golden cross and scriptures peppered on the edges. He looked super proud of himself when it came out that it was his contribution.

  122. Anel M*

    One year at our Secret Santa i got a Magic 8 Ball cause as the HR guy, all my hiring is based on luck and that would help.
    Another year, after our lunch/gift exchange, everyone was told to go to the local brewery and start the long weekend. Everyone except me , which I found out when I left my office to go to the restroom and the receptionist was locking up and was startled I was still there. Apparently, some of the staff did not want the HR guy at the get together.

    1. Anonymous advisor*

      I’m an academic advisor. I *asked for* a magic eightball for christmas. It’s in my office, I use it all the time. Students are amused…the trick, I tell them, is in asking the question so that you’re pleased with whatever answer you get.

    2. ferrina*

      I think the HR ball is cute! Obviously not intended as a slight on your profession or skills- I read it as a common bonding on how all of us wish we could know what’s in someone’s head when interviewing.
      And the lunch thing isn’t cool, but I also kinda see the other side. It’s mildly amusing that they were so worried about you that they went through the trouble of keeping the lunch a secret (that you….just wouldn’t notice you were alone in the office?). Seriously, what was going on at that lunch that would be so concerning?

  123. It's not me, honest*

    Years ago, my company decided to get festive with the Christmas gift. So they gave people a couple of movie vouchers … inside a Christmas cracker. Apparently a number of people opened the box, saw a single Christmas cracker, said WTF, and tossed the thing in the bin. And then someone worked out that the cracker had cost as much as the vouchers. There was no money for pay rises; people weren’t impressed that there was money for that.

    The next year, we gave people a $50 gift voucher to the nearest mall. There was a collective sigh of relief.

  124. Josephine Beth*

    Every year my department held a holiday potluck and Yankee Swap. Several years ago, during the swap, our Admininistrative Assistant, who is about as kind and quiet a person as you’ll ever meet, opened a beautiful blanket, which was perfect for her as she’s always cold. My boss at the time was the last to choose a gift and could therefore “swap” with anyone else. She took the blanket. (I get the spirit of a Yankee Swap. But the look on our poor admin’s face…)

    Two years later, the EXACT SAME THING happened again, with the boss choosing last and taking the admin’s gift again. Her comment, when we all started to object? “I always get what I want.”

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      And that’s a jerk of a boss who rigs the game to go last and pick the best gift.

      * Noteing that best can be subjective.

  125. Shira VonDoom*

    Secret Santa at an old job (which had many issues, LOL, this was just…the very least indicator):

    I put an EXTENSIVE list of interests/likes, from exotic (bats) to standard (chocolate)

    I got: an xmas Scentsy

    I’m not Christian and I hate most scented things.

    I gave it to a friend. I’d bought something NICE for my person too. I was so mad, LOL

    1. BubbleTea*

      I’m confused why not being Christian makes a Christmas Scentsy inappropriate for you. Participating in Secret Santa does suggest you celebrate Christmas.

      1. KCanadian*

        I’d have to disagree. Secret Santa doesn’t mean you celebrate Christmas, it’s just what companies generally call their holiday gift exchanges.

        I think the bigger thing is that the person didn’t get anything even remotely related to what they knew Shira liked. Also, even if you DO celebrate Christmas, Scentsy is an MLM. It’s generally not a good idea to give MLM products

      2. Shira VonDoom*

        What KCanadian said.

        it’s just a gift exchange, I’ve taken part in them plenty of times. No one else has ever given me anything oriented towards a holiday I don’t celebrate, LOL, even at work exchanges.

        food and presents are non-denominational, and while I don’t host such things, if invited I’ll participate in line with whatever vibe I’m informed the party is aligned.

        I also get work days off for the winter holiday I don’t celebrate, which I also accept with interest, LOL

  126. Vio*

    I was once given the book “How To Win Friends And Influence People” by a (probably) well meaning colleague. I was extremely socially awkward and always struggled making and keeping friends, instead of helping, this just made me more self conscious about it. I did try reading it once but it seemed largely about “how to pretend to be nice while manipulating people” though that might just have been to do with how cynical and depressed I was at the time.

    In my last year of Secondary School I did a work experience placement at a local free newspaper. The office staff had a secret santa going on at the time and decided that they’d do a random draw to see who would buy me a gift. Since I was 16 and had no income I didn’t have to buy any gift. I don’t know which of them drew the short straw, but for some reason they had bought me, a shy 16 year old boy, a large pink bra. I was just glad that it was my last day there and I never had to see any of them again.

    1. ICodeForFood*

      Sorry you feel that way about “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I’m on the spectrum, and found it helpful. I wasn’t pretending to be nice; I’m genuinely nice, but had no idea how to get that across…

      1. Vio*

        It’s probably more to do with my mindset at the time. Depression can really paint a bleakness onto anything. I imagine it would be a completely different read nowadays, though I’m not sure I’d fit it into my ever growing reading list!

  127. Miss Pre-K*

    Just this year my job had a holiday party with an optional grab bag gift game. I have zero regrets not participating. Someone very plus size ended up with a too small hoody. The person who got chocolates is allergic to chocolate and of the two people who got bottles of wine one is allergic to red wine and one was the only employee under 21.

    1. Giant Kitty*

      Do you work in a sitcom? LMAO It’s like each gift was tailor made to be the worst choice for each recipient.

      I hope people were able to swap things around to their satisfaction/ safety!

  128. WhoKnows*

    My most recent boss took the cake for bad holiday gifts. We had a big team, but they couldn’t have put less effort in if they tried. They clearly had someone (an assistant, housekeeper even, they were that rich) just order a random bunch of crap on Amazon, had Amazon gift-wrap the presents, and then left them in a box on their office floor. In order to get our holiday gift, we had to knock on their office door and ask for it. My boss would then point to the floor, say “grab something” and just continue working. I felt like a begging orphan from a Dickensian novel.

    Also: the random present I got was a men’s winter hat. I am a woman. We had 2 men on the team, and 10 women, so I got real unlucky. I gave it to my dad.

    1. WhoKnows*

      Adding: the year before, the boss bought a bag full of random crap, threw it on a conference room table and said “pick one.” That year, I got a deck of cards.