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.

{ 740 comments… read them below }

  1. kiri*

    I hold a longstanding grudge against my work’s Yankee Swap because the last time I participated, I received a present wrapped in an old event poster that turned out to be a gallon Ziploc bag full of mini marshmallows. Thanks for providing you an excuse to clean out your pantry?? It felt way weirder than getting them in their original packaging, too – like, what were they doing between their original bag and the Ziploc??

    (I know this is a present that might appeal to some, and it might seem petty, but it ended up feeling emblematic of SO MANY ISSUES with our workplace, especially when others got way more thoughtful things!)

    1. Harper*

      I’ve seen these types of gift exchanges where the gifts are supposed to be kind of awful/funny. Do you think your coworker assumed this and was going for humor with the used marshmallows? LOL

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        This is why the Rules need to be clearly spelled out. People have different concepts of how it is supposed to be. Not just a price limit, but clearly is this a jokey thing or a get something nice but within the limit thing?

        1. TootsNYC*

          yeah, the names theoretically should tell you; but I saw someone asking about what nice inexpensive gift they should buy for a white elephant gift exchange…

          People use those terms without any awareness of or attention paid to the original meaning.

          1. Golden*

            There’s so many names for this nowadays that I think they’ve all kind of blended. White Elephant, Yankee Swap, Dirty Santa, [Specific Nationality] Christmas (which for good reason doesn’t seem to be used anymore), etc. Agree with Pastor Petty LaBelle that the rules need spelling out regardless of what the game is called in a particular office.

            My previous office had this issue, where some people thought the idea was to bring literal trash and others put effort into a desirable gift. My favorite was the employee who, every year, would end up with the worst gift despite contributing something only marginally better, and then throw a fit about it.

            1. JustaTech*

              I just got back from ours (which we call White Elephant) and I am *extremely* clear in the posters and email invite both the max value and the expected type of gift.
              So some things are gag gifts, but nothing is actual trash.

              1. Genie*

                In my institute (in the Netherlands) we bring one nice gift for under 10 euro, and one thing “from the attic”. Its fun to compete for the nice prizes and try to sneakily hand off the attic ones (and its fully optional, organised by more junior staff).

      1. DenimChicken*

        How do know they weren’t homemade? What if the gifter spent months collecting the little, leftover scraps of soap from the bottom of the shower to mold them into tiny marshmallow shapes?

        1. WellRed*

          Obviously anyone who goes to the trouble of handcrafting marshmallows would pay attention to Presentation of the Marshmallows. ; )

            1. Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier*

              Great, now I gotta go filk a marshmallow-themed parody of the Coventry Carol…

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      My previous org’s white elephant (aka yankee swap) was always such a crap shoot.

      My first year I received a used, broken ice scraper for car windshields; I found out later that it was from a VP that made six figures. Another year I received a used, broken toy parrot that had been circulating in the annual exchange for years. My last year I received an at-home waxing kit that looked like it was made in the 70s; I left it in my office when I quit.

      The most common and popular gifts were always gift cards and bottles of booze.

      1. WellRed*

        But white elephants denote junk gifts in a way that Yankee Swap does not. I think white elephant gift exchanges should be banned from the planets because who wants broken ice scrapers?

        1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

          We just had this discussion at work. On the west coast “white elephant” has become the generic term for all swaps. So then you have westcoasters bringing nice things and east coasters bringing recycled things.

          Although even a white elephant is not supposed to be broken crap, its supposed to be something funny or weird like an ugly but functional lamp.

          1. Labracadabrador*

            The best white elephant gift I ever saw in real life was a banana costume. “Funny or weird” definitely fit. The *really* funny part was that when our manager asked who on earth had thought to bring it, whoever it was declined to self-identify, so we had a quick but rousing debate about which coworker was most likely to be the Mystery Banana Bringer.

          2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

            Yeah, as a west coaster my experience is that every gift swap is called White Elephant. More than 20 years in this part of the country and my only exposure to the other names is here, in this forum.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          The instructions suggested a $15 price point and encouraged whimsical, funny gifts.

          Like I said, most people brought gift cards or booze. There were also some nice gifts that were fought over. And then there were the trash gifts that no one wanted.

          The org would also add a handful of really nice gifts – Ninja juicer, Chromecast, bluetooth speaker, etc. It added to the excitement, but also the disparity.

        3. Mouse*

          It’s regional. I’m in California and every exchange I have been to for over 25 years has been called a White Elephant and 99% of them meant nice gifts within the stated budget, with a couple of exchange hosts specifying funny gifts. I never even heard the term Yankee Swap until a few years ago.

        4. ampersand*

          I attempted to look up the difference between these gift exchanges, and Wikipedia said a white elephant and Yankee swap are the same thing! Wikipedia isn’t always the best place for info but if people aren’t sure what’s what and look it up online, I can see how they’re getting confused about when to give a joke vs. real gift. Agree that the terms need to be spelled out ahead of time.

        5. Artemesia*

          White elephant NEVER meant inedible food and broken stuff. The idea was that old deviled egg plate sitting in your cabinet you never use, or the ugly vase you got years ago from your aunt, or the picture frame with seashells glued on it. i.e. stuff you don’t want, not stuff that is utter trash, broken and unusable.

        6. littlehope*

          I have never personally been involved in white elephant situation- I think it might be less of a thing in the UK?- but I’ve always thought it seems much better suited to a group of friends who really know each other and share a sense of humour than to a workplace. That just seems like it will always have a lot of potential for mismatched expectations and hurt feelings.

        7. AcademiaNut*

          The original meeting of white elephant was things that you had that you didn’t want, but someone else might enjoy, so more of a garage sale in gift form than giving people literal garbage.

          Honestly, a gift swap that involves trading actual garbage with people seems sort of pointless and mean. And if someone goes home with a nice bottle of wine, and someone else gets dirty socks, you probably need to rethink your holiday activities.

          A swap with a mixture of more mundane gifts and weird joke gifts can be a lot of fun, but you need to know your audience, and clearly spell things out. If done well, the weird joke gifts are the ones fought over.

          1. Tinkerbell*

            I got a KitchenAid mixer from a whit elephant swap once! My coworker had a decent one but was starting a home baking business and her MIL went out and got her a really nice one so she brought the old one to the swap. It was way out of price range for a $15 swap (new they go for like $250+), but I was the only one there who didn’t own one already + everyone knew I love to bake + I was still using my crappy $10 hand mixer I had in college, so nobody stole it from me :-D

    3. WeirdChemist*

      I came into work yesterday to find a coworker had left me a gallon-sized ziploc bag full of loose leaf tea on my desk, so I feel you lol. I drink tea regularly, but it is a LOT of tea…

      I feel like marshmallows is weirder though haha

      1. Rocket Raccoon*

        My family drinks a lot of tea. We legit buy loose leaf tea in 1 gallon bags (sealed, labelled, mylar bags)!

      2. Bewildered of Ziploc Gallon Gifts...*

        was it one type of tea or did they get creative and make a ‘propietary’ blend…?

      3. ThatGirl*

        I had a coworker give me a ziploc freezer bag full of cocoa powder once. But I knew it was coming, and it wasn’t a Christmas gift or anything.

        1. 40 Years In the Hole*

          Not quite seasonal, but I’ll see your cocoa powder, and raise you a 10 lb bag of freshly-harvested fiddleheads that showed up on my desk one Monday morning.

            1. Artemesia*

              garlic scapes last a very long time in the crisper drawer and are amazing to cook with — so much better flavor than actual garlic cloves which often taste ‘off’

              1. Arts Akimbo*

                I love to slice them thinly and sprinkle them over smoked fish on toast, with just a sprinkle of lemon juice!

    4. 1-800-BrownCow*

      To be honest, I don’t enjoy Yankee Swaps myself. One place I worked, the rules were very loose, you could bring either a serious or a funny gift worth $25. Problem was, most the people who brought serious gifts seemed to always get stuck with the junky, funny gifts and the funny gift givers would end up with a nice, serious gifts. Then the serious gift givers would be annoyed that they spent $25 on a good gift and received something that they were just going to throw out or give to the thrift store. But then the following year, if the serious gift giver decided to “play along” and get something funny instead, other’s would complain that not enough people brought serious gifts. I dreaded it every year and was happy when I left the company and was thankful my new workplace didn’t do gift exchanges at all.

    5. Jenifer Crawford*

      Could it be possible that the marshmallows were used as a second layer of wrapping, or to cushion an real gift also inside the bag? I would think the giver would have spoken up if that were the case, but you never know.

    6. Surrogate Tongue Pop*

      I just went to a party where it was supposed to be the best worst gift and someone got a ziploc full of ripe baby guavas. Someone else got a costco sized jar of mayo. And a 3rd got a single vise grip clamp. Just a clamp in a festive bag. Another person got the attorney general’s formal commission report on “pr0n0graphy” in paperback form. So there’s that.

    7. another fed*

      Most of the time, those kinds of gifts hid lottery tickets or some cash in swaps I’ve done, so that would make me mad too.

    8. Alwaysb@work*

      I can only make sense of Secret Santa as a joke gift. It has to be low stakes or people get upset/offended. Friends and family can buy me meaningful, nice, thoughtful gifts because they know me well enough to know what I like. I don’t want Jane in accounts to spend hours determining which $50 scented candle I would LOVE. None of them Jane – but the ugly garden ornament your Great-Aunt gave you is a hoot, and I will definitely re-gift it next year.

    9. Princess Sparklepony*

      The marshmallows wouldn’t bother me but having them out of their original (sealed) packaging and in a ziplock…. that’s a no go. You don’t know where they have been. Trash receptacle on the horizon. (Were they at least fresh? I have found out that marshmallows turn hard and yellow if left for two plus years in the back of a cupboard…)

  2. Dave*

    In a Secret Santa exchange where several people refused to buy for other people so it was highly rigged, one 40ish female decided to buy underwear for a 20ish younger male. I still have no idea why they thought that was a good idea.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I should stop reading after this. If there is a better comment, this will be the greatest day of my life.

    1. anon for this*

      I think I might have sort of done this myself– I was a twenty-something woman, my Secret-Santa person was a twenty-something woman, so I got the kind of gift I would get one of my friends or enjoy getting myself, which was a pair of sparkly silver tights. Except when my colleague opened it, she made a kind of “ew” face and looked around as if to say, “which one of you creeps bought me an underwear-adjacent present”. I was MORTIFIED and I didn’t dare own up!

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        In my 20s, I got a pair of sparkly silver tights from my secret Santa. I don’t know which old creeper gave them to me, but it’s been a helluva story for two decades.
        (This would be so awesome if it were true. Like the Best Holiday Party Ever woman hearing the legend she created!)

    2. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I wonder if it’s related to that joke about men never buying their own socks or underwear and just waiting until their birthday/holidays to receive new ones as gifts???

      Still an absolutely wild choice for a coworker.

    3. SunriseRuby*

      My ex-husband has worked in long-term care facilities for his entire career, so he’s always been surrounded by a lot of female co-workers. About 25 years ago, he came home with his Secret Santa gift, a pair of boxer shorts in a Christmas-themed print of round ornaments and the words “Jingle these”. He and all the nurses, nursing assistants and office staff he worked with thought they were absolutely hilarious. He didn’t get why I wasn’t amused.

      1. KeinName*

        The same happened to my ex-boyfriend: majority female staff company, he and his brother worked there as sons of the owner, and one of the older female leaders got them both satin underpants. I was quite impressed Someone would do that. Did last a long time also the pants.

    4. vito*

      I got that my first job out of college (christmas bikini breifs), they had me open it in front of a room full of women.

  3. gingersnap*

    A VIP who our department worked with would often send us individual boxes of chocolates that his coat of arms stamped on the individual chocolates – very bougie. One year he was frustrated with our executive director and *somehow* said director did not receive a chocolate box that year. This VIP was always subtly passive aggressive and as the underlings who were fed up with our boss, we loved that the VIP noticed. Boss pouted in his office the rest of the day while we enjoyed our fancy chocolates.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        There’s places where you can design them and have them put on all sorts of things! They are definitely tourist traps

      2. Silver Robin*

        You can just make one up, there are sites online that will let you customize them. And then I presume you can get custom printed chocolates so all you have to do is send them the appropriate image file. Bada bing, bada boom, you have yourself a coat of arms!

      3. gingersnap*

        This was a religious organization so it wasn’t a personal coat of arms but rather a coat of arms of his office.

        1. TootsNYC*

          this doesn’t bother me so terribly much, actually. The gift was being given to people at work, so it’s an official sort of thing. And the coat of arms is for his office, not him personally, so also official.

          It’s like my boss giving us a present that has the logo of our company on it.

      4. Snow Globe*

        If you google your last name + coat of arms, you will definitely get an image of a coat of arms supposedly for your family.

      5. UKDancer*

        You either buy it or inherit it.

        You can buy it (online mostly) from any number of outfits. Most of them are not worth the paper they’re printed on but if they make you happy I suppose there’s no harm.

        Or if you become a member of the UK House of Lords you get a coat of arms designed for you. So I suppose you could say you buy it by other means (if you get the peerage for services to a political party for example).

        Or you can inherit it if you’re an hereditary peer. So I worked as a guide for a chap with a title once. He had a title which had a coat of arms and he was something like the 20th person to have that coat of arms. He also had a castle with a leaking roof and no money, hence why he opened it for tourists.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          People who are knighted by the British monarch/government can have more official coats of arms, if they want. When Terry Pratchett became Sir Terry, he designed a coat of arms, including an ankh (of course) and the Latin for “don’t fear the reaper.”

      6. Michelle*

        I don’t know how authentic it was, but when I was a kid my grandmother had a coat of arms on the wall that was supposedly her family’s before they immigrated from Ireland. It was one of the things I really wanted when she died, but no one could find it.

        1. MikeM_inMD*

          When one of us would comment on the magazine ads touting “your own personal coat of arms” and the like, my dad would always say, “Our ancestors were potato farmers. We don’t have a coat of arms.” So one year for Christmas, I designed a coat of arms and gave it to him – three potatoes and pitchfork on a field of green. He loved it and hung it in his living room. When he passed, I inherited it.

      7. Student*

        In the US, you just decide you want one and make it.

        And then, outside some weird spots along the East Coast, everyone else gives you very serious side-eye.

        I regret that I am living in one of those weird East Coast spots right now and have multiple co-workers with things like a “coat-of-arms”, a “family crest”, and once witnessed a very adjacent-seeming and utterly baffling discussion about family kilt patterns and kilt-related family history or some such thing that I lack the culture and upbringing to care about. There is a popular bumper sticker around my house that I assume is from some local school or club, featuring a crest with a lion rampant and… a soccer ball.

        1. Avery*

          Also US, and the geographical connection never occurred to me, but it might explain the one distant relative who made a big deal about his family surname and “crest”, got a bunch of items custom-made with it on there… then he passed, the rest of us had a different surname, and we had to figure out what to do with this stuff.
          According to family lore, the solution was looking up someone local in the phone book with the same surname, going to their home on Christmas, leaving the stuff on their doorstep, and then ringing the doorbell and leaving.
          I would be fascinated if I ever found out the other side of this story, because it must be quite a tale…

          1. Honestly, some people’s children!*

            My cats are looking at my like I’ve finally completely snapped because I’m laughing over the image of someone answering the door to a box of random junk with their last name and family crest on it. Like WTF?

            1. Avery*

              It really is a beautiful mental image!
              Though I feel the need to clarify that at least some of it wasn’t outright junk. There were, like, good-quality towels and such in there. Our family just thought it’d be weird to use them when we don’t share the surname in question. (Which is true… but our solution is probably ALSO rather weird…)

              1. Avery*

                On the off-chance that someone who knows the other end of this story is reading this: it happened in the Chicago area, and the surname in question is a somewhat common Germanic surname beginning with the letter W.

                1. Arts Akimbo*

                  I would love it if this happens to be the surname of a member of my favorite Chicago band. In fact, I’m just going to imagine it is, and that it happened at his house. LOL

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          All this is reminding me of that late Mad Men episode where Pete’s kid can’t get into a fancy kindergarten because his last name is Campbell. “The king ORDERED it!”

      8. Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier*

        Can’t speak for places like the UK, where they take that kind of thing very seriously, but here in Sweden there’s a private organization that will register one for you for the laughs. They’re fairly interested in heraldry (and do kind of take themselves a little too seriously) so it’s not one of those “buy a square foot of Scotland and proclaim yourself a Lord” kind of fly-by-night organizations.

        And yes, I did register one.

        The fun thing about this organization is that you can register it in a specific ancestor’s name so that everyone descended from that same ancestor gets to use it. So I designed one that’s a visual pun on the name of my Swedish great-great grandfather, colored it like a European speed limit sign, and sent off the registration fee. Hey presto, we’re pretentious, cousins!

      9. starsaphire*

        One has to keep in mind that those “hereditary” coats of arms don’t actually belong to the whole family. The Whatsisname family crest actually belonged to Bob Whatsisname, who probably died in 1831 or something, and the entire Whatsisname family does not actually “own” that device.

        But yeah, a whole lot of tourist traps will happily take your $200 to sell you a small plaque with “your family crest” on it, no problem.

  4. ZinniaOhZinnia*

    during the beginning of the pandemic, my boss’ “holiday gifts” were a small bag containing:
    -expired potato chips
    -one single serving bottle of sparkling grape juice
    -three stale cookies
    -a gift card for $5 from Starbucks.

    We had all worked overtime at this nonprofit (without extra pay!) simply to get food to people who needed it most at that time and so this certainly didn’t feel like an expression of their gratitude so much as an afterthought.

    This is also the boss that then gave me/other staff members a cost of living increase of less than 2% in a year with massive inflation (COL in our area rose by 6% that year).

    More than half the staff quit shortly after.

      1. ZinniaOhZinnia*

        Pretty much! I threw out the stuff that was expired/not edible and gave away the Starbucks gift card (with cash and real food) to a nearby unhoused person, so at least someone got something out of the situation.

  5. KSSanon*

    Our (male) manager thought it’d be a great idea to buy one expensive necklace then hold a drawing for the ‘winner.’ For a department staffed by about 20 women. And no other gifts were given, not even a small token. Of course, one of the less popular ladies won which incited hard feelings and grumbling for quite some time. Needless to say, Christmas gifts were much more equitable the following year!

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Interesting! I was reading “less popular” as introverted, not part of the group, an outlier not into things that the majority were. (Kind of a high school take)
          Not less well liked because of favoritism!

          1. KSSanon*

            You’re close. Not because of favoritism at all, just some personality quirks that the cool girls found irritating. She was very sweet but she wasn’t sleeping with the boss!

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              good. I prefer thinking she wasn’t liked because of other people’s issues. Go, unknown office woman! You be you.

    1. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

      This sounds like something that was won or purchased for something else entirely, then shifted to “Christmas gift” later.

    2. JSPA*

      fan fic:
      Manager’s wife finds receipt for his mistress gift.
      He covers by coming up with the story of doing a drawing for it at work.
      She feigns extreme enthusiasm, makes sure he knows she’ll be there, or else asking around about it.
      So then he has to go through with it.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Fan fic inception, the affair partner is the less popular coworker whose relationship is an open secret.

      1. Godbert*

        Plausible tbh. Certainly wouldn’t be the first time a jerk covered for jerk behavior by saying “uhhh it’s for work”

      2. Expelliarmus*

        I wonder how the Emma Thompson-Alan Rickman Love Actually storyline would have been if this is how it was handled instead of Emma’s character crying in a room by herself and then carrying on. It would have satisfied a boss-moment fantasy, I’m sure!

      3. Irish Teacher.*

        This may not actually be what happened, but it would make a great plotline for a soap or something.

    3. Honestly, some people’s children!*

      Not my department but something like this happened in another department only the woman with the “office tramp and proud of it” reputation won. People were more amused than anything that she won.

  6. Juicebox Hero*

    In a retail job I had after college, one of my coworkers was an older, rather quirky woman. Among her quirks was hoarding (her word) paper products and underwear. Specifically women’s Jockey 3-packs. She had a closet full of them. Didn’t wear them or anything, just saved them. Whenever a new style or pattern came out she’d wait and wait for them to go on sale to add to her stash.

    On Christmas Eve all the departments usually had little parties to celebrate surviving another shopping season and we’d exchange small gifts. One year she gave me a small bag from which I pulled a 3-pack of Jockey underpants in front of all our coworkers and whoever else was around. She had parted with a pack from her precious hoard just for me.

    Never been so touched and mortified at the same time in my life.

      1. Juicebox Hero*

        No, but I work with a grouchy old Dave who’s side hustle is impersonating a certain very popular singer known for pompadours and sparkly jumpsuits.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Hidden within this is an AAM short story doorstop novel about surviving the zombie apocalypse by never leaving your office building.

      1. Juicebox Hero*

        You don’t know how right you are. I still exchange Christmas cards with this coworker and see her son-in-law a few times a year. According to him, her stash of paper products was a lifesaver during COVID.

        1. Time for a change?*

          My grocery store rewards program has weekly buy x number items get 400 points as part of it. There was a time when the toilet paper I bought was part of one regularly and usually it was on sale at the same time. So I had a nice stash when covid started. I already kept Kleenex stocked as there were 5 people with allergies and we have a box (or 2) in every room, garage and all the cars (18 total)

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I’ve always been anxious about running out of paper products. Probably because I was so broke after college, I grabbed wads of napkins from McDonald’s so I’d have paper towels, toilet paper, and Kleenex for a few days. Ouch. When our grocery store had BOGO sales – or any kind of special – I bought so much that my ex joked I knew something about the Apocalypse no one else did.

            Now single with lots of storage space in my garage, I have at least a year’s worth of every paper product I use. During COVID’s early days, my friends were also welcome to my private stash. Some couldn’t resist a joke or two, but that’s okay. I am kinda weird about this.

            1. Lana Kane*

              I hear you. My sister and I were raised by a single mom and money was tight. The priorities were groceries and paying rent/utility bills, so we’d often run out of things like toilet paper, kleenex, etc and use napkins. We’d also slit open toothpaste to scrape the very last bit so it would last till next payday lol Nowadays I always have a stash of those items we’d have to stretch out. It’s calming to me to know I always have a replacement when something runs out. I too, was aaaallllll set during Covid for TP!

            2. Britpoptarts*

              I also typically have hoards of staples. In my case, it’s because I (like you!) have experienced bouts of poverty and have resorted to “free” fast food napkins for a variety of uses (and “exciting” things to do with what used to be ten-for-a-buck unpalatable ramen noodles), so I learned that having an extra couple of 16-roll TP packages stored, extra batteries, extra pet food and litter, a bathroom shelf with spares of my favorite shampoos/soaps/toiletries, and a pantry full of canned goods makes my anxiety lessen. Bonus: I live where hurricanes hit, and during prolonged power outages and closed stores, those stockpiles have saved my bacon before.

              I, too, got ribbed about knowing the pandemic was upon us in advance. (Only partially and very unhelpfully true. I was reading rumblings in world news articles in December of 2019 and saw some op-eds/statements in January 2020 that were concerned about our lack of pandemic preparedness (if memory serves, Katie Porter, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden all notably warned about the possibility Something Dire could happen if we didn’t restore our pandemic preparedness teams and PPP stocks then) and while I assumed that it was unlikely an actual pandemic would happen (and it miraculously didn’t spike my anxiety at the time), the possibility was out there. But whomst among us would have EVER imagined…!)

              No, friends and family, I am not psychic. I just hate running out of stuff. (Yes, you can have a roll or two of TP.)

              I can’t wait until I find and move into my next home. It will have storage (fingers crossed) and that storage will definitely have at least one big package of TP in it. My other squirrely anxiety hoards will likely relocate as well.

              1. Missy*

                I have a System. Not because of growing up poor, I just like Systems. So if anything is shelf stable enough to be stored in the garage, I like to keep one extra unopened package at all times. When I run out of the current open package, I get a new one from the shelf and add it to the shopping list. The problem is that my teenagers won’t take more than 10 seconds to look for the current open package before getting a new one, and we end up with six open and half-used tubes of toothpaste at once. Which makes it impossible to tell when we actually need more, so my husband doesn’t buy any when he does the shopping. Which is why I’m now out of toothpaste.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      I had a boss that was similar but with pantyhose. She had easily 200 pairs. Never gifted them to anyone, though!

  7. Constance Lloyd*

    A few years back, my employer did not clarify whether the gift exchange was meant to be nice gifts or gag gifts. Some people received generally pleasant things like cocoa or candles. I received a heavily worn, not-recently-washed men’s polo shirt covered in cat hair.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        We had a gift from a vendor that was a tiny Christmas tree that smelled like armpit once.

        And only once.

    1. trust me I'm a PhD*

      this happened to me, though not quite as gross

      white elephant gift exchange, which i assumed meant “something lying around your house” and someone else assumed meant “gag gift.” so i brought in and gave away a cd i didn’t listen to very much, and in return i got raw (?) pork rinds

        1. Clisby*

          I want to know, too. Where would you even get raw pork rinds? I like the crunchy cooked pork rinds, but I only get them at a neighborhood BBQ joint. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea where to get the raw product to make my own – not that I’m interested in making my own.

          1. merula*

            You can buy raw pork skin for chicharrones at the hispanic markets in my area, although it’s a way better option to buy their house-made ones.

      1. TootsNYC*

        yeah, a white elephant is supposed to be something that could have value to the right person.
        But people think of it as a gag gift often.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I agree, and think most people interpret ‘white elephant’ to mean joke or entertainment value gifts, or things like gift cards for a merchant you don’t like, say, SBux.

          But even gag gifts shouldn’t be dirty, broken, smelly, or other wise icky. I’ve seen a half-empty container of frosting, a very old stick vac with a full bag, a not new litter box scoop, and a half-empty box of sanitary pads. Shudder.

          1. Constance Lloyd*

            Other gag gifts from that exchange included a framed photograph of the gif giver (a burly bearded man who went all out recreating 80s glamour shots) and a full set of Lisa Frank dolphin office supplies. Both excellent workplace joke gifts!

    2. Emily Byrd Starr*

      I wonder if the person put their dirty laundry in the wrong bag that day, and was mortified when they accidentally laundered a scented candle.

  8. Amber Rose*

    More silly than anything, but my coworker came into my office yesterday holding a bag and told me to pull out my Christmas card. What I actually pulled out was a tiny bottle of Bailey’s. The bag was absolutely full of alcohol.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      The amount of booze floating around the office at this time of year is eye opening.

      As recently as the mid-2010s, I’ve worked in places that celebrated contracts with either toasts or shots, and I mean literal champagne or hard liquor from the owner’s collection.

      1. Amber Rose*

        When I first started at this company, my boss was handing out shots of whiskey one holiday afternoon. He was in a very good mood so I assume he’d had one or two before the rest of us.

        1. JustaTech*

          The company that used to be across the street from my office had a tradition of “Christmas coffee” where the boss would come around and offer you whiskey for your coffee, starting at like 10am, all December.
          I’m amazed they ever got anything done.

    2. king of the pond*

      Please tell me the other bottles in the bag were tiny. I could see this just barely flying under the professionalism/appropriateness radar if it was a bag full of those at-the-checkout sample bottles, but anything bigger and it would get crazy fast.

    3. Juneybug*

      Had a teacher hand out liqueur-filled chocolates at school. During the work day. Didn’t tell anyone they were full of hard alcohol. Said they were specialty chocolates from overseas. Ate one and had a strong buzz for an hour. The rest of the day sweated off any remaining liquor worrying I would get fired from drinking on the job.

      1. londonedit*

        I didn’t realise these are not a thing in the US! Absolute staple of British Christmases in the 1970s/80s – you don’t see them as much now because they’re thought of as a bit naff, but my grandparents would always buy liqueur chocolates to have over Christmas (having a selection of sweets and chocolates is a very common feature of a British Christmas – you’ll have a selection tin like Quality Street or Roses, mint Matchmakers, After Eights, marzipan fruits, those odd jelly fruit slices, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, etc etc). As children we always wanted to have one but never liked them when we did! They’re literally little hollow chocolate bottles filled with various spirits.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          They are standard chocolates in Russia, and no one would even count them as “drinking on the job”. Kids were allowed to eat them too.

          1. Silver Robin*

            I remember my grandfather delighting in offering us little chocolates and then laughing as our faces screwed up in disgust at the taste of alcohol; we learned quickly to check the shape!

        2. Ama*

          You can get them in certain states, but many states’ liquor laws prevent it . I had a college Christmas job working at a Godiva Chocolatier in a state with very strict laws and we constantly had to tell people that we weren’t allowed to sell the liqueur truffles the brand had available elsewhere.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I can’t see getting away with this in my state, at least in physical stores. Too much trouble with The Powerful and Terrible State Liquor Board.

          1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

            I have been told that “naff” is from Polari (1950s/60s British gay slang) and I want it to be true so badly that I refuse to google! (Have also heard that it derives from “normal as f*ck” but I am 100% sure that’s a backronym (fake acronym applied retrospectively to a word that is not, in fact, an acronym, like “port out starboard home” for “posh”.)

        3. iglwif*

          We have those in Canada, too! Though I think they mostly come from various places in Europe (the UK, Germany, Poland, Russia…)

          There’s one type that’s like a cashew or kidney shape filled with brandy that turn up frequently at holiday parties.

          I must say I enjoy liqueur a lot more when it’s inside a chocolate shell XD

        4. Jenifer Crawford*

          Terry’s Chocolate Oranges.continue on as part of my, and my adult children’s, lives. I even fancy those odd jelly fruit slices, as they were one of the few candies I ever saw my dad eat. This comment coming to you courtesy of an American eho has never lived in the UK.

          1. Jelizabug*

            I am always on the lookout for Terry’s Chocolate Oranges this time of year. But I’ve been so disappointed – sometime in the last decade, they started hollowing out their slices and making the oranges smaller. And this year my orange didn’t even have the core! Ah well. Still my favorite Christmas chocolate!

          1. londonedit*

            Constantly surprised by the words Americans have never heard of! Naff just means a bit passé, a bit unfashionable and a bit cringeworthy.

        5. Never the Twain*

          When I was young (and one of six kids) the elderly couple next door once got us each a pack of liqueur chocolates for Christmas, probably just thinking ‘Oh, chocolate’. Which is what we thought as well until trying one and wondering why someone would gift us petrol for Christmas. After which, the rest (so, approx. 6 x 11) were all surreptitiously fed to the dog who slept through Christmas afternoon into Boxing Day and remained fairly subdued right up to New Year.

      2. Cruciatus*

        This reminds me of when I went to Germany on a high school trip and a whole bunch of my classmates bought something very similar (maybe the same thing!)–chocolates fill with liquor. They were able to keep it off our chaperones’ radar and get back into the country with them (though it was also the ’90s so airports were maybe a little more easygoing then). I don’t remember exactly what they were, but I just tried Googling and Asbach brandy chocolates look really familiar.

        1. GrumpyPenguin*

          Ah yes, the famous Asbach pralines. Asbach is the oldest German brandy distillery and their sweats were invented so women could have some alcohol too. To this day, they are very popular among elderly ladies. My grandma loved them.

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          Definitely different now. I asked my nephew to bring me real Kinder eggs when he was in Frankfurt in 2015. They were confiscated at an airport in Pennsylvania.

      3. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Ah. Those things.

        Explaining to corporate that “uh, yeah. In the state we are located in, we need a liquor license to sell those” was always SO.MUCH.FUN. Because they’d just ship them to all of their stores, and we’d try to refuse that particular box of merchandise, mark them out of stock, whatever. And then some minion would come in from corporate and try to ding us for “not properly merchandising” or some such dreck.

        The universes did cooperate to make it stop. The head of marketing was in town, along with the district manager, on the DAY that a random LEO happened to see the chocolates that had just been placed on the shelf (by the DM) and asked the store manager where the liquor license was displayed. Suddenly there were no more issues.

      4. JSPA*

        Even the strong ones tend to be ~1/10 to ~1/20 of a shot’s-worth of alcohol. Most people are more likely to feel buzzed from the sugar, or the idea of liqueur, than the contents.

        1. Dulcinea47*

          Thisssssssss! People say things like they’re drunk after eating two rum balls, and it’s nonsense. In reality, an entire batch of two dozen rum balls has a couple tablespoons worth of rum, total. They taste strong but are not. If you ate them all at once you’d be sick from the sugar, but still not buzzed.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            The recipe I make calls for 1/2 of bourbon for 3 dozens. There is no way anyone will get drunk on two bourbon balls.

          2. Cheap Date*

            Well, since I can get a buzz off the amount of red wine I can lick off the tines of a fork, I might be the exception. (More likely an allergic response to the congeners than the effects of the alcohol, but still…). I might be able to handle two rumballs, but I’d be feeling two tablespoons of rum!

          3. MassMatt*

            I wonder if people are feeling buzzed from consuming a couple liquor-filled chocolates because of the psychological effect of the taste and/or because they don’t usually drink and are lightweights?

          4. zinzarin*

            I think that rum balls (a solid confection with rum as an ingredient) are different from liquor chocolates (a hollow confection with liquid brandy (or similar) inside). I believe the latter could definitely get you a decent buzz at as small a quantity as 2 or 3.

            1. Random Dice*

              My mom used to make a cake that was soaked in booze, and it was the most boozy thing I’ve ever had.

      5. Lainey L. L-C*

        Makes me think of a cake my dad got as a Christmas gift at work, him saying this cake tasted weird. Me, inspects the packaging – “Dad this cake is soaked in bourbon!” (He doesn’t drink.)

      6. GrumpyPenguin*

        I mean, technically he wasn’t lying… He just didn’t give you all information and you didn’t ask. Still not lying though.

          1. Expelliarmus*

            Also, it’s alcohol; you DEFINITELY need to let people know before they consume. Especially at WORK!

    4. Cathie from Canada*

      First Christmas I worked at the university I brought in a bottle of Bailey’s for Christmas Eve and the Dean was horrified – turned out the university was built on land once gifted from a Temperance Colony in 1907 and the deal was that no alcohol would ever be available in classroom buildings. Apparently a Dean in another college had actually been slapped down by the President for offering wine to his staff! In 1990! Ridiculous, yes, but everyone still took it seriously. I hid the bottle in my coal closet till I could take it home.

    5. a cat named Brian*

      Well I’m a manager. I recently went to France and bought these cute chocolates that I “read” had alcohol. I thought this was a filling flavoring. I joyfully went around the department with homemade peppermint bark and the bottled shaped chocolate. Imagine my surprise when one of my colleagues bit into the chocolate that basically had a shot of cognac. At 9am. I then went through the office and warned everyone. I think I’m the new favorite manager.

  9. gingersnap*

    At another job, we held a secret Santa gift exchange with a $20 suggested spend. One coworker had his sister shop for his gift and didn’t even ask what she bought. She thought it was a white-elephant exchange and wrapped up a hilarious lamp made out of a liquor bottle. When the admin who opened it was rightfully upset, the offending coworker didn’t realize why it was a big deal. Days later he tried to give the admin a $20 bill and it ended in a shouting match. It was tense for a long time after that…

    1. cindylouwho*

      Okay but this sounds kind of cool though? Like a bottle lamp is pretty neat! Why were they so upset?

      1. Elspeth*

        Yeah I got a lamp made from a Jack Daniels bottle from a secret Santa gift exchange a few years back. The guy who brought it had a friend who made them. It was definitely seen as a desirable gift at the exchange and I was happy with it. I can see in certain offices the alcohol part being an issue but for her to be so offended seems kind of odd.

        1. Elspeth*

          I guess I can see it being better suited for a white elephant exchange rather than as a specific gift for a specific person. Maybe she felt he thought she was tacky or something.

      2. Tio*

        Something like that is really specific to a type of person with certain tastes. I can definitely see it not being apprecaited at a lot of exchanges, and definiitely shows not a lot of thought was put into it

      3. gingersnap*

        This was the latest in a long line of incidents where said coworker did the bare minimum and pawned off what he perceived as “women’s work” on his sister. It wasn’t so much about the lamp, it was the fact that he put no effort into the gift and then tried to toss money at the problem later on.

  10. Anon for This*

    Our 60-person office always had a Yankee Gift Exchange — the one where everyone gets a number and you can steal already-opened gifts from other people. It was really fun, and most of the gifts were the usual mugs with fancy hot cocoa mixes, mittens, wine, silly toys etc. One of our C-suite execs contributed high-dollar items seemingly grabbed from a closet at random. One year it was an All-Clad stock pot. I also remember a lightly used Hermes scarf, and an almost-new Prada handbag. I’m not complaining — competition for those items was stiff!

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Me: *flings my Hermes scarf around my neck* I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’ve always had this scarf.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      I’m not saying I’d hurt someone for a chance to score an All-Clad stockpot.

      I’d sure fantasize about it, though.

    2. Gift exchange question*

      Is this called a Yankee exchange because it’s in the south? Where I live it’s called Dirty Santa. I’m just super curious because I’d never heard it called that until twice on this site.

      1. Anon for This*

        I was curious, so I googled — apparently “Dirty Santa” is more common in the south. I’d never heard it called that until I saw it on here — I’m from the northeast and it was always called a Yankee swap.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          I’m guessing the term may have grown out of the stereotype of the dour, tightfisted Yankee farmer? Literally just guessing though.

      2. Random Dice*

        I’ve only heard it called a Yankee Swap.

        I’m from the South, so figured it was commentary about the ill-mannered nature of it?

        1. Mpossible*

          Interesting, I’m from the south and have never heard yankee swap. I have heard dirty santa but white elephant is way more common. (I’m in my mid 30s too.) I’m from south louisiana which is a bit different though.

  11. Clara*

    Low stakes for the page, but the worst secret Santa gift I’ve ever received was two inflatables – a photo frame and a microphone. I have to imagine if was definitely a regift? Why you’d spend money on something that would just be left on the table at the restaurant I don’t understand. I’m so easy to buy for too! Anything generically girly would’ve been fine and appreciated.

    1. Bread Crimes*

      I can barely picture how an inflatable picture frame would work, but how the heck do you make a microphone inflatable? Or is it like a floating pool toy shaped like a microphone?

      1. Lucien Nova*

        I had an inflatable toy microphone as a kid. It didn’t deflate fully flat – it contained cheap electronics in a small plastic tube, and then the inflatable portion was built around that tube. When deflated it was maybe the size of a cigarette lighter.

  12. esra*

    I am so excited for this because my worst holiday gift story is so bland (one of the devs on the team at my first job wrapped up a severely coffee-stained, definitely unwashed from use earlier that day mug from his desk. But he wrapped it up nicely! Like fancy paper, bow, etc. So it’s not like he was rushed, probably just some creep with a really specific fetish.).

  13. Gift-phobic*

    I had recently joined a relatively small IT company with quite a strong bro-culture – 50 or so people – when it was announced that there would be a Secret Santa style game with the gift-giving the afternoon before the company party. When it came time to give the presents, they were duly handed over, and only then were we told that there was a twist – there was some complex mechanic whereby people could take someone else’s gift in exchange for their own, *before* any unwrapping happened. Most of the gifts were pretty tame and predictable, but it turned out that one of the engineers had not anticipated the public reveal, and bought his best mate a box containing a banana and a bottle of lube, elaborately wrapped – which got taken by a C-level who really did not appreciate the “humour”.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      Oh, for the love of… there should be a law against sexual gifts in office situations. It never ends well.

      1. Bruce*

        At my first job back in the early 80s this would have been considered high humor, they went in for anatomically correct birthday cakes and PG rated stripper-grams. That sort of thing died out around 1990 where I was working as professional HR staff exerted their influence, though we did have a Marilyn Monroe impersonator serenade our VP back around 2005…

  14. Med school person*

    When I worked in a school for disabled kids (which could be a whole essay on workplace harassment) we had one parent being in 7 individual candy pieces for our class room staff of 9. It was beyond weird. She also scolded us we only got one piece each. It was also not a requirement for parents to give us gifts.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Did she think some of you would take more than one?? Did she specify which 2 staff would not get a candy? I have so many questions lol

  15. Alisaurus*

    I think I commented this in a subthread on a previous post, but at one job party years ago, we did a gift exchange game. The instructions were to spend a certain amount (I think $20-25) on a gift if you wanted to participate. One coworker wrapped and brought a small russet potato with a face drawn on it. Apparently she had forgotten about the game until she was walking out the door. The coworker who ended up with it was pretty bummed out they had spent money on a gift only to end up with a potato that wasn’t even dinner-sized (and had ink on it so wasn’t really edible anyway).

    Another year, a coworker who had clearly, uh, pregamed before the Christmas party got quite upset when she didn’t win any gifts in a game we played (big ball of plastic wrap with small gifts placed throughout it, you had a minute to unwrap as much of it as you could while wearing oven mitts, then you passed it to the next person in the circle). I think someone who had ended up with several gift cards ended up giving her one.

    1. Flossie Bobbsey*

      The potato giver shouldn’t have been allowed by the organizers to participate. Better yet, she should have chosen to sit out upon realizing she couldn’t contribute on par with the expectation!

      I was part of a gift swap with a similar dollar amount, and one of the organizers – anticipating that some people would forget a gift – brought a few additional wrapped gifts for the swap. It was a nice idea in theory, but none of them were even close to the dollar value, like a single holiday themed dish towel when other gifts were much more expensive ($20-25). There was no way to tell which ones were the “extra”/”just in case” gifts and which ones were genuinely contributed, so some of the crappy ones got picked by people who had brought a real gift. It would have been better to just let anyone who came empty handed remain empty handed.

      I firmly believe that gift swap organizers need to be very clear about both (1) the dollar “expectation” (and not frame it as “limit,” because a $5 gift is certainly within a $20 “limit,” but receiving a $5 gift when you contributed a $20 gift feels crappy), and (2) what type of gift it should be (nice, joke, used item, etc.)

      1. PNW cat lady*

        When there is a voluntary secret Santa drawing and people sign up with zero intention of getting anything for whoever they drew. Unexpected things happen for sure, but purposefully gift ghosting is not cool.

    2. ferrina*

      For the second story, I’ve supervised this game with kids. There’s always guardrail rules to make sure that everyone ends up with something. Even as an adult, I’d be pretty put-out too if someone got several gift cards and I didn’t get any. I wouldn’t carry on about it, but it would definitely put a bitter taste in my mouth (bonus points if the winning colleague was a slacker)

    1. Kayem*

      I have a feeling that’s the kind of thing my mom would give coworkers. She was raised by a woman who became an adult right as the Great Depression started and she never met a hotel soap and shampoo bottle she wouldn’t take. Many of them have ended up as gifts to people over the years. All the ones I get are quietly tossed because I’m not that interested in a tiny bar of perfumed soap from before I was born.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        Ooh, this describes my grandmother! At every restaurant she would empty the little tray of sweetener packets and jams into her purse, and she always took hotel toiletries. After she died, we got to sort through an entire room full of tiny shampoos and soaps, a staggering number of perfume samplers, and a zillion of those “free when you buy x” gift bags from her favorite makeup brand.

  16. Ms oakwood*

    In a secret santa at
    people were getting things like a river island wallet, perfurme, makeup they particularly wanted, great thoughtful gifts. I ended up with a direct swap with a nearly retired male colleague, I went a bit generic with some nice wine (knew he drank and liked a red) and some chocolates. I on the other hand recieved a coffee table book on Hungary, in Hungarian. I don’t speak a word of Hungarian or even mentioned it as a place I wanted to visit. At least I got a bad present story out of it!

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      I’d like that, but I’m half Hungarian, so it would be a “neat, inadvertent cultural moment” thing.

  17. Franie K.*

    Many years ago I was an intern at a VA. My otherwise thoughtful office-sharing colleague gave 4 of us identical gifts. I was puzzled when I opened mine, literally did not know what it was (maybe a mini-doll?) She was quite embarrassed when telling me (Jewish) that it was a Christmas ornament. Simply did not anticipate I’d have no use for this.

    1. Anonny*

      Just this week i (also Jewish) told a colleague that Christmas ornaments weren’t totally secular and could we please have snow flakes as decorations instead and she said “that’s right, we work in the government. We need ornaments from ALL cultures.” I said “I don’t think other cultures (but I meant religions) have ornaments and she said (inexplicably) “well they do in Brazil!” I was lost and gave up.

      1. ferrina*

        Ah yes, famously known as ALL the cultures: Government and Brazil.

        This sends me back to the Blues Brothers line: “What type of music do you have here?” “We got both types, country and Western!”

      2. goddessoftransitory*


        I mean, they also have alpacas in Brazil, so should we decorate with those?*

        *I am completely for decorating with alpacas, BTW

    2. Juneybug*

      We had a gift exchange at our Bible study group. Imagine daily devotion calendars, Bible highlighters (they work great on thin paper), key chain with a verse, etc. Everything was tasteful and obviously a well-thought out gift.
      Except one guy brought a jock strap in extra-large size (Thank God it was still in the package). He thought it was hilarious. His wife looked like she wanted to die on the spot. The rest of us were confused. The guy who “won” that gift was not thrilled.
      To this day, none of us could figure out why he purchased that gift.

  18. Roscoe da Cat*

    Well, not really awful but it certainly didn’t start well.

    We were doing one of those stealing swaps and someone picked and opened a large box. Which turned out to contain one of our (very extensive) audit manuals! The person who gave the gift was out sick and none of us could understand the gift at all. A third person nicely stole it and that was the end of that (or so we thought).

    The next time the gift giver was in, they innocently asked the final holder of the manual if they had enjoyed the movie theater certificates. Turns out there was about $50 worth of free tickets hidden IN the audit manual which has been returned to the reference shelf with all the OTHER COPIES! There was a grand hunt which finally unearthed the certificates.

    1. Admin of Sys*

      Okay, that’s funny! I guess it’s a good thing they put it in something that wouldn’t get thrown out!

    2. Ama*

      Oh this didn’t happen to me at work, but one year my brother asked me to knit him some socks for Christmas — but he didn’t tell me this until about three weeks before Christmas, no way could I actually knit the socks in time. So I went and bought a cheap pack of tube socks, very carefully opened them, inserted a gift card, and also wrote on one of the socks “IOU one pair knitted socks” and then sealed the package back up.

      I called my family for Christmas Day and after kind of an awkward pause they asked “uh… why did [brother] only get tube socks?” I honestly thought they would have realized I never would have done that and there must be something else in the package, but I guess I did so good a job sealing the package up it looked like it was unopened.

      And he did get his knitted socks in mid January.

      1. Kesnit*

        When I was about 10, my grandparents told me I could open one gift prior to the family mass opening and handed me a wrapped box. I opened it and saw it was full of socks.
        I looked at my grandmother and told her I think she handed me the wrong box. She told me to keep looking. I finally found an envelope with a note telling me to go to the garage. In the garage was a new bike.
        Since it was a semi-warm day, I spent the rest of the afternoon riding it around the neighborhood.

      2. Minimal Pear*

        Haha one time for my birthday my mother sent me a check wrapped in a pair of socks… and I totally missed the check because I didn’t like the socks and I never tried to put them on!

      3. ferrina*

        My parents loved doing this, to the point where it was a serious problem. You could never be sure if you were supposed to tear open the box looking for your real present, or if the weird box was your real present. These were people who filled our stockings with deodorant and toothbrushes, so they gave some really crappy presents. It was a horrifying roulette of “do I act grateful or do I act like it’s a joke?” If you guessed wrong, you’d be mocked or shamed (whole different problem with their parenting).

        1. Not Alison*

          One year I bought my 14 year old sister a plain sweater for Christmas, then had her wrap it as long as she was wrapping other gifts. Then bought a nice jacket for her – took the present, unwrapped it and swapped the jacket in the box. She was kind of blase opening the gift till she moved the tissue paper to find the sweater – – only to find a different color jacket that she totally wanted! A fun Christmas for her.

        2. StarTrek Nutcase*

          Years ago, my teenage sister had a gold bead necklace that wasn’t yet full of beads. So for her birthday, I bought 6 gold beads for her but wanted to be “creative” in wrapping. So I found a thrifted (and beat up) Barbie with a necklace with those big beads. So she opened and started screaming she wasn’t a kid anymore. Ohhhh, the drama!

          1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

            I may have developed one just reading about it. Seriously, ferrina, that sounds tough.

      4. Kayem*

        My uncle is notorious for doing things like this. He sent teenage me a scrimshaw cribbage board for my birthday (sans pegs or instructions) and just snickered when I (politely) asked if he knew how to play. It wound up languishing in a cupboard until I rediscovered it in my 30s and noticed the sticker on the bottom was peeling off. When I pulled the sticker off, out fell a roll of $50 bills.

    3. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      That reminds me of my grandparents habit of hiding hundreds in cash or very important papers in books throughout their house. My grandfather had amassed a huge collection of books and when he passed and we had to meticulously go through every single one before donating or tossing them.

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        My dad happened to be at the public library at the same time some well-meaning person dropped off a box of old paperbacks for their resale shelf. When they left, the librarian sighed and said, “we don’t really have the time to go through those,” then offered the box to my dad in case there was anything he’d want to read. Because he had a family member who used to slip money into weird places, he went through them carefully and found $400.

      2. Tin Cormorant*

        I once bought a cookbook for kids from Amazon, to give to my daughter. When it arrived, it was *very* clear that it was a previously-returned copy, because it was full of handwritten notes from some kid’s grandparents (mostly just comments regarding the recipes inside, nothing really personal), on bits of paper tucked between the pages or written on sticky notes.

        The recipient clearly never opened it to find these notes before returning it, because there were crisp new dollar bills alongside many of them. I think we actually made a profit on that one, but I felt really bad about the gift-givers putting so much work into it only for it to be unappreciated. At least my daughter has a story to tell about her cookbook?

        1. AskJeeves*

          Years ago, I got a book as a gift but as I already owned a copy, I returned it. Later, the gift giver asked me if I had appreciated the deeply personal note she wrote on the inside cover. Oops!

      3. You want stories, I got stories*

        One year when I was 10 I got a salt and pepper shaker from my aunt. I looked at it blankly, said thank you, but thankfully was told, “she probably reused the box, open it. There was something else inside, so always important to look everywhere.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          Lol, in the 6th grade a friend gave me a gift. Upon unwrapping, I found a granola bar box. I mumbled thank you and was bummed — what a weird gift! When I got home I opened it up (probably because I was snacky) and discovered my friend had actually made me a headband! She hadn’t meant to trick me, she just reused a convenient box.

          1. PanhandleQueen*

            My Depression-era mother saved every box she got, and when gift-unwrapping time came around, we learned to ask “Is this what it really is?” I think I got a blender box 5 years in a row.

        2. whingedrinking*

          I heard a family story one time about a relative (I think my dad’s cousin) who received a box of chocolates at Christmas and put it in the chest freezer. A couple months later a craving hit, and she opened the box to discover a deep-frozen purse.

        3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          My mom used a coffee can to wrap a present for me when I was 12. I still remember the present!

      4. Artemesia*

        We had been very insistent to my mother that she not ever give a friend her debit card to get money for her — to take a cab to the bank if necessary — she could not longer drive and we lived across the country. When she died my kids went through every book — we found 5K in cash before we were done. She would stockpile cash so she wouldn’t have to arrange a bank run often.

    4. Beebs*

      That happened to me at an office gift exchange–the beautiful gift bag I chose contained a lump of charcoal. Of course no one stole it. At the end of the exchange, my co-worked told me to look under the coal (okay, technically a briquette) and there was nice gift certificate.

    5. Be Gneiss*

      Our office Secret Santa exchange is tomorrow, and I was just telling the story of a past job where I suck a gift card to a cheap shovel (think hardware store gift-with-purchase cheap), and then wrapped the shovel in wrapping paper – leaving it completely shovel-shaped. The person who got it in the initial drawing wasn’t thrilled and was loudly pouting about it, so someone stole the gift so they’d shut up about it… and then the first person escalated to temper tantrum when the gift-stealer actually unwrapped it and found the gift card to the nice coffee place in the building.

    6. Potato Potato*

      I could’ve helped with that one- hiding cash/gift cards in dull books is a family Christmas tradition. When somebody unwraps a book at my grandparents’ house, you can hear the cries of “flip through it!” from outer space.

    7. Kayem*

      Not a work story, but the aforementioned uncle once sent my mom a box that came hand-delivered by a very ticked-off postmaster. Uncle had taped rolls of quarters together and attached them to the inside sides of the box. Then he had inserted copper wires into each roll and ran them together to a smaller box suspended in the middle. The small box turned out to be an expensive diamond necklace.

      This was before 9/11, which is probably why the bomb squad didn’t just detonate it immediately.

  19. kiki*

    A coworker once found a litter of kittens (a neighborhood cat had given birth in their yard). They tried to bring the kittens in for the white elephant gift swap. At first I assumed it was kind of a joke/ fun excuse to bring some extremely cute kittens into the office, but the coworker was completely serious. They genuinely expected the person who wound up with the kittens at the end of the swap to now take them all in/ find them homes. A manager stepped in and made clear that live animals can’t be an office gift.

    1. Sally Rhubarb*

      I think this one takes the gold plated banana pants.

      I love cats as much as anyone but who thinks “you know what gift I’ll bring to my office party? Live animals.”

      (I’d also probably end up adopting one because I have no self control)

      1. MsM*

        At least they didn’t take the white elephant part literally, I guess?

        (And yes, I would probably also have to text my husband and tell him “we have kittens now,” but I think he’d understand not wanting to leave them with that person.)

      2. CommanderBanana*

        Me too. I believe in the universe’s cat distribution system. But I’m also in a position where I could theoretically adopt a cat, providing my small dog was amenable.*

        *With my luck they’d team up and use their combined powers for evil.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        I can’t lie, I’d end up taking them all because I couldn’t bear the thought of what might happen if I didn’t.

    2. FricketyFrack*

      I think I would’ve taken them solely because I wouldn’t have trusted that person to take care of the kittens at that point if they thought that was a good way to handle things. I’m allergic to cats, but that’s never stopped me from making a dumb decision where animals are concerned.

      1. ferrina*

        I’m right there with you. It’s a terrible idea, but I would definitely end up with a random collection of kittens then spend the next month carefully mediating between my older cats and the interlopers. (and connecting with my local pet adoption agencies while I serve as a foster for the kittens)

      2. Ro*

        I was going to say something very similar but you beat me to it. I am not allergic but already have as many cats as I can responsibly cope with and any more would be a major inconvenience.

        I’d have taken them though because at least I know I would have cared for them properly.

      3. PNW cat lady*

        Yes, and I would be love to open a box of kittens! My cat would not be as excited when I brought them home, perhaps even with murderous intentions. but even with the hassle of keeping them separate from the reigning queen of the castle – obviously coworker can not be trusted with a cloud of kittens.

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      A coworker received a gift from another coworker, didn’t open it, put it in his car and forgot about it for hours. Turns out it was a goldfish.

      Goldfish was fine. They’re married now. Goldfish is huge and much adored.

          1. Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier*

            Back seat’s a fine and private place –
            But none, I think, there do embrace.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        For a moment, I read that as your coworker married the goldfish. And I thought, “That was some fish! Did he ever talk about the one that got away?”

    4. Bureaucratte*

      I was once in a meeting where someone said “if you hear of someone planning on bringing in a live animal, kill it.” The room fell into confused and shocked silence until the person exclaimed “kill the idea! Not the animal!”

      1. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

        Glad they clarified.

        We used to have therapy dogs brought into the library every finals week so students could take a study break and pet a friendly dog. There was usually a line out the door where the dogs were and many librarians and staff would take their breaks in the dog room.

    5. anywhere but here*

      I know that “live animals” is the commonly used term but it’s so odd to me that it has the specification of “live.” Would a dead animal be okay to bring?

      Actually, now that I think of it, yes, if said animal had been properly processed so as to be food. (Gift meats)

        1. La Triviata*

          There is a general advisory not to surprise people with pets as presents. (I believe that if the giftee is expecting a pet, it’s all right, but not as a surprise.)

      1. tom*

        or taxidermied, i guess.

        i almost got a mounted cat skull in an exchange once but the competition was very fierce

    6. The OG Sleepless*

      Almost 25 years ago, a friend had very deftly dumped his cat on us. He was a particularly annoying cat who didn’t groom himself much, had indifferent litterbox habits, and yowled at night sometimes. We went to a church at the time that hosted an EPIC white elephant gift exchange…a true white elephant where you were supposed to grab an unwanted item from your house and bring it in, spending money on a gift was heavily discouraged. My husband was dead set on bringing the cat to the white elephant exchange. We had this argument every year. I had to admit that the mental image of this noisy cat in a carrier on the gift table was pretty funny. (If you’re wondering, I ended up being reluctantly very fond of this weirdo cat. He lived to a grand old age at our house, annoying habits and all.)

      1. Space Coyote*

        I feel like “I Ended Up Being Reluctantly Very Fond of This Weirdo Cat” is going to be the title of my autobiography.

    7. straws*

      Live animals shouldn’t be surprise gifts ever. This isn’t a work story, but my son received a goldfish as a party favor for a friend’s 3rd birthday. So now we have a gold fish. It is still alive after 6 years and has killed everything we put into the tank with it. Such a great gift!

    8. goddessoftransitory*

      Oh God no!

      This is one step above leaving them in a cardboard box marked FREE, but just barely! Never give anything alive as a gift! (Unless it’s pre-cleared or something like a favorite kind of plant to a keen gardening type.)

  20. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I used to work in the energy industry. Bosses were very cheap when it came to support staff but not for themselves or the Board of Directors. I’ve previously written about the skimpy holiday lunches with the pathetic dessert being one lonely scoop of half-melted vanilla ice cream.

    That office had Amex for the company credit card, and every member of the leadership team had one as they traveled all the time. At every holiday party, HR held a drawing for each of the membership rewards (sizable gift certificates, a digital camera, headphones, an iPod, etc.), and the slips of paper ONLY had support staff names on them because DUH. HR picked out the gifts based on a combination of high end stuff and ensuring every support staff employee got something of decent value i.e. not a $5 tchotchke. They had to make sure the rewards points balance was zero at the end of every year.

    The CPA, who was notoriously cheap and brought plastic grocery bags to collect swag from every booth at conferences, would complain EVERY YEAR because she wasn’t support staff nor was she on the leadership team. She was middle management who reported to the head of administration, and she felt that her “in between” status meant she never got any perks for anything ever. Keep in mind she made significantly more than the support stuff but not as much as the leadership team…as it should be.

    And every year at the holiday party she would loudly complain about what everyone was getting. She wasn’t wrong, but I wish she’d been more mature about it. I know AAM has covered the frenzy people get into over free stuff, but I’ll never understand it. The CPA never would have given these items a second thought if they weren’t given to lower wage staff!

    1. Rocket Raccoon*

      My husband just switched banks for his business cards and had to cash out all the rewards. The card started out as cash back but at some point got bought out and now the rewards are Bass Pro gift cards. Luckily his employees are all outdoorsy so they’re all getting a gift card with their bonus.

      1. There You Are*

        Back when I was on a gummy worm kick, I bought massive bags of them for cheap at Bass Pro.

        There’s something for everyone there. :-D

  21. CommanderBanana*

    One thing I’ve learned from this and other office gift exchange threads is that the organizers have got to be clear about whether it’s meant to be gag gifts or not!

    I’m at a new workplace this year and I will miss the office white elephant party because I’ll be out of town, and honestly, I’m glad.

    1. ferrina*

      Truth. I missed my first office holiday party at NewJob, and I’m so glad I did so I could hear about what happened and prepare properly for the next one. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t sure what the expectations were for the white elephant- several people went for gag while others went for “likable but quirky”.

      This year the organizer did a better job of stating what the gift expectation was (price point and expectation of fun-and-wantable). It helped everyone be on the same page for the white elephant

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I’m going to a white elephant party and the invitation included zero guidance about type or amount, yikes. I don’t know the host well and don’t like gift swaps — but literally haven’t been invited to a holiday party in years so definitely going anyway! After seeing all the conversations here about different interpretations, my combo of social anxiety and neurospicy stuff started spinning, trying to intuit the Perfect Gift so I don’t Get It Wrong. Then a friend told me to just ASK, duh. So I did that and got a reasonably solid answer so hooray for just asking! (Pretty sure I chose well but still a little concerned.)

  22. Lunch Lady Doris*

    It was the presents I didn’t get. I applied internally for a new role and unbeknownst to me my new boss had someone else in mind, but got outvoted by the hiring committee. So she had it out for me from the start and decided to be incredibly petty about it.

    She showed up four hours late on my first day, halfway through the lunch she had scheduled for us. She had a ton of shopping bags, and went through the office very pointedly giving gifts to everyone but me, then yelled at me for not being at lunch. The lunch I was supposed to be at with her, the one she had put on my calendar.

    Everyone else got Christmas and birthday gifts too, so when Bosses Day rolled around I linked Alison’s post in our group chat and refused to contribute.

  23. Ali*

    It is legendary in my team that someone said “it was a maximum budget not a minimum budget” and bought a packet of ham that had been discounted to 11p and handed it in wrapped in the carrier bag from the supermarket.

    1. Sally Rhubarb*

      That sounds like something my father would do. He hates mandatory fun/gift exchanges and is pedantic as hell.

      (For the record, I think my dad is awesome, just not in social settings, bless him)

  24. Odyssea*

    We do a gift exchange at the holiday party here, and I can think of two years it ended in tears. One year, my boss decided to bring a $100+ vitamix blender as her gift, which massively exceeded the $15-$20 range. She didn’t pay for it, it was the third one her mother-in-law, who has a shopping addiction, had sent her, so she thought it would be fine. Nope! People were willing to do anything to get it and it got kind of mean and led to the gift exchange being halted for a couple years.

    The other time, a young employee thought it was a white elephant, and brought nose plugs for swimming as their gift to exchange. No one wanted them, of course, and the person who ended up with them was really upset, especially as they had bought and brought a really nice gift. Big Boss ended up buying them a Starbucks gift card as consolation.

    And that’s why we have a very long and specific list of instructions for the gift exchange now!

    (Our holiday party and gift exchange is today. Wish me luck!

    1. Silver Robin*

      This story makes me relieved that I snagged an idea from a previous post here to do a novelty sock exchange, $10-$20, for my team (not a manager, just the one organizing the party). Everyone gets a similar thing that is similarly useful and hopefully amusing, and the worst discrepancy is that maybe somebody got a 3 pack and somebody else got a single pair. Which is not a big deal, they are socks.

      1. This_is_Todays_Name*

        I’m astounded at how much people LIKE getting socks as gifts! I used to threaten my kids “if you don’t tell me what you want for I am buying you socks and underwear!” Now they’re like PLEASE DO they are expensive and I always need more!

        1. Rocket Raccoon*

          In my family it is a tradition to give socks – we live in the North so they’re nice thick boot socks.

          One year my husband had a surplus of socks so I got him gloves instead – after all it’s a tradition from *my* family not his and I didn’t think he’d really notice.

          Yeah, nah. He was super upset and I had to pony up a pair of socks before he forgave me.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Get alpaca boot socks. Incredibly cozy, soft and warm.

            Wanting socks for a gift is a sign you’re now an adult. Or a hiker. Hikers always want socks.

        2. KaciHall*

          my 21 year old brother asked me for socks when I asked him if there was anything he wanted. I figured he’d want something for his truck, or alcohol. but no, he wants weird socks. (TeeTurtle might even deliver them on time for our Christmas party this weekend.)

        3. Time for a change?*

          My mother actually gave me a bra in my sticking when I was in college. Best thing ever. I needed a new one and it fit better than what I had. No idea why or how she got the size right.

        4. Iconic Bloomingdale*

          Ever since she was little, my now-24 year old niece has loved socks. She loves cozy socks, fuzzy socks, cotton socks, socks with weird and funny patterns – all kinds of socks. She wears socks to bed and even in the summertime, wears socks under the covers.

          For Christmas every year, her mom (my sister) gives her socks as one of her Christmas gifts. Niece particularly enjoys wearing mismatched socks (even to work) and we’ve all come to expect that from her. lol

          1. Artemesia*

            my young teen granddaughter is the same way — loves in particular patterned weird knee highs and often wears them mis-matched.

        5. Anon Today*

          We had our team party today. We’re a tiny group, so we do a Dirty Santa (nice gifts; $15 limit) and typically give each other individual gifts, as well. One of my teammates was thrilled that I got her a multi-pack of SpongeBob socks, and I was equally thrilled to get a 3-pack of Grinch socks and a Grinch mug in Dirty Santa.

      2. Government Director*

        We did this one year at work and it was THE BEST! Everyone was happy. And I liked one of the pairs I got so much that I tracked the brand down and got them in multiple colours.

  25. ConstantlyComic*

    Not particularly bad, but I did kind of feel bad for this person at the time: I usually go along to my husband’s work Christmas party, which in years past has had a White Elephant gift exchange (although they usually call it Dirty Santa). A few years ago, one of the most sought-after gifts was a jar of moonshine flavored like a popular local soda (or possibly with some of that soda in it? I don’t really know how moonshine works). As soon as the gift exchange was over, someone suggested we open it up and try it, and I’m pretty sure that by the end of the party, the woman who won it didn’t actually have any to take home. I realize it’s not that wild or that bad, but that does feel like a jerk move to me.

    1. Michelle*

      I like a good moonshine as much as the next person, but I’m not sure how much I’d trust a random coworker not to kill everybody with ethanol poisoning.

        1. There You Are*

          My ex makes flavored moonshine. But he buys regular moonshine from the liquor store and then adds cooked fruit and/or spices to it. Friends and family now expect a small jar of, say, Apple Pie Moonshine from him each year.

  26. Joneses*

    I worked at a small non-profit one year (about 15 people on staff, total) and we did an office-wide Secret Santa. The limit was $20, and every. single. person. got each other socks. This was not planned! Granted, everyone got those cozy, colorful kind of “house slipper” socks, but still. We just kept laughing as people kept unwrapping and we had all just gotten each other the same thing. Not one fancy journal, scented candle, or cheap bottle of wine between us. It wasn’t even a particularly cold winter. At least it ended in laughter/silliness and not tears!

    1. Olive*

      At least they were new socks, right?
      My college sports team did a Yankee Swap. Most of the gifts were fun. I ended up with a used pair of hospital socks. I tried to not be upset about it, because all the gifts were cheap and small, but it was clearly the worst thing there. The girl who had contributed it was cute and chipper and was like “I volunteered at the hospital this summer” so everyone played along like it was a perfectly normal thing for her to have given.

    2. Adultier Adult*

      I bet it was hilarious…. I love when things like that happen. Low stakes, unplanned… but by the end… everyone is dying

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Laughter and silliness is good.

      I’ve told this story before, but here it is again. Many moons again, the girl scout leaders would get together for a Christmas party. We were a close bunch, two of them even crashed my wedding after I moved several states away. We did the gift swap thing where you could steal. Most of the gifts were nice, but someone had brought a pair of owl bookends. They were a bit rough looking, but otherwise nice. The person who got them swapped with someone else, and so on, because no one really wanted me. Until it was my turn, I made it extremely clear I wanted them and no one better try to take them. I still have them.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        no one wanted them, not me. The leaders clearly wanted me– crashed wedding years later and in another state. But the owls also clearly wanted me to take them home.

        1. ferrina*

          Love when the right gift finds the right home!

          One of my colleagues got lightsaber chopsticks at the office white elephant. Most people were confused, but she was very excited.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        I’d land on those bookends like a panther! Owls are My Thing (owl was my first word and it’s been a tradition in the family to load me up on owl-adjacent stuff.)

    4. Sally Rhubarb*

      That reminds me of when I was in college and I got invited to some random woman’s birthday. I didn’t know what to get her so I googled “what to buy a stranger” or something, idk. Well the top results were nice soap. I went to the mall by campus and bought her a little gift basket of soap & body wash.

      …. Turns out everyone else had the same idea. By the third or fourth gift she was like “are you guys trying to tell me I smell??”

    5. Ama*

      We often had kitchen items in our Yankee Swap because there was a TJ Maxx very close to the office where people would run if they had forgotten to bring a gift, and their kitchen selection was very good. One year there was a mini waffle maker that was much fought over early in the game. It got frozen very quickly (we have a three steal limit), and then the last person it had been stolen from opened a new gift …and it was the same waffle maker.

      There ended up being three in the mix that year.

      1. La Triviata*

        That happened in my office last year. One person started with the mini-waffle maker, but someone “stole” it from her. Later on, she was able to get a different one – stole it from someone else – and all ended well.

    6. Gilly*

      Went to a massage therapy continuing education training around xmess one year where most people in the group knew each other. The organizers decided on a sock swap, and you’d think it would be hard to mess that up, but the only man in the group contributed socks that said “show us your kitties” with cats all over them. We were not impressed.

    7. This Daydreamer*

      I love this so much! I could totally see my nonprofit doing something like this and everyone crying with laughter!

  27. Brain the Brian*

    One gift in a Secret Santa exchange was expired food from a country the gift-giver had visited six months previously. Another was soap. Just regular old hand soap in a normal bottle — nothing fancy.

  28. pally*

    Homemade beer.
    One manager always gave out homemade beer to his reports-all male. Heard it wasn’t very good.

    The first year I reported to him, I fretted over this. I don’t drink alcohol. Didn’t want to let down the sisterhood by sounding ungrateful for the thought behind the gift. So I practiced a graceful “Thank you so much!” until it sounded sincere.

    I got a certificate for ice cream instead. Not sure why. I don’t think he knew I didn’t consume alcohol.

      1. nopetopus*

        I literally encountered this with my ex in-laws. I was always sat at a table place with a wine glass, and when I’d try to grab a beer from the communal cooler I’d be told that it’s “for the guys” and handed a glass of wine. They weren’t a super traditional family but apparently East Coast Italians had never encountered an IPA drinking PNW woman in their lives.

        1. They Don’t Make Sunday*

          omg, I’d be so irritated that I’d start bringing IPAs as a host gift and grabbing one of those. I ran into a lite version of wine paternalism at my extended family holiday gatherings once I hit 21. The men would always offer me wine. I wasn’t a big drinker of random wine. I wanted to drink what the old men were drinking, a gin and tonic that I preferred to mix myself. Not very demure, I guess.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      I would be so delighted if I were expecting alcohol (I don’t drink either) and instead got an ice cream certificate.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Same! And I especially wouldn’t want poorly made amateur beer. I guess I could use it in a bread recipe or something.

      1. Sorrischian*

        And in my experience the people who make good homebrew tend to want to share it with other homebrewers and compare notes, not gift it to their coworkers who might not appreciate it.

  29. fka Get Me Out of Here*

    Two jobs ago, in public accounting (a small office of a Big4 firm), the group I was in – maybe 14 people – would attend a holiday party at the partner’s home. One of the recurring white elephant gifts was a tank top with one guy’s face tessellated all over it. I saw it every year of the three that I attended, and it was extremely popular for stealing!

  30. Wendy the Spiffy*

    I worked for a very, very large (global brands) privately-held and family-run company that had given Christmas bonuses every year since its founding in the 1950s. After a brutally busy year, the CEO (and family matriarch) announced bonuses would be smaller this year due to budget concerns. When the bonuses were distributed, every employee got 1 bag of microwave popcorn and a Blockbuster gift card with exactly enough to rent one video. Somehow far more insulting than simply skipping bonuses altogether.

    1. Marian Librarian*

      That’s awful! Makes me think of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and the jelly of the month club.

    2. Roy G. Biv*

      Wow. That’s jelly of the month club-level of “bonus,” but not even as good. One movie and one bowl of popcorn.

    3. Roy G. Biv*

      That’s a jelly of the month club-level of “bonus,” but not even as good. One movie rental and one bag of popcorn. Wow.

    4. PNW cat lady*

      I got a Medicare Melodies CD case one year, (I worked in a Medicare adjacent field, but not for Medicare) mentally shifting expectations went with oh that might be nice. Maybe it’s big band inspired Christmas music. Instead it was a chocolate shaped CD that was terrible. Like one bite and threw the rest away terrible. I know America is not known globally for producing good chocolate, but anyone would agree that Hershey kisses would have been better.

  31. Wonky Policy Wonk*

    I worked for a law firm early in my career and while the firm got everyone gift cards every year, there was an optional gift exchange for wine-lovers where everyone was supposed to give their favourite bottle of wine – the idea being everyone would be able to try a new type of wine someone else vouched for as being really good. The wine had to be $20 or under so it wasn’t anything bougie and, again, it was completely OPTIONAL to join. Everyone just left the wine (gift wrapped or packaged, since it was in the office) on their giftee’s desk with a note explaining who the gifter was (in case you wanted to know where they bought the wine) and a brief summary of why they liked the wine.

    One year my “wine” came in a cylindrical gift box and with no card, which should have been clue #1 that something wasn’t right. It was also weirdly heavy, clue #2, so I waited until I went home to open it. I say “wine” because instead of a bottle in the gift box there were 3 cans of beans taped together and a $15 gift card to a local liquor store tucked in at the bottom. I’m still baffled about it – there’s no way it was less effort and time than just BUYING a bottle of wine right??? Our office was around the corner from a couple liquor stores too and the exchange happened in the afternoon so if they had just forgotten until the morning of it wasn’t like they couldn’t run out and grab something nearby during lunch.

    1. mreasy*

      I come from a long line of intentionally-misleading gift wrappers, so I would support this effort if it weren’t counter to the idea of sharing a wine you specifically like with colleagues!

    2. Jezebella*

      My first thought is the gifter was not comfortable with going to a liquor store or buying liquor themselves.

      1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

        But then why did they elect to participate in an optional alcohol exchange?

    3. Urban Fervor*

      I would assume they don’t like wine. Therefore, their “wine” of choice was beer. The gift card was included either because they wanted to make up for the price discrepancy between the beer and the $20, or they didn’t want you to be disappointed in case you’d really been looking forward to trying a new wine.

  32. BellyButton*

    I posted this back in November when there was a letter about holiday parties. But I think it belongs here.
    Standard holiday party with a White Elephant (or whatever you call it, no need to debate this to death again.) gift exchange. I drew one of those boxed Panettone breads (or is it a cake?). After the exchange I was chatting with a younger man who had gotten a cute set of Christmas candle holders. He said “I am a single guy who lives in a house with 5 other men, I don’t know want to do with these.” So we decided to exchange- the candle holders were adorable and I still have them!
    The person who had brought the Panettone bread was offended. She glared at me and said “those are a a tradition where I am from! Everyone loves them.” I smiled and responded that it is a lovely gift that young man and his roommates would love. I worked at that company for another 5 yrs and she never spoke to me again, she only glared at me when we would cross paths. LOL!

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      A 5-year snit over a white elephant gift? Sounds like somebody’s dough wasn’t risen all the way before it went into the oven.

    2. RLC*

      I bet that young man and his roommates enjoyed every last crumb of that Pannetone! The colleague’s reaction reminded me of a family friend’s enduring annoyance about the very fancy 50th wedding anniversary cake she and her siblings bought for their parents. Mom and Dad admired the cake then promptly invited all the neighborhood kids for a cake feed (versus their adult friends who probably wouldn’t have eaten much of it). Decades later daughter was still salty about it, insistent that fancy cake was only for adults. I bet those kids happily remembered that cake party for years.

      1. There You Are*

        It’s so funny how many people don’t understand the meaning of “gift”. As in, “I give this to you. It is now your to do with as you please.”

        If giving cake away to children makes the giftee happier than eating the cake themselves, hallelujah!

        1. Never the Twain*

          My father was deeply scarred by his first Christmas with my mother’s family. Every year the individual families would have dinner at home, then go to my great-grandparents’ who apparently made a huge performance of Christmas tea (in their defence, they’d grown up dirt-poor and loved being able to show hospitality).
          Come the end of a huge meal, great-grandmother picked up the knife and asked if anyone wanted a slice of the magnificent Christmas cake that was the centrepiece of the table. Eager to show appreciation, my dad said he’d love a piece, please. Amidst a frozen silence broken only by the uneasy shuffling of the other guests, a tiny sliver of cake was duly cut for him which he then ate with everyone studiously pretending he wasn’t.
          My mother explained later that it was traditional for the cake to be offered, but even more traditional for absolutely no one to accept it, since the cake had to stay gloriously intact until the day after Christmas.

  33. Nea*

    I’m desperately trying to remember if the post about “I didn’t like the kind of things my co-worker asked for in Secret Santa so I gave her Grogu socks and a good SF novel” was an AAM post or an AITA post.

    It says so much that several letters could so easily be either! “I won’t give my employee the same birthday perks as everyone else because she was born on Leap Year, AITA?”

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Pretty sure that was AITA. Asker was appropriately raked over the coals for both overriding the coworker’s taste AND thinking that a good introductory SF book was Dune. I like Dune, but it’s more of a “kick you off the diving board into the depths of SciFi” than it is an introduction.

      On the plus side, the comments section also had a good long list of all the other books that OP could have gotten, which made for many a pleasant hour of reading.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I found it! It wasn’t Dune, it was Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson.
        “For Secret Santa I got Sara, who put down a bunch of books that she wanted as well as other things like socks, tea, and candy. I was a little disappointed to be honest, because I really like to shop for people and give really cool gifts and these were just blah things.
        When I looked up all the books to get her I found out that they were all romance novels. I felt kinda cringe buying her romance novels so I looked at the common themes and found a really good fantasy novel to buy her instead called Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. It has a romance in it too. I figure if she likes to read then she’d be happy to broaden her horizons and branch out. I also got her some Baby Yoda socks to go with it because who doesn’t like Baby Yoda and some Bigelow tea that looked good.
        We did the exchange this morning and she looked visibly confused when she opened hers. She changed her face to be surprised/happy but this really bothered me. In the break room later I heard her talking and complaining saying she didn’t get why someone got her these things. The other person said “they probably were upset they got a woman instead of a man.” Which I thought was rude (I’m a woman too I’m just not a “Pumpkin Spice Latte and Hallmark” woman). Then after I saw her give the socks to someone else saying they could have them for their kid!
        I was honestly really bothered by this. I put thought and effort into a gift. AITA for getting her something to branch out of the hum drum romance genre and Baby Yoda socks? I thought EVERYONE liked baby Yoda.”

        1. ferrina*

          Thanks for sharing!

          Oof, Sanderson is not an intro book. The baffling thing is that it wouldn’t be that hard to find a proper fantasy with scifi/fantasy elements- some bookstores even have “Romantasy” sections!

          1. Nea*

            Yeah, but something that focuses on mere relationships instead of as a minor subplot among the espionage, treason, and guerilla warfare is so cringe! /s

          2. Warrior Princess Xena*

            The funny thing is that there are significantly easier Sanderson books he could have picked – Elantris and Mistborn both come to mind – but no, he went for the war drama…

            1. RussianInTexas*

              The thing is it’s a woman doing picking, she is just “not pumpkin spice latte and Hallmark” type.

        2. Nea*

          Ouch, I’d forgotten the bit about “she’d be happy to broaden her horizons.”

          Secret Santa is not a teaching opportunity, and especially not for an unasked-for lesson!

        3. PNW cat lady*

          The AH gift giver sounds like a person who, when on a first date presumes to know what their date wants to eat and drink and orders for them.

        4. Weird Workplace*

          This is like the opposite of the year my husband (an English teacher) listed that he liked books and chocolate, and got Christian romance novels and a bottle of drugstore knockoff cologne from his Secret Santa in the school staff exchange!

    2. whingedrinking*

      Not to mention, for at least one Secret Santa list I’ve been like “socks, an umbrella, and craft beer”. It’s not because I’m a boring person (I hope) with no actual interests; it’s because those are things I’m happy to receive, are easy to buy, and are low-stakes enough that even if I don’t go “OMG I LUV IT”, it’s not weird, so the giver doesn’t have to stress about exactly *which* [kitchen gadget/graphic novel/tarot deck*] is just right. I’d be annoyed if someone thought that meant a better gift for me would be a Bible and a Spiderman hat.

      *I do collect tarot decks. A well-meaning soul once got me one which I thanked them for and secretly named the Hallmark Baby Oracle, because the art was…yeah.

      1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        I really like this philosophy for gift exchanges with people who shouldn’t be expected to know the secret caverns of your soul.

        (And agreed — tarot decks are incredibly personal.)

  34. the cat's ass*

    Secret Santa at OldJob last year. Resident odd bird co-employee drew me. We give a list of 3 inexpensive things we’d like. I listed socks and tea. He gave me a tea bag. One. From our office kitchen.

  35. Flower power*

    I used to work for a really small company and every year we did a secret santa. As we were a small team, we knew each other well and so everyone tried to get thoughtful gifts that we knew the other person would genuinely like. Everyone that is except for the owner of the company. Each yeah they would pop out right before the Christmas party and buy hyacinths from the local supermarket. So every member of staff each received a plant pot of hyacinths which had a horrendously strong smell. By the end of the day the office reeked from the overwhelming smell that flower gives off and despite no one liking them every year we would once again be presented with more of them.

    1. EmF*

      Goodness me. I love hyacinths, but one pot fills my entire home with smell. A lot of them sharing space seems like it’d be… intense.

  36. Snow Globe*

    Someone I know was very unhappy with her Yankee swap gift one year (I think it was a candle? Not an amazing gift but not terrible). The next year she brought a very nice gift, chose her own gift when it was her turn, then hid it behind her chair so no one else would take it. She had told a couple of people that she planned to take home what she brought so she wouldn’t get stuck again.

    1. Ama*

      My strategy these days is always steal rather than open if I can, because when I open I almost always pull the thing no one else wants and I’d rather actually get to participate in the game.

      They aren’t even always bad presents — one year it was a very nice writing journal (which I love having on hand) and a book on building your own drones (which I knew my husband would enjoy), but no one else wanted it and I opened third or fourth so I just had to sit there for the rest of the game.

      1. Dek*

        I actually get a kick out of our office’s swap (which is something, because my family’s Dirty Santa swap would just get vicious). It’s all in good fun and usually the items are something that’s cute or can be eaten or used. I’ve gotten a hammock, a hummingbird feeder, and a vibrating office chair pillow. I’ve also gotten a dollar tree spirograph and a joke-a-day calendar that was already 3 years out of date.

        This year I wound up with Hanukkah coasters, that I swiped from someone because she’s still fairly new and had gone fairly early, and seeing as how the coasters were brought in by the one Jewish person in the office, it wasn’t likely anyone else would steal them, so I wanted to give her a chance to get something else.

        Also, they are pretty cute. May be a bit awkward to use.

    2. CatMouse*

      I mean I bring something I’d be happy to have, but ok to lose, and if nothing is worth stealing, I’ll open my own gift. Of the 4 times I’ve done that, I’ve had my opened gift stolen from me 3 times, so it seems to at least spice things up!

  37. Fives*

    My former boss once stopped speaking to us because we didn’t get them anything for boss’s day. But they didn’t tell us this, just pouted all day until their favorite finally got them to say what was wrong. I can’t remember exactly how it went down but I think we got them a token gift and then all was right with the world. [eyeroll]

    We were all pretty young at the time. I’d like to think current me would speak up about it.

  38. Cubicles & Chimeras*

    Not mine but my sibling’s holiday gift from the school they teach at one year was a brown lunch bag of leftover halloween candy consisting of 3 hershey kisses, a sucker, a smarties (US version), and an air head along with a happy holidays pre printed message that included some kind of attempt to tie those above items to a “funny teacher poem”. All I recall of it is that the kisses were supposed to be some kind of chocolate consolation prize plus “hugs and kisses”.

    (It was even more baffling because the staff person that put it together talked it up, and the other schools got their teachers gift cards.)

    My worst one was a keychain (with proof of authenticity) of a piece of tire of the nascar truck that was emblazoned with the company name.

  39. CR*

    Not an office job, but I used to be a full-time nanny for a wealthy family. In my experience it was normal/expected to receive a gift from the family I worked for (usually money). When Christmas rolled around one year, the mom said something vague about my gift being in the mail…I never got a gift. :/

  40. Sanibel Island*

    A few years ago at my old company, I was also living in a…not so favorable part of town. Okay during the day, but glad I lived on the 2nd floor of the apartment complex. And I wouldn’t walk by myself at night.

    One of my coworkers knew about where I lived (plus the region as a whole was just devolving as time went on), and gifted me three little spray cans of pepper spray/mace. Weird, yes. But, considering the shadiness of where I lived, it wasn’t the worst thing. We even joked about testing them out in the parking lot.

    I eventually moved to a nicer part of town. I haven’t had to use the mace sprays, but I still have them.

    1. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

      Check the expiration on those. They’ll still work a little past it, but they may no longer spray correctly. Test one, if in doubt, if you still carry them. :)

  41. Elsewise*

    Many years ago, I was part of a Secret Santa that had a strict cost limit- I think it was like $25 total, and we were supposed to be giving three gifts over a week. Most people would get a few small gifts and one bigger gift, obviously all pretty small. The person I got only wanted one thing, a specific gadget that was about $50. I received her questionnaire, and that was the only thing she put down. “What do you like?” “Gadget.” “What can you not stand?” “Not getting Gadget.” “What are your favorite snacks?” “None.” and so on and so forth.

    I managed to find a knock-off version of the gadget for like $30, so I resolved that I would give that to her for the final gift, and give her a few handmade things before. Day one I gave her a small pack of home-backed cookies. I left them on her desk, and no one else got cookies. She complained to the organizer that her Santa was giving her “some homemade crap” and clearly pocketing the $25 (of my own money?) that was supposed to be spent on her, then spent the whole week sulking that she wasn’t going to get the gadget she wanted, until the final day, when she opened it up and said “oh. That’s nice.”

    I later found out that the next year I was randomly assigned her again, and the organizer quietly swapped out the assignments.

    1. LCH*

      an option would be to go to the organizer earlier and be like, this person gave me nothing to work with. except an item outside our agreed range. now what?

      1. ferrina*

        That happened at OldJob. A senior VP had written that what he wanted was a $250 massage chair. The Secret Santa had a $25 limit. The poor junior staffer that got his name was baffled. She asked him directly if there was something else she could get him, and he just shrugged and said “well, that’s all I want.”

        She got him a Target gift card.

    2. Jane*

      “What do you like?” “Gadget.” “What can you not stand?” “Not getting Gadget.” “What are your favorite snacks?” “None.”

      I initially skimmed your comment, saw this, and fully assumed this person was just a die-hard fan of Gadget from Rescue Rangers. XD

    3. Dhaskoi*

      I would have been sorely tempted to get her one of those photo print cakes with a picture of the gadget on it.

      (or a $25 gift card to whatever store sold the gadget, if I was feeling generous)

      I’d love to know what she got her secret santa

  42. Harper the Other One*

    My first full time job was in a semi-dysfunctional, locally owned retail chain where each location was allowed to request items from another store’s inventory if they had a customer for it. In theory. In reality, one branch was notorious for “having someone looking at that” every time you called.

    Then we did a secret Santa and I pulled the name of a person at that location. You were supposed to stick scrupulously to a low dollar limit and homemade gifts were encouraged. So I made a batch of my favourite chocolate chip cookies, put them in a nice tin, and sent that.

    For MONTHS afterward, any time I called to ask for something from that location, I heard “oh, your cookies were great! Sure, we’ll send that on the next truck.” To the point where first other staff asked me “HOW ARE YOU DOING THAT!?” and then started getting me to call for things they needed. I’ve since nicknamed the recipe mind-control cookies.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        LOL fair point and now that I’m home I can post it! They’re so simple but somehow so delicious.

        1/2 cup margarine or butter
        1/4 cup white sugar
        1/4 cup brown sugar
        1 beaten egg
        1/2 tsp vanilla
        3/4 cup flour
        1/2 tsp baking soda
        1/2 tsp cinnamon
        1/4 tsp salt
        3/4 cup large flake rolled oats
        3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

        Cream the butter/margarine and mix in both sugars. Add beaten egg and vanilla and mix. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, then add to the wet ingredients. Mix in oats and chocolate chips. Drop by spoonfuls on a baking sheet; bake at 375 for 10 minutes until golden.


  43. Grumpy_old_it_guy*

    Way back when…. I worked in a cube farm with a bunch of contractors from outside the country. During the Christmas season the division secretary put up small stockings on each cube and ever day would come by and give everyone a piece of candy.

    I had a blacksmith friend and he gave me some small pieces of coal and one day I went around to everyone’s stocking and put a wee lump of coal. Most of the regular employees thought it was funny, but the contractors got really angry about it.

    It still brings a smile when I think about it.

    1. Coal*

      Being from an area with coal mines I picked up ornaments made of coal. I gave it to a friends husband who I knew would get the joke of getting coal for Christmas. There were a few people I really wanted to give them to but I knew it wouldn’t land well.

    2. Admin of Sys*

      Lush carries a charcoal soap, I used to buy it and add it to stocking s for family. They apparently now have coal bath bombs. :)

  44. MAOM7*

    I just did my yearly fb rant about office gifts. Stop with the after-hours off-site parties. My social time is MINE and I guard it jealously. Stop giving me company-branded gear. I don’t need another water bottle, sweat shirt, car blanket (!!!!!) etc. Also, until you start carrying ALL sizes, the shirts/apparel are definitely OUT. I don’t want a pizza party, I don’t want a potluck. I want a raise and more PTO. LOL

    1. CherrySours*

      This! One year received a very high quality, button-down shirt in a great color (not black, navy or gray, as many companies use, and not company colors.) The only problem? Nobody inquired about sizes, they just badly guessed. Even after we swapped to get a better size, many had one a size or two larger than what we wanted, but at least not too small.

      A friend worked in long-term care, and the residents all received extra-toasty, beautiful bathrobes. *All in extra-xxl men’s size, which meant exactly one person had a perfect gift, a few others could wear it if the added a sweatshirt on top of their pajamas, and the other 30+ seniors had a massive tripping hazard.

  45. nopetopus*

    When I was in college I worked at a coffee shop that did Secret Santa. I got someone I didn’t know well and the only thing I knew about them was that they smoked a lot of weed. So I wrapped up a little pipe and some pre-rolls and dutifully went to the exchange. Little did I know that our uptight supervisor (who never came to the shop) would be there. I had to panic-find something else, and the only thing available was the vending machines. So my recipient got a can of Dr. Pepper and a whisper in her ear that I’d give her her real gift later. I was mortified to look like such a cheapskate asshole, and thankfully quit before the next holiday season.

    Ps: the recipient was delighted with her actual gift.

  46. Spicy Tuna*

    We had one of those gift exchanges where you draw a number to pick the gifts in order, and anyone that picks later can “steal” an existing gift from an earlier recipient.

    There was a $20 limit (and also, everyone at this company was highly compensated).

    A woman had gotten a bottle of Mama Juana (a liquor from the Dominican Republic). I “stole” it from her. After the gift exchange, she came up to me and said that she was planning on giving the bottle to her dad for Christmas. Now, Mama Juana can be quite pricey but this particular brand retails for about $10.

    She just stood there blinking at me like I’m supposed to give it back to her. I said, “well, sorry, that’s how the game works” and walked away.

      1. Spicy Tuna*

        You know, this even occurred over 10 years ago and I still haven’t cracked the bottle open. It’s beyond not good! But I definitely was holding fast on the principal of the thing!

      2. zinzarin*

        It can be an acquired taste, but I can assure you that it’s verrrrrry good to the people who like it.

  47. UKDancer*

    I’ve never worked anywhere with much excitement so I always enjoy these stories. One company I worked in had a secret santa with a very low limit on it (£5 usually). The only amusing thing was when someone bought another person one of those hamsters that played the song “Kung Fu Fighting” while the hamster moved its arms to the music. Everyone was so fed up of the song by the end that they hid the hamster.

    Current company just does a low key lunch and we can organise whatever else we want ourselves. Lunch involves a Christmas jumper competition which gets a bit fierce though – some people take it really seriously and spend quite a bit of money to have the best jumper. I’ve never seen the point though and feel sorry for the senior managers who have to judge the competition.

    1. Minimal Pear*

      Oh my god one time my mother (very high up boss) brought me (maybe 11 or 12, social graces of a rabid wolverine) to her office Christmas party where they did a Yankee Swap or whatever you want to call it. I was such an enormous pain in the ass about wanting to steal one of those singing hamsters! It sang something patriotic, maybe “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. I got it and I was VERY enthusiastic about playing it for several days afterwards.
      I also won the scavenger hunt/bingo game because my mother didn’t realize she should warn me that it would look bad for the Big Boss’s kid to win. I think she had some grumpy employees after that.

      1. Minimal Pear*

        Actually now that I think more about it, I might have been a few years younger than I initially said.

      2. Sally Rhubarb*

        One year, at a work holiday gift exchange, my dad got a stuffed dog that “barked” Christmas carols. His coworker knew he had a kid but apparently not that kids loooove annoying toys like that and I looooooved this dog and wouldn’t leave it alone after my dad gave it to me.

        I think the dog met with some kind of parent caused accident because one day it mysteriously stopped working.

        1. whingedrinking*

          One Christmas when my brother was a toddler, someone gave him a toy bear that played music when you pressed its tummy. Bro loved it. After a couple days at my grandparents’ house for the holidays, my parents realized they were going to have to drive home from Regina to Winnipeg (about six hundred kilometres) with a toddler, an infant, and this bear. The batteries “mysteriously” disappeared.
          I looked this toy up and I should call Mom and ask if they still have it, it’s going for five hundred dollars on eBay.

    2. CatMouse*

      Those Christmas sweater competitions get fierce. A local taproom had one, and because I’m a knitter (I knit when I’m there while enjoying a beer, so even non regulars know this about me) I got pulled into judging! I suggested that it had to be and actual sweater, preferably actually knitted (nachine knit was ok) since a few were t-shirts. I didn’t chose the actual winner, but apparently they hand decorated a store bought sweater, so I’m happy they won!

      1. UKDancer*

        Yeah people get really competitive about it, which is funny because we’re not a competitive or cutthroat lot. But for some reason this is the one thing some people get really passionate about and spend ages planning their entries, working out their looks and co-ordinating with jewelry and socks. It’s wild!

        I mean I don’t bother at all. I wear a headband with reindeer antlers on or some festive earrings and call it done.

  48. Someone else*

    Not strictly a workplace gift exchange, but this happened in the pub I worked in years ago.

    A group of regulars did a yearly Secret Santa, which always included the same novelty sex toy, unopened and still in original plastic wrap. Everyone else seemed to get a regular present, but each year someone would receive the toy, presumably look after it for a year and then pass it on next Christmas.

    Occasionally, I wonder what happened to them all, and if the tradition still lives on!

    1. Lily Rowan*

      We have a family gift like that — not a sex toy! But something that shows up as a gag gift every so often. It’s been a Christmas gift, a wedding shower gift, etc. Actually, I wonder who has it now, since it hasn’t showed up in a few years.

    2. Inkognyto*

      You needed to ask the story of the toy! There’s always some crazy story on how it happened the first time where it’s the default gag gift!

  49. thatoneoverthere*

    I had a coworker (who was otherwise a very lovely person, and still is one of my favorite former coworkers) who wanted to give everyone he worked with a gift. But he decided to all his shopping at the Dollar Store. I got set of cheap steak knives. Which I gave away in annual friend’s white elephant gift exchange. LOL.

  50. Nursynurse*

    I was working at a nursing care center and we had a White Elephant gift exchange, but for some reason people were identifying their gifts as we picked them. So you would go to pick your surprise gift from the pile and then whoever brought it would say “that’s the one I brought”. This led to an excessive display of classic Canadian politeness where the gift opener would say something nice and keep the present. No swapping, no nothing. Made for a very boring game.

    I picked a present with nice wrapping paper and it turned out to be the ugliest candle holder you have ever seen. Glasse with praying hands etched in it, with a wide base… just bizarre. But of course as I opened it, one of the loveliest nurses I have ever worked with announced that she brought that one. So I said it was lovely, thanks so much!

    When we left the party my office mate asked if I really liked it, I even couched it with her, “sure, its nice”. Then she asked me, “what does your house look like?”. Thankfully we were back in the our office at this point because we laughed for a long time while I finally admitted how ugly this thing was.

    I gave it to my office mate for her next birthday.

  51. Hawthorne*

    Apparently at some point, our HR department was given a LOT of wrapping paper and bows. Every year, we have a costume contest. Every year, without fail, the gift for 2nd or 3rd place is just a package of wrapping paper and bows. Some years, the first place winner gets the wrapping paper and bows.

    The funny thing is, there’s so much wrapping paper, that it’s sometimes also given out at raffles other times of the year. One year I got wrapping paper in a raffle in June.

    I don’t know who purchased all this wrapping paper and why. The company doesn’t give us gifts or anything for the holidays, just a nice little luncheon. Who decided that they needed a metric ton of wrapping paper?

    1. Generic Username*

      When I was a kid one of my Uncles decided to buy one of those giant rolls of wrapping paper used by departments stores. Christmas gifts from that side of the family came in the same Christmas red and white stripped paper for years and years. Somehow Christmas just wasn’t the same once it was finally used up.

      1. PNW cat lady*

        I bought what I thought was an ordinary roll of Christmas paper. It lasted for about 3 years and I have quite a bit of family. However I liked the fact the gifts from me were easily recognizable so the kids opening knew who to thank without having to look too hard.

  52. JoJo*

    Several years ago, I was gifted a Rubber Tree. As in, a plastic plant with condoms (unopened) stapled to the leaves. I was a single 30-something female and itt was from a middle-aged female co-worker I barely knew. She was annoyed that I “didn’t seem to see the humor in it”.

  53. C-Suite Diva*

    At a previous job, the business owner very generously handed out iPads to everyone at a holiday dinner, but then demanded a resigning employee return his when he gave notice the following week.

    The owner may have been within her rights to ask for it back (debatable), but she made such a holy stink about it that it made the resignation very public and ugly. When the resigning employee refused to return the iPad, she then demanded that EVERYONE return the iPads, which they did, and then they all sat in a pile in a supply closet for a few years, with the supply slowly dwindling because the business owner’s personal assistant was stealing them and a lot of other stuff.

    Good times.

    1. Space Coyote*

      The further I got into this story, the bigger my eyes got, until I reached the end and said “oh my GOD” aloud and startled the cat off my lap.

  54. Godbert*

    Early in my career, I worked in an office where the office mostly consisted of wealthy aliens from space (OK, they weren’t really aliens, but they sure didn’t act like normal humans) and their assistants, mostly very young folks getting paid dirt and treated like dirt (unfortunately pretty normal for the industry as a first-step-on-the-ladder/”dues-paying” job). My first year, someone thought it’d be great to have a white elephant exchange (with structured gift “stealing” rules, etc) at the holiday party. All of us assistants did our best to come up with thoughtful-but-ideologically-neutral gifts that we could afford on our tiny little salaries.

    The aliens all bought gag gifts. The specific goal of this was to humiliate the assistants by not telling us they were doing gag gifts, so they could watch us be confused and dismayed at the gift exchange. The aliens were just falling all over themselves laughing like this was the funniest thing ever. Aliens that ended up with gag gifts in the exchange made a big show of “donating” the gag gift to their assistant, which they also found hilariously funny. Of course, they were then mad at us assistants for “not getting the joke.”

    The next year, no assistants participated in the white elephant. Most participants brought cheap kitschy trash no one wants; a few of the aliens brought gag gifts a second time. But the big boss/top alien apparently thought it would be a good idea to bring a Burberry cashmere scarf.

    As soon as someone unboxed it, the room went quiet as every alien’s eyes locked covetously onto the scarf. Any of them could have easily afforded to buy the scarf themselves! But in this moment, all of them had to have it, and none of them were going to give any quarter. I truly thought hands were going to be thrown. Stares turned to frowns, then to arguing and rules-lawyering the exchange, then to veiled insults, then to actual insults — at which point the big boss declared that the exchange was over, effectively awarding the scarf to the person holding it at that moment, which the other aliens interpreted as the big boss intentionally throwing the game to that person. This caused genuine hurt feelings and office political schisms among the aliens that lasted for months. Watching that play out was almost worth suffering through the previous year.

    1. Kitty Mama*

      This is wild. It’s crazy (yet predictable) to see people’s true colors come out in this kind of scenario.

  55. Lainey L. L-C*

    Went to an office party as that had the “swap” for everyone, including guests, where you bring in a gift for guys/girls and everyone gets a number and you can steal OR open a gift. And if someone steals from you, you get to open another gift. It comes to my number and not knowing any of these people well (I was a plus-one) I choose to open a gift – and it was a pretty decoration. One of the office workers goes after me, steals my present. So I grab one of the gifts left which was shaped oddly and open it. It’s…a small wooden doll ladder. (I have since seen something similar and they are usually decorated in some way. This was not). No one said anything, like oh that was meant for Mary since she’s short ha ha, nothing. Dead silence. I later heard someone complain about the present I brought, which was a lovely holiday-themed stationary set, with pretty envelopes, paper, pen, etc. as being useless…I got a doll ladder ma’am.

  56. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    I’m going to call this one an inverse. So, this year’s department holiday party happened two days after one of our recent hires gave their two weeks notice. They came–fair, fair, we were happy to see them there–and we all had a great time.

    Until we got to the White Elephant gift exchange.

    See, we’d given the update a couple of weeks prior that this was coming up. It’s something we do yearly, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s completely optional. However, we’re all really into it. Heck, even one of my co-workers who was out sick that day sent in her husband with a lovely gift to add to the exchange. And everyone brought in a gift.

    Except for the co-worker who had just put in their notice. They brought in nothing. Which is fine, as it was completely optional. But they sat with us stone-faced while doing the gift exchange. We all applauded every gift–not a peep from them. And, when it was done, they stalked right out of the room. And I do feel a bit bad for them–it was optional, and it’s hard being the only one in the room without a gift at the end of it–but at the same time, it was their choice to not bring a gift (they definitely did not forget, they made that perfectly clear), and their choice to be miffed about it.

    1. Clara*

      I bet they’d assumed there would be spares HR/office manager/whoever provided just in case, and they could use that to get a free gift!

    2. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

      I am visualising a particular coworker of mine who, honestly, would get more pleasure out of doing this than he would get out of any gift imaginable.

  57. Other Alice*

    Not much of a story, but I shared this earlier in the week in another comment.

    At a temp job, the boss gave all the employees a book of Catholic teachings. It was not a religious org. I was thankfully out that day, so on my return I found this nicely wrapped parcel on my desk, and I was about to open it when a coworker told me what it was. I put it in my drawer and forgot about it and I quit that job the following month.

    It occurs to me only now that not only I left the book for my replacement to find, the book was still wrapped. I wonder what they made of it.

  58. THAT girl*

    About 15 years ago at the height of the recession, my husband worked for a small company (around 10 employees) and the owner was a narcisisstic boss from hell. I could write a book on that but one particular incident illustrates it pretty well. Because of struggles due to the financial crisis, they had to do a weeklong furlough in November so morale wasn’t at a high in the first place. The owner/boss hosted the annual Christmas party for employees and their families at his very ostentatious home. After a potluck dinner for which eveyone contributed, his boss announced that we would be playing a “very entertaining” game. He had placed cash in amounts ranging from $20 up to $400 in envelopes and had the employees play a game of Yankee swap. One person would pick an envelope and open it and decide whether to keep the amount or select a different one. Then the next person would select and could keep their amount or STEAL another envelope with more money from a co-worker. Keep in mind, not only employees were there but their spouses and children were there as well. Can you imagine “stealing” someone’s $300 while their family watched?! I mean, Yankee swap is overrated in my opinion and always seems a little mean spirited but there’s no real harm other than some mildly hurt feelings when you’re dealing with small, low value gifts like candles and body lotion, etc. But when you are playing with CASH? With employees who are already underpaid and struggling due to the economy and recent furlough. Thankfully, his “very entertaining game” was mostly a bust because even though the boss was a pretentious ass who enjoyed placing his poor staff in painfully awkward situations for entertainment, most of the employees were very decent people and no one would actually steal anyone else’s money. So whatever envelope you drew, is what you left with. Still awkward and unfair because some left with $20 and others with random lower amounts up to $400. Maybe not ironically, a bunch of them, including my husband, were laid off the first day back to work in January. That was almost a blessing because my husband had already decided that he couldn’t work there any more anyway (for many reasons but this was just the cherry on top) and was planning to start looking for something else and ultimately ended up going out on his own. I still think of that miserly and cruel man every Christmas or anytime anyone suggests an entertaining game of Yankee Swap!

    1. thatoneoverthere*

      I hate the swap game it always ends up going badly. But this takes it to a new level. Eeeek.

  59. creativebadideas*

    A coworker convinced me to participate in our team’s White Elephant exchange. She said “I know it’s the day before, so just pick up a bottle of wine!” I like to put a bit more thought into gifts and was certain I had something appropriate at home. I happened to have a modern-vintage Christmas-themed teapot (yes, really) and a pair of matching mugs. I liked the set, but didn’t have a good place for it. So I wrapped it, included info about the pattern name/year and clearly labeled the box XMAS-THEMED ITEM.

    The woman who chose my gift did not attempt to hide her disappointment. I added “uh…you can sell it on eBay or re-gift!” in a lame attempt to throw a positive spin on a random gift FROM A COWORKER WHO BARELY KNOWS YOU. As the exchange continued, it became clear that 90% of the boxes contained bottles of wine. When the next person opened a bottle of wine, she said DO YOU WANT A TEAPOT??? Funny the first time, but by the fourth time, I could see everyone shifting about uncomfortably, glancing at me, and silently wishing she’d knock it off. I was irritated because it’s just a stupid gift exchange, but I felt stupid nonetheless.

    Afterwards, I ended up taking the elevator with a relatively new coworker who was there, but chose not to participate in the White Elephant. I was still irked and embarrassed, so I was stony silent. She just calmly said to me, “you know, I actually like teapots”. I felt a million times better.

    1. BellyButton*

      UGG. Can’t people just not be rude?! I have an entire closet of things I can regift! I don’t mind at all.

      The teapot sounds lovely! :)

    2. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I worked at a place where people either expected alcohol or one of the maybe two gag gifts that had been floating around for a decade. Thankfully, somebody warned me so I didn’t participate.

    3. ferrina*

      I would have loved this. The weird coworker was just plain rude. When you go to a white elephant, you know it could be something that’s not to your taste*. To pout about that is just rude. I would say it’s childish, but I’ve met plenty of children that can be gracious about a gift.

      *as long as it’s not gross, offensive or utterly thoughtless, like a potato with a face drawn on it.

  60. Furgig*

    Am I the only person unfamiliar with this term “Yankee” swap? I initially thought they were talking about a swap with only Yankees baseball merchandise…what on earth does it mean?

    1. BellyButton*

      One person picks an item under the tree, they open it, someone can steal it, and then the first person gets to pick a different gift. It’s called a lot of different things depending on where you are in the world. Yankee gift swap, white elephant are the two most common. It always causes a huge debate here on which is the correct term.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I think of White Elephant as specifically referring to bringing items that you already have but don’t want. (It has to be something someone else might want and have some sort of value.) Then people just exchange to get what they want.

        I think Yankee Swap might be more like Dirty Santa. I’ve only played it once when there were too many people and not enough time. The rules we played under meant that where you were sitting determined if you’d be able to claim a gift you wanted. It was weird and awkward and made me wonder what the point was.

        I’ve mainly only ever done Secret Santa or grab bags (everyone brings a gift of about the same value, and you all pull one out of a bag).

    2. Admin of Sys*

      It’s a version of a white elephant / dirty santa exchange. The general rules are that everyone playing goes and buys a gift of a generally small amount ($20 or something), and wraps it anonymously. The gifts are put in a pile. Each participant picks a number out of the pot (or gets one when they walk in, or some other random distribution) and that sets the order of gift selection (of unopened gifts).

      Once the first gift is open, the next person gets to either a) open a gift of their own or b) steal the previous gift, prompting the first person to get to open a new one. Once more people are playing, you can usually steal anyone’s already opened gift. Rules vary if the person who had their gift taken can take someone else’s already open gift vs be required to unwrap a new present. Usually there’s a rule about how many times something can be stolen so the game doesn’t devolve into everyone fighting over a single gift. Similarly, it’s almost always a rule that you can’t immediately steal back a gift, sometimes that’s expanded to never being allowed to steal back a gift.

      Unlike white elephants, the gifts are usually nicer and wanted by /someone/. The point is usually to entertain while trading gifts around. There’s also usually an understanding that the gifts can be swapped after the game is over, if someone really wants something, but that it’s up to the person with the item to offer that exchange. (or at least that’s how we played it)

      no idea why it’s called a yankee swap – possibly ‘something something civil war’

      1. Tin Cormorant*

        It might be a regional difference (East Coast thing?). I’ve only ever heard of Yankee Swap on the internet, it’s purely a White Elephant gift exchange in my West Coast area.

        1. SomeWords*

          And all of these comments show us just why it’s so important for organizers to be very clear about any gift exchange rules!

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          I’ve only heard of the concept at all on the internet. I’ve come across Secret Santas, where each person buys a gift for one person, quite a lot. That’s a common thing here. But never this idea of choosing gifts and stealing them.

  61. Olive*

    Even though it’s not the best story, I avoided telling this for several years because it’s so clearly identifiable.

    From a past boss, I got a tree branch section “ornament” with the wood-burned words “live, laugh, travel”. I’m not a live, laugh, ANYTHING person. I hate decorations with words. But I figured it was generic, no big deal that it wasn’t my personal tastes.

    And then my boss explained that it wasn’t generic, she had come up with the design herself and it had been handmade by a family member, because she thought “live, laugh, travel” was so perfect for me. I hope the feeling of my soul leaving my body was not visible on my face.

    To make it… better(?), I wasn’t much of a Christmas celebrant so I wouldn’t have had a tree in the past to put it on, but recently I’d gotten an 18″ desk tree because my parents had sent me some childhood ornaments. This ornament was at least twice as big as my largest ornament, and if I’d put it on the little tree, would have taken up half the space.

    I dearly wanted to laugh about this with a work friend, but I realized how bad it would look if even a whisper of that got back to my boss, so I kept my mouth shut!

  62. Brian*

    We were doing one of those gift swaps where everyone brings in a gift, a person selects one, and the next person has the option of trading your gift with the one they brought. I opened a nice bottle of wine. The grandboss immediately exchanges it with the gift he brought: a child’s pedicure set with the dollar store sticker still on it (I was a childless bachelor at the time). I had to pretend I found it amusing.

  63. GrumpyPenguin*

    Mine is pretty boring, but disgusting nontheless. We were having a Secret Santa and I got a candle. A scented candle. I already hate them because they trigger my allergies, but this particular candle was a new low. It had the form of a cake. Cute, right? Only it smelled like an urinal cake. Seriously, after five minutes the whole office reeked of urinal cake. We tore the windows open at once, but it didn’t help, so after 15 minutes the party dissolved unceremionously. I disposed of this thoughtful gift in the dustbin at the courtyard where it continued to hand out headaches, this time to the racoons.

  64. H.Regalis*

    One of my partners got a glass skull mug from their work’s white elephant gift exchange. That is the only cool gift I’ve ever seen anyone get from one of those.

    When I worked as a receptionist, there was one exec-level person who gave all the admin support people—at the time all women—stuff from Bath and Body Works, because bitches love soap, I guess? The local union for the field we did admin support for actually gave us good gifts: Money! If I ever am a manager and have enough money to give end-of-year gifts, that is what I will give people.

    I hate the whole “it’s gauche to give money” bullshit. I’d rather get that than lotion and tchotchkes.

  65. Sociology Rocks!*

    Most of the white elephant gifts we have at our exchange tend to lean practical and useful, which is definitely appreciated. This year someone put in a book of 50 ways to appear smarter/more important in meetings at work. Our big boss/program director happened to be the one to grab it. She’s got a PhD, is head of her department at the university, is principal investigator on several of our research projects, and teaches classes, and more. In other words she’s incredibly capable and smart, truely impressive, while also being incredibly kind and thoughtful, beloved by students, staff and colleagues alike. Idk if it was intended to be a serious book or not, but she proceeded to read excerpts in that trademark British dry humor (the rest of us are American) and we were all howling with laughter for several minutes. It did eventually get stolen from her.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I was at a non-work white elephant swap where the book that was opened was Star Wars: A New Hope – Shakespeare edition. The man who got it is the much-beloved dean of a local children’s school with an excellent sense of humor and a good speaking voice. He promptly opened it up and did a brief dramatic reading. All of us just about died of laughter.

      1. Manders*

        I brought a gift for one of these exchanges to a non-work party where I only knew the hostess and nobody else. I’m proud to say it was the final gift that was stolen at the very end. It was – and I did not make this up – 50 Shades of Chicken, a chicken cookbook written in the stylings of 50 Shades of Gray and told from the chicken’s point of view. Lots of trussing and oiling of thighs and such. I set a rule that whoever selected the book had to read a paragraph from it. It was truly hilarious.

    2. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

      I think that was a book written by comedian Sarah Cooper, who did some brilliant lip synching TikTok’s of Donald Trump where she would just repeat his speeches; I think her book/calendar etc of How to appear smart at work would have been very funny – a great deal of truth in it. She has a very expressive face. She wrote ‘How to be successful without hurting men’s feelings’ and ‘100 tricks to appear smart in meetings’. I am so glad you reminded me of her!

  66. Anon for this one*

    Not technically a gift from an employer, but I’m a member of an employee resource group for moms, and recently pulled an inter-office envelope out of my mailbox. Inside was one (1) tea bag and one (1) Hershey’s Kiss, paper-clipped to a pre-printed note that said “Infuse the ordinary with something extraordinary.”

    Our resource groups don’t get any funding and this is probably something the coordinator saw on Pinterest and did on her own time and dime to make us feel cared for, but still, on the day our organization announced a budget shortfall and no travel funds for the rest of the year, I received one (1) tea bag.

  67. The Thought Was There*

    This wasn’t actually a Christmas gift, but a bridal shower gift. My lovely co-workers threw me a shower and it was a great time and they all chipped in on a very nice gift for me. One coworker went the extra mile and gathered photos taken from the event (silly pics of us doing toilet paper bride, wearing funny glasses, being drunk etc.) and a few days later gifted me a large poster-sized, framed collage of the photos. While the gift was very thoughtful, I really really didn’t want a huge poster of unflattering pictures of myself on my wall. I hardly even have my wedding photos displayed, just one small 4×6 on an end table. Over a year later the collage is still sitting in my closet because I felt too bad to throw it out.

  68. Oof and Ouch*

    My job (a manufacturing plant) always did a big holiday lunch on the last working day before Christmas. One year the company owners decided to do a huge raffle with a bunch of highly covetable gifts. I’m talking gift cards, the latest gaming systems, speakers, all kinds of stuff. All of the employees were given some tickets to put in for various prizes.

    Some of the bags to collect tickets were on a different table from all the rest, which meant not a lot of people noticed it. It was mainly a group of people from one department. That happened to be specifically managed by one of the owners of the company. To make matters worse they also somehow managed to win most of the highly coveted prizes, and a lot of them won multiple prizes.

    There were probably 25-30 prizes for about 130 employees, most of which were won by about 10 people. Of all the winners only 2 were from the factory side, which made up the majority of the employees. People were furious, and by the time one woman won her third prize they were chanting “rigged” over and over

    I won a TV, which I still use today, but the next day some of the really nice stuff was up for sale on Facebook, which always kind of rubbed me the wrong way.

    1. BellyButton*

      Absolutely gross. Every where I have worked Directors+ did not participate in raffles, let the least paid employees get something nice!

      1. Oof and Ouch*

        In fairness it was not mainly directors winning, just office staff (think customer service reps and junior engineers). I think one director did win a more minor prize, and then won a major one later and told the organizer to redraw as he’d already won something. The real bigwigs organized the event but didn’t participate.

        I spoke with one of the owners later and she was mortified over the way it had worked out.

  69. Tracer Bullet*

    I used to work for a medical publisher who held the holiday party at a theater because the same person owned them both, even though a theater is a terrible place for a party. Nobody liked it, but everybody went because managers were instructed to hold checks for holiday bonuses until you’d been at the party long enough. They also auctioned off various items, some of which were very nice. The problem was that there were no rules on the bidding, so you were competing against executives making five times your salary. They were buying luxury items at a discount while the rest of us had to watch them celebrate.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Everything about this is so, so gross. They hold your money hostage so you can watch them outbid you???

  70. Arcade Kitten*

    At my husbands white elephant someone decided brought a “gift” that was broken cd, rubber band and some torn up paper in a gift bag. My husband (the boss) decided to take that gift so one of the employees didn’t go home with a useless gift. The junior employee who brought it to the exchange claimed he didnt know the $20 limit didnt meant empty a trash can into a bag.

  71. The Starsong Princess*

    I reported to a woman several levels above me for a few years. Every year, she gave me something that was obviously regifted. One time, there was still a gift tag to her in the bottom of the box. Strangely, the rest of her reports received a generic gift certificate. Was I offended? No, I was not! The stuff was so good – one time it was a beautiful cashmere scarf, gloves and hat. Another time it was a leather tote I still use. I always sent her a lovely thank you note and she kept it up even after I stopped reporting directly to her. She also used to do our one on ones during her microdermabrasion appointments but that’s another story. She’s retired now but I still miss her.

  72. The OG Sleepless*

    It sounds like 90% of these situations could have been prevented by clarifying the rules of a white elephant/dirty Santa/Yankee gift swap, because they mean different things to different people based on past experience. One kind is an actual gift exchange. The other is the kind I posted about in an above comment: you bring in an unwanted item from your house. That kind is strictly a party game. (You do sometimes have to make some rules about no broken or dirty items, no live animals, etc.) That kind can get really fun, and nobody has any expectations going in that they are going to come home with something of value (even though you get some surprises: I ended up with a really nice glass pitcher once that somebody had brought in instead of donating it to Goodwill, that kind of thing). People used to bring in ugly tchotchkes, pretty rocks from their yard, etc. We had a couple of ugly paperweights that got brought in year after year and were always greeted with a cheer. Anyway: it needs to be VERY clear which kind of gift swap it is.

    1. Martine*

      The “one person’s cast-off is another person’s treasure” are the best kind of White Elephant exchanges.
      In the early 90s I participated in one where a highly desirable gift was a piece of the Berlin Wall. (I live in Germany and the gift-giver was from Berlin.) It was “stolen” back and forth several times, including by me. But alas, I went home with something else.
      A few weeks later, each of those who had tried to keep the piece of the Wall was given a package with a very small chunk of concrete. The gift giver had smashed another piece of the Wall and distributed the bits to the ones who had gone home with something else.
      I still have my chunk – wrapped in a cellophane bag and decorated with a ribbon – in a drawer somewhere. And as I write this I’m asking myself for the very first time if that bit of stone is really from the Wall or just an ordinary bit of concrete.

    2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I’d have such a hard time with the “unwanted thing” party — between Buy Nothing and a recent move, I do not have things I don’t want! (Before moving I had some interesting tchotchkes that would have worked but no more.) The second a bad gift comes my way, I bounce it out to BN.

      And I’ve given this a lot of thought because I am going to a WE party, which does turn out to be a “nice gift” exchange. If it was the regift/tchotchke type I would have had to fake it.

  73. Orchid killer*

    This is very minor, but I still feel sad and embarrassed about it lol. One year, my boss mailed out these orchid kit things for our holiday gifts. It had the bulb and the flowerpot full of soil and all the supplies you might need, great way to gift a lovely plant to people who might be traveling and unable to receive a live version.

    I got it in the mail along with various gifts I needed to wrap, thought how nice, and promptly shoved it in a cabinet to make room for my last-minute wrapping and packing session.

    But bulbs are usually good for months and months, you say! Surely you didn’t forget about it for that long! Yes, sadly yes I did. I think I found it a couple years later. It was very dead. I’m not even sure I remembered to thank my boss.

    1. Sally Rhubarb*

      My aunt sent us something like that, tulip bulbs maybe? but it was you know, the middle of winter! Not planting anything when the ground is frozen solid. So my dad put them in the garage, where the mice found them and had a nice mid winter feast

  74. Cactus Lady*

    At a previous job we had a gift exchange with a maximum spend of $15. The rules were that a gift could be stolen twice and then not again. One year we got a new Big Boss and he decided to buy some wayyyyy out of price range gifts – think kindles, Alexa’s, etc. I (at the time a middle manager) unwrapped an Alexa, which was then stolen by an admin assistant, and then by a very senior director. This proceeded to happen with all the expensive gifts – every single one was stolen from one of the lowest paid employees by one of the highest paid employees. It was so gross, and I left shortly after (not because of this but it definitely made me less sad to leave).

  75. AnneCordelia*

    Once I received a teacher gift of a kind of kitschy porcelain trinket box. Teachers are used to this kind of thing (please, no more coffee mugs!) so of course I wrote a nice thank you note to the family. I got a note back saying, “We’re so sorry, those boxes were supposed to have gift cards in them, and yours fell out.” Enclosed in the note was the gift card. A happy ending!

    1. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

      I handed out chocolate bars and Target gift cards to my kids’ teachers this year for this reason.

    2. Llama Llama*

      I get why teachers don’t want mugs but it makes me sooooo sad. I love mugs and buying them for myself brings me joy and I enjoy buying them for others too.

      I was going to get a mug (along with other things) for the family member I drew for Christmas but noooooooooo, I got my SIL who happens to be a teacher.

    3. Cat*

      My mother is a teacher. Often at least a few mugs are left sitting on the draining board because there is physically not enough room in the cupboards.

      1. PNW cat lady*

        I’m guessing apple inspired (unless actual Apple products) gifts are also in the generous, it’s the thought that counts category, bless their hearts? I can only imagine the estate sales of retired teachers.

      2. Vanilla*

        Can attest this is totally accurate! Both my parents were teachers and they have a very full mug cabinet of their favorites, plus full storage boxes elsewhere packed with more mugs. And one of them doesn’t even drink hot beverages! They’re very opposed to regifting (and the mugs are very teacher-themed, so regifting to most people would be weird) so we have no idea what to do with them. We’ve been trying to convince them to donate them somewhere or let the grandkids turn them into mosaics.

        1. AnneCordelia*

          Ok, this is what teachers want for the holidays:

          A tacky handmade ornament or whatever that is ACTUALLY HANDMADE BY YOUR CHILD (not store bought, not even from an expensive store or an artist’s craft fair …it has to be genuinely produced by your kindergartner).

          Cool classroom supplies, such as Sharpies, etc.

          Gift cards.

          Just a note of appreciation.

          1. Dark Macadamia*

            Lol I was just thinking about this earlier today. I hate the elaborate crafty teacher gifts you see on Pinterest like the giant wreath made of crayons, which are like a child-themed gift made by the kid’s parent? Just give me the crayons in a box! Or give the crayons to your child to draw me a picture!

    4. Seashell*

      My friend who is a teacher got overloaded with picture frames from families giving gifts one year, so she shared some of her bounty with me.

  76. Martine*

    I work in publishing. We have sometimes done books as “white elephant” gifts at the holiday party with the added twist that you had to answer a question before you either chose from the pile or “stole” an already opened gift.
    When I was on the planning team we had some quiz questions that were specific to certain co-workers. For example, the intern who had been stuffing envelopes was asked what the postage for a certain size package was.
    Our boss was notorious for using the phrase “a good third” – and that was always an exaggeration. So his quiz question was “Ten of 100 pages of a text to be read, edited, corrected … is a) 10%, b) a good start or c) a good third.” He smirked and came up with the correct answer “c”. After that the phrase was used much less frequently.

  77. MoodySloth*

    One year my boss (who was quite wealthy) gifted the office staff tickets to see her daughter sing in some performance their church was doing. She always hated me and treated me horrendously, so I had no problems saying that I was busy that evening and would not be able to go. The other office staff, who also did not have any interest in going, couldn’t figure out a polite way to turn her down and so were all stuck going and were miserable.

  78. ggg*

    I gave $5 in Bitcoin at a $5-limit white elephant exchange several years ago. Wrapped up the paper wallet in an old floppy disk box and filled the rest of the space with candy which I figured was kind of a freebie.

    The woman who got it was very effusive about the candy and mentioned the Bitcoin as kind of an afterthought, such that I don’t think anyone heard her and thus zero people appreciated my attempt at creativity. That Bitcoin is probably worth about $50 now so I hope she didn’t throw it away.

    FWIW the most stolen gift that year was a 3 pack of socks from Costco.

  79. Blunderbuss*

    Our office apparently traditionally had a meal out for Christmas. I started in 2020, when this was replaced by a Zoom party – fine. In 2021 we were scheduled to have a Christmas meal, but it ended up getting shunted to February because of COVID – fine, it was what it was. BUT THEN management decided that since our February Christmas Meal ‘went so well’ and ‘everyone loved it’ we would have our 2022 Christmas meal also in the New Year … which ended up being in May (when I already had a trip planned … you know when I was free? Christmas!). This year I feel like it’s just never going to happen. It’s hard to get in the spirit of Christmas – by which I mean, the spirit of being allowed to skive off the whole afternoon after the meal at the pub because it’s slow season in our industry anyway – at a random time of year tbc.

  80. Sunslant*

    Long ago, at a job far away, we had a Secret Santa in our office. At the time, we were a fairly close bunch, however with a lot of rumored drama. VPs swinging with engineers and spouses, drug use in the break room, and general conversations that were entirely inappropriate for the workplace and would be considered sexual harassment. It was one of my first jobs post college, so I kind of just went with the flow. We were also a fun office though too, with catered lunches around most holidays, Halloween costume contests, and a lot of camaraderie around our work and accomplishments.

    Which brings me to back to Secret Santa. Since we all knew each other pretty well, it was fairly easy to pick a gift for our co-workers. We had been giving a gift every week since the week after Thanksgiving, giving people a chance to try and figure out who their Secret Santa was, to be revealed at the Christmas lunch when the final gift was opened.

    One co-worker, (recently divorced, because her husband was sleeping with her best friend-everyone knew the story), was pretty sure who her Secret Santa was and guessed before she opened her gift. Her Secret Santa was a single dad in another department. They had a bantering, teasing friendship. He was a caring dude that always had everyone’s back, and people often went to him for advise. Although sometimes he would get a little too comfortable, and put the line of appropriate (flirting, sexual jokes, etc.)

    She excitedly opened her gift, and it was…. a giant black dildo.

    Chaos erupted. She threw the dildo at the dude yelling obscenities while laughing, but embarrassed, while everyone is shouting “OMG Fergus! What the hell!”

    Recently divorced, so clearly she needed some help??

    That was the last party we ever had because the VP was later let go for “performance issues”, with a new VP brought in to clean house (layoffs, firings, and also wasn’t the nicest person really). Many of us quit to move to other jobs before we could be laid off.

  81. Office Dramedy*

    I once worked for a company that had a workforce comprised almost equally of Amish and Jewish folks who would host a gift exchange at a company holiday party. It was expected that the Amish would cook the main food dishes, and kosher food was catered in. As neither a Jewish nor Amish person, I found a lot of things we did to be surprising but never really questioned or felt like I had context to understand some of these practices until later… but to stay on topic here, it was a white elephant exchange every year, and it turns out it was almost exclusively alcohol or lottery tickets. There were some well known gift givers you would try to avoid by spotting what gifts they brought into the room surreptitiously. The Amish would sit on one side of the room, and the rest of the company sat on the other. It was a strange, awkward affair.. I didn’t feel like I could participate in “stealing” gifts back from the Amish, since some held beliefs that limited their interactions with women.

    That said, the weirdest gift I got there was not from the party, it was from another team member who one year brought in a giant gift bag (like the 3 foot size) full of crap it looked like he had emptied from a closet at home. I can barely remember what was in it – mildew smelling clothing, and bathroom tiles I think. I must have blocked it from my mind. It was given specifically and only to me for reasons I still don’t understand. The team member was someone who always wore suits and interacted with government officials and politicians. He only went by his two first names at the company so as to avoid people connecting him with his own failed career in office. The bag went straight into the garbage when I got home.

  82. Pumpkinhead*

    Not the most exciting story: Our organization has an annual Christmas party that includes an optional White Elephant gift exchange. One year, a recently hired director (the majority of the rest of us were regular staff/middle management, so definitively lower in the org chart) brought a bottle of wine (exciting!) that turned out to be an umbrella (not so exciting). It’s not necessarily a bad gift, but it was a weird one and he was very vocally pleased with himself for bringing it. For years afterward, we all wondered if he had intended it to be a gag gift or thought it was sincerely a good gift. Nevertheless, in subsequent years, the organizer of the event stipulated “non-gag gifts only” in the invitation.

      1. Pumpkinhead*

        There’s definitely a niche for this! I love the idea of umbrellas disguised as other items, but a wine bottle was just not a hit with this crowd of mostly non-drinkers.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          My mother doesn’t care for cats. One year as a joke, a coworker brought in a bottle of wine shaped like a cat. Turns out that the wine was quite good and the bottles were collectibles. (They are very sleek and cool-looking.) He ended up buying her a few in different colors before she retired.

  83. Lolli*

    We would do a white elephant each year and it was always fun. Gifts were hit/miss but the fun was worth it. One year, someone opened up a box of smoked salmon. This was the kind that didn’t need refrigeration and had a shelf life of about 20 years. They brought it back the next year and put it in the game. Every year after that, if there was a box of similar size or larger being opened, people would start chanting Salmon….Salmon…Salmon. The people who received it took it in good humor and made sure to pay it back the following year. This went on for around 10 years. Until the boss’ secretary had her daughter working there over the holidays. The daughter picked the Salmon as her gift. Boss’ secretary was pissed and made a big show out of how unfair it was. We never saw that poor Salmon again. I was the recipient of the secretary’s gift the following year and it was a copy of the 2nd Christmas Vacation movie that Chevy Chase and Beverly De Angelo weren’t in. I put it in one of my son’s stockings that year.

  84. TechWorker*

    When I was a junior project lead & getting used to my newly acquired authority, the most senior woman in my 60-person tech company out of a grand total of about 3 women… a coworker got me a book called ‘how to be more assertive at work’ in secret Santa.

    It felt SUPER pointed (am I too assertive? Not assertive enough? Does everyone hate me?!), not helped by the fact that the gift giver accidentally revealed themselves & they had up until v recently been my manager. I cried in the bathroom.

    Turns out he had received it from someone outside of work the year before, thought it would be funny to pass it on, and did not consider any of the social context around why a woman in a male dominated company might worry about their assertiveness. He apologised the next day & now years on, is a peer who has always shown good judgement, so this was just a random lapse!

  85. Beveled Edge*

    The first time I participated in a white elephant exchange, at a holiday party at my first job (Blockbuster!), my coworkers stuck me with a big box of cheap Christmas tree ornaments. I’m Jewish. No one would trade with me. I left the damn thing at the store.

  86. Lemon Squeezy*

    At my very first office job, I worked for a company owned by an extremely busy workaholic of a woman. (To demonstrate how much of a workaholic, she was 91 when I worked for her and could have easily retired on the money that she had, but she wanted to keep running her business and showed no signs of stopping!) She was notorious for taking on too many things, working late into the night, and being very scattered. One of the biggest parts of my job was just to keep her organized.

    Every year our office would do a gift exchange where we would each draw a name and get a gift under $15 for whoever we drew. We would typically fill out a sheet with things that we enjoyed and small gift ideas to help guide gifters. My boss typically didn’t join this exchange, either because she forgot to join the sign up or because she was too busy and bowed out. However this year she had decided to join and apparently drew my name. When it came time to open my gift from the pile, it was haphazardly and not fully wrapped. I opened it up to find… a six pack of socks! Disney branded socks no less. I am not particularly a Disney fan (although I’m not a Disney hater, I’m just neutral), and I don’t mind getting socks (although I would have preferred a pair of nice fuzzy socks over a pack of six), but this was so baffling to receive. It’s clear that my boss signed up for the exchange, got too busy and/or forgot about it, and picked up something really fast.

  87. Kesnit*

    This happened to my mother and was about 40 years ago…

    Mom was a second grade teacher for almost her entire life. (For non-Americans, she taught 7 year olds.) One year, one of her students gave her a statute. It’s hard to describe, but it was white plaster and (looking back now) makes me think of Aphrodite. I do remember the model was wearing a robe and one breast was exposed.

    I thought it was so cool. (I would have been 8 at the time.) My parents could not figure out why this student gave Mom this statue. I have no idea what ever happened to it.

    1. BellyButton*

      Aww it was probably a kid who couldn’t afford to buy something and took it from home. He probably thought it was fancy enough for his teacher. It is sweet.

    2. WorkingRachel*

      I love this one. Clearly it made sense in a 7-year-old mind–it’s pretty so I’ll give it to an adult that I like, plus maybe “adults like fancy things”?

  88. Not a Grinch*

    One year in high school I had like four bad experiences with Secret Santas and Yankee Swaps in school (literally multiple bad experiences in one December), so I swore off them going forward.
    Fast forward to my first job out of college. I was a very shy quiet person until you got to know me, at which point I’d talk maybe too much. Anyway, my boss liked me and also liked to joke with me. We had a company holiday party with a Yankee Swap. I explained I wasn’t going to participate (which was fine; it was optional) and why. My boss decided that, since I wasn’t going to participate, I would emcee the event, along with creating and enforcing the rules. I tried to joke but being in the spotlight with mostly strangers was not my ideal time. It was pretty terrifying for me.
    Joke was on my boss though. Everyone I vaguely knew liked me and nobody understood why the youngest employee was being picked on, so he just looked like a jerk and I got a lot of support.

  89. 1-800-BrownCow*

    In a workplace with 300 employees, the yearly holiday gift-giving was a bit of a mixed bag. Most people didn’t exactly look forward to the usual store-bought tin of cookies and oversized chocolate bar. So, when the owner announced a change, there was a flicker of hope.

    During the big reveal, each employee received a small box. What was inside? Cheap, mini pocket knives stamped with the company name. You could sense the confusion in the room as people tried to process this unexpected gift. It was definitely a departure from the norm, albeit a surprising one.

    1. Artemesia*

      We got a long box that seemed like maybe a good pen. I had long hoped to get one at various honoring moments and had somehow always missed — plaques, certificates, etc but never a decent pen. Finally it arrives — and we open it and it is a metal bookmark — something no one ever wanted or probably used. Engraved with company logo — a frigging metal bookmark.

  90. Jaxon’s Mom*

    I’m in a current gift exchange, with 2 teams combined. It seemed normal at first until we got an email saying the exchanged was secretly being changed to “honor” the other team’s admin (that my team doesn’t know or work with). So, we have to send gifts that are things that she would like (examples provided were weird food, squirrels and vampires) with either her face or name on them to (in my case) someone I also don’t know. The idea is that the admin will find it entertaining that we all open gifts with her name/face on it, but we are all stuck with said gifts. So freaking weird!!! I am always a team player and had a mug made with her face on a squirrels body with vampire teeth and shipped it to my person. I am slightly terrified of the reveal tomorrow that I’m the only one who took the direction and ran with it.

    1. WorkingRachel*

      I…have never heard of anything at all like this. And it sounds like it’s virtual, too? Could go either really well or really badly. Either way that mug sounds epic, so good on you.

  91. McThrill*

    Office white elephant exchange – price limit of $10, so nothing fancy. Presents are wrapped, numbers drawn, you can either open a new wrapped present on your turn or steal an unwrapped one from someone else. My co-worker decides to make a joke gift of a “build-your-own pet rock set – clothes, eyes, and accessories not included” (essentially, a rock in a box). What he didn’t realize, though, was that many co-workers brought their kids and our department head had thoughtfully wrapped extra gifts so that all the kids could also participate! Place number one went to our video manager’s 6-year-old daughter, who of course picked up a nice big heavy package, opened it, and immediately started crying because it was just a big rock. My co-worker had happened to draw place number 2, and he felt so bad about it that he “stole” the gift from her so she could have another go at picking a present. Of course, no one stole it from him and he left the party with his own rock at the end of the night.

    1. McThrill*

      I feel I should clarify, everyone in this office was very friendly and had similar senses of humor – had the kids not also been drawing presents, this joke would have landed just fine.

      1. Emily Byrd Starr*

        Absolutely. If there hadn’t been kids there, then you could have just made a “Great Pumpkin” joke and said, “I got a rock.”

  92. nora*

    At my old job, my secret Santa was a member of the leadership team who made a loooooot more than I did. I asked for baked goods (being Jewish, I felt like this was a safe bet). I got a baggie full of cheerios and raisins. There might have been peanuts in there too.

    This was the same workplace that held monthly staff birthday parties (with gifts contributed primarily by staff), until my month came around and leadership decided not to have them anymore.

  93. Anon for this one*

    My first semester of a PhD program, my advisor/boss gave me, an openly observant Jew, and “Sam,” my observant Muslim colleague, the same gift she gave her other 3 student workers: Christmas socks, marshmallow candies (made with pork gelatin) and a monogrammed drink koozie in red and green tartan. I was stunned… but just nodded and managed to squeak out a polite “thank you.” Sam and exchanged knowing looks, left our candies in the department kitchen, and walked home with our tone-deaf gifts. We dropped our still-cellophane-wrapped koozies at the local thrift shop on the way. Every couple years, I get a message from Sam asking if I got any Christmas Koozies for Hanukkah this year, lol.

    In a move that shocks probably no one, the boss turned out to be terrible to work for in a number of other ways. Once out from under her thumb, she became the subject of a number of therapy sessions.

  94. Over It*

    A while back I worked at a non-profit where my and my entire team’s salary were funded by an outside organization. My first year there, they gave us each a single square of Ghirardelli chocolate for Christmas. Not a bar. A SQUARE. (Still ate it, all two bites of it). Second year they gave us each a single coupon to a local business, which my boss apparently trashed instead of giving them to us because he was so insulted by the gesture. I found about it months later; apparently the coupon wasn’t even for a free item, just a discounted one that I’d still have to pay for. Moved onto greener pastures after year 2. If you’re going to give a gift that small, better to not give anything at all IMO. The CEO of the funder made 500k and other staff were also well-paid, so it’s not like they couldn’t have found the money to give us something more than a $1 bite of chocolate.

      1. Over It*

        Yeah but it was very in character with how they treated us otherwise :/ My department did a breakfast each year and my org as a whole also had a Christmas party. It was a social services non-profit so nothing extravagant, but at least they did something that wasn’t insulting!

  95. i like hound dogs*

    Not at work, but we had a gift exchange among a group of us who all go to the same gym. When everyone began opening the gifts, I realized that everyone but me had bought fitness-related items. Duh! I had brought in a bag of Starbucks coffee that the recipient didn’t seem too happy to get, and nobody stole it.

    The only gift worse than mine was from somebody who brought in a miniature version of a game … maybe backgammon? Something old-fashioned. It was opened by an 18-year-old who looked at it like it had three heads.

    The next year I made sure to bring in some protein bars and a grip-strength trainer!

    1. i like hound dogs*

      Oh, also, one year when we didn’t do a gift exchange, one of the younger guys who attended the gym brought in gifts for some people. Not all people, just the people he liked (he had a few social struggles but was a nice guy). He handed me a snack-sized ziploc bag of candy, and then asked where our friend Lyndsey was. I pointed, and he immediately produced a giant tub of flavored popcorn to give to her.

      I know he didn’t mean anything by it, but I had a private laugh later about the fact that I clearly wasn’t his favorite, lol

  96. Fullaboti*

    This isn’t a holiday gift giving story, but it does involve a White Elephant/Yankee gift swap so I hope it counts.

    I was recently promoted to a job that requires travel, and I was going to my first meeting with colleagues from around the country. One of the fun social parts of the meeting was a white elephant gift exchange with a $20 limit that represents your state. I put off buying the gift until the last minute and found things were far more expensive than I was expecting. To stay under budget I bought two bamboo style kitchen utensils with the state printed on them. To my horror when I arrived at the meeting I was told that no one follows the $20 limit, and people go all out with their gifts. Also, as someone from a state known for their seafood, I watched people fight over the gift that included hickory smoked ham. The woman who received my gift was visibly disappointed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she left them behind.

    I have another work meeting next month, and I’m already planning on what to purchase so I’m ready with an awesome gift for the exchange.

  97. CommentKoi*

    Certainly not the most egregious, but ab office holiday party turned me off to white elephant exchanges forever.

    For one, people’s spouses and children were invited to the party and also participated in the exchange, which was a little weird. Two, I don’t remember what the price cap was but it caused some deep inequities of gift quality. I gave fuzzy socks and a scented candle; someone else gave a bottle of Johnny Walker Black.

    When I chose a gift, I got a nice multi-tool. Not super relevant to me, but I knew my boyfriend would like it. It was a nice one! Then someone’s kid got one of those GIANT buckets of the disgusting soft mints, and exchanged it for my multi-tool. So I went home with a million awful mints. I was pissed. I had them for over a year because I simply couldn’t eat them, and I eventually threw them all away.

  98. ICodeForFood*

    I remember one Secret Santa (the dollar limit was either $15 or $25… I don’t remember which) where my boss, who was a really good guy, brought in a ‘serious’ gift, like a gift card. And what he received was a stuffed dog toy with the $2.99 or $3.99 sales price tag still on it. Of course, it had been given by our director whose salary was in 6 figures. And my boss didn’t even have a dog…

  99. i like hound dogs*

    Also, I just participated in a gift exchange with some other neighborhood moms and felt that almost all the gifts fell flat, despite being decent and well-intended items. Someone brought a pair of reading-themed socks that was chosen by the only woman who isn’t a reader. I chose a small package brought by a woman I knew to be very stylish. It was a pair of trendy, fancy press-on (glue-on?) nails. I am not the type to do my nails, so I’m not sure what to do with them … donate them I guess?

    I brought a new novel I’d just enjoyed and a big jar of local honey. It was the only gift that got stolen the whole exchange … and even that seemed somewhat reluctant, lol.

    I continue to maintain that Visa gift cards are the only gifts everyone likes … but that’s so boring!

    1. WorkingRachel*

      I brought a board game to the work gift exchange this year, a cute one by the exploding kittens crew. I know board games aren’t everyone’s thing but in a group of 15 I thought there was a decent chance someone would like it, and we had a stealing element. It was the last gift chosen, and the woman who got it complained quite a bit, asking if anyone with kids wanted it (it was not a kids’ game). I offered her my present (a candle and and Bath and Body Works gift card, which I was about as excited about as she was about the game), but she turned it down. After a minute or two of her grousing loudly, someone got her to accept a blanket in exchange for the game. The coworker who eventually got it knew I had been the giver and made a point of saying it wasn’t a bad gift and she was excited to play it, but yeah. I’m definitely playing it safe and bringing something more boring next year (candle, food, or booze).

  100. Emily Byrd Starr*

    I had a supervisor who had just converted to a non-mainstream religion and gave all of us gifts associated with the religion. The HR staff told her that it was the equivalent of a Christian giving their staff Bibles (yes, I thought of this incident a couple of days ago when an LW asked if giving their staff Bibles was appropriate) and that just because she was in a non-mainstream religion didn’t make it any more acceptable. The issue was pushing her religion on her employees.

    1. Emily Byrd Starr*

      P.S. I may have contributed this story in a previous year, and I may have used a different screen name because I was using a different computer then.

    2. Anonymous For Now*

      The only thing to do would be to look horrified and tell her that she had just exposed the company to some serious liability.

      I see this as being much more satisfying than grousing about what a bad gift giver she was.

      You might call it putting the fear of…well, you get what I mean.

  101. I edit everything*

    I know this isn’t the assignment, but I’m going to share anyway. A group I’m part of (not work) does the type of white elephant exchange where you just look for something from around your house to wrap and give. The idea is that it should be something that someone could want or find useful/fun/etc., not the moldy banana from the bottom of your fruit basket or anything nasty. Just something decent you don’t want any more but someone else might. You can steal an already opened present or choose a wrapped one.

    Last year, everyone chose a wrapped present, and somehow, everyone got exactly the right present for them the first time around. Including my teen son, who isn’t a normal part of the group and just tagged along to the Christmas party. Ages ranged from 13 (my son) to late 60s or early 70s. It was a different kind of crazy.

  102. Schrodinger's Cat*

    One year we had a White Elephant exchange at work and amongst all the boxes of chocolate, scented bath products, wine bottles, silly figurines, and coffee gift cards I received…a can of WD-40. No one stole it from me, haha. Co-worker admitted to me later that he bought it from a convenience store that morning because he had forgotten all about the White Elephant. Being extremely practical and not at all fond of bath products and figurines, I was pretty happy with my present!

  103. Mercurial*

    Many moons ago, I worked in a lovely lab with an annual secret Santa. Gifts (maximum of £10 cost, could be serious or fun) were opened and the giftee guessed the gifter, with no obligation to reveal. One year, a youngish student opened his gift to reveal a very old fashioned men’s toiletry set – think after shave that no one under the age of 40 would usually wear. There was much merriment and gentle mockery as it was assumed this was a bit of a gag gift. He guessed the giver wrongly and no one volunteered, so we moved on.

    Once everyone had finished opening our lab manager, a much older gentleman of international extraction, sought out the recipient to apologise and offer a replacement as he had thought this would be a wonderful gift for such a trendy fellow. I was witness to a truly excruciating conversation where the recipient awkwardly tried to reassure the giver that he loved it really, did not need a replacement, many thanks, so kind etc. etc. Everyone else in earshot cringed mightily at our tactless buffoonery.

  104. spaceygrl*

    The time: circa 2004.
    The place: Holiday party at super preppy, mostly white New England financial services company.
    The game: white elephant where you bring a gift, wrapped, and place it at the front of the room. Everyone stands around and watches as a person picks a gift and then keeps it or steals someone else’s.
    The situation: the only east-Asian employee in a sea of white folks randomly picks a gift.
    The gift: A William Hung singing doll.
    The room erupts in over-the-top, hilarious, awkward laughing.
    He kept it.

  105. Close Enough for Government Work*

    I work for state government and one year for a White Elephant exchange, some hapless person unwrapped a framed photograph of an extreme closeup of a coworker (the photo of his nose was very large and he had a Cheshire Cat grin), with the words “I’m from the government and I’m here to help!” on the bottom of the photo. The picture made the rounds for at least two years after that, and it may still be going around for all I know, as I’m not in that office anymore.

  106. I Clean My Car Out Now*

    In college, one of the clubs I was on the board of did a white elephant gift exchange. My gift was a fancy bag containing… doll clothes. No doll, just the clothes, which were an off-brand Barbie outfit. I had no idea what to do with this so I put the bag and clothes in my car and promptly forgot about them. A half year later, I was unloading the car with a new friend. I found the bag wedged under a seat and remarked it was last year’s white elephant gift. My new friend (who I knew was part of the club but we hadn’t become friends until recently) began CRYING LAUGHING. Apparently, it was his gift I’d been driving around with for months! When I asked him why it was just the clothes and no doll, he said he’d gotten the gift last-minute and there were no dolls left, but rather than abandon his plan he just hoped whoever got it had a doll. We don’t work together anymore, but we’ve become best friends. We still laugh about this seven years later.

  107. Progressive Anonymous*

    White elephant debacle: the top “spend” was $10 or $15 (this was a few years back). Someone brought a colon cleanse. Same year, someone brought a Halloween mask of President Obama. It was so bad, that almost no one participated the year after that.

    White elephant win: at a different employer, someone put a porn video under the tree. THAT one was fought over quite a bit. This was at an insurance company, and the owner was VERY inappropriate.

  108. The Queen's Obedient Cousin*

    I sure can’t beat the classic “I got you a jar of mold” story, but one Christmas gift exchange is still making me cringe nearly a decade later. I was part of a very small crew of people hired at the same time at a pretty tight-knit, high-profile small company, as part of a new division. We were openly excluded from the veterans and the in-crowd, crammed together on a different floor from everyone else in the company — we had to awkwardly invade our co-workers’ office space upstairs if we wanted to get to know anyone. My direct boss, also a new hire, was also incredibly touchy about us spending time with the original staff, especially his boss, out of a fear that we’d make personal connections at the company that cut him out. We were always worried that our division would be cut both because it was a new addition and because we were so isolated and out-of-mind for everyone else.

    Our Christmas party was a standard White Elephant swap where most of the gifts were enjoyably goofy things. Someone, we’ll call him Fergus, got a didgeridoo, of all things, with a little DVD instruction manual explaining how to play it. I thought that was a fun thing — I’d never seen one in person. So when my turn to open a gift and swap came up, I asked for the didgeridoo and Fergus handed it over without comment. All’s fair in love and White Elephants, right?

    Except after the gift exchange, the office cranked the music and brought out the booze, and an hour later, I overheard my boss’s boss and another employee bitterly complaining about how SELFISH I was, how I had NO RIGHT to take the didgeridoo from Fergus, who REALLY WANTED IT and was SO DISAPPOINTED AND HURT, and how could I POSSIBLY be so callous and cause such a rift in the company. I awkwardly said I had no idea Fergus really wanted the didgeridoo and that I’d be happy to give it up, and… they just did not respond at all. Did not look at me, did not say anything, continued complaining. I was so embarrassed that I just left.

    Now, with hindsight, I wonder if the combination of booze, background music, and them being caught up in their complaints meant they just didn’t hear me, but at the time, I was positive they were just ignoring me out of spite. I was mortified, hurt, and worried that I’d made the social gap between our divisions worse. Obviously I did not learn to play the didgeridoo after that. It sat forlornly in my living room, silently communicating “Well, was it worth it, you monster?” until we moved seven years later, and it went to Goodwill. I hope whoever ended up with it can enjoy it with a humiliation-free conscience.

    1. Dhaskoi*

      Alternative explanation:

      Fergus wasn’t bothered at all, and you were meant to overhear the invented complaint.

    2. PaulaMomOfTwo*

      You did nothing wrong. Those who can’t handle a swap game shouldn’t participate, and it’s particularly manipulative to trash talk someone for swapping. And given the power dynamics, really gross too.

  109. Jane*

    Years ago when I was working retail after college, whoever got me in the Secret Santa gave me a scented candle (which, honestly, I was fine with; I am a Scented-Candle Enjoyer) and a lottery card that 1) had already been scratched up and 2) didn’t qualify for ANY winnings, not even a dollar.

  110. Motivational Poster*

    For Christmas one year, my former boss gave me a book that she had previously borrowed from me. She wrapped it and everything. She acknowledged that she had borrowed the book from me, it wasn’t like she forgot where she got it and thought it was something I might like. This was the same year she emailed me with her entire personal Christmas list and made sure to tell me to email her mom letting her know what I had gotten so that she didn’t get the same gift twice. This was a woman in her 40s, not a teenager.

    1. PNW cat lady*

      I hope you got her something off list and deserving of her treatment if you! Or at least tried to duplicate a gift.

  111. Llama Llama*

    The first year of the pandemic my office sent foods from local places to our house. One of the items was bacon. Mine gift was fine and lovely (well except that my mail person put it in some really random spot and I didn’t discover it until the next day — luckily it was cold out). However many peoples bacon was moldy.

  112. Government Director*

    At OldJob, BossDude was more than a little sketch at the best of times and the Christmas party, where the alcohol flowed, was not the best of times. We did a standard ‘bring a nice wrapped present worth less than $20’ game. Partway through the game someone opened a package of edible underwear. The person who opened it was horrified. When it came time for BossDude’s wife to select a present, he loudly urged her to steal the underwear. She did and when she returned to stand near him, he grabbed the package, held it in the air, and shouted: “My favourite flavour!!!” He then held the package up in front of her crotch like he was checking the fit and licked his lips.

    1. MagicEyes*

      Yikes! This is very similar to my favorite story from my crazy former boss, who shared with the whole office that her boyfriend wore hospital gowns to bed. So much ick.

  113. CherryBlossom*

    I worked in an upscale retail shop where three of us were some flavor of queer, and we quickly formed a loose-knit but still insider subgroup. We’ll call the other two Danny and Casper.

    The three of us hit it off fairly easily. We didn’t hang out much outside of work, so I figured this was a transient workplace friendship and enjoyed it for what it was. Unfortunately, Casper was not on the same page. When December rolled around, I was assigned Danny as my Secret Santa Giftee. Casper immediately asked to switch with him. I declined, as I had already gotten Danny a gift I knew he’d like. Casper kept asking, though. A lot. Our manager wouldn’t do anything about it, so I ended up jokingly venting to Danny about it.

    Danny then confided in me that Casper had been blowing up his phone. Apparently Casper had a massive crush on Danny, and saw me as someone “in the way”. Danny and I got along better, sure, but I thought Casper and I were also on friendly terms. Also, given that neither of us were capable of being interested in each other, I have no idea what I was in the way of, exactly. We both started distancing ourselves from Casper, which Casper blamed me for, not realizing Danny had no interest.

    Casper kept bugging me until the day of the exchange. I gave Danny the gift I got for him (The novel his favorite musical was based on), which was added to Casper’s list of reasons to not like me. Eventually the whole thing became so uncomfortable (Puppy Eyes and Compliments for Danny, Evil Eyes and Snark for me) that Danny and I quit on the same day (not intentionally, though Casper didn’t believe that, of course). It was, and remains to this day, the most High School Drama I’ve ever dealt with at work.

  114. Charleston Girlie*

    My boss did not like me for unknown-to-me reasons (like on a personal level). My first year at the job, she was my Secret Santa. And what did she gift me? A set of hot chocolate mix and a pack of bird seed. It seems fine enough, the bird seed I couldn’t really use but could write off. The real problem was that I am allergic to chocolate! We were a staff of less than 10 people, and everyone knew I was allergic. It was very awkward opening the gift and trying to pretend to be excited when EVERYONE at the table knew I can’t drink hot chocolate (once again – because I would have an ALLERGIC REACTION!!).

  115. MikeM_inMD*

    A few years ago my company of 175 or so people was bought up by a large company of over 20,000 people. Each year since, we’ve gotten an invitation to the big holiday party near the corporate hq in the next state (at least an hour’s drive across the river). Until this year – no e-mail invite, and no idea if the party is being held – not that I ever went.

    If it’s a case of being ignored/forgotten, I will count this as a good gift. But if it means they are in a belt-tightening mood, that’s probably a bad gift. I guess time will tell.

  116. Aitch Arr*

    The “Skankee Swap” at my former employer meant that one year I got a framed photo of the CTO.

    I put it in my office to see how many people would a) notice it, b) know who it was, and/or c) say something. More than one person asked me if it was my dad. LOL

    I “gifted” the photo to another poor fool, errr co-worker, the following Swap.

  117. Raine*

    At the company where I work, the white elephant gift exchange has been a tradition for at least fifteen years. One year, one of the engineers brought a toilet seat (unused but not sealed in plastic) as his gift. He thought it would be funny, because it was leftover from his home renovation and we’re a mechanical engineering firm. No one was very amused.

    Another year, I got a take-and-bake pizza that had been sitting, not refrigerated, for the entirety of the dinner (at least three hours). I threw it out immediately.

  118. Duckling*

    In early December 2020, my company sent out an all-staff email saying that Partners would be making the rounds around town to deliver gifts to everyone’s homes. They had also told us many times throughout that year that things were going very well for the business despite all the pandemic uncertainty. Speculation about what kind of fancy gifts we might get was rampant among junior staff. Well the day finally came, and I answered the door to greet the Partner holding … a lunch-sized brown paper bag. She handed it to me with great enthusiasm, gushing about how happy the company was to have me and to share the good fortune after such a rough year. She went on about her family and holiday plans for nearly ten minutes, and I politely nodded along until she reiterated what a great year it had been and that she was looking forward to an even better 2021. After she left, I went inside and opened the bag to find what can only be described as gas station fare. There was a single can of wine, a Hostess mini fruit pie, a two-pack of powdered donettes, and three mini snickers. I don’t work there anymore but am good friends with one of my old coworkers, and now we laugh about it every year around the holidays.

  119. Secret Santa Bystander*

    This year, one of my coworkers took the tag off the giftbag his secret santa left for him and regifted it, items untouched, to his own secret santa recipient… right in front of the person who gave it to him!! The gift givers are anonymous for another day, but tomorrow I’m going to get a front row seat to the reveal so I can see his face when he realizes what he did.

    To make matters worse: his gift recipient is our office’s Top Boss and the gift he passed on? A shot glass.

    1. Iconic Bloomingdale*

      This reminds me of my mom’s late friend who was a nurse in a hospital. One year during the annual gift exchange, one of the other nurses (they had a mutual dislike for one another) selected mom’s friend’s name in the exchange and gave her a wooden pasta spoon. That’s it – not a gift basket of pasta/Italian food items, not a set of spoons – just one single, solitary spoon. My mom’s friend was highly insulted.

      As luck would have it, the following year, my mom’s friend selected her nemesis’ name in the annual gift exchange. She took that same wooden pasta spoon from the year prior, dumped it in an old wicker basket she’d had lying around, wrapped the basket and left it for her nemesis on the day of the gift exchange. LMAO

  120. Kgulo*

    My husband once got a computer mouse in the office gift exchange. A regular, wired mouse. From one of the principals. Nothing would have been better.

  121. PivotTime*

    I don’t know that I can top any story, but long ago for several years I worked at another, smaller library in the library system I work at. Every year we’d do a Yankee Swap (limit $15- totally optional to participate) and every year one coworker would bring in a gift. It as always a previously-viewed DVD, wrapped in said staff member’s paper lunch bag from that day, covered in grease and with a definite smell. Every.. single.. year.
    Having gotten stuck with opening his “gift” on a few occasions I can say that you tried to grab it by a non-greasy part to reveal a random 80’s0- early 2000s movie that carried the smell of the bag when you pulled it out. We had staff who refused to touch anything he brought and were vocal about it. He just laughed. Why would he do such a thing you ask? He wanted to participate so he could get a gift, and thought “recycling” his movie collection to pass on to us would be a great idea.

  122. Hobbette*

    One year my boyfriend (who worked for a different company) got a “Can of Whoop-Ass” for a White Elephant prize. He kept it on his desk for a while, then passed it along it to me for our department’s White Elephant exchange. It was incredibly popular and there were at least three people fighting over … an empty can with a humorous label!

  123. Iconic Bloomingdale*

    I currently work for a large municipal city government. At at my former agency, the colleagues in my unit and I used to participate in a “Secret Santa” or “Kris Kringle” gift exchange with each other. The gift value was set at $25.

    One of my colleagues was a single woman in her 50’s who was known for enjoying wine in the evenings and on weekends. Also, she had no romantic partner; we were aware she had broken up with her long-time boyfriend. She was pretty vocal about not having had “relations” in a long time and was going through a “dry spell.”

    On the day of the gift exchange, she received a bottle of wine and a Trojan “personal vibrating finger massager” from one of our colleagues. Some of us were aghast, others thought it was funny; in any case, it was totally inappropriate. However, the colleague who received these items was thrilled and mentioned she would get good use out of the gifts.


  124. Mathilde*

    we did a white elephant gift exchange at my old job, and I always kind of resented being roped into these things. So when it became clear everyone had to take part I took a look around my house for something I could regift. I found a nice hardcover book that I had bought based on the description but didn’t like the writing style of so I only read a chapter or two and stopped.

    I wrapped it up nice and brought it to the gift exchange. When one of coworkers ended up opening it, her eyes bugged a bit and she blurted out, “someone brought porn.”

    Everyone laughed it off, and apparently the book was part of a series of erotica and I had no idea when I brought it around. Suffice to say, I kept my lips sealed about being the one who brought it and no one ever brought it up again.

  125. ZugTheMegasaurus*

    So my dad worked in the legal department of a very large company; every year, they had a big Xmas party that lasted a good chunk of the day. They always did a white elephant gift exchange, $20 limit, ideally something fun/festive (though quite a few people just gave a bottle of wine).

    When I was maybe 15-16, my dad and I were waiting for a prescription at Walgreens and decided to browse the store for a good white elephant gift. He found a board game of The Office (super popular at the time) that looked like a good bet and went to get in line, but then I spotted it. The Christmas Pig.

    There was only one on the shelf. It was a battery-operated bright pink furry pig in a Santa hat. When you pressed a button, it would walk and *oink Christmas carols*. My dad instantly decided it was perfect. At the white elephant exchange, Christmas Pig was an absolute hit, got stolen every single round after being opened. The next year, everybody reminisced about how great Christmas pig was. And the year after. And the year after that. Clearly Christmas Pig truly occupied a place in their hearts.

    Fast forward a decade and I get hired at the same company in the same building where that legal department is. I kid you not, that first December, four people came by my cubicle to excitedly ask, “Are you the one who found the Christmas Pig?!”

  126. t-vex*

    I once had a boss with an addiction to the home shopping network. Her whole house was stuffed with things she bought off the TV, often in multiples, like 3 wok sets for who knows what reason. One year they must have really been pushing the huggable hangers because she gave all 30 people in the company their very own set. Weird gift but they surprisingly useful, as it turned out – 15 years later and I’m still using them.

    1. Anonymous For Now*

      They are useful and trend to last, as you discovered.

      I much prefer a useful impersonal gift to a supposedly “thoughtful” one from someone who seems unable to put actual thought into the selection process.

  127. Stephanie*

    Last year, the school district’s special ed department gave all of the paraeducators a small bag of stove top potpourri. And by small, I mean it contained exactly one cinnamon stick, one dried orange slice and one dried cranberry. It was so ridiculously small and cheap, it was insulting.

    We also had a parent who went out of her way to ask how many staff worked in our classroom, with her daughter. We told her four: one teacher, three paras. She sent in a wrapped gift for the teacher and a bag for the paras that contained a small pot of honey and a set of two washcloths that were very clearly packaged together. It was weird, for sure. One of us ended up taking the honey and the other two split up the washcloth set and each took one. (The teacher’s gift was a very grandma-looking pair of earrings, for a very much not grandma-style teacher. It was weird.)

  128. Orbital*

    At my previous job, I had started in June and when November rolled around, my group decided that I would be the perfect person to organize that year’s Christmas party. Despite the fact that I had been with the company for literally 6 months, had only moved to the area for that job so wasn’t familiar with the city, was the youngest person at 24, and one of 5 women out of a team of about 50. Luckily, another 20-something, newly hired woman volunteered to help me and the 50-something man who had organized the party the year before offered to pass on his notes to us and organize one game. We ended up having it at the same venue they had had it the year before because we didn’t know where else to look, but people seemed okay with that. I tried to organize a gift swap game, but our company rules made it be strictly optional, but it’s weird when you’re at an offsite holiday party, just sitting there watching other people play a game and get gifts. One of our managers brought along a few extra gifts for people who didn’t bring one, but I ended up not doing the math right so some people ended up with the chocolate bars from one of the manager’s gift bags. Facepalm @ myself.

  129. If there MUST be a gift exchange at work...*

    I’m going to break the rules and tell an awesome work gift story! After a few years of doing a secret Santa that always just felt lame (who really needs another candle?) out mid-sized office changed it up. We still drew names as a staff, but we purchased a toy that suited that person. We brought them in gift-wrapped and at our lunch we took turns presenting the gift and telling why we had chosen it, and how it was fitting for the recipient. A lot of fun was had during this portion, plus a few sentimental tears. After all the gifts were opened and we had finished our lunch, the toys were delivered to a local charity, usually Blue Santa. I don’t work there anymore, but the tradition goes on.

    1. PNW cat lady*

      That is a lovely tradition! I have (thoughtfully) regifted 90% of all Secret Santa type gifts I’ve ever received. Stuffed animal? Niece would love it. Coffee beans? My stepmom. Bottle of wine? My cousin. I would much rather get what you have described.

  130. Abogado Avocado*

    I worked as a reporter for a daily newspaper for five years (before I wised up and went to law school) that put out a six-edition metro daily in a very large city. There was no such thing as a holiday bonus, let alone a holiday party for the newsroom staff. Instead, the publisher sent us a holiday letter, photocopied onto newspaper letterhead (complete with photocopied signature) and machine-folded into a white envelope. Said letter thanked us for our work that year.

    As you might imagine, the letter didn’t engender much reciprocal gratitude among the staff. And, despite the publisher’s cost-saving efforts, the paper went under four years after I left grad school for a new career.

  131. Alex*

    I haven’t worked in a lot of places where christmas gifts are a thing, but the one time I did, the Big Boss gave everyone a bottle of alcohol. Weirdly, he gave wine to all the women, and whiskey to all the men….because…gender assumptions? I dunno.

    As a whiskey drinking, non-wine-drinking lady, that always kind of irked me.

    1. okay*

      I could go either way. But in college when all the guys were ordering cases of Rolling Rock beer at the bar I always got bourbon and coke or eventually gin on the rocks.

      1. Notell*

        Secret Samta. I drew the name of our very obnoxious, loud, difficult salesman who also happened to be very short with a Napoleon complex bht was leaving the company at the end of December. He had signed up for Secret Santa in prior years and stiffed people when he didn’t get them anything. Revenge was in order.

        SS for us was a gift each day of the week with the bigger gift on Friday.

        First day, he walked into his office to find a can of Shrimp.

        The second day he unwrapped a box of Runtz candy.

        Each day he opened a gift that had something to do with his diminutive size. Each day he became more and more obsessed with figuring out his Secret Santa. Each day he failed.

        Last day – which happened to be the last day of his notice period – he walked in and unwrapped two gifts. The first was a box of Magnum condoms. Puzzled, he opened the second….which was a roll of duct tape so he could keep one on. He decided to leave early that day….to.most everyone’s joy.

  132. a*

    Well, I no longer participate in the office White Elephant exchange because someone thought it would be hilarious to wrap up pre-scratched losing lottery tickets as a “joke” gift. Normally the gifts were stuff that people picked up at conferences or training, so it was junk but occasionally useful. T-shirts, pens, flashlights, bags. If it were crap that someone was regifting, you could just put it back in for a joke for next year. But the lottery ticket thing…really offended me for some reason.

    HOWEVER, I missed it last year, when my coworker wrapped up an ornamental box filled with his wife’s baby teeth. And our weirdest and newest coworker (who, oddly, shares a name with the teeth guy) was the one who got it. I missed out on the shock and horror, which was apparently hilarious. That section may still by mystified by who contributed that atrocity. And the guy still has the box and teeth sitting on his desk – he seems afraid to throw it away.

    1. a*

      Note: we’re in a field where we deal with odd and disgusting things all the time, so that’s why the teeth were more funny than icky.

  133. Rachael*

    I’m not sure if this quite qualifies, since it was in college when I was working for a student media publication, but it does stand out as pretty bad.

    I had been having trouble with a writer who had been pretty rude to me throughout the semester. He was considerably older than me and didn’t seem to like having someone so much younger than him as an editor critiquing his work. We worked through some of our problems though, and I thought we were doing a lot better, until….he gave me a copy of “Leadership for Dummies” at our holiday dinner!

    Like, I was young, and not the best manager yet, but I really tried, and I don’t think I quite deserved that. I ended up laughing it off awkwardly because I didn’t know what else to do.

  134. Super Secret Santa*

    My former workplace was acquired, and my whole team was laid off in early December. Our former boss held a holiday party at his house as a last hurrah, which was a really sweet gesture; it was nice to see people one more time.

    The White Elephant was pretty normal, as far as White Elephant exchanges; the highlight was a ‘make it rain money maker’, a toy that fires fake dollar bills. Given that we were payroll-related, it was perfect. The boss stole it and gleefully fired it over the whole party.

    I’m using a different pseudonym for this post because what happened afterward was probably not QUITE kosher –

    Our boss also went around the deserted office to pilfer all the silly corporate awards former employees had abandoned, and gave them out in a faux awards ceremony, complete with Oscars-style speeches to tenuously tie the award to an individual.

    I’m planning to use the “2012 emerging leader” award as a charcuterie tray; it’s glass, after all, so it should be safe enough. I’m still a little jealous of the foot-long glass bludgeon that one coworker got – and immediately started playfully swinging, because there was no way to see it as anything but a weapon.

    After a long, disheartening layoff process, thumbing the nose a bit at upper management was just what we needed.

    (And those former employees were definitely not coming back for these awards.)

  135. fluffy*

    This didn’t happen to me directly, but to a coworker: My coworker was a vegan, and pretty clear about his dietary preferences. He participated in the office Secret Santa, and his gifter opted to give him some very nice, very expensive, high-end frozen steaks.

  136. Mademoiselle Sugar Lump*

    My parents were at a party with my mom’s co-workers (fellow teachers) and there was a gift swap. someone brought a box of chocolates as their gift. The husband of thw woman who unwrapped it quietly ate all of them before someone asked to swap, and then tried to say that the now-empty box should count as a gift. Everybody liked his wife and of course nobody wanted to say anthing. My father was furious about this for YEARS.

  137. Wes*

    As part of the Secret Santa at my OldJob, to help people buy gifts that were actually wanted, staff were asked to fill in a spreadsheet with suggestions for gifts they’d like.

    Most people went pretty generic like ‘homewares’ or ‘something with cats on it’. Resident oddball wrote ’12-blade herb scissors’

  138. Cheap Veep*

    Many years ago we had a Senior VP at our org who used the holidays as an excuse to clean out her house and regift her unwanted items to us lowly peasants. She’d give us each a lovely wrapped gift. The first year, I was really excited and appreciative until I opened it and discovered a set of used dish towels (slightly stained, badly singed). Some of the other “gifts” included used cloth napkins (also stained), mostly burned candles, beat-up refrigerator magnets, old aprons – you get the picture. I never knew how much fake enthusiasm we were supposed to show. It became a running joke among the rest of us, and we actually started looking forward to it each year to see what new level of garbage we would receive, and we made a contest out of who received the worst, most insulting gift. She retired over a decade ago, and those of us who are still around talk about those awful gifts every year during the holidays. Some of the newer employees think it’s an urban legend, but us old-timers know the truth. I learned so much about how to NOT act as a manager from that SVP.

  139. Office Gumby*

    (I think I may have told this story before…)

    A few years ago during our office Secret Santa (rules clearly defined to be nice and fun-or-quirky gift max value of AU$20) I thought I’d play up the ‘quirky’ thing and got my randomly-drawn giftee a cookie sheet and the raw ingredients for chocolate chip cookies (recipe included). Granted, the butter and eggs had to sit in the fridge, but they were gift-wrapped, so no one knew what they were. All other ingredients were also gift-wrapped and they sat under the office Christmas tree for several days. Both packages were clearly labelled, so everyone knew it was for Bob, but had no idea what it could be, nor why one of the packages had to be in the fridge.
    We open our gifts, one at a time, in front of everyone so we can laugh at what everyone’s gotten. The whole office was impressed when he opened it to find cookie ingredients. Turns out that was one of the best gifts he’d ever received that year. He’d been meaning to spend more time at home with his kids, and this gave him the perfect opportunity to go home and bake cookies with them.

    1. PNW cat lady*

      I did something similar, in lieu of the milk needed, I added a returnable glass milk bottle with money inside to buy a new bottle. I don’t think mine was as successful as yours. I had fun putting it together.

  140. Office Gumby*

    Another story from our office Secret Santa. One of our project managers wanted to have some fun playing a little mind game.
    One of our office workers, Barbara, is an author of the kinds of novels that normally people scoff at because of their fun bodice-ripper covers. (I think they’re great, personally. Kudos to her for wanting to write such escapist fun.)
    Come the Secret Santa opening, someone opens their package to find one of these bodice-ripper paperbacks. “Ha, ha, this must be from Barbara…”
    Or so we thought, until someone else opened another package to reveal another of Barbara’s books.
    Our PM had recruited five other people in the office to buy copies of Barbara’s books (all different titles, so no duplicates), much to everyone’s amusement. Barbara was quite pleased.
    (And no, Barbara hadn’t gifted anyone with a copy of her book; she confessed she’d given a set of smelly soaps.)

  141. Retail Diva*

    I worked for a high-end, family-owned department store. Every year we get a gift–usually something branded with the store name, like a blanket, water bottle, lunch box, etc. One year, a book had been published about the company’s history…and that was our gift. People were PISSED. I actually thought the book would be interesting (though I still haven’t read it 5 years later!) but wish they had at least given us a bar of chocolate to go with (which they had done with the water bottle the year before). The worst part was that our store managers made a huge deal about a special surprise inside, and it was just a paper bookmark (not even laminated!) with the company logo.

  142. Texas Teacher*

    When I was teaching one of the kindergarten teachers received a boob purse from one of the kids. It looked like naked boobs not like the person had on a shirt or even a bra. It generated 2 sets of complaints.

    One set from very confused parents who were just told about the purse not that it was a gift from another student. Those the front office easily handled. (Especially when the parent asked their child who gave that to Kinder teacher)

    The other was from the parent who bought the gift. She was mad that the teacher didn’t take her stuff out of her “old purse” put it all in the new purse and use it all day to make sure the child knew she loved it. The principal told her off about the inappropriateness of the gift.

  143. skeptic53*

    I’m a retired family doctor. I shared an office with a fellow doc who would never limit how much time a visit would last. Patients literally waited hours to see him but they knew they could have as much time as they wanted. He was utterly beloved by his patients. I tended to run more on time, patients who hated to wait would choose to see me and often expressed appreciation that I was efficient. One Christmas my partner was getting deluged with nice gifts from his patients, he was passing many of them off to his assistant. My assistant plaintively asked me “Why don’t our patients give us anything?”. No sooner said than done. One of my very favorite patients, who loved both myself and my assistant, brought in a huge unfired ceramic piece of “art” in the form of a lighthouse on a rock with waves crashing onto the shore. It was about 3 feet tall and heavy, it plugged in and the lighthouse had a tiny bulb in it. It was intended to be painted with glaze and fired. The patient had partially covered it with red glitter spray paint. I thought it was the most hideous thing I’d ever been given until the very next patient brought in a replica of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, done very very crudely in inlaid wood as tourist art in the patient’s home country, in Asia. Neither I nor my assistant are religious. We laughed and laughed about being careful what you wish for…

  144. Reeneejune*

    I worked at an adoption agency (progressive, pro-choice, non-religious) and there are two gifts from my tenure there that fit the bill. The first was a ceramic paperweight(?) knick knack thingy in the shape of a labia, complete with glaze. The color wasn’t meant to represent a human skin tone, I think it was blue and purple. It had become traditional to pass this item off to another employee during the holiday gift exchange.

    The other was, I believe, a bit of swag that came home with the communications and marketing director after a conference. It was a plastic lighted speculum and it was used as a vase for fake flowers in her office.

  145. M313*

    Very minor compared to a lot of these, but I once got into an absurd, drawn out argument with the lady who was running the Secret Santa at my job because I wanted to opt out and she tried to cajole me into doing it, claiming it wouldn’t work somehow if there was an odd number of people participating. It took way too long to convince her that that didn’t matter.

    1. Wes*

      Was she organising the Secret Santa for pairs? As in, you get a gift from the same person you gave a gift to? That is not Secret!

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      I remember at one old job, there were crossed wires around opting out – “Cecil and Fergus” didn’t bother responding to the original email about Secret Santa and in their minds, that was them opting out, but “Tangerina” who was arranging it had thought that anyone opting out would explicitly say so, and had put their names in the draw – it only ended up with a bit of grumbling and them agreeing to do it though, nothing like this woman!

  146. Martin Blackwood*

    This is, at best, mildly weird gifting. Literally today was a holiday employee appreciation pizza lunch, with upper management drawing names for various prizes. Some are decent, some coolers, wireless earbuds, those insulated water bottles, an air fryer. But a huge portion of these gifts are 1. Uline branded and 2. Camping related. Camping chairs, camping tables, a “lantern set”, hammock, outdoor blanket. I got a large umbrella. You’d think it would be for a patio, how large it is, but it has a normal (ergonomic, even!) umbrella handle. And we live in a cold part of canada! Nobody is gonna use their hammock! At least the uline branding isn’t that obnoxious (on my gigantic umbrella)

    1. sleeping koala*

      If so many things were Uline branded, I would almost guarantee that a lot of them were free gifts your company got for placing bulk orders with Uline. Bulk isn’t even necessarily truly bulk; we placed one a few months back for maybe $1000 worth of items and had the option to pick something from their free gift page.

      My boss wouldn’t let me order the grill, so we got this weird tote bag made out of the same material as Crocs? Apparently they’re highly sought after by certain crowds.

  147. AMY*

    Some years ago we had a Yankee swap gift exchange and everyone gave pretty nice, thoughtful gifts. I think the range was under $20 or something like that and it was amazing what kind of cool things you could get for that. People were very happy in general (bottles of wine were popular, a stone pizza pan, really nice picture frames….I can’t remember what else but everything was really kind of nice). However, I guess there was one person who thought it was supposed to be joke gifts and in among the presents was a Mr. Potato Head.

    My boss got Mr. Potato Head. She was…upset. Like teary-eyed at the injustice. ANGRY and teary-eyed. To the point some of us were questioning whether she had been drinking lol. She harped about it all afternoon and was really steamed. She vowed to find out who contributed the Potato Head (not sure what the ramifications would be?)

    Rumours were circulated. Suspects were discussed. But no one was ever outed as being the Potato Head purchaser.

    Our office never had a gift exchange again.

    1. Artemesia*

      Out of that list I’d love a potato head (assuming it was the set to make them) — so much better than bad wine and picture frames — I remember years ago a yankee swap where the sought after prize was a bathtub submarine — toddler toy — Most people know kids or have family or are likely to be at a family party over the holidays and fun toys are often a hit.

  148. Weird Workplace*

    My previous job group did a white elephant exchange that was mostly humorous, used, or cheap weird items. I regularly shopped at Goodwill for the strangest thing I could find the night before the party.

    It was a medical team where dark humor is common, and boundaries are lacking. One peripheral team member’s husband was an OBGYN, who coincidentally had delivered the babies of another coworker. He liked to tell creepy oversharing funny stories about patients and gynecological situations he’d been in. My poor work friend would lean over and say “I swear he wasn’t like this as my doctor!” One year their white elephant contribution was a set of vibrators and dildos with an explanation “they were samples at the office!” Many of the items had fierce stealing back and forth, but if I remember right (I mostly just remember the cringing) this one was opened by some poor male spouse who didn’t even know most of the group, who pretty much just hid it in the pile of giftwrap.

    So cringeworthy, and not even the most HR-worthy of the events that happened with that group over the years, just the worst gift exchange!

  149. NotThatManager*

    I once managed an intern who had never participated in a secret santa before. He had a lecture scheduled for the first half of the Christmas party, so missed the part where another staff member dressed up as Father Christmas and gave out the anonymous gifts, so I collected his gift to give to him when he arrived (it was wrapped). When he arrived I handed it over with a smile, and carried on my conversation, it was only later I saw that he’d been given a Christmas G-string: think red velour back and sides and a disturbing Christmas pudding front ‘pouch’. As soon as I saw it, I started quietly asking colleagues if anyone know who the ‘Santa’ for this gift was because it was so inappropriate.

    Imagine my mortification when, a month later, in our first 1-2-1 of the new year the intern bravely stepped up to tell me he thought my gift was not totally appropriate, he didn’t understand it, and could I please explain my thinking. He thought that because I’d handed him the gift, I must have been his secret santa. I set him straight immediately, and told him I’d tried but failed to identify the actual culprit and was pressuring management to put some rules in place for next year, because I, like he, thought the gift was sexual harassment. Kudos to him, because I cannot imagine having had that conversation with a manager aged 21. Yikes.

  150. Horrible gift receiver*

    I am an African woman in an international setting. I received anti-frizz. Yes, we knew who the gifts were going to.

  151. PsychicMuppet*

    At my department’s annual White Elephant, our director showed up with a gift we all thought was a joke: it was one of our magazines, a bottle of Pepsi, and some other company swag from the supply closet all inside a company tote bag–basically all stuff you can get for free around the office. He put it on the gift table and sat down, and we all thought it was just a joke, but then he actually got up and selected a gift from the table! I felt terrible for the person who had to pick last, and ended up with the director’s bag of garbage.

  152. Retail Dragon*

    I’ve never had a weird gift exchange at work, but in my former church’s choir, our annual summer picnic included the sort where people steal gifts from each other. Invariably there would be one that was the subject of much rivalry. I remember one year this was an elaborately wrapped package with a golden satin bow… which, when finally claimed and opened, turned out to be a shoe box containing a pair of dish towels.

  153. Slartibartfast*

    Actual testicles.

    Yankee swap at the vet clinic, the ‘grand prize’ was a large crystal decanter (like you’d serve lemonade or iced tea from at a buffet) filled with testicles collected from neutering various species on the farm, floating in rubbing alcohol. It was labeled “mixed nuts” on the outside, what kind of nuts was only apparent after unwrapping.

  154. Library Ninja*

    I have two unusually specific gift stories. My wife had a white elephant gift swap at a former workplace a few years back, and brought something fairly innocuous (I think some novelty mugs with tea and hot chocolate), and came home with… an abridged version of Little House on the Prairie and three handmade bonnets, one adult sized and two children’s sized. It was especially odd since though she was teaching at the time, it was adult education. I think we regifted them to the kids’ department at my library. The owner of the school sent everyone home with a dollar store stocking with some cheap chocolates and Christmas-themed erasers and such in it, but was very firm that they HAD to bring the stocking back for next year.

    My team at work does a white elephant swap where it has to be something regifted or homemade, and it’s clearly stated up front that it’s not a gag gift, it’s something nice. Last year I brought some tiny hand-knitted Christmas ornaments with a regifted fancy glass set, and left with a regifted candle and a knitted cowl my boss made (it’s very nice and lives in my office for when it’s chilly). My favourite, though, was the year where my coworker had asked her woodworking husband to make something, intending to bring one of the small wooden trays he’d made before, or something similar. However, one of the other things he liked making that had a limited audience were folding wooden chairs, so that was what he sent her with. I scored the chair on the last steal, and now have a very nice, solid hand-made folding chair that’s a traditional Maritimes style known as in woodworking circles as a “funeral chair” because it was the sort you made for community halls and other venues. It came with a bag of nuts and bolts, the snack sort not the hardware kind. I use the chair every time we have friends over and need to fit one more person at the dining room table.

  155. DramaQ*

    Oh I think I can win this one! It’s not my story but my husband’s. His former company handed out envelopes to everyone as their “Christmas bonus/gift” for the year.

    It was a grocery coupon for buy one full price get one 50% coupon off one of the company’s products.

    I told him they could have at least enrolled him in the jelly of the month club. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

  156. Ciela*

    I contributed the bad gift! I was in school many years ago, and alerted the party I needed to leave for in 7 minutes was going to have a White Elephant exchange. I boxed up loose change to the gift amount limit in a box with some cotton padding, so it wouldn’t rattle, and wrapped it up all pretty. The guy who picked it wanted it because it was heavy, and was NOT amused by a box of loose change. And no one else would take it!

  157. Ebb*

    Some notable gifts from the yearly White Elephant at a restaurant I used to work at:

    One year (2010), five Snuggies, three shake weights, and 3 sets of lotto tickets, for an employee group of about two dozen.

    An alluringly weirdly sized 6-foot-long skinny box that turned out to be a vintage map found at Goodwill for $5! Literally the first gift unwrapped and then stolen by Person 2 and then by Person 3. Nothing else mattered until the map was gone.

    Conversely, a charming houseplant made it to exactly the wrong person, who left it in the restaurant at the front desk because he was so uninterested. As far as I know it could still be there.

    We had one employee who was underage (20) who unwrapped a surprise bottle of wine. The owner stood up and said, “Haha, okay, someone steal this please” and the next person was nice enough to do so. Young Employee got up to get a new present: this one was a bottle of Jack. Owner said “Ok now, really, someone steal this too,” which someone was only too happy to do, and then as the young employee went to choose her next gift the owner announced, “Nothing that looks like a bottle!!” She selected a flat box, which turned out to be…. liquor-filled chocolates. The next year no alcohol was allowed in the gift exchange!

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