I’ve been known to give the worst Christmas gifts ever. I once gave my brother and his then-pregnant wife what I thought was a baby hat, which later turned out to be an oven mitt. (In my defense, no one in that town spoke English, and that quilted triangle could be worn on an infant’s head.)
It’s even worse when your gift hurts someone’s feelings. As a kid, I gave my dad plus-sized pajama pants, because I thought they looked comfy. (They were a few sizes too large.) The incident has gone down in family lore.
To help you avoid similar pitfalls, I’ve compiled what I’ve learned about the worst Christmas gifts.
They usually fall into a few major categories: gifts that highlight someone’s perceived flaws (like acne products and weight-loss supplements); gifts that reveal how little you know about the recipient (like getting a dog leash for someone who doesn’t have a dog); and — my personal favorite — misguided self-help books.
(There is no category for accidentally giving someone an oven mitt for their baby. That’s just something that can happen if you get stoned while Christmas shopping in a foreign country.)
If you, too, have realized you’re a terrible gift-giver, don’t worry: Redemption is possible. For each of these mistakes, we’ve provided alternate gifts your loved ones will truly appreciate.
Read on to avoid giving the worst Christmas gifts.
1. A Very Pointed Self-Help Book
Bonus points if you give this to your boss.
Self-help books can make for awkward gifting. (When I was 19, I unwrapped my Christmas gifts to find multiple books on how to overcome your “quarter-life crisis” — which I wasn’t aware I was having.)
The intentions are good: You want to help someone. But instead of highlighting their shortcomings, choose a book with practices or insights that could help them grow — or, um, stop being a jerk — on their own.
For a better gift, check out this entertaining book loaded with mindfulness exercises.
2. “How to Text Men: The Ultimate Guide to Learn How to Text a Man and Make Him Beg for Your Attention”
This totally real, non-ironic book includes “word-for-word texts” to “make him CRAZY for you.”
If you use these texts, he won’t be the only one who’s CRAZY.
“Discover how to make men BEGGING for your attention with brilliant texts,” reads the promotional text. Sure, maybe grammatical errors could be brilliant, if you want your prospective dates to think you’re a foreign language speaker.
Don’t give this to anyone. (Unless it’s a joke gift for your hilarious and proudly single friend.)
Again, you might mean well: Maybe you want to help your friend find a good man, and she keeps screwing it up by sending kooky texts.
But maybe your friend is actually doing just fine. Maybe she’s just not that into men. Maybe she enjoys spending time with herself.
Instead of helping her find a man, you could help her enjoy her solo time. Maybe she could pick up a new hobby, like dabbing.
3. Sweat-Absorbing Armpit Pads for Your Sweaty Coworker
Got a super-sweaty coworker? Maybe they’re sweaty because they drink too much coffee. (Caffeine stimulates sweat production.) Get them some mushroom coffee. It contains half the caffeine of normal coffee — and may give them a less jittery buzz, in addition to other benefits.
4. Super Creepy “Revenge” Voodoo Doll
Don’t buy this doll. Even if you believe your loved one deserves revenge.
The doll comes with pins you can stick on its different labels, which are designed to inflict various levels of revenge, ranging from “serious canker sores” to “deeply lonely life.”
If your friend is wishing for someone else to have a “deeply lonely life,” they probably need therapy. But since you can’t give them that — at least not with a bow tied on it — give them John Prine’s “Sweet Revenge” album instead. His lyrical music and sense of humor might actually help them untangle their anger issues.
5. “How to Text Men: Texts That Will Make Him Want You”
Amazon offers many how-to books about texting men. (Any of them could make for the worst Christmas gifts ever.)
This book’s cover features a woman who clearly needs author Joshua Bell’s advice on how to attract men. Bell promises to teach us “the ONE thing that will make him go crazy… and beg for your attention.” (Is the cover a hint?)
Later in the book, Joshua (who, according to his author bio, has an English degree), will teach us “the truth about the morning text and the good night text.” Wow. Can’t wait.
Please don’t buy this book for anyone — no matter how often they fumble their flirty texting. Instead, get her a rose quartz crystal, which is believed to aid in matters of the heart. She will definitely get better advice from a rock than from this book.
6. “The Attraction Blueprint: The Counterintuitive Approach To Attracting Any Woman You Want” by Sebastian Castaneda
According to this book, you can attract any woman with some simple psychological manipulation. (It’s easy!)
This cover image could make for a joke gift for a buddy who reads on their morning commute. (The bow explains a lot about the book’s intended audience — especially if you read this fascinating essay in the Atlantic.)
Otherwise, don’t buy this book for anyone. The promotional text starts off by mentioning Freud, for reasons that remain unclear. Then it gets downright creepy (as most things Freudian must): “Fear must be used as a source of absolute power. Do you want the power to hand select any girl you want? […] Do you want to get something from a woman without even having to ask?”
Um, ew. Somehow this book was published in 2017, by which time most of the general public had at least heard of the concept of consent. There’s not much information about the author, which I’m guessing is because he’s in jail.
Just kidding. I have no idea where the author is. But still — don’t buy this book. Instead, check out this book produced by comedian John Oliver. It’s a children’s book about a rabbit, so it’s intended for a higher reading level than Castaneda’s manipulation handbook.
It’s also LGBT-friendly, so if the lack of naked women in your friend’s life is intentional, he will totally feel seen.
7. Any Book by This Disgraced Former TV Star
On a list of worsts, this book takes the cake. Apparently, Bill Cosby considered himself an expert on romance.
In the book’s first sentence, Cosby says the first step towards romance is “learning to lie” to yourself. (Red flag much?)
Don’t buy this book — even for a gag gift. Unless you’re buying all the available copies, and burning them in a bonfire while videotaping it. That actually might be a cool gift.
If you’re looking for a book written by a TV star, check out Chelsea Handler’s new book instead. I’m pretty sure she hasn’t drugged anyone. Except herself.
8. “Come on, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors” by Bill Cosby
Cosby actually did know something about victims — just not the kind he wrote about in this book. He chastises those who drop out of school or accept welfare, and reserves particular scorn for black men who end up in prison (where he himself would finally be incarcerated in 2019).
Cosby shamed individuals, while ignoring the systemic racism that ravaged their communities. He promoted this myth for years.
To learn more about why that Cosby-style argument is wrong (aside from the obvious), check out any work by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
9. Cat Toys for a Person Without a Cat
If you give this to someone without a cat, you may leave them feeling confused. Even if you think it looks fun to play with. It’s possible that you are just obsessed with cats. (Or on drugs.)
If you’re determined to give a cat-related gift, but you can’t remember whether or not your friend is a fellow cat person, check out this book, “How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety.”
Only fellow cat-owners will be able to put this advice to use, but everyone with a sense of humor will appreciate this book — regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. Or the cat-person spectrum.
10. Your Suggested Birthing Plan for Their Pregnancy
Giving your friend this DVD would be a huge mistake. Nobody has a DVD player anymore.
But even if your friend both owns a DVD player and is also pregnant, their birth plan is probably none of your business. (Bonus weirdness points if you get this for someone who’s not pregnant.)
It’s nice that you want them to feel good. But maybe get them something less intrusive, like this herbal tea sampler.
11. Face Mask for Sagging Skin & Double Chins
Of course, some skincare gifts are awesome. Snag this body butter instead. It’s luxurious, lavender-scented, and — best of all — it doesn’t scream “you’re aging poorly.”
(Or if they like CBD, check out our guide to the best CBD creams available online. Or if you’re interested in skincare gifts made in Colorado — including CBD products — check out the best gifts from Denver.)
12. A Book You Think Will Improve Their Marriage
A general rule for better gift-giving: Avoid anything that seems custom-made for Donald Trump to give to Melania. (Well, if he wasn’t afraid of books.)
“Men are right,” this book’s promo text reads. “Men want closer marriages just as much as women do, but not if they have to act like a woman.”
This book has it all: misogyny, stereotypes, and permission for men to behave badly. If you’re looking for advice on living in a superficial pretend-marriage, this book is for you.
But if you want to help someone deepen their actual marriage? Maybe help them find a hobby that fosters togetherness instead. Like cooking.
13. Cosmetic Teeth to Cover Up Their Real Teeth
You might need some fake teeth of your own, after you try to give this to someone.
If your loved one has dental problems, remember to recognize their inner beauty. Then practice compassion: Dental problems can cause sufferers stress, anxiety, and pain.
CBD could help alleviate their dental discomfort. Buy them a soothing CBD tincture instead. Then watch out for all the (real) smiles.
14. Beano for Fast Gas Relief
Even if your loved one does have gas, the holidays might not be the time to bring it up. Instead, get them this book of basic yoga poses. It’s bound to include “Wind-Relieving Pose.”
Maybe they’ll be inspired to take a yoga class.
On second thought, maybe throw in the Beano, too — to help them avoid an awkward moment in Downward-Facing Dog.
15. “Lose Weight with Your Mind,” by Jonathan R DeLeon
Just don’t. Even if you think you’re helping. Even if you think you’ve pinpointed the source of your loved one’s weight problem, and it’s definitely their mind.
Instead, give them kitchen essentials that will help inspire healthy cooking. (Research shows that people who cook their own meals tend to eat healthier.) This cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi has inspired thousands of people to experiment with Israeli-influenced recipes, and incorporate new and healthful ingredients.
16. “Charlie Chaplin” Mustache that Closely Resembles Another Mustache
Just don’t. Unless someone in your life is an avid Charlie Chaplin role-player. Otherwise, this could get very weird.
17. A Guide to Polyamory For Your Parents
Don’t give your parents any ideas. (Perfect thing to give your sister in front of her new boyfriend, though.)
18. Stretch Mark Cream
In case you missed it: Stretch marks are cool. This artist uses glitter to turn stretch marks into body art. Spread the word — and give your loved ones biodegradable glitter to celebrate their own unique markings.
19. Nose & Ear Hair Trimmer
This gift will make your loved one wonder how much their nose hair has been bothering you. It also looks like a torture device.
Instead, you could get them a lighted bathroom mirror. This magnifying mirror will help them discover their jungle of nose hair on their own.
20. Earrings for Someone Without Pierced Ears
I’ve never gotten around to piercing my ears. Whenever someone gives me earrings, I mumble gratefully, then invent ways to avoid trying them on. (“Do I smell something burning?”)
Today, many people have “gauged ears.” These enlarged openings can’t hold normal earrings either.
If you’re going to buy someone earrings, try to make sure they can actually wear them. Otherwise, get them a necklace. Everyone has a neck.
21. “Sexy Native American Costume”
Nope. “When a group like Native Americans have clung onto their culture in the face of genocide… it’s tone-deaf not to realise how damaging it is just to adopt that clothing for a night,” the Independent explains. Buy any of the thousands of other costumes on Amazon instead.
22. Very Specific “Excercise Weights” for Your Wife or Girlfriend
If you get these as a suggestive gift for your partner, you’re clearly a douche (another product, incidentally, that would make a terrible Christmas gift).
23. “Old Georgia State Flag” That Bears Uncanny Resemblance to Other Flag
Don’t. If you seriously don’t understand why not, read more work by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
24. “The 7 Irresistible Qualities Men Want In A Woman: What High-Quality Men Secretly Look For When Choosing The One,” by Bruce Bryans
Author Bruce Bryans considers himself an expert on high-quality men. Bryans — who, according to his author bio, enjoys “manly things” — clearly spends a lot of time thinking about “high-quality men.”
To please them, he explains, you must first pass the man’s “physical appearance test,” which is “specific to his personal tastes.”
But then you must be “far superior” to other women in the surrounding area.
Um. Yikes. This book could really screw people up. Instead, let’s remind young women that they don’t need to be “superior” to anyone else — and that no one is “inferior” to them, either. Let’s encourage girls to lift each other up, instead of tearing each other down.
Buy “Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!” here instead.
25. “101 Things Your Dad Never Told You About Men: The Good, Bad, And Ugly Things Men Want And Think About Women And Relationships,” by Bruce Bryans
Turns out Bruce Bryans has written many, many books about high-quality men. He also may have some issues.
“Let’s face it; your Dad probably couldn’t tell you exactly how to be a good wife or a good girlfriend,” his promo text reads. “Maybe the topic of how to please your husband in bed would have been too awkward… Whatever the reason, your good old Dad probably never told you the ugly truth about what men want from women.”
Um. This author may have misunderstood the role of dads. Or misjudged how most people learn about pleasing their spouse in bed. (Hint: We don’t learn it from our dads.)
If you’ve even considered buying this book, you should probably seek psychiatric help immediately. In the meantime, buy this other book by self-healing pioneer Ana Forrest — for yourself. (You’ll understand when you read it.) Happy holidays!
Buy “Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit” by Ana T. Forrest here.
And as always, when you’re stumped, you really can’t go wrong with fuzzy Christmas socks.
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