The Worst Holiday Gifts

When it comes to gift fumbles, fruitcake is just the tip of the iceberg.

A woman holding an open gift box with a negative expression.
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Dena Roché, a publicist in Phoenix, says when she was a newlywed in 1998, she received lingerie. A nice gift, but she wasn't crazy about the source: her in-laws.

"That play for grandkids was ill-conceived," says Roché, who divorced her husband last year. She tried to return the favor by later giving her mother-in-law a red thong, which, for a while, she and her in-laws kept re-gifting each other. And for those wondering, the in-laws never did get those grandkids.

Clark's mother, Helga Vranjes, certainly should have used more forethought in how her presents would be received. Vranjes, who passed away a few years ago at age 82, once gave her granddaughter a few packages of lunch meat as a Christmas gift. "That was for, 'In case you get hungry,'" Clark says. "It wasn't that my mom was senile. She just didn't see things from other people's perspective."

And if Vranjes had, she might have realized that the large, glass, car-shaped canister – filled with alcohol – wasn't an appropriate gift for her granddaughter, who was 16 at the time.

[See: 10 Saving Strategies That Can Backfire.]

On another occasion, Vranjes gave her best friend's 12-year-old son a sparkly jewelry box with a twirling ballerina. He was into sports and had no interest in ballet. "But she liked the way the ballerina twirled, so she thought the boy would like it also," Clark says.

"She gave my husband an 'I Love Nixon' coffee mug," Clark recalls. "He didn't love Nixon, and Reagan was president."

But the recipients of unusual and lousy gifts would do well to keep some perspective, too, especially over the holidays, when not everyone has unlimited funds – and they may have a completely different mindset.

"In my mom's defense," Clark says, "she grew up in Germany during World War II and had to economize on food and clothing. It was a struggle to survive, and she never lost that need to find a way to survive."