Gifts For People You Hate, 2017

Every year I sit down to write this and think, “what am I even going to come up with this year? I have used up all possible Bad Gift Ideas and am doubtless in reruns at this point” and then I start poking around looking at what’s available for purchase on Amazon:

unicorn

This is a wine-bottle holder and it’s supposed to look like the unicorn is drinking your wine. I guess. 

And I realize that I have barely scratched the surface of astonishingly terrible objects that one could give to those people to whom one is required by circumstance and etiquette to give gifts.

Maybe your office has a Secret Santa exchange, and you don’t officially have to participate except at your last performance review you got dinged for “not being enough of a team player, so you kinda do have to participate, and then you get assigned to buy a gift for that person who puts all their calls on speakerphone and leaves dishes in the office sink. Or maybe you’ve tried to talk your family into just exchanging festive greetings and this resulted in DRAMA so you’ve resigned yourself to buying gifts forever for that family member you try not to get stuck next to during the meal.

Sometimes you’re shopping for a gift because it’s worth that $15 to keep the peace and even though you know that, you resent every moment trying to figure out what would please this person. And that’s where my shopping guide comes in! Free yourself from the burden of trying to make an asshole happy, and embrace the idea of giving them something that won’t.

There are certain basic principles that apply every year. It should be cheap, but untraceably cheap. (Buying them a hand-crocheted who-knows-what for $2 at a thrift shop and pretending it came from a craft show is a terrific idea but you will need to make sure it looks new and doesn’t have that distinctive, identifiable Smell Of Savers wafting from it.) It should be easy to get, and it should look like a gift you might honestly have picked out because you thought they’d like it.

(And a final disclaimer: I don’t actually buy gifts for anyone I don’t like, so if I have given you a bad gift in the past, I promise this was not an intentional slight!)

ON TO THE SHOPPING.

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Whimsical Gifts (for people you hate), 2015

It’s December, and do you know what that means? That means it’s time for my annual very special article on gift shopping for people you hate.

In a better world, we’d only ever have to be presents for people we want to buy presents for. But the sad fact is that sometimes, presents are obligatory. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that sometimes, giving a present is a whole lot less trouble than the inevitable drama that would result from not giving a present.

Let me just reel out the usual disclaimers before we get started. I love everyone I give gifts to: if I have given you a present and you hated it, I swear I tried to get you something you would like (or at least find briefly amusing) and for heaven’s sake please feel free to donate it to a thrift shop or something if you’ve still got it. And if you’ve ever given me something that could possibly fit one of these categories, I am not talking about you, your gift was lovely and I do not suspect you of passive-aggressive malice, I promise.IMG_20131225_201536

I ran across this totally fascinating document from World War II earlier today. (Props to the Central Intelligence Agency, for sharing this riveting bit of history!) This is a guide to “Simple Sabotage,” which I guess was covertly distributed in occupied Europe as a guide to sabotage for the motivated layperson. Probably the funniest part is the section where they talk about how to use office politics as an engine of sabotage against the Nazi war effort. “Insist on doing everything through ‘channels.’ Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.” “Make ‘speeches.’ Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate ‘patriotic’ comments.” “When possible, refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration.’ Attempt to make the committees as large as possible – never less than five.” “Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.”

Anyway, the relevence here is that Resistance members and Allied sympathizers in Nazi-occupied Europe could get away with dropping wrenches into machinery, breaking drill bits and dulling saws, tying up phone lines with wrong numbers, and making lots of time-wasting patriotic speeches to avoid decision making because that sort of thing legitimately happened on a regular basis just by accident. That same basic principle is at work here. People get terrible, inappropriate gifts all the time; usually, it’s not because anyone was trying to give them a bad gift, it’s just because buying good presents for people we don’t know well is really difficult. All those inadvertant bad gifts are your camouflage. Adhere to a certain degree of subtlety, and no one needs to know that your goal here was to make your target unhappy with your Simple Sabotage Christmas largesse.

ON TO THE GIFT IDEAS.

Sports Memorabilia

Many people have a favorite team, and if you buy a thing with their team’s logo on it, this shows that you have paid attention to something they like, and are trying to please them. The thing is, even very devoted fans don’t usually want everything in their house to be dedicated to their sports team. (There are exceptions. You probably already know if you’re dealing with one of those, though.) You can find a Tiffany-style table lamp with a sports team logo. A curtain valance. A wallpaper border. A light switch plate. A spandex throw pillow that looks like a giant baseball. A wall clock! A SHOWER CURTAIN. A pot holder and kitchen towel set. The list goes on, and on, and on.

My favorite item on this list, for sheer WTF value, is definitely the Tiffany-style table lamp with the team logo, but it’s $129, and gifts for people you dislike should always be inexpensive. There are far more reasonably priced items.

Like duct tape. Duct tape is not normally something you would give as a Christmas present, probably, but you can present this with the air of someone who’d never seen sports team duct tape before and got overexcited. Use the statement, “when I saw this I knew I HAD to get it for you!” Which is probably a statement you’ve heard a few times over the years, usually just before being handed a terrible gift. See what I mean about camouflage?

Whimsical Housewares

There are well-designed whimsical kitchen items that are both cute and functional. And then there are whimsical kitchen items that will take up space in a drawer or cabinet without being good for anything at all.

1. Mugs are pretty dang basic, you know? How do you even screw up a mug? Well, you can make it take up the space of two mugs or you can give it a handle that you can’t easily slip your fingers through.

2. Oh look, a hedgehog cheese grater! So adorable, but try to picture using it. How do you even hold onto it while grating cheese with it? If you read the reviews, the answer is, “argh!”

3. The Nessie ladle looked so adorable in the magazine articles about it six months ago — I totally wanted one. Too bad they’re apparently both runty and flimsy. (Small ladles can be functional — we have one that we use for gravy — but it sounds like this one comes in an awkward size, too big for gravy but too small for soup.)

4. A sculptural dragon that will embrace your salt and pepper shaker like they are part of its hoard. Okay, to be fair: I totally know people who would honestly love this item. Use your own judgment here.

5. Even most of the people who would love a dragon salt and papper shaker holder are not actually going to install a dragon TP holder. Especially since, according to the reviews, it’s really pretty annoying to install.

6. In the “easy to install but WHY WOULD YOU” category there is a Santa toilet decal. If you give this for Christmas, it’ll already be too late to stick it on when they unwrap it; they’ll have to save it for an entire year in order to get any use out of it.

7. A decorative tabby cat wine bottle holder. This is a bulky storage gadget for a single bottle of wine that also makes it look like the cat is drinking wine directly from the bottle. Note that the five-star reviews are entirely from people who gave it as a gift and say that the recipient just loved it (except for one person who cheerfully notes that his girlfriend thought it was hideous and “mysteriously lost it.”) If you need a present for someone who’s more of a dog person, you can get a dog version and somehow the wine-sucking golden retriever puppy is even more disturbing to look at than the cat.

8. In the “whimsical wine” category there are also whimsical wine bottle covers. What are these even for? Is there a reason that wine needs a cozy? Are these to dress up gifts of wine because you don’t like wine gift bags? My suggested strategy for bad wine gifts is to go to a wine store or Trader Joe’s and tell them that you need a bottle of wine for a stage set, it needs to not be a recognizable brand (so no three-buck-Chuck) but it doesn’t have to be drinkable and you don’t want to spend more than $5. Then stick a sweater on it, I guess. (WHY. WHY DOES WINE NEED A SWEATER?)

9. Whimsical nested measuring cups. Because you totally want to play “Take Apart the Matryoshka Dolls” before you can measure 1/4 cup of flour, and put them all away again every time you wash them rather than just throwing them in a drawer.

10. Whimsical dinosaur fossil ice cube trays. There is a huge selection of whimsical silicon ice cube trays out there. I spent some time last summer in a rented apartment that came with silicon ice cube trays, and I went out and tracked down a real ice cube tray because life is too short to pry whimsically-shaped cubes out of those stupid silicon trays. They are a complete pain in the ass and no one cares about whimsical ice.

Cookbooks

Rather than linking to specific cookbooks, I’m going to suggest that you visit your nearest chain bookstore and check out the discount section, although before buying, make sure that the discount sticker can be easily peeled off.

There are people who love to cook and disdain any recipe that calls for Cream of Campbell’s or Lipton Onion Soup Mix as ingredients. For those people, you want to find a cookbook where the recipes mostly involve assembling the contents of cans. The whole “Dump Dinners” series is arranged around this premise but there are plenty of others out there.

There are also people who really hate cooking and for them, you want to find a cookbook that claims everything in it is “quick and easy” and “ready in ten minutes” but also assumes that you just happened to stumble across 2 finely diced onions, 10 peeled and minced garlic cloves, 2 chopped green bell peppers, and four deboned ducks before you started the process of cooking. If you’re not sure how to identify those, look for cookbooks produced by Cook’s Illustrated or America’s Test Kitchen. (I have a copy of the America’s Test Kitchen Family cookbook, and I even use it, but they have crock pot recipes in there that call for, I swear to God, two hours of prep before you turn on the crock pot. That is not why I have a crock pot. That is not why anyone has a crock pot.)

Alternately, I’m pretty sure that It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great, Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, could successfully irritate anyone who is not already a member of Gwyneth’s personal cult. Especially as it’s apparently about 2/3 pictures of Gwyneth.

Charitable Gifts: Wildlife Adoptions

Yesterday, someone on my Facebook shared an article about how the Bronx Zoo lets you name their Madagascar Hissing cockroaches after people for $10 per named cockroach. That is an awesome, if thoroughly unsubtle, gift. However, when I visited the Bronx Zoo website I couldn’t find any links to do this, so I think it may have been a limited-time deal last February. (Too bad, because with some effort you can sell it as not an insult, I think. You’d want to focus on the whole “only thing that will survive a nuclear war” aspect of the cockroach personality.)

It’s especially too bad because when you browse Wildlife Adoption options they tend to overwhelmingly focus on cute, appealing animals like tigers and panda bears. No one lets you adopt a blobfish. The World Wildlife Fund (logo animal: the panda bear) has 125 species available for wildlife adoption, but the blobfish is not among them. Dear WWF: I think you are missing an opportunity here. I know (I am sure) that as an organization you are strongly committed to saving ugly animals just as much as cute ones. You could even do one of your themed wildlife adoption buckets with the theme “save the uncharismatic fauna, too!” but for sure you’d need a blobfish in there.

Wildlife adoptions from the WWF are available at various price points — they push the $55 option, which comes with a stuffed toy, but you can also do a $25 option, which is just a photo and a certificate. And while they do not have blobfish, they do have some animals available that might suit your gift-giving needs.

Bonobos. “Bonobos are highly social animals,” the WWF tells you on their bonobo page, leaving out the part where they socialize primarily by having sex all day long. “They communicate in a variety of ways–visually, by touch and vocally,” they say, delicately leaving out the fact that bonobos in captivity have been observed using a self-developed sign language to proposition one another sexually. “Male bonobos stay with the group that they were born into; a male’s dominance is based upon his mother’s rank,” they say, leaving out the detail that bonobos live in a lesbian matriarchy. Get your homophobic bigot relative a bonobo wildlife adoption, and get yourself a copy of Biological Exuberance, which was where I first heard about bonobos. Fun additional fact: they’re our closest primate relative. (Well, they’re probably tied with chimps. But they are definitely at least as closely related to us as chimps are.)

Anacondas. If you think about it the right way, giving an anaconda adoption is a very subtle way of calling your recipient a dick.

The Great White Shark. If you have to give a gift to someone who’s ever cut you down emotionally, give them a Great White Shark adoption and think of this lovely image of a Great White Shark every time you look at their shark stuffie. (SUPER GREAT.)

Vampire Bats. This one is maybe a little less subtle, but hey, you are RESCUING ENDANGERED WILDLIFE IN THEIR NAME.

Honey Badgers. Not surprisingly, the WWF page does not quote this excellent educational video about the personal strengths of honey badgers.

The Sierra Club also does wildlife adoptions and lets you adopt tarantulas, which is awesome. However, Ed and I used to donate to the Sierra Club and they would not stop calling us, so I hesitate to suggest donating to them. Although they will send you a tarantula puppet, and how cool is that? Also, if you can figure out a way to sic their phone solicitors onto your recipient, that would definitely be a gift that would keep on giving, but I’m not sure how you’d get them to do that while not also calling you.

If you want a stuffed blobfish for a do-it-yourself wildlife adoption, by the way, you can order one. It’s kind of astonishing how cute it is, while also being recognizably a blobfish. You could pair it with The Ugly Animals: We Can’t All Be Pandas, a book by the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, which sadly is an educational comedy group and not an actual non-profit. That’s less a gift for someone you hate and more a perfectly fine gift for anyone cool enough to appreciate it, though.

Uncategorizable

I made a note of this one months ago because it was inexpensive and kind of awesome. These are super cute, but they are also spikey cacti in tiny cases. Available as either key chains or jewelry, and there are teeny tiny holes in the case so you can water them occasionally by immersing them briefly in water. Nifty, cute, suitable for stocking stuffers, but there is something subtly hostile about giving someone a tiny cactus.

Happy holidays to everyone!

Passive-Aggressive Gift Giving Guides from Previous Years:

2010: Beyond Fruitcake: Gifts for People You Hate
2011: Gifts that say, “I had to get you a gift. So look, a gift!”
2012: Holiday shopping for people you hate
2013: Gift Shopping for People You Hate: the Passive-Aggressive Shopping Guide
Gifts for People You Hate 2014: The Almost-Generic Edition

Also, if you’re amused by my writing, check out my science blogging at Bitter Empire: http://bitterempire.com/author/naomi-kritzer/

My (kind of low-volume) Twitter feed: @naomikritzer

And my fiction that was published online this year:

Cat Pictures Please (Clarkesworld, January 2015.)
Wind (Apex, April 2015.)
So Much Cooking (Clarkesworld, November 2015.)
The Good Son (Lightspeed, March 2015 — reprint. Originally appeared in Jim Baen’s Universe, 2009.)

And if you just can’t get enough of my writing, you could consider buying:
Comrade Grandmother and Other Stories (short story collection)
Gift of the Winter King and Other Stories (short story collection)
My novels (there are five of them)

Gift Shopping for People You Hate: the Passive-Aggressive Shopping Guide

Those who used to follow my blog over on LiveJournal may remember that for several years now I’ve done a list of suggested gifts you could give to someone you didn’t like very much, but had to buy a gift for anyway.  I’ve actually never run into this problem myself, but I know an awful lot of people who seem to have it, and as an unfailingly supportive and sympathetic friend, I wanted to be helpful.

There are a couple of principles that hold true every year.

1. Subtlety!  If you want an open declaration of war, or if you want to insult them and have them KNOW they were insulted, that’s easy and you don’t need my help to come up with that one.  You want them to feel totally disappointed, but like they still have to say “thank you, it’s lovely.”

2. Cheapness but not OBVIOUS cheapness.  For instance, if you want to give someone a bottle of terrible wine, people know that Charles Shaw wine is only $3 (or $2 in California? I’m not sure). The big cheap brands (Koala Ranch, Yellow Tail, Barefoot) are also both too recognizable and too likely to be drinkable.  But if you look, you’ll be able to find a $5 bottle that’s from a totally obscure vineyard.  To maximize the odds of it being terrible, go to a wine store with a good selection and tell the wineseller that you want a bottle of wine for no more than $5 and that it has to have a cork, not a screw-top, and it has to NOT be from a recognizable cheap brand, and that you REALLY don’t care if it’s drinkable because it’s actually a prop for a play or a video you’re making.  (Don’t tell them it’s a gift. There are loads of perfectly drinkable $5 wines out there and they will show you straight to those if they know it’s a gift.)  If they think that no one will ACTUALLY be drinking the wine, you’ll probably get a surprised look and then, “Oh, well.  If you REALLY don’t care how it tastes, how about…” and they’ll hand you some hideous crime against grapes, hopefully with a unique, attractive label and then just add a wine gift bag and you are SET.

3. Minimal effort.  Let’s face it, you probably would like to be able to take care of this while doing your other shopping, right? Which is why gift cards can be ideal, because they have a whole big rack of them at your grocery store, probably.  Look for any or all of the following: (a) businesses the recipient doesn’t patronize; (b) that are primarily brick-and-mortar and are in an extremely inconvenient location; (c) that are in denominations too small to be useful (like, a $25 gift card to a store where everything costs $50 or more).  For the passive-aggressive gift card grand slam you could also look for (d) the subtle criticism, like a gift card for a yoga class (these totally exist, but you’ll have to look up yoga studios and call; you won’t just find that one in a rack between Best Buy and Kohls.)

So there were three specific options I wanted to highlight for you this year.

1. The Worst of Etsy.

Craft fairs can be a great place to buy terrible, terrible things, but they all happen on Saturdays and Sundays and you know, you may have better uses for your December weekends.  Etsy is open 24/7 and with the right search terms you can find some genuinely hideous stuff.  Some search terms to get you started:

  • upcycled. (My friend Etelka has a whole blog of upcycling horror: Wretched Refuse.)
  • hipster.
  • one-of-a-kind (ooak).
  • goth or steampunk.
  • rustic, primitive, salvaged.

Of course, there’s plenty of upcycled stuff that’s cool.  Not everything with “hipster” in its description will be an aesthetic nightmare. And in point of fact I’m a fan of steampunk. But if you search for “upcycled salvaged hipster steampunk” you’ll probably find at least a few items that will make wonder WHY, WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS, WHY WOULD ANYONE BUY THIS except as a gift to their least-favorite relative?

Just don’t overpay.  The great thing about gifting a hand-made item — well, the first great thing about gifting a hand-made item is that no one will expect a gift receipt. But the OTHER great thing is that you can give something that’s really cheap but not OBVIOUSLY cheap and they don’t have any good way to figure out what you paid for it.

And yes, I’m wimping out of providing links to hilariously awful stuff on Etsy and I’m using the excuse that it could be gone by the time you go look, but really it’s that I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the craftspeople selling this stuff (and I live in fear of them following the link back and then telling me about how they’re selling these hand-crafted recycled license plate bracelets because they’re trying to keep from losing their house or whatever.)  Etelka’s got loads of links and pictures, if you go look at her blog.

I’m much more comfortable linking to stuff on Amazon.

2. The Cheapest of Amazon.

I stumbled across this the other evening and was sort of freaked by it.  This stuff is not necessarily BAD for gifting (I linked to it on Facebook and several people immediately followed the links and bought some stocking-stuffers) but it is so disconcertingly cheap it caused me to start plotting a story about the jewelry which, when worn in your ears, makes you extra-vulnerable to the mind-control rays from the planet Vortol or something.

Cute little owl earrings for 62 cents, free shipping.
Cute little seahorse necklaces for 98 cents, free shipping.
Slightly defective Eiffel Tower necklace that says “ARIS” instead of “PARIS,” 93 cents, free shipping.

You’ll need a presentation box if you want it to look like you bought it from a store, which alas will run you more than 62 cents. Well, okay, they’re less than 62 cents EACH but you have to buy 20. Maybe you have one around the house that you could re-purpose.

These honestly are not terrible gifts; according to the reviews, the chains that come with the necklaces are flimsy but mostly they’re cute and look basically as pictured.  You could, in fact, order these for someone you liked, if you were on a budget or wanted an inexpensive stocking-stuffer. (Maybe not the “ARIS” Eiffel Tower.) But you could wrap up the box and gloat over the fact that you had spent less than a dollar on their gift.

3. Menards.

I had to go to Menards the other day.  Menards is a perfectly fine place to shop for gifts for someone you like, if that person likes tools.  It’s also an excellent place to shop for stocking stuffers; there are many aisles filled with things like keychain carabiner flashlights and fold-up miniature pocket multi-tools and so on.  (Maybe I’m the only person who craves keychain carabiner flashlights? I bet I’m not.)

But it is also the best one-stop shop for truly godawful Christmas gifts you will ever find.  I took photos.

Pie in a Jar, $5

Basically the canned stuff, in a cute jar.

Pie in a Jar.  It’s…pie filling.  In a jar.  Just add a crust, and bake, for bad pie.

There was a whole trend a few years ago in which people made their own mixes (for brownies or whatever), put them in a mason jar, and tied a ribbon around it.  I don’t want to criticize this gift too harshly when it’s homemade, because for one thing is it is an extremely CHEAP gift, the sort of thing it takes minimal effort to do, and there are people who are stuck exchanging gifts with a lot of people. They might even be people they like, and they want to give them SOMEthing, and in that case — yeah, mix in a jar? fine.

(Personally, I have never found that mixing together the dry ingredients for cookies was exactly the labor-intensive part. It’s spending 45 minutes moving baking sheets in and out of the oven that’s a pain, but on the upside, fresh delicious cookies. So, you know.)

Anyway. The excellent thing about this gift is that it’s probably going to be genuinely terrible pie but it comes in a cute little jar (I don’t know the term for the sort of jar with the springs in the lid, but they’re definitely in the “cute jar” category) and looks gift-like. Go for it.

Neck pillows that are decorated with American or Canadian flags

Flag neck pillows, because patriotism, I guess.

Neck pillows!

Neck pillows are actually a useful item that lots of people could probably find a use for. In fact, I’m pretty sure my sister once asked specifically for a neck pillow as a gift (I remember hearing about this from my father, who thought it was funny, and told the story to his brother, who said, “WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING, NECK PILLOWS ARE AWESOME.”)

But here’s the thing:

These aren’t just neck pillows, they are FLAG NECK PILLOWS, because apparently everything is better with flag designs. (They did have plain neck pillows in another part of the story but I think they may have actually cost $1 more.)

Molly was looking over my shoulder while I was working on this, and she noticed that in addition to the U.S. flag neck pillows and the Canadia flag neck pillows, there were UK neck pillows down on the bottom.  A UK neck pillow seems like a markedly better gift than either a US flag or a Canadian flag neck pillow, probably because I know far more Anglophiles than Yukonphiles (and while I do know people who will sing the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events and fly a flag on flag day, I don’t actually know anyone who thinks the U.S. flag should be on EVERYTHING ALWAYS.)

Penguin, reindeer, and snow man decorative jars.

Generic Christmassia.

Penguin, reindeer, and snowman cocoa jars. I think they actually come with hot chocolate mix in them.

I recognize this design, sort of. There are eight gazillion penguins out there that look kind of like these penguins, all with slightly sketchy features, black beady eyes, and a scarf. You find this guy as a mug for $1 at Walgreens and as a sugar bowl for $10 at Target and as earrings at Dollar General. And now he holds cocoa.

The great thing about this item is that it’s too cute to just throw away, but not actually attractive enough to display. The Cocoa Penguin will lurk on the counter or in the back of the cabinet for years, taking up space, gathering dust, and making the recipient feel vaguely like he or she is being watched by a penguin. Also, they’ll wonder if they’re supposed to refill it…but unless you make your own from cocoa and milk powder and sugar, cocoa comes in a perfectly fine container already, or in envelopes in a little box.

Hot Dog steamer.

A hot dog steamer.

If you want to give someone you dislike a kitchen gadget for Christmas, the best options are always are either inconveniently large, or irritatingly overspecialized. This item is both.

Admittedly, I don’t eat hot dogs all that often, but when I do, I find it entirely feasible to cook them in a pan on the stove. I can’t recall ever wanting to cook 12 at the same time, but if I did, I still think I could handle it with my larger frying pans or possibly a baking dish in the oven.

It is possible that you could use it to steam other stuff (I haven’t checked) and that someone could find a use for it beyond hot dogs, but it’s also enormous and difficult to store; I would bet money it’s a pain to clean; and it says HOT DOG STEAMER on it, suggesting that the owner is someone who eats so many hot dogs they actually need an appliance to cook a dozen at once.

There probably are people who would find this useful, but even those people will likely find it annoying to store.

Department stores are always filled with weird novelty kitchen appliances this time of year; if a hot dog steamer doesn’t strike your fancy, consider a cupcake lollipop maker or a Hello Kitty waffle iron or a mini donut baker.  (Although I think cupcake pops have more enthusiastic fans than hot dogs, and they’re genuinely going to be complicated to make without the specialized device. Unlike hot dogs. Which can be prepared in just about any other existing kitchen appliance you’ve got, including the dishwasher.)

Finally, this one’s kind of cheating, as it’s kind of expensive ($70) and it’s a gift for a child. That’s cheating because it’s too easy.  The topic of “how to give a gift to a child that will drive the parents insane” has been covered admirably in the past and it’s understood by nearly everyone that tormenting the parents is the actual purpose of motion-triggered electronic toys with no off-switch, electronic toys that play a recognizable tune slightly out of key, and Moon Sand.  (There are also people who make this claim about Legos and Play Doh. But Play Doh is a great toy that kept my children happy for hours — long enough to make the cleanup worthwhile — and it develops motor skills in toddlers, it still smells exactly like it smelled when I was three, and it’s incredibly cheap.  And Legos are AWESOME. Awesome awesome awesome.)

This, on the other hand, is horrifying:

A stuffed dog so large it's spilling out of a full-sized chair.

An enormous stuffed dog.

That dog is sitting in a full-sized chair, and spilling out of it.  It is too heavy for a child to move easily (I pulled it off a couch, which it was sitting on with a friend, and stuffed it in that chair for the photo).  This thing is ghastly.  A child will think it’s the coolest thing ever. The parents will hate it.  And because it is ENORMOUS, it will never be lost or misplaced; if they get rid of it while their child is at preschool one day, they will either have to fake a burglary or admit they threw the damn thing out.

Menards also had cutesy jars of cookie mix (you could do a gift bag of both cookie mix and pie in a jar!), scented bath products (even people who like scented bath products will probably not like the ones from Menards), and enormous sculptural things you’d put on your lawn (which alas are mostly kind of expensive).

They also have carbon monoxide detectors, which are an excellent gift to anyone who doesn’t already have one but a totally useless gift if someone does.  Which is a different sort of win — it’s a gift that says, “I don’t want you to die! I want you to be safe!” but also “…and I think you might be the sort of idiot that doesn’t have one of these already!”  (And if you don’t have one, for god’s sake GO OUT TODAY AND GET ONE and install it when you get home. Sheesh.  I don’t want you to die!  I want you to be safe!)

Past versions, if you’re dissatisfied with your options on this post and want to look back through previous ideas.

2010: Beyond Fruitcake: Gifts for People You Hate
2011: Gifts that say, “I had to get you a gift. So look, a gift!”
2012: Holiday shopping for people you hate