How to Deal with Getting Bad Christmas Gifts

Wrapped presents under a Christmas tree

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Have you ever been excited to rip into a gorgeously wrapped Christmas gift, only to be disappointed by what was inside? If so, you’re not alone. It’s a struggle to keep a pleasant expression when staring up at you is a gift card to a weight loss program or a hideous looking scarf you'd never want to be seen in. 

Almost everyone will receive a bad Christmas gift at least once. But seriously? Who would give such a thoughtless thing during a joyous occasion?

Your feelings may be unjustified. After all, it’s just a gift, right? It could be your anticipation of receiving the perfect gift you’ve been hinting about for weeks that creates your dissatisfaction with the present, or it may be that the person is clueless when it comes to knowing what to give. Whatever the case, you need to be gracious and poised, not grumpy and mad, when you offer a kind, “Thank you.”

Be Prepared

If you are going to a gift exchange with friends or coworkers, set all expectations aside and adopt a philosophy that your parents probably taught you: It’s not the gift but the thought that matters. The person may not know that the gift would trigger an unpleasant emotion. 

Even if the gift seems cruel, like a membership to a weight loss program or a device that helps cut back the snoring, you need to lift your chin, smile, and be courteous. It helps to be prepared for anything.

Here are some things you can do to prepare for the unexpected horrible gift:

  • Before you get with your friends or coworkers for a gift exchange, jot down some ideas of things to say in case you receive something you don’t like. Stand in front of a mirror and practice saying these things, putting special emphasis on having a pleasant expression.
  • Have your spouse or someone else close to you wrap something awful and practice being gracious.
  • If you’re unable to smile through the disappointment, work on a strong poker face. The key is to prevent having a negative expression that might hurt the feelings of the giver who might think it’s the best gift ever.
  • Commit to not discussing your disappointment with others or gossiping about the bad gift giver. If you say something, you can count on it getting back to the person.

Things you can say or do when you get a terrible gift:

  • A simple, “Thank you,” or if you’re feeling a little extra kind, you might say something like, “Oh, wow! Thanks so much.”
  • “What an interesting gift. Is there a story behind it?” Stop talking and listen. You might be surprised to discover that more thought went into the gift than you originally realized. For example, the person may have purchased that item especially for you during his or her last vacation or trip abroad. Perhaps it's something that holds special meaning to the giver. Or maybe something you said triggered the idea for the gift.
  • “This is such a thoughtful gift.” While this is okay to say, your lack of enthusiasm may clue the person in to your true feelings, so be careful with this one.
  • State what the gift is and show gratitude. For example, you can say, “A nose hair trimmer. Thanks!”
  • “Thank you so much for such a generous and thoughtful gift.” Make sure you smile, or this may come across as sarcastic.
  • If this is a gift exchange with a large group, say, “Check it out, everyone. A marble-handled potato peeler.” Then pass it around so everyone can admire it. Maintain a pleasant expression.
  • Study the gift, read the instructions, and show a lot of interest in the object. If there are others waiting to open their gifts, encourage them to continue while you’re occupied with yours.

Hide Your Negative Thoughts and Feelings

Whatever you do, avoid saying what you really think. You don’t have to outright lie, but you need to hold back any harsh comments. It may be especially difficult if the person makes a big deal of it and stares at you, waiting for a reaction. Even if you’re not a trained actor, you can smile through the situation.

Don’t say or do these things when you get a bad gift:

  • Don’t grimace or make a face, no matter how unhappy you are.
  • Don’t mention anything about how disappointed you are, like, “I was hoping this would be that jacket I’ve always wanted.”
  • Don’t tell anyone your true feelings. People who know you well are probably aware of how you feel, and those who don’t should remain clueless. Anything you say is likely to get back to the giver, and you need to be kind enough to avoid hurting that person’s feelings.

Gag Gifts

There are times when you’re expecting something you won’t love—like if the party invitation specifically states that everyone is to bring a gag gift. The main objective of a gag gift exchange is to elicit groans, eye rolls, and witty comebacks. But even so, there are times when the gift is worse than you ever imagined or it’s inappropriate for the occasion.

What to do when a gag gift crosses the line:

  • If you get an inappropriate gift at the office, quickly put it away without making a comment. Hopefully, the giver will get the hint and not do this again next year.
  • Say something like, “That was awkward,” smile, and gesture for the next person to open a gift.
  • Have a private chat with the person who gave you a gift to let him or her know the gift was out of line. If you choose this option, be prepared for defensiveness and a likely snub later. However, if this person is new to the business world, you might be doing him or her a favor by explaining what is or isn't appropriate to give in a professional setting.

Embarrassing or Humiliating Gifts

When you receive something that is embarrassing or humiliating, like a weight loss book or something to hide a scar you’d rather not discuss, it’s important to put things into perspective. Either the person is socially awkward, or she misread something you may have said. Smile and thank the person in public, and if you can find the right time later, mention that this is a topic or issue you’d rather not emphasize in front of others because it makes you uncomfortable.

Regifted Items

You may have received something that was obviously regifted. Perhaps it was used once or twice and shows signs of wear. Or maybe it was something you gave that person in the past. Whatever the case, remember that there is nothing wrong with the act of regifting. The problem is that the giver isn’t aware of the basic rules of this practice.

The best thing to do in the case of something being used is to simply say, “Thank you,” use the item once when you know you’ll be seeing the other person, and then put it away or donate it. After you write the thank you note, you never have to discuss it again. If it was a gift that started with you, consider donating it to a worthy cause to make sure it doesn’t boomerang back.

Most Important Thing to Remember

No matter what someone gives you, the most important thing for you to do is show dignity. Acting like a spoiled child is more of a reflection of your bad manners than anything else. Holding your head up, smiling, and expressing gratitude shows that you are a class act.