As adult humans, we now — hopefully — understand that "the holidays" aren't about gifts or monetary value or anything other than hanging out with people you like and eating multiple shrimp rings in one sitting. But as teens and early 20-somethings, we (correction: I) did not know that. I, as a means of coming across as a caring, charitable, thoughtful person, believed that to truly celebrate the miracle of Christmas, you had to give a gift. And if you like giving gifts, that's fantastic. If you're good at giving gifts, that's even better. But I liked receiving gifts. And, apparently, I also liked underestimating the closeness of friendships, meaning that I was often receiving gifts that were way nicer than whatever I, well, found.
What I'm saying is that I've given a lot of used picture frames I took off my desk, and that's only the beginning.
So to take the pressure off your own personal Christmas shopping, here are the disasters that have come to define my legacy of gift-giving. See: this is why you sit down and ask someone, "Hey are we doing presents?" and also why don't you just buy things in the hopes of getting something back. I'm sorry about those snow globes, Mom and Dad.
The Snowglobes, 1993
It was a cold, snowy December night, and my Dad, Mom, and I were at a craft/hardware store called White Rose, looking for Christmas lights. That's when I saw them: two, shitty-looking snowglobes. Now, as a child with no income of her own and absolutely no DIY skills (honestly fuck anyone who made their parents flawless Popsicle stick pencil holders), these snowglobes appealed to me: they were only $2 each, and there were two different styles. One for mom, one for dad. Done. I was a genius. How creative was I, seriously. I looked at my Mom, getting set for my pitch.
"Can you buy me those snowglobes?"
"Why?" she asked, confused.
"For Christmas. For you and Dad."
"Oh," she said, cluing in. "That's okay, honey. Your allowance shouldn't go to that."
"No, but they're my Christmas present to you guys!"
This continued for many aisles until they decided to buy me the worst snowglobes ever made, knowing I was going to wrap them up and put them under the tree and wonder why they weren't displaying them every Christmas until we all died. Which is not what happened. We don't have them anymore. I'm sure nobody has them anymore. They were honestly horrifying, but I I figured this is how adults shopped: they bought shit, hoping somebody would want it. Which I should've clued in about a couple years later.
The used notepad, 1997
My friend Lindsay was very good at Christmas shopping, likely because her parents did it for her. (My parents said my Christmas shoppin was my responsibility, so the legacy of $5 picture frames is starting to make sense, I think.) So one day, before we went to my grandparents' for Pride and Prejudice re-watching and sitting around, talking about Leonardo DiCaprio, Lindsay brought her Christmas gifts for me: a bubblegum machine. Like, a tiny one, but one nonetheless.
"Thank you!" I gushed, in complete disbelief. 1) Because I couldn't believe a 13-year-old girl could afford this, and 2) Because I had just bought her a bookmark.
A fucking bookmark. I think it had cats on it, but no one can be sure at that point because my mind was blank and racing and I was starting to sweat.
"I have yours in my room!"
So into my room I went, looking frantically around for anything I could pass off as something she'd want. The hairgel? The scratched copy of Spice World? Lindsay said later that she heard me rummaging. And rummaging I was, for many minutes, until I emerged with my treasures: a pencil, the bookmark, and a half-used notepad with dogs on it (which I got for free).
"Oh . . . thaaaaanks," she said, attempting to be kind and sincere.
"Yeah, well, I know you like dogs!" I lied. (She did, but I would've given her that notepad just as easily if it was covered in Metallica logos.) And we never spoke about it again. Until a couple years later, when she finally said: "Yeah, I remember just hearing rummaging."
The Anne T. Donahue special.
A giant candy cane, 1998
We did Secret Santas in grade eight and I drew a guy's name I didn't know very well, so, with our $10 limit I bought him a $10 candy cane. I want everyone to know why this was a terrible choice: not everybody likes candy canes, you can get a lot of different kinds of candy for $10, nobody ever just wants one thing (which explains the notebook and pencil), and what the fuck. I remember my parents trying to suggest other things, and I remember even more clearly me saying, "No! It's for Christmas!" Anyway, that guy is in prison now, so I hope that if he does like candy canes, somebody brings him one this year.
Picture frames, 2000
The year I bought at least 12 people a picture frame. I don't even remember what types of picture frames, but I do remember these twin girls said they'd get me a present too and they did not and if you're reading this, twin girls from my past, where is my fucking present I spent at least $12 on you guys and my Dad even drove us to the mall.
American Eagle merchandise, 2005-2007
The first years I worked at American Eagle, I had a very simple philosophy: buy everybody American Eagle clothes at Christmas because you get a 40% discount. In theory, this works because now American Eagle has come a long way from being an Abercrombie & Fitch knock-off in that I am currently wearing clothes from there and look like a normal human woman and not an extra in a movie about fraternities. Then? Not so much. And this wasn't a problem all the time because some of my friends liked dressing that way. Others, however, did not. But did this stop me from buying them all the same hoodie in different colours? All the same tank tops? The same jewelry? Discounted socks? Absolutely not. But nothing beat the orange shirt.
My friend Ashley — who is still my friend despite this particular Christmas — doesn't wear orange. I, knowing she was working seasonal at American Eagle that year (2006), knew she didn't wear American Eagle, so I was desperate. So, what was the next best thing? The Gap. And not just the Gap, but a long-sleeve t-shirt with a hood in a size too small in a colour I had never, ever seen Ashley wear because I absolutely suck at buying presents. (Now, I'm better, but then? Help me, Superman.) So I gave her the shit. And she, very kindly, asked if I had the receipt because she doesn't look good in orange and the size was wrong. And I responded with, "Well I think you look nice in orange and it fits big." And I never gave her the receipt, and we can only assume that somewhere, that shirt is burning in the fires of hell of which it came. (I'm so sorry, Ashley.)
Fortunately, it got better when everybody grew out of "WE SPEND $50 ON EACH OTHER OR ELSE" and into "Oh man, that's so thoughtful!" about, like, an old Spice Girls found book found at Value Village. Though for the record, if anybody is reading this and planning on getting me anything: I will never say no to a giant candy cane. I don't wear orange either, and I would be totally fine with a notepad covered in dogs. Whether your parents bought it for you or not.