Looking a Gift Horse Right in the Mouth and Hearing It Whinney

Go ahead. Look me in the mouth. I dare you.

Go ahead. Look me in the mouth. I dare you.

If it were up to me, the whole gift giving thing at Christmas would be banned from the four corners of the earth.

But it isn’t up to me, and every year, starting around Thanksgiving, but sometimes beginning as soon as Halloween, gift boxes begin arriving at our house. It’s mostly cases of citrus (“Fresh from Florida!”) and I’m certain the mail carrier must think we’re provisioning ourselves for a long sea voyage.

As you might imagine, figuring out what to do with all this fruit has been a challenge.

My Husband: What’s for dinner?

Me: Grapefruit Grilled Chicken. Make sure you save room for the Grapefruit Cake with Grapefruit Cream Cheese Frosting.

My Husband: That’s a lot of grapefruit.

Me: If you don’t like it, you can eat an orange. The juicer broke today before I got through the second case.

Eventually, it dawned on me that we didn’t have to eat all the gifts that came our way each Christmastime. We could give them away. That proved to be more problematic than you can imagine.

Me: Hi! I’m here to donate these 47 cases of citrus fruit.

Food Bank Volunteer: Sorry, we don’t accept fresh food.

Me: Why not?

Food Bank Volunteer: Liability.

Me: You’re afraid you might be held liable for providing fresh food to the needy? Are you even aware of the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996? It says–

Food Bank Volunteer: (cutting me off) Listen, I don’t make the rules, lady. If you have any canned food that has been linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, we’ll be happy to take that.

One thing that has never occurred to me is to refuse all these gifts, or return them, so mostly we just suffer in silence. I guess it’s our burden in life to register Vitamin C levels that are way off the charts, at least for a few months out of the year.

That is not the approach some people would take. Some people, like my husband’s younger brother, are ingrates gift returners. A few days after Christmas, he sent me an email asking if it would be ok to return the very, really, very did I say how very expensive? gift  I  we gave him.

I replied, Sure, don’t be silly, of course it’s ok to return it if you don’t like it.

But, really, it was not ok.

In fact, after thinking about it for a few days, I’ve come to believe that there are only two instances in which it is ok to return a gift.

  1. It is broken. It’s ok to return to get a replacement that works.
  2. It does not fit. It’s ok to return to get the correct size.

I’m sure that there are folks out there who will disagree with me and say that Great Aunt Ethel-Anne really wants you to have something you will enjoy, not necessarily that acrylic and kevlar blend sweater with the two actual, genuine pine cones stuck on it that she gave you. If you’re one of those people who thinks this way, let me disabuse you of that notion right now. Great Aunt Ethel-Anne wants you to have that exact sweater she picked out for you. She saw it there in the store, considered how it would look on you, decided it was absolutely perfect and carefully spent a portion of her fixed income in an effort to bring a little holiday joy into your life.

Don’t you dare return that sweater.

Royalty-free stock photos, including the image in this post, can be found at freeimages.com


14 thoughts on “Looking a Gift Horse Right in the Mouth and Hearing It Whinney

  1. Michelle at The Green Study says:

    I fully admit to being a jerk on this subject and blogged about it as well. Sorry you’re stuck with fruit, but that acrylic sweater is getting passed onto its next life. Great Aunt Ethel-Anne will be none the wiser and I won’t break out into hives attempting to wear it. That being said, I hope you have a wonderful 2015, Karen!


  2. Belladonna Took says:

    My stepson, for years, kept giving his Dad and me gadgets. Most of them never get opened. We are not gadgety people! I would love to regift them, but by now most of them have been superseded by new gadgets. This year, YAY – SLIPPERS! Now that’s something we can USE!


    • Karen says:

      I know I know I know but–
      Your stepson picked out all those gadget gifts thinking of you, and they were things he wanted you to have. I don’t know if the object of giving a gift is to provide people with things they could just as well get for themselves. I’m thinking it’s more about exposing them to things they might not otherwise think of getting for themselves, even if we (the gift givers) are way off the mark.
      Having said that, I’m glad your toes are nice and warm and every time you look down at your feet you’re reminded of what a terrific stepson you have 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Elyse says:

    I’m with you. I really can’t return things, even though I think I’m being stupid. And if someone returns something I spent time picking out for them, I try not to, but do feel a bit hurt, with the exceptions you mentioned.

    This year, however, I am not going to be hurt that my husband will return the red flannel shirt I gave him for Christmas. It was exactly like the one he was wearing when he opened that gift.


    • Karen says:

      Finally! Someone who feels the same way about this whole gifting thing as me, so I’m not being overly sensitive and crazy about it.

      Or maybe you’re overly sensitive and crazy, too. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Elyse says:

        Well, yeah, I am overly sensitive and crazy. But I feel like if someone goes to the trouble to buy me a gift, I will let them know that I appreciate it (even when I don’t)

        For our 10th anniversary, my husband, who had recently gotten a big promotion and raise, decided to get me a ring for our anniversary. He got me the biggest, ugliest grandma ring I’d ever seen. It was hideous, and I knew I would have to wear in for the rest of my life.

        Sadly it was too small. So I took it back to the jewelers to be resized. When I returned to pick it up, they had damaged it — they cracked the center stone.

        I would not have to wear it! I could return it with no guilt! I stood at the counter looking at the thing, trying not to laugh, tears streamed down my face. The folks in the jewelry store were flipping out — thinking I was heartbroken that my ring was broken. They probably would have let me have anything in the vault.

        I’ve never told my husband that I hated it. I got a small, simple ring and lots of change …


        • Karen says:

          Great story.

          I think you and I are of the same mind on this issue. Or maybe we’re like those crazy hoarders who invest so much emotional significance into things, like the plastic cup they got when the new supermarket opened and now the can’t get rid of it, even though their house is full of crap and the town is threatening to to condemn it.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Joyce says:

    I wish I could register for my Christmas presents the same way you might register for wedding gifts. I rarely like or use or wear what I get, unless it something I have specifically requested. This year I received a Beautiful cologne gift set, which smells wonderful until it hits my skin, and then it turns to ammonia. I got a giant pleather purse. And I got a foot pedicure set. If all those people had gone in on a gift certificate to the medical spa that I like, so I could get what I really want, which is Botox.

    Trade you for your grapefruit?


    • Karen says:

      But my point is (I’m going to continue to argue this, even though it is apparent that I have no support for my position!) that you can get what you want (and this is probably a question for another blog post–why don’t we get ourselves what we want?). It’s my job as a gift giver to think a bit about you, imagine what you might like, and then get something I think you might like. I may be way off the mark and buy you a pedicure set, but every time you see that old pedicure set gathering dust in the back of the bathroom vanity, you’ll see more than just an old pedicure set gathering dust, maybe?

      And I’m ok with you donating that pedicure set to the Good Will or whoever. The needy need pedicures too. I’m not ok with the rejection of a gift, returning it or exchanging it for something “better” that has no personal meaning or significance.

      Or maybe I’m just thinking way too much about this.

      I guess what I object to is this idea that gift giving is a crass commercial exchange, and that a gift can be returned just like any other item that we purchased and then decided we didn’t need. That’s not what a gift is (or that’s not what it should be), otherwise we’d just go around and hand each other fistfuls of cash at Christmastime.

      One last thing: my sister gave a $50 gift certificate to Red Lobster to her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law gave her a $50 gift certificate to Olive Garden. That absolutely made my brain explode.


      • Joyce says:

        I don’t mean to sound insensitive about gifts. I would be – and have been – hurt when someone seems not to appreciate my gift. On the other hand, I get a number of things every year that are simply not me…I don’t use them or need them or really have room for them. It seems a waste sometimes.


  5. barbtaub says:

    Well… actually, Great Aunt Ethel-Anne got this sweater from Second-cousin Amelia, who had been staring at it with the horror usually reserved for train wrecks or street mimes ever since receiving it from Uncle Philpott’s second wife Jolinda. In fact, it’s probably been given to almost every one of your relatives. Some of them twice. It’s like the gift-giving equivalent of musical chairs. If you accidentally die while in possession of the Sweater From Hell, you will most probably be buried in it. So at the VERY next gifting opportunity, that sweater must leave your house. Especially if you haven’t been in very good health lately…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen says:

      Oh, isn’t it just like Second-cousin Amelia to be the starting point of this whole mess? No wonder I haven’t spoken to her since she told everyone the potato salad I made for the Fourth of July family reunion picnic gave her food poisoning.


      Seriously, though–it’s ok if some awful gift winds up being re-gifted through a family. It becomes a item through which people bond, and helps to create the family “lore.” Try doing that with a gift certificate for Olive Garden.


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