The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 8, 2012

Ojanpa: Don't be a bad Santa

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

— Assuming it’s the thought that counts, there’s no such thing as a bad Christmas gift-giver. There are, however, bad Christmas gifts.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all had to call upon whatever acting skills we possess when we open a package with kin gathered ’round and there sits (fill in your own downer here). 

A bad Christmas gift, of course, is a wholly subjective proposition. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, depending whether you like or loathe that smoked Virginia bone-in ham that comes with a certificate of authenticity and a “collector’s jar” of Coca Cola glaze.

As subjective as “bad” is in the context of holiday gift-giving, there are some objective guidelines one can heed to avert coming off as a clueless chump.

It’s best to stay away from giving:

* Self-improvement items. These can range from diet books to gym memberships to personal hygiene products. Yes, nothing says “Merry Christmas” like gifts telling you you’re fat and smelly.

* As-seen-on-TV crap. Sure, it’s only $19.99. That’s because all that stuff is $19.99, which, apparently, is the magic price-point ceiling at which Americans will buy stuff they know is dreck but will shut down their wallets if it’s a penny more. 

* Re-gifts. This one is tricky. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with re-gifting if you know the item will be well-received by the recipient.

 But a re-gift can go south in a hurry if the item was originally given to you by someone else in the room, if you stupidly give it to the person who gave it to you, or if it’s a gift that, by any standard, sucks.

* Celebrity fragrances. To paraphrase that Nike slogan, just don’t do it.

Every 15-minutes-of-fame bozo now has a scent on the market. And if that weren’t enough, Pizza Hut a few days ago introduced its own perfume that smells like “freshly baked hand-tossed dough.”

At least Pizza Hut does us the courtesy of admitting it’s a farce, something you won’t hear from unlikely fragrance mongers such as country warbler Tim McGraw, who touts his cologne as “smellin’ like a man workin’ down on the farm — all tractor grease an’ bull dung and armpit sweat that drives the fillies wild.”

That might not be exactly what he says, but close enough.

* Stupid small electric kitchen appliances. There are scads of them. Electric tea kettles, electric pizza bakers, even electric hot dog cookers that enable you to heat wieners on rotating metal rollers, just like they do at the gas station.

Countertop-clutter stuff like this is what I call “six months and punt” gifts. Six months later they’re on card tables at garage sales.

* Any type of universal remote control for an elderly loved one. You’d think you were simplifying their life, but, oh, how wrong you’d be.

Even the most basic TV remote control can be confounding to those of a certain age.

 On a recent visit with my 87-year-old mother I suggested that rather than punch in a particular channel it might be enjoyable to surf through programs by using the up-and-down channel button.

She grabbed the cordless phone next to her chair and gave it a try.


Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call her at 344-6316 or email