When I was in grade school, there was a practice of drawing names out of a jar before Christmas, and every kid was expected to bring a small gift for the person whose name he had drawn. I suppose the people who thought this up had some idea that kids were fungible, similar to batteries or gasket washers, and all liked pretty much the same kind of thing; also that we could all be forced to like each other by such a practice, like people shoehorned by the HR department into a “team building exercise.”
Since I was the kid who was universally reviled for the crime of using “big words” and prone to slugging people who picked on me about it, there was little room in my life for this sort of faux camaraderie. I remember that the first gift I got in such a round robin was a ceramic spaniel. I hate dogs. I did my best to be gracious, saying that it looked like “Lady” in the Disney movie, just to have something to say.
This piece in the New York Times made me think of it. I kept the damn thing for years, until I figured out you could surrender mathoms to Goodwill.
— I’d tell you the worst Christmas gift I ever got, but I don’t, to this day, know what it was. It was a secret Santa gift from someone at a company I do consulting work for. I can’t describe it. It was something like a plastic, brown mushroom/toadstool thing, with things glued on it, in a box with clear plastic over it. … I really don’t know. I showed it to a friend of mine, an older gentleman who was fond of collecting interesting objects, and he asked me if he could have it. Not because it was worth anything, but because it was the oddest, most inexplicable object he ever saw, and he wanted it as a conversation piece (or as he called it, a corpus delicti). I gave it to him. Someday, scientists will discover the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider. It will look like this thing, but much smaller.
— I think I’m the only child in America who ever received coal and a letter on special Santa stationery outlining exactly why I was on Santa’s naughty list. I was 4 and a newly minted big sister, a role I did not take kindly to. Apparently, Santa (ahem, my father) thought I should be more welcoming of our newest family member. To this day, I still eye my stocking suspiciously before reaching in; I’ll never forget the shame of pulling out that Ziploc bag with a charcoal briquette in it. Oh, and yes, I got lots of other really great toys that Christmas, too. Or so I’m told. I don’t really remember.