To get in the spirit of the holidays, we asked 18 authors to share the wildest (and worst!) gifts they remember receiving as children. From monochromatic clothing and terrifying toys to the most perfectly odd presents, their entertaining answers are as unique as the books they pen. Read on for all of their stories!
“I remember one Christmas morning, my mom gave me an empty paper bag. She said, ‘This is my gift to you, dearest Joel. Into this bag I want you to place your hopes and dreams, so that one day, you will discover the true gift: a life well-lived, full of love and fulfillment.’ I smiled at her and said, ‘No, seriously — where’s my real gift?’ We all laughed and she ushered me out to the garage, to show me my new BMX bike. Even though this happened nearly two years ago, I cherish the memory to this day.”
Joel McHale is the author of a humorous memoir, Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be.
“As the only girl out of four children, all of my gifts were either blatantly labeled for a girl (such as housekeeping toys — yes, that was a thing, or fabulous white plastic sunglasses my brothers would never wear) or color-coded to differentiate between mine and my brothers (such as plastic boats for the beach). This is because we fought so much over pretty much everything. Like whose Etch-a-Sketch it was or whose turn it was to sit in the middle of the backseat. They were bigger than me so I usually lost. Which is why I now write almost exclusively about sisters.”
“An entire space ship — from foil! In 1977, there was a sci-fi show on BBC called ‘Blake’s Seven.’ To call it bad would be very kind, but we only had three channels, so what did we know? Anyway, one Christmas my mother recreated the show’s spaceship control room, using tinfoil, scotch tape, and cardboard boxes. I imagine she was bored one night, and thought, ‘Hey, why not build the kids a spaceship! It’ll be fun!’ This, presumably, led to many nights of exhausted sobbing as she cut herself for the 50th time on the tinfoil dispenser, but I’d like to think it was all worth it. It was the best Christmas present in the history of the world.”
Abbi Waxman is the author of The Garden of Small Beginnings (on sale May 2, 2017), a funny and moving debut novel.
Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
“The wackiest (yet strangely most wonderful!) gift we received as kids showed up courtesy of Santa on Christmas morning. It was an epic handmade wooden marble track. It was double-sided so you could compete with another kid. You just stacked your marbles at the top, then someone shouted ‘go!’ and you watched as the marbles raced to the bottom. We spent much of our childhood playing with this thing!”
Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm are the co-creators of Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes, a bright and bold picture book featuring the titular character of graphic novel fame.
“I had wonderful parents who asked my brother and me what we wanted for Christmas. One year I had recently seen the musical ‘South Pacific’ and I was completely enraptured with the songs. All I wanted that Christmas was the record from the movie so I could play those songs again and again.
My brother, Terry, wanted a Go-Cart. I wanted a record.
Terry got his Go-Cart, and I got a record player but no record. Apparently my ask was too small! Later I bought the record on my own.”
Debbie Macomber is the author of Twelve Days of Christmas, a New York Times bestselling novel full of seasonal cheer and page-turning romance.
“White sweaters. Not good. One Christmas my mother got me one and I made the mistake of being too polite and pretended to really like it. Bad move — a Christmas tradition was born. I received another white sweater every year and ended up with a closet-full. Wool, cotton, v-neck, cardigan, turtleneck, fisherman … I had no idea there were so many kinds! I hoped Mom would notice that I never wore them and would stop giving them but that was a Christmas miracle not meant to be. Moral of the story: Always be polite, but also be honest.”
D.J. MacHale is the author of Curse of the Boggin, the first book in the brand-new middle grade thriller series The Library.
“My weirdest childhood gift was a Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll. Charlie looked like a little man, with a rubber face and a mouth that clacked open and shut when you pulled a string hidden under his black tuxedo coat. He had small pink hands and floppy legs. Also — rouged cheeks and a demented grin. Eek! I hid him in my toy box. He lost his top hat and then his monocle, which left him with a disturbing gouge under one eye. Charlie was magical in the J.C. Penney Christmas catalogue. He was terrifying in the flesh.”
Deb Caletti, pictured celebrating Christmas as a child (on the left) with her sister, is the author of What’s Become of Her (on sale April 18, 2017), an upcoming suspense novel.
“I was given a new baseball mitt somewhere around fourth grade, which was great because we played baseball all the time and the worst because I hated baseball. I was just not interested in playing but still played three times a week in school and in summer camp leagues. One school teacher suggested that my parents hire me a baseball tutor! Luckily even they knew that was taking things too far.
Gifts are about the sentiment more than anything. I still have years of birthday and holiday cards saved. Those are some of the best gifts.”
Adam Kurtz is the author of Pick Me Up: A Pep Talk for Now and Later, an inspiring journal for creative minds.
“The worst gift I ever got was $20. It’s always a horrible gift. When I was a kid, I would get money and think, ‘Where’s my toy? Where’s my real gift?’ And I recently found out that $20 is still an awful gift: The money came in the form of a check … from Mom … two months ago. I returned home to visit thinking I was a triumphant fancy-fied author, only to find out that Mom still thought of me as a starving artist. Thanks for the reminder of my past, Mom.”
Jeffrey Marsh is the author of How to Be You: Stop Trying to Be Someone Else and Start Living Your Life, an interactive, self-esteem-boosting activity book for teen readers.
“The wackiest gift I ever received was a Flintstone playset sometime in the early 1960s. It was a page right out of history. The worst? Shirts. Since I have four brothers and my parents believed in The Fairness Doctrine, we each got one. Usually made out of a polyester blend. And you could always ID the wrapped shirt box under the tree. They have a very distinctive shape and size. We’d tiptoe to the living room before our parents were awake and check out our gift piles. Three boxes down, there would be that familiar rectangle. We’d all sigh and whisper, ‘Shirt.’”
“By far the worst Christmas present I ever got was the year I was five. I received a small hardbound copy of Little Red Riding Hood from my grandmother. In this version, Red, her grandmother, and the woodsman are all eaten by the wolf, and the moral of the story, printed in blood red ink, is: NEVER TALK TO STRANGERS. THE END.”
“As a kid, I was crazy about the color purple … so much so that when I threw my 16th birthday party, I received no fewer than 25 purple sweaters. Chenille, wool, turtleneck, and cowl neck (very hip at the time) in every shade of purple imaginable. Amid all these well-intentioned presents was another super strange purple item: A four-foot stuffed purple monster, with a large hook nose and bright white eyes. Had it been tiny, it would have been cute and funny, but at that size, it was alarming! It watched over me all through senior year.”
Lisa Napoli, pictured as a young child, is the author of Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away, a behind-the-scenes look at the dramatic lives of this historic couple.
“In the history of bad fictional gifts, one of the worst ones has to be Ralphie’s pink bunny costume from ‘A Christmas Story.’ Every year, my family and I would watch that movie and laugh at poor Ralphie. Until one year, completely unironically, my parents gave me a full-body pink bunny costume and made me dress up in it for Easter and hop around their store handing out candy.”
Megan Shepherd is the author of The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, a beautifully magical novel for middle grade readers.
“My dad always brought presents for me and my older brother when he came back from business trips. When I was four years old — a total tomboy, sporting bangs I cut myself — my dad arrived home with a toy car for my brother and a pink leotard for me. In my kid-mind, clothes did not equal a present. Clothes were something you threw on before heading outside to find turtles. So I burst into tears and threw a huge tantrum. I feel so bad for my dad to this day!”
Fiona Davis, pictured as a child with her brother and Santa Claus, is the author of The Dollhouse, a fascinating debut novel about 1950s New York City.
“I’ve always been afraid of spiders — so the worst gift I ever received was a stuffed spider. It was brown with orange spots, spindly long legs, and greenish-purple eyes. I tried to make believe it was a friendly guardian angel, like E.B. White’s magical Charlotte. But until the day I got rid of it, it reminded me more of Tolkien’s terrifyingly evil Shelob.”
Stefanie Pintoff is the author of City on Edge, a thrilling crime novel starring Special Agent Eve Rossi.
“The weirdest childhood gift I ever received was a stuffed Cat in the Hat doll with a drawstring you pulled to make it speak. But the doll’s voice-box mechanism malfunctioned, so when it spoke it was in this creepy, deep, gravelly warble. It would utter these phrases that might have been cute in a silly cartoon voice like ‘Does your mother know I’m here?’ and ‘Do you know any tricks?’ and ‘I’m a tricky cat!’ — but instead sounded like the ghost of a demented serial killer had possessed the Cat in the Hat. I’m creeped out just thinking about it.”
Elan Mastai is the author of All Our Wrong Todays (on sale February 7, 2017), a witty and thought-provoking novel featuring (accidental) time-travel.
“The weirdest holiday gift I got as a child was everything I wanted! I was three. My brother and sister weren’t born yet, so they couldn’t make me jealous. I got dolls, frilly clothes, and a complete cowgirl outfit, with a fringed vest and holsters with silver guns. Oh, wait. I didn’t get everything I wanted — I wanted to marry Roy Rogers, but he only sent me a photo of him and his horse.”
What were some of the wackiest or worst gifts you received as a child? Let us know in the comments below!