Pivotal moments happen throughout our lives sending us down the path of our destiny. Little did I know how my fifth grade Christmas gift exchange and the worst Christmas gift I ever received would send me down the path of becoming the world’s greatest gift giver.
Once Upon a Time…
Follow me down the path leading to my fifth grade Christmas gift exchange. The setting is December 1980 in a suburban town outside of Buffalo, New York. The political correctness police hadn’t found us so the elementary school could call the event a “Christmas party.”
Twenty-five giddy prepubescent kids congregated around the class Christmas tree in anticipation of the gift exchange. Boys and girls huddled in their respective groups in fear of catching cooties from the opposite sex. The teacher stipulated each gift cost $2 or less, be for a boy or girl, and could be a gag gift.
I can’t specifically recall the Christmas gift I brought in for the exchange. During that time of my life, my mother’s practical gene rubbed off so I’m sure the gift was either a pair of socks or two giant Hershey bars.
Christmas Gift Exchange Rules
The rules of the gift exchange were simple: one student would choose one gift. After selecting his gift, he selected the next student to pick a gift. This was pre-dirty Santa days. There was no exchanging once the gift was selected and opened.
The teacher selected the first student to pick the first gift. Student after student chose their gift. Trying not to show my anxiety, I secretly crossed my fingers hoping I’d be next. To my surprise, I was passed up each time.
What About Me?
I felt like one of those uncoordinated kids in gym class waiting to be picked for dodge ball. I was always picked for a dodge ball pretty quickly so why hadn’t I been picked to choose a Christmas present?
As I suspected, I was the last one left to choose the last gift under the Christmas tree. I knelt down under the tree but couldn’t find anything. I slightly panicked wondering, “Where is my gift!?”
My Christmas gift should have been easy to find but with all the homemade ornaments crafted from white Xerox paper and colored with crayons, it was hard to tell the difference between the last remaining gift and Christmas ornaments. In the pit of my stomach I thought I was being left out of the gift exchange but then I spied a box with what looked like homemade wrapping paper. It was my Christmas gift!
Sitting on the cold tile floor, I ripped the rectangular package open and found a Crayola Crayon box under the wrapping. The box was light, nothing rattled inside and the suspense was killing me. I opened it up to find… nothing!
“It’s over there,” one of my classmates called out while pointing to the opposite side of the Christmas tree.
The Worst Christmas Gift I Ever Received
I scooted over to the other side of the tree and found the odd shaped package. It was long and narrow like a toothbrush or pen and wrapped in crinkled white Xerox paper. It didn’t make a sound and wasn’t too heavy but the size and shape intrigued me.
Opening the package, I controlled my emotions not wanting to be disappointed again. Mimicking Charlie Bucket from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” I slowly opened a corner of my gift like he slowly opened a candy bar looking for a golden ticket. Not being able to figure out what my gift was, I couldn’t control myself and ripped the package open.
And there it was. A red toothbrush with bent bristles and a white, chalky film around the head. At closer inspection, the residue was definitely a mixture of solidified spit and toothpaste.
Yuck! This had to be the worst Christmas gift I ever received, a used toothbrush! (And the grossest, too.)
“The teacher said it could be a gag gift,” the classmate who brought the gift told me.
I was red and hot from embarrassment. I felt the used toothbrush gift was a reflection of me and felt awful. Remembering, “It’s the thought that counts,” I thanked my classmate. Up until now, I’ve kept this story a secret.
What the Worst Christmas Gift Taught Me
Since that day, I’ve been careful in selecting Christmas gifts for friends, family and for gift exchanges. I’m one of those people who spends an hour at the Hallmark shop reading every card (and crying over the sappy ones) until I find the right one. The same care goes into my gift giving. I shop with the specific person in mind and purchase (or make) items that reflect a little bit of me.
While the philosophy of “it’s the thought that counts” is important, it’s the way the gift makes the receiver feel which matters to me. Importantly, I never want anyone to have that awful feeling I had that day in fifth grade when I received the worst gift ever. Ironically, because of an old toothbrush, my friends and family think I’m the world’s greatest gift giver.
Tell me. What’s the worst Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
This post originally appeared on Associated Content/Yahoo Shine which no longer exists. This post also contains affiliate links (to groovy gifts!) in order to support this website and my traveling habit.