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How to avoid giving a horrible gift

Story highlights

  • Dean Obeidallah: There are too many good people getting bad gifts for holidays
  • Obeidallah: I want to save you from making gift-giving mistakes; here are four ways
  • He says don't give overtly practical gifts and don't re-gift something that's been used
  • Obeidallah: At the very least, don't be afraid to ask someone what he or she likes

Are you still shopping for holiday gifts? Then stop right now. Don't buy another present before you read this. I want to save you from making the biggest holiday gift-giving mistake of your life.

Look, we've all heard the cliché gift adage: "It's the thought that counts." But sometimes you truly have to wonder: What the hell was the person thinking when they bought the gift? Did the person just close his or her eyes and buy the first thing they touched? Or maybe they were drunk while shopping? Regardless of the reason, there are too many good people getting bad gifts.

This isn't about being ungrateful. It's about being honest. We have all received gifts that require us to fake a smile as our eyes dart around desperately hoping to locate the receipt.

I'm not alone in feeling this way. Earlier this week, I posted a simple question on Twitter and Facebook: Have you ever received a bad holiday gift? The responses were off the charts. Christmas, Hanukah, Eid, etc. -- it didn't matter, you pick the holiday and I can list you a bunch of bad gifts.

Dean Obeidallah

So, I humbly offer to be your gift-giving guide --sort of like the ghost in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." And in keeping with that classic holiday tale, we will start by looking at holidays past in the hopes that you won't replicate the gift-giving catastrophes of bygone days.

1. Don't give gifts that imply the recipient is fat or needs to improve his or her looks

This came up numerous times. People thought they were being helpful by surprising their friend or loved one with a gift certificate for a weight loss program like Jenny Craig or for a personal trainer. The most astounding gift was a voucher for a Botox treatment given to Hanadi Kalla -- she was 26 years old at the time. Only give these types of gifts if discussed in advance or prepare yourself for the consequences.

2. Overly practical gifts

These were typically given by husbands or boyfriends to their wives or girlfriends. Here are a few of the gems: an ice scraper for the car, a battery organizer, Pyrex dishes, and my favorite was this gift to Beth Richardson: A replacement car antenna -- yes, installation was included. These gifts are fine if a person asks for it. But barring a specific request: No electric can openers as holiday gifts.

3. Re-gifting nightmares

Look, we have all re-gifted things. But there's a right way and a dreadfully wrong way to do this. Here are examples of what not to do. A person received a sweater that was not only clearly used, but it smelled like cigarette smoke. (Yes, the gift-giver was a smoker.) And then there's Sarah Elbatanouny, whose boyfriend gave her a used Palm Pilot that had been owned by his ex-girlfriend. But it gets worse: He actually wrapped it with an old Playboy magazine because he couldn't find wrapping paper. Re-gifting should be in the original packaging and the gift should look new.

4. Gifts that have no connection to the person

I have a Muslim friend who was given a holiday gift of a 12-pound baked ham. I'm not kidding! Another person received thick wool ski socks even though she had never skied and lived in Southern California. And then there was the box of chocolates given to @maverick_kris -- only problem was that he's diabetic. Today, most people are on Facebook, so you can easily see their interests and shop accordingly. So if the person has posted on Facebook "I hate the outdoors," don't buy them camping equipment.

Now let me morph into the ghost of holiday gift future and offer you some tips that may be helpful in your gift selection process:

1. Ask the person what they would like

Wow, pretty simple right? Yet for some reason in this world of instant communication where we are all connected via e-mail, text, and/or social media, some would prefer to just guess at what the person may like.

2. Yes, gift cards are fine

If you still have no idea what to buy, then pick up a gift card to a major chain store. There may have been a time when these seemed like the least thoughtful gift, but I think most would prefer these over cinnamon flavored candles or a re-gifted fern.

Hopefully, my efforts as the ghost of holiday gifts past and future will help you navigate this holiday season. After all, if you are going to expend the effort to get someone a holiday gift, then why not give a gift they will truly enjoy and appreciate?

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