1. Useless gadgets
The world is full of useful digital gadgets. The Egg Minder is not one of them. It's a digital egg carton that reminds you how many eggs you have, and which one is the oldest. So not only is it bulkier than a regular egg carton, but not that much smarter either.
2. Affirmation CDs
Nothing says "you're failing in life and your entire family is worried that you'll never be able to support yourself" like an audio copy of "101 Power Thoughts" by Louise Hay. Even if you personally love listening to affirmations on the way to work, don't put it under the tree.
For the uninitiated, fruitcake is a dense loaf of bread filled with the worst elements of trail mix, like dried candied pineapple and dried currants. It's really dense — one loaf weighs about 47 pounds (author speculation) — and usually tastes like an old, chewy bran muffin. Gifting the stuff is the Christmas equivalent of giving out Fiber One bars on Halloween.
4. Gift cards
In theory, a gift card is a perfect present for someone you don't know that well. It's slightly more personal than cash, and you don't have to worry about insulting the person with a sweater that's either the wrong size or in a color he hasn't worn since the fifth grade.
The problem: Gift cards are often more trouble than they're worth. BankRate says about 75 percent of gift cards charge either dormancy or maintenance fees of up to $3 a month after the first year. They also dock you for weird things like checking your balance. In addition, people seem to have a hard time spending them. About $55 million in gift cards expire each day. Instead, try picking something out and including a gift receipt.
If you send $29.95 to a site called Star Namer (among others), the company promises to enter a name of your choice into the "Universal Star Catalog" and send you back "a beautiful, personalized Star Name certificate in an elegant university grade padded silk-lined diploma style holder." This is cute, but a total hoax. The International Astronomical Union is the only organization that can name a star.
6. "Hint" books
This goes for etiquette books, diet and exercise how-tos, and guides like What to Expect When You're Expecting for someone who isn't expecting. However well-intended, any piece of advice you'd feel awkward bringing up in conversation does not belong in pretty paper, tucked under a tree.
So, your new girlfriend loves the idea of owning a pet pig. She sends you videos of them during the workday, recently bought a sweater with a big pig snout on the front, and squealed more than a potbelly that time you took her to the pig stall at the petting zoo. Still: Do not be the guy who gives her a pig for Christmas! Animals are work, they're expensive, and people often like to pick out the one they're going to spend the next several years with. A giant stuffed pig will do just fine.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- How U2 became the new Nickelback
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- Save the world... by changing how you pee
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