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The holiday season always brings us into contact with the worst of humanity. The SUV-driving shopper who steals your parking space. The TSA agent who confiscates your festive peppermint vodka. The deadbeat relative who forgets to buy the turkey for Christmas dinner like he promised, and then tries to hide his mistake by serving up several shaved rats stuck together with meat glue.

But then there are the people who try their damnedest to make the holidays nicer for everyone, and manage to make things worse anyway. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions (it probably has a bunch of potholes as well, because come on, it's the road to Hell), and the road to a shitty Christmas is paved with the intentions of people who decide ...

"They Don't Want a Gift? I'll Give Them One Anyway!"

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Unless you were born into one of Donald Trump's secret harems, chances are you've run into financial trouble at least once around the holidays. Which sucks, because society mandates that if your family celebrates Christmas, then you must buy gifts for them. And because society also frowns on gifting half-used bottles of ketchup and strands of dental floss, you're screwed.

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"I crafted these festive origami ornaments from my overdue medical bills."

Luckily for you, there's a way out. Simply contact your friends and family before Christmas, allude to your financial situation, and ask them not to get you any gifts this year. That way, you won't feel guilty when someone presents you with a PS4 bundle, and all you can give in return is a really neat picture you drew of a snowman. You turn up on Christmas pleased with your solution, only to discover to your horror that That One Guy has gotten you a present anyway.

What's Wrong With It

There's a name for the ironclad social rule that follows the giving of a gift. It's called the rule of reciprocity. After receiving a gift, most people have a strong desire to give something back, even if the gift was from a complete stranger and even if they didn't ask for the gift in the first place. It's why charities send you free stickers, grocery stores hand out food samples, and that vacuum salesman keeps hanging around outside your house doing free yard work. They all know that there's a good chance you'll feel uncomfortable enough to spend money on them just to balance things out.

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"I see 'El Tigre Loco' sent me an extra severed finger with the meth shipment this year. I'll let him live."

When Great-Aunt Mary presents a Christmas present to John, who's specifically asked not to receive any, she is basically taking that rule of reciprocity and dick-slapping him across the face with it. No matter how much he might have wanted that crocheted toilet seat cover or home-brewed prune wine, he won't enjoy it because he'll be too busy wondering if everyone else in the room secretly thinks he's an antisocial, non-reciprocating jerk.

"I'll Just Donate To Charity In People's Names!"

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If you've never encountered a charity gift card before, here's how it works: Charities sell cards promising to donate a goat or other animal to a poor family overseas that has a goat-shaped hole in their lives. People buy these cards and then give them to others in lieu of Christmas gifts. These charities have been criticized for being misleading, but I think that goat-based gifts can sometimes be a good idea. They're fine to give to people whom you don't know very well and who aren't expecting a big present from you. Less fine is when people decide to go all-out with the goat gifts. They're going to buy goats for everyone this year, they decide, and they won't even tell anyone! Their immediate family members are going to be so surprised and grateful!

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"Oh boy! I sure hope it's the abstract concept of brotherly love!"

What's Wrong With It

Imagine yourself sitting there on Christmas morning as Generous Relative hands you an envelope from under the tree. There's no present attached, so it must be a gift card. An Amazon gift card, maybe. That would be great. Finally, you can purchase that new blender instead of using the one that leaves half-chopped-up berries in your smoothies and sounds like you're watching really loud videos of planes taking off. You open the envelope and ... it's a goat.

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And not even the type you can set on fire.

Is it selfish to be disappointed that someone in another country got a goat, rather than you getting a new blender? Yes. It's extremely selfish. But knowing that it's selfish doesn't stop the disappointment; it just surrounds that disappointment with the sad wrapping paper of guilt. Instead of the glow of blender-based happiness you were expecting, you are plunged into an existential crisis about giving, poverty, and whether you can consider yourself a good person ever again. You'll end up home that night, staring at the Yule Log TV program and gulping down chunks of egg from your badly-blended eggnog before falling into a fitful, sugarplum-free sleep.

This is not a good thing to do to one's relatives on Christmas.

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"I'll Encourage Them To Start A New Hobby!"

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You probably know at least one person who could stand to have more hobbies. They come home from work, stare at a cat-themed Vine for four hours, and then go to bed on plain beige sheets. You might be tempted to introduce this shell of a person to a new hobby in the form of a Christmas gift.

Please do not do this.

What's Wrong With It

Try to make a quick mental list of every hobby in the world. Unless you're a super-advanced AI from the future who has traveled back in time to prevent thermonuclear war but is slacking off by reading Cracked (which I guess is a possibility), you probably can't. There are literally millions of ways that humans distract themselves from death for the few hours each day they're not working in exchange for sustenance, from "bug collecting" to "masturbating to all the world's porn stars in alphabetical order." What are the odds that out of all of these potential activities, you're going to pick one that the person is actually interested in?

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"It's an illustrated list of all the world's bugs in alphabetical order, and a large container of lube."

One Christmas, someone gave my father an expensive, all-inclusive tomato-growing kit. He was in his 40s, had four children for whom he worked and traveled constantly to support, and had never shown an interest in gardening. How likely was it that he was lying in bed that Christmas morning thinking, "You know what's missing in my life? Tomatoes. I'd really like to be responsible for growing the fuck out of some tomatoes instead of buying them at the goddamn fucking store."

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That was the year Santa came back on Christmas night and raided the liquor cabinet.

But it's the thought that counts! protests the Hobby Gift Giver. Yes, and the thought is "You're so boring that I am using this supposedly selfless occasion to try to improve you."

"Their Kids Will Love This Amusing Toy!"

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While adults face the Christmas season with fear, trepidation, and a lot of egg-based alcoholic drinks, for most kids, it's a magical time of joy and hope. And what better way to fulfill that hope than by giving them a really great toy? Across the nation, adults rush into toy sections, pick out the object that they would have loved the most as a child, and bring it along to Christmas gatherings, ready to make some young scamp's eyes light up.*

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*Ocular light not guaranteed.

What's Wrong With It

It's probably best to describe the problem in the form of dialog:

CHILD: Oh man, Uncle Chad got me the Mighty Construction Worker Action Figure with Bonus Angle-Grinder Action!

PARENT: I see that it ... makes a noise.

TOY: *Grinds angles*

PARENT: I wonder if it will run out of batteries soon.

GIFT GIVER: Don't worry, I brought spares! This thing will last forever!

TOY: *Grinds angles*

PARENT: I'm going to go outside and take a walk in the snow now. I may be ... some time.

TOY: *Grinds angles*

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"We're Going To Get A Real Tree This Year!"

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Advertising and stock photos have given us all a pretty good idea of what our Christmas is supposed to look like. And it's this:

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Look at that magical scene taking place in a household run by real adults! Everything is clean, no one has yet fallen down drunk, and the only things on fire are things that are supposed to be on fire. Given this cultural standard, it's no huge shock that some people feel obliged to fancy up their Christmases as they get older. You start with a few decorations that aren't made of crushed beer cans and bottle caps. Then you string up your first pair of outdoor lights that aren't shaped like Solo cups. Finally, you or your spouse makes the decision: "We're going to get a real tree this year, and it's going to be awesome!"

What's Wrong With It

You get the tree. Your car gets covered in evergreen needles on the drive home. You drag the tree inside. Your floor gets covered in needles. The cat jumps in the tree and knocks it over. The cat gets covered in needles. You set up the tree once more and try to vacuum up the needles, but they stick to the carpet, and you're forced to get down on the floor to pick them out. The cat knocks over the tree again while you're under it. You lie crushed under 90 pounds of festive despair, the needles and broken ornaments piercing your skin, until you're bitten by a brown recluse spider that was hiding in the branches.

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As was probably Mr. Snuffles' plan all along.

You spend the holiday in Urgent Care, knowing that there's a good chance that your tree is setting your home on fire while you're gone.

They do smell pretty good, though. Merry Christmas.

C. Coville has a new book out, in case you're looking for a last-minute gift for someone you don't hate.

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