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Are these the worst Christmas gifts ever?

CHOICE staff share the worst gifts they've ever received – from a classic lump of coal to a bag of peppercorns.

lump of coal as the worst christmas gift
Last updated: 07 December 2023

Times are tough and budgets are tight this year. If you're worried that the presents you've bought for your loved ones are a little too modest, it might bring a smile to your face to realise they could probably be a lot, lot worse.

Remember, it's the thought that counts and the truly terrible presents are those that show a shocking lack of consideration for the person receiving it. 

Here, CHOICE staff reveal the worst Christmas gifts they've ever received. 

Plus we share some advice about what to do with those unwanted gifts.

generic peppercorns

One can only imagine the spicy conversation Marg had with her husband after receiving this unwanted gift.

So corny

"My husband – to whom I have frequently expressed my active dislike of cooking – gave me a bag of peppercorns. They were special Kampuchean peppercorns but that really didn't make it any better." – Marg Rafferty, managing editor.

Couple coals

"My great-grandparents actually had a tradition of gifting each other a lump of coal each year. It was very sweet." – Ashley Iredale, whitegoods expert.

Brace yourself

"My parents thought it would be a good idea to get my braces fitted on the day before Christmas. I was 11, and my teeth hurt like crazy. My mum thought it would cheer me up if she put my xmas lunch through the MouliBaby ...  so I could eat the resultant paste. It did not cheer me up." – Scott O'Keefe, digital home test coordinator. 

generic yellow vacuum cleaner

"Imagine the excitement when you see a huge present under the tree, followed by the utter disappointment when you discover it's a vacuum" – Marianna.

Grime and punishment

"Years ago my then-flatmate bought me a vacuum cleaner. It was well-intentioned as we didn't own one and were using a dustpan and brush to 'clean' the carpet (I know, I know). But as a gift it definitely sucked." – Marianna Longmire, commissioning editor.

Hair you go

"One year my nan gave me a fake-hair accessory that's meant to match your natural hair colour with a bright streak running through it. I have dark brown hair, but the fake hair was mouse brown/blonde with a green streak. When I opened it my nan said, 'Oh, I must have been thinking of my other granddaughter.'

"It gets worse. One birthday she gave my mum (her daughter) a bar of soap, a fluffy coat-hanger and a single used chopstick." – Emily Swanson, digital engagement campaigner.

generic sewing machine

A gift sew bad the recipient still isn't over it.

On yer bike

"When I was younger, my brother and I both received new bikes for Christmas while my sister got a sewing machine. She was furious and would have much preferred a bicycle, but our mum couldn't understand why she was so upset as the bikes were cheap ones from a box store while the sewing machine was a state-of-the-art model worth hundreds of dollars. To this day, my sister still isn't over it – and it's been nearly 30 years!" – Amanda Adams, consumer insights researcher.

Clear and present danger

"Despite my repeated pleas of don't get me anything, I was given scented candles by my then-partner's family when they knew I was allergic to perfumes and fragrances. They also gave me food I was allergic to and wine I couldn't drink. On the plus side I got to breathe easy and regift them!" – Wendy Evans, verifier.

Want vs need

"It wasn't a gift to myself, but a gift from my father to my mother. It was Christmas morning and my mother opened a rather long present. It turned out my father had got her a towel rack. Not a big rack, but a single bar that you would attach to the wall. It was a very nice rack and a new rack was needed, in fact it's still being used to this day. But it didn't go down well and I later had to explain to my father that a good starting point is to get something she'll want, not what they both need. 

"Actually, that same Christmas my sister got the video game expansion to the game The Sims 2. My sister didn't even own The Sims 2 to add the expansion to." – Mitchell Thompson, IT systems administrator.

woman opening present at christmas

If your Christmas gift is faulty, you can ask the retailer for a refund, repair or replacement.

What to do with an unwanted gift

If your Christmas gift is a dud, you have a few options.

Return it

According to Australian Consumer Law, if the gift is faulty, you can take it back to the retailer and ask for a refund, repair or replacement.

But if you simply don't like your gift, retailers are under no obligation to give you a refund, although many do offer change of mind refunds. You'll need proof of purchase, such as a receipt, which can be tricky with gifts – either you might not have it, or you'll have to ask the gifter for it (awkward?).

Our article on your rights to a refund at Christmas has more information.

Donate it

Charities such as Vinnies and the Salvos are always after good-quality items. But there are a number of items they can't accept, such as:

  • Ripped, torn, soiled or stained clothing or furniture
  • Cracked or broken homewares
  • Stained bedding including mattresses
  • Green waste
  • Household waste
  • Computers, printers and scanners
  • Building materials
  • Car parts
  • Weapons – including replicas and martial arts weapons
  • Taxidermy (stuffed) animals.

Sell or regift it

You could try to sell your unwanted gift on eBay or Gumtree, or on various online buy sell swap sites.

Alternatively, pay it forward using Freecycle, or if you know someone who'd get some joy out of it, give it to them! (It's probably best if they don't know the original gifter, or things might get tricky.)

Accept it

You can always graciously accept and keep your gift. After all, some relationships are too important to risk hurting someone's feelings. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.