THE box was huge and very heavy. I’d left my husband’s Christmas present to the end, convinced I was leaving the best to last.
Beautifully wrapped, whatever lurked inside was bound to be fantastic. We’d only been married a couple of years, after all, romance was, so I thought, still in the air.
I ripped in. Was that an ‘H’ on the box? How exciting! And an ‘O’? – Hollister? Hobbs?
But wait a minute . . . “Hoover?!”
Needless to say this turbo charged four-wheeled machine really sucked.
And, yes, I did let him know that it was not exactly the Christmas gift I’d dreamed about – not unless he’d stashed the diamond necklace and Jo Malone scented candle in the dust bag.
Yet despite that harsh lesson in what not to buy, he didn’t learn. In years to follow I received a multi-pocketed leatherette handbag which was identical to the one he’d bought for his sister – a festive fail that only other women ‘get’ and most blokes can’t see a problem with.
There was the year of the pink fluffy sweater which made me look like a giant angry marshmallow set to explode. Then the particularly memorable HDMI cable for the television. Oh, how we chuckled over that one as we ate Christmas dinner in separate rooms.
I can’t not mention the warehouse-sized box containing a dozen tins of Quality Street, bought from a car boot sale, borderline out of date and not exactly the greatest gift for someone whose spent half her life at slimming clubs and the gym.
I’ve now learned to keep my Christmas expectations set to “minimal”. And to be fair, this year we actually really do need a new vacuum cleaner.
According to Professor Ewan Gillon, clinical director at First Psychology Edinburgh, gifts can be a minefield.
“We’re always told Christmas gift buying is all in the giving and not the receiving, but actually we are all pretty conscious of not wanting to hurt people’s feelings when we receive an unwanted gift.
“I remember receiving a Mr Men game from my ageing grandparents . . . when I was 19. The worse thing was that I had to get it out and pretend to play with it, so as not to upset them. It’s a bit of a dilemma – we all have ‘that’ jumper.
“Whilst none of us wants to hurt the feelings of friends or family, or for them to waste their money, we often end up feeling guilty for being unappreciative in the process. Who would think such a simple concept could be so stressful?”
We should remember that quite often the person buying the gift has gone through torture trying to pick the right thing, he adds.
“Some people genuinely do struggle in finding the right gift. Personally, I would encourage people to remember the gift is in the thought, not necessarily the present, and this is what should be appreciated.
“You can always quietly and discreetly move unwanted gifts on and there will certainly be someone that will appreciate them somewhere.
“I am also a great believer in giving gift receipts and asking everyone to do the same – just in case I have something already, or it doesn’t fit.”
So as the big day looms, here’s the gifts that were Christmas hits and the others that scored a massive festive fail.
As one of Edinburgh’s leading charity figures and the city’s Citizen of the Year, It’s Good 2 Give’s LYNNE McNICOLL knows all about giving.
“My husband Ian and I have an agreement – no gift is better than a gift you aren’t absolutely sure the other will like,” she says and laughs.
“That stems from, one year many years ago, when he gave me a really pricey kitchen mandolin because he fancied us making crisps and thin veggies. He had researched it well and gone to a kitchen supplies shop and everything. And that is where he had to take it back to. That said, I have been hoist with my own petard since, as my cooking has become more adventurous and I’ve wanted one. I have never dared mention that though.
“Best pressies are easy,” she adds. “Home-made gifts from my grandsons – although as they are teens now I would settle for a smile and some chat. Vouchers from my stepdaughter to take me out for a coffee and cake, home-made cakes from my amazing baker pal, and of course gifts for our charity.”
The strangest gift has to go to broadcaster and writer ALISON CRAIG.
“Under the tree was a large unusually shaped and very heavy gift with my name on it,” she recalls. “As a grown woman and new mother I had no idea what on earth it might be. On Christmas morning we gathered to open our presents. You can imagine my surprise when I ripped it open to reveal . . . a heavy metal air warden hat from the Second World War.
“‘Thanks,’ I said, wondering if I should put it over my face and go back to bed. I still have it actually. Why? I have no idea.
“Best present? My health. Two years of very bad health made me realise nothing else matters. Simple as that. So no matter what is under the tree this year I’ll be smiling from ear to ear.”
You can almost hear panto star ANDY GRAY’s heart break as he recalls his Christmas disappointment.
“The best present I didn’t get was a Johnny Seven gun,” recalls the comedy actor who is performing in Aladdin at the King’s Theatre until January 18. “It was the gun that did everything and was all the rage in the 60s. Santa and I see eye to eye now.
“The best gift I did receive was the game, The Mousetrap. Unfortunately three days after Christmas my dog ate the boat that pushed the man into the bath, that knocked the thing that dropped the mousetrap on to the mouse. Not much use after that.
“The worst Christmas gift I ever got was a tray of marzipan fruits, which I just hate. Marzipan makes me boak.”
These days the best gift for the boss of Capital-based Daffy’s Gin, CHRIS MOLYNEAUX, is to see the drink he’s lovingly developed over four years finally hit the shelves. But as a youngster his mind was on other things.
“The happiest I’ve ever been on Christmas morning was aged eight, unwrapping a shiny new bike that my parents had told me there was no chance of me ever getting. I rode it non-stop for years.
“When I grew up, the worst Christmas present I ever got by far was an advanced driving lesson after I wrote off my father’s car the very day that I had passed my driving test. It was not my proudest moment ever.
“These days the best present bar none is watching the off-the-charts excitement of our boys as they unwrap that present they never thought they had a chance of landing. This year it may be something to do with secret agents.”
For Panto joker ARRON USHER, the festive season usually means working hard helping make everyone else smile.
But even now, decades on, Arron, currently starring in Robinson Crusoe at Bathgate Regal, still yearns for the gift he never got – a slushy drink maker.
“I think it was called Mr Frosty,” he recalls. “It was like a snowman with a hole in his tummy, you poured in juice and it came out like a slushy iced drink. I never got it and I’ve spent 30 years waiting for Santa to deliver it. I’m going to have to give in and just buy it for myself.”
His top gift was the freedom and excitement offered by his first bike. “I was seven, my bike was red with stabilisers. Fantastic.
“More recently though, my favourite present has been two tickets to see Bonnie Langford appear in concert in Darlington. I love her.”
Hatmaker FAWNS REID, owner of Fabhatrix in Cowgatehead, recalls a perfect and unexpected Christmas gift.
“Two years ago I spent Christmas with my 18-month-old granddaughter, Lois, which was unexpected as she’d spent Christmas with us the year before. My son arrived with her in the morning to exchange gifts, but he was called away as Lois’ mum had gone into labour.
“Eventually at 8pm, we heard Lois had a baby sister Orla. It was by far the best Christmas any of us have ever had. We are spending Christmas together again this year, with super special crackers and unique party hats, obviously.”
Edinburgh-based PR consultant SUZY POWELL remembers her family recycling before recycling became as widespread.
“My zany old auntie used to work in the Nearly New shop in Newington. When I was 14 I received a beautifully wrapped present to find a pair of red spotty tights.
“They were a bit garish, but I thought I would try them on, until I noticed a ladder in them. My auntie explained they had ripped when she was trying them on but they hadn’t suited her so she thought I would like them. You could even see the shape her feet had left in them so she had worn them a while – yeugh.”
Meanwhile JOHNNY CAMPBELL, general manager at The Edinburgh Dungeon, where Christmas tends to be an all-round horror story, was well ahead of the current trend for cheesy jumpers – unfortunately.
“Worst present, my gran knitted me and my brother matching itchy grey woollen jumpers which had our initials on the front. We had to wear them on Christmas Day too to show we liked them. I still have nightmares.
“Best Christmas present? A few years ago I was on honeymoon on safari in Kenya in December and we bought a balloon trip over the Maasai Mara [wildlife reserve] as a present to ourselves – amazing.”
SOPHIE MARTIN is currently entrancing crowds as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Scottish Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Festival Theatre and a long way from home in Cherbourg, France.
“Best Christmas present is being with my family for Christmas,” she says.
“The plan is to finish the matinee on Christmas Eve and rush to the airport for the 5.20pm flight to Paris, probably with my fairy headdress still in my hair. I’ll be back to Edinburgh on the 26th for double shows on the 27th. But I’ll get my dream of seeing the family on Christmas Day.
“My worst Christmas present? Sometimes when I receive gifts from my family, and because they’re bought in France, if I don’t like them, I can’t return them. But really, every gift is nice.”
Nutcracker Snow Queen EVE MUTSON from Tallinn, Estonia, recalls a particularly special gift.
“We don’t do expensive Christmas presents but the most thoughtful Christmas present was from my husband, who bought me a record player. That started my passion for playing records and buying vinyl – I love the atmosphere created by a record player.
“Worst situation rather than the worst Christmas present would be the presents from my family not arriving. I have this terrible image in my head of the gifts that my family send, all put together with love, sitting all alone in a characterless post office depot somewhere over Christmas. That happened one year, but this year I got them at the end of November, so I have them ready for Christmas Day.”