The Story of the Ugly Gift

I have a story to share, kiddies, and it all starts in a small classroom in Wake Forest, North Carolina during a planning period. Two women sit at their respective desks working on various tasks for their 3rd grade class. As they twittle away, they are chatting as they always do, laughing at the various anecdotes being shared. The subject turns to the upcoming track out and the one woman, named Mary, tells the other woman, named Jenna, that she was very excited for her trip to Italy. Jenna wasn’t going anywhere special, so Mary offered to bring her back a souvenir. Jenna couldn’t think of anything she really needed, so suggested that Mary bring her back a t-shirt. Not just any t-shirt, but the ugliest, tackiest t-shirt Mary could find in all of Rome. So began the story of the ugly gift.

Mary did return from that trip bearing a tomato red t-shirt with what, at first glance, looked like the Coca-Cola logo. Upon closer inspection, it actually said “Ciao, Ciao” and in smaller print, “Roma, Italy”. It was truly tacky and the most wonderful gift Jenna had ever received.

From that trip forward, whenever Mary or Jenna would vacation, they would always remember to find an ugly gift for the other. A breakfast or dinner together would honor the presenting of an ugly gift to its new owner, passing the torch to the next vacationer.


The "speak no evil" monkey is terrifying and wise. Spanish is its native tongue, as it is from Mexico, although a word has never been uttered.

Ugly gift giving is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. It requires a lot of searching, shopping, and exploring to really find a gift so ugly, so horrifically gaudy, that it can be considered a true ugly gift. Perhaps it’s a resin Rastafarian with silky hair and dangly fabric legs smoking a joint. Maybe it’s a huge beach towel mapping the Caribbean that folds itself into a pouch. It could be a taxidermied blowfish or a pair of miniature skull & crossbone toenail clippers. Each item must not only be ugly, but easily associated to it’s point of origin, if possible. Take the “speak no evil” monkey in the picture. It is hideous, but offers an applicable and appropriate reminder to the giftee, Jenna. It is truly an eyesore in one’s home, but must be displayed nonetheless.

It takes a special friendship to weather the stress, and also the supreme honor, of ugly gift giving. It requires two people skilled in the art of ugly gift giving (and don’t fool yourself; it is an art). Two people that are willing to sacrifice the enjoyment of their vacations in order to find the perfect artifact to present. The friendship that Mary and Jenna share is one of maybe two reported in the whole world comprised of women rare enough, strong enough, and vigilant enough to have earned their title of Ugly Gift Givers.

Here’s to whatever currency you have used to purchase these ugly gifts over the years, Mary and Jenna! Congrats on being successful friends and Ugly Gift Givers. You’re an inspiration to friends and travelers everywhere!

One response to “The Story of the Ugly Gift

  1. Susie McKeown


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