It’s the thought that counts.

Most of us have heard the sentiment since childhood. Our parents dragged the phrase out when well-meaning grandparents and far-flung relatives mailed us tins of European-style cookies or gaudy costume jewelry fit only for a Gypsy wedding party. No offense to Gypsies.

But some gifts truly beg the question: What the hell were they thinking?

While making our own gift lists this year, we reflected on Christmas’s past, surveyed friends and family, perused Facebook posts and even queried strangers for the strangest gifts they’d ever received. And by strange we mean awful.

Most everyone had some tale of woe. There were tools to cut your way out of a car, self-help books, strobe lights attached to beer cans, and a random half empty bag of gourmet coffee left hanging on a door with a note. Most of the intended receivers did not want to be identified because they know admitting a gift wasn’t appreciated may make them look ungrateful. No judgment, of course. Here are the best of the worst.

Put a lid on it — There are a few absolutes in life. Giving a new mother a gym membership, or say, a shower door, or even a set of gleaming stainless steel pots (complete with lids!) when she was expecting something else — like jewelry — will incur the wrath typically reserved for those who would steal her children.  

Worse yet, the giver (we’ll call him “husband”) may not know the present was not appreciated until far in the future, when the couple is sitting in front of a marriage counselor, or a lawyer, and she mutters through clenched teeth: “I gave you a baby and you gave me pots for Christmas. Pots! For Christmas!”

Man of steel — Johndra Lewis, a 20-something Mobile professional, had been dating a nice guy for a few months. On their first Christmas together, the man in question arrived with plenty of presents, at least one in a tiny box, and another the size of a mini fridge. Lewis said she will never forget what she said after unwrapping the largest gift: “Wow, you got me trash cans.” An uncomfortable pause ensued.

“I was so sad,” she recalled later. They were no ordinary trash cans, though. They were the good stainless steel ones with motion sensor lids. Over time, Lewis said, the trash cans have grown on her. “After the shock, it became the most appreciated gift,” she said.

Cock-a-doodle Claus — Some people just love to eat chicken. That was the case with Millie Miller (not her real name) a friendly waitress who worked at a seafood restaurant on Dauphin Island. She loved the other white meat so much that she ate chicken fingers nearly every day.

So when the holidays rolled around one year, someone decided it might just be hilarious to wrap up a live chicken named Sam for her to open. “When Millie opened that box, out flew Sam,” a coworker said. “We all laughed until we cried.”

Don’t let the bed bugs bite — Local photographer John David Mercer shakes his head and sighs when recounting the events leading up to a gift he received as a child. The memory still stings.

“My parents told me that the gift was coming via truck and it was not going to be able to be wrapped,” he said. “A kid’s mind wonders what toy could fit in a truck.” Insert practical present spoiler here. When the truck arrived, Mercer found out it wasn’t the world’s largest toy. It wasn’t even a Red Rider BB gun. It was a brand-new mattress set wrapped up in clear plastic for his protection.

Re-gifted and rotten — It’s one thing to regift a freshly baked spice cake within a day of its delivery. You never know when someone might be on a diet or experimenting with a gluten-free existence. It’s another thing to store an opulent gift basket packed with perishable food items and tied up with a Mardi Gras themed bow to give to someone a year or three later.

That’s what happened to a mother-of-two one Christmas Eve not so long ago. When she opened up one of the packages from the basket the next day, it was old and moldy. So, the woman cracked open another container only to find that treat met a similar end. Here’s a not-so-fun fact. Sugared pecans, roasted pecans and even pecans dipped in chocolate go bad after a while. So do cheese straws packed in pretty tins. One word: Yuck.

The gift that keeps on giving —  A few years back, a Baldwin County teenager opened up a package from a dear aunt and sat in stunned silence for a few moments. The gift in question was a monogrammed scarf emblazoned with the words: “Warning: Regifter.”

The teen’s mom, too, was at a loss. The high schooler did what anyone in her predicament would do. She promptly took the present to a Dirty Santa party where it was foisted on someone else. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Perhaps. Serendipity? You betcha.

Green feet — James Currie, a Saraland Boy Scout leader and graphic artist, loved Star Wars as a kid growing up in Biloxi, Miss. He was there waiting in line when the first George Lucas movie came to theaters in the late ‘70s. He knew about the force, the dark side and all things Wookie.

So when a relative asked his parents what they should get him for Christmas in the winter of 1980, his folks talked of his affection for the science fiction films. And it was with love in their hearts that the relative visited a TG&Y store to buy little James something perfect. They got him Yoda slippers instead. He put them on Christmas morning and shuddered (on the inside) at the sight of the fuzzy green beasts on his feet. Ugly, they were.

Six feet under — What do you get the woman who has everything? And we do mean everything. One well-meaning husband decided to purchase cemetery plots for the mother of his adult children as a surprise birthday gift. When the day arrived, he drove her over to the patch of grass where their remains would spend eternity. It’s unclear exactly what transpired that sunny day. Later, he told friends “She didn’t think it was a very good gift.”