"Once, by a mistake no one could explain, a little hatchet." -- Dylan Thomas, "A Child's Christmas in Wales," remembering an anomaly among the "useless presents."
Camcorder in one hand, water glass of fortified eggnog in the other, every weary parent observing the annual paper-shred on Christmas morning has reason to believe the payoff's arrived, right? All is calm, all is bright -- until junior opens something truly nightmarish, something requiring paint thinner or 16 "D" batteries. Innocently packaged within Santa print tissue -- sent, no doubt, by a well-meaning distant senile relative -- could lurk a present so hideous as to destroy adult peace of mind for the next several months.
Take, for instance, the two drum sets shipped off by doting grandparents one year, followed the next Christmas by fire chief helmets complete with lights and sirens. Or the "Talking Barbie Teapot," which natters inanely at every pour. This season's most irritating item had to be the noisemaking Furby by Tamagotchi, a toy matched in ugliness only by its predecessor in popularity, the Cabbage Patch Doll. Then there are the simply inappropriate toys -- such as one granny's gift of a pink satin peignoir and negligee for an 11-year-old. And what possessed the soul who gave a child a salad spinner?
Now that the gift-giving season is over, it's time to learn from the ghosts of Christmas presents past. Soon you will hear from three spirits -- our Drama Queen finalists. Listen to their tales of terrible toys, take heed and vote for your favorite by Jan. 18.
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ILLUSTRATION BY KATHERINE STREETER