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Families and Gift-Giving Traditions

picture of wrapped Christmas gifts

Each family handles gift-giving differently, and traditions often have to change through the years as the family grows. For example in many families who used to all exchange gifts, the adults now draw names for the exchange. The story I'm posting today is a classic on a gift exchange that somewhere along the line went ballistic. It's one of my all-time favorites that I always enjoy rereading.

Several years ago when I e-mailed the story as an iv, I checked an urban legend website and learned that it really did happen as recounted. What I'm posting includes the conclusion of the matter.

For 25 years two brothers-in-law gave the same pair of pants back and forth as a "gift," each time finding more inventive ways to "wrap" them.

The one present Roy Collette wasn't looking forward to getting for Christmas 1988 was those pants. Yet he knew he was in trouble as soon as the flatbed truck bearing a concrete-filled tank off a truck used to deliver ready-mix rolled up. Sure as God made little green apples, those pants had to be in there. And he was going to have to fish them out, or else declare his brother-in-law the winner of a rivalry that had spanned over 20 years.

Being the sport he is, brother-in-law Larry Kunkel thoughtfully supplied the services of a crane to hoist the concrete-filled tank off the flatbed.

What's this game, you ask? What was the significance of these pants, and why were two grown men going to such efforts year after year to retrieve them, only to send them off again?

picture of pants

It all began in 1964 when Larry Kunkel's mom gave him a pair of moleskin pants. After wearing them a few times, he found they froze stiff in Minnesota winters and thus wouldn't do. That next Christmas, he wrapped the garment in pretty paper and presented it to his brother-in-law.

Brother-in-law Roy Collette discovered he didn't want them either. He decided to bide his time until the Christmas after, then packaged them up and gave them back to Kunkel. This yearly exchange proceeded amicably until one year Collette twisted the pants tightly and stuffed them into a 3-foot-long, 1-inch wide pipe.

And so the game began. Year after year, as the pants were shuffled back and forth, the brothers strove to make unwrapping them more difficult, perhaps in the hope of ending the tradition. In retaliation for the pipe, Kunkel compressed the pants into a 7-inch square, wrapped them with wire and gave the "bale" to Collette. Not to be outdone, Collette put the pants into a 2-foot-square crate filled with stones, nailed it shut, banded it with steel and gave the trusty trousers back to Kunkel.

The brothers agreed to end the caper if the trousers were damaged. But they were as careful as they were clever. As the game evolved, so did the rules. Only "legal and moral" methods of wrapping were permitted. Wrapping expenses were kept to a minimum with only junk parts used.

Kunkel next had the pants mounted inside an insulated window that had a 20-year guarantee and shipped them off to Collette.

Collette broke the glass, recovered the trousers, stuffed them into a 5-inch coffee can, which he soldered shut. The can was put in a 5-gallon container filled with concrete and reinforcing rods and given to Kunkel the following Christmas.

Kunkel installed the pants in a 225-pound homemade steel ashtray made from 8-inch steel casings and etched Collette's name on the side. Collette had trouble retrieving the treasured trousers, but succeeded without burning them with the cutting torch.

Collette found a 600-pound safe and hauled it to Viracon Inc. in Owatonna, where the shipping department decorated it with red and green stripes, put the pants inside and welded the safe shut. The safe was then shipped to Kunkel, who was the plant manager for Viracon's outlet in Bensenville.

The pants next turned up in a drab green, 3-foot cube that once was a 1974 Gremlin. A note attached to the 2,000-pound scrunched car advised Collette that the pants were inside the glove compartment.

In 1982 Kunkel faced the problem of retrieving the pants from a tire 8 feet high and 2 feet wide and filled with 6,000 pounds of concrete. On the outside Collette had written, "Have a Goodyear."

In 1983 the pants came back to Collette in a 17.5-foot red rocket ship filled with concrete and weighing 6 tons. Five feet in diameter, with pipes 6 inches in diameter outside running the length of the ship and a launching pad attached to its bottom, the rocket sported a picture of the pants fluttering atop it. Inside the rocket were 15 concrete-filled canisters, one of which housed the pants.

Collette's revenge for the rocket ship was delivered to Kunkel in the form of a 4-ton Rubik's Cube in 1985. The cube was made of concrete that had been baked in a kiln and covered with 2,000 board feet of lumber.

Kunkel "solved the cube," and for 1986 gift-giving repackaged the pants into a station wagon filled with 170 steel generators all welded together. Because the pants have to be retrieved undamaged, Collette was faced with carefully taking apart each component.

What happened to the pants in 1987 is a mystery, and their 1988 packaging (concrete-filled tank) was mentioned at the beginning of this page. Sadly, 1989's packaging scheme brought the demise of the much-abused garment.

Collette was inspired to encase the pants in 10,000 pounds of jagged glass that he would then deposit in Kunkel's front yard. "It would have been a great one — really messy," Kunkel ruefully admitted. The pants were shipped to a friend in Tennessee who managed a glass manufacturing company. While molten glass was being poured over the insulated container that held them, an oversized chunk fractured, transforming the pants into a pile of ashes.

The ashes were deposited into a brass urn and delivered to Kunkel along with this epitaph:

"Sorry, Old Man. Here lie the pants ... An attempt to cast the pants in glass brought about the demise of the pants at last."

The urn now graces the fireplace mantel in Kunkels' home.

picture of divider

I know one family personally who, for years, exchanged a bizarre item with each other for birthdays, baby showers, Christmas, weddings, anniversaries, etc. The "gift" was either the top or bottom of an old two-piece swimsuit (I can't remember which) that they had found on a family vacation one summer. The family spent a lot of money on postage and gift wrap for that ratty, partial swimsuit to travel many miles and appear at random, eliciting laughter and explanations. I think some members of that extended family follow my blog. Maybe they can comment on this....

Who knows, we may even hear from a member of the Kunkel or Collette family. Since I've begun to post my iv's on the blog instead of just sending them by e-mail, I have heard from the man who wrote the story If Airlines Sold Paint..., the taxidermist with the coyote on the back of his pick-up truck from the post Are We in for the Ride of Our Lives?, and the bride from the story Here Comes the Groom!

Does your family have any fun or unusual gift-giving traditions? Or do you know about another family's traditions that you'd like to add to the mix?


"The magi, as you know, were wise men — wonderfully wise men who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents." - O. Henry

=^..^= =^..^=

Wife to husband: "This Christmas let's give each other sensible gifts like ties and fur coats."

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15 Comments on “Families and Gift-Giving Traditions”

  1. #1 Jessica
    on Dec 16th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    One Christmas I gave my dad a CD I thought he would like. The next Christmas, he still hadn’t removed the shrink-wrap, and I needed a gift for him, so I rewrapped the CD and put it under the tree. He was oh-so-appreciative of the “new” gift and didn’t even realize the prank until my sister spilled the beans.

    I also seem to have started a tradition years back when I wrapped a tiny gift (don’t remember what it was now) for one of my brothers in a big box nested inside of a bigger box nested inside of an even bigger box, and so on. Similar wrapping schemes are now very common on gift-giving occasions in our house, including stuffing the larger boxes with random articles of clothing or filling a box with smaller containers, only one of which contains the actual gift. The fun, of course, is in finding the gift!

  2. #2 Rob
    on Dec 16th, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    @Jessica – I love it! Did your dad ever unwrap the CD and listen to it? We do the same thing sometimes, wrapping especially small gifts like Russian nesting dolls. We also have put bricks or other heavy objects to throw each other off in our irritating pre-Christmas gift-guessing. 😀

  3. #3 Laura
    on Dec 16th, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    My parents’ Sunday School class has a White Elephant gift exchange every December. A number of rather humorous gag gifts have come and gone over the years, but the most lasting (and legendary) one is a coconut head (a coconut shell with a face painted on it) that seems to find its way back each year … with friends. I think Mom and Dad told me that a “family” of four such heads made their appearance at this year’s gathering! 🙂

  4. #4 Melanie
    on Dec 16th, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Hmm. The story about the piece of bathing suit sounds like something my dad’s family used to do. Talking about us?

    My mom’s side of the family has a pair of long underwear that is passed around each Christmas time. Over the years we have somehow collected other random items that are also “gag gifts.” You always know if you are going to get one because you get an extra gift….

  5. #5 NathanatBJU
    on Dec 16th, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Interesting things often appear when we open gifts on Christmas morning. In my family of 10 there are several of the younger ones who give away different toys and trinkets to other family members on Christmas. The only problem is that sometimes they give away things that are not theirs…. Being the oldest, I have often seen something of mine given to another family member by one of my siblings who genuinely believes that the object in question is his or hers. (One of my sisters is particularly bad at doing this!)

  6. #6 Beth
    on Dec 16th, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    I know of a family that sent a peanut butter and jelly sandwich back and forth across the country. Yes, it got very old, crumbly, and icky, but it was packed in suitcases, mail, hid in corners of vehicles, and everything. The goal was not to keep it long. I think they still have it preserved somewhere.

    Somehow in my family I ended up wrapping presents from my Dad, and Uncle. Santa’s Elves…

  7. #7 Amanda
    on Dec 17th, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Your post reminded me of a story a man at my home church told me. He and his brother take turns sending each other the same Christmas card every year. They both like to joke about how “cheap” they are and would send each other the least expensive cards they could find…even if that meant they were for the wrong holiday. One year, his brother sent him a personalized Christmas card sample, simply crossing off the name at the bottom and writing his underneath. He got the same card back the next year, only this time *his* name had been crossed off. It’s been going back and forth ever since, last I heard.

  8. #8 Rob
    on Dec 17th, 2009 at 6:15 am

    @Laura – My wife and I have a love/hate relationship with white elephant gift exchanges, depending on the ground rules. We’ve been at some where the “fun” quickly became not-so-fun because of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, etc. because the rules of the game kept changing. I’m glad theirs works out for them. I like the growing family of coconut heads. 🙂

    @Melanie – If you are the Melanie I think you are (can’t tell from the e-mail address), your dad’s family is the one I mentioned. What a hoot! I had never heard of anything like that before. I think the old swimsuit finally was “lost,” wasn’t it?

    @Nathan – Is that another form of “regifting” that you’re describing?

    @Beth – Wow, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sent all over the place?! Sounds … um, interesting….

    @Amanda – I found online a story similiar to the one you mentioned, but I don’t think it’s the same one. You can read it at http://www.gazette.com/articles/card-49476-darryl-dan.html

    Here’s a picture of the one brother from that article:

    picture of cheapskate brother

  9. #9 Vikki
    on Dec 17th, 2009 at 11:39 am

    We too have had fun as a family with Christmas presents over the years. We’ve nested gifts, covered the whole package completely in tape, used large boxes for tiny gifts and filled the box up with whatever was handy (paper, towels, shoes, etc.) or used wrapping paper tubing for small gifts and filled the remainder with packing peanuts.

    On Christmas morning, after reading Luke 2, we would sit around the room, pass out the gifts and each of us, in turn, would open a gift while everyone watched. One year Dave got only a single large box. But inside the box were dozens of smaller boxes which he had to wait his turn each round to open. Some contained an actual gift while other were either a gag gift (like a soup spoon or dirty sock), or a note saying “Sorry, try again” or “Better luck next time”. It used up a lot of wrapping paper, but it was fun.

    As the gifts were wrapped, they were put under the tree, so our kids would spend days trying to guess what their gifts were. As they got older, they got really good at guessing. My son was particularly gifted at figuring them out, so we went to a new system of identification. Each person was assigned several numbers or letters (along with my husband and gifts that were for all 4 of them) and only I knew the translation. Now they had to not only figure out what was in the box but also who it was for. While they were in school, I would box all the gifts, tape them shut and write the number on the top of the box. When they got home they could help wrap them up – so they were actually wrapping their own gifts. It drove them nuts! They would spend hours sitting in front of the tree trying to guess. Come Christmas morning, each would open a gift that they thought was theirs. It was fun watching their faces when the first gift opened obviously belonged to someone else!

    Then the grandkids came along. When the oldest two were around 4 or 5, I found a couple of large boxes about 3 feet square and 4 feet tall. I filled each box with each grandson’s gifts and than wrapped up the large box. (Again, lots of extra wrapping paper, but worth it.) After everyone was done opening their gifts, we brought out the 2 huge wrapped boxes for the boys and their eyes almost popped out of their heads. The boxes were too tall for them to reach inside, so they had to tip them over and crawl inside. They had a ball with those boxes after all the gifts were opened. They took up most of the room!

    Anyway, that’s some of our Christmas gifting experiences. (Ah, another short-to-the-point comment from me….)

  10. #10 b.j.
    on Dec 17th, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    What I’d like to know is… What happened to the families of those concrete companies, once these two men no longer bought concrete from them. They used so much concrete, they must have at least provided the Christmas bonuses! ha ha

    I see I’m on the “top ten commentators” list. Yikes! I apparently am on here way too much. :-/

  11. #11 Nancy
    on Dec 18th, 2009 at 11:50 am

    I used to teach school with a single lady whose age could be described as “on the other side of fifty.” She and her housemate didn’t like the sentiments in birthday cards, so they found one they liked and sent it back and forth simply adding the date under the appropriate name to make the greeting current. Cute ladies both of them.

  12. #12 Rob
    on Dec 18th, 2009 at 11:56 am

    @Vikki – It sounds like your family has a great time together. Keep making those memories!

    @b.j. – I was left wondering what they did with all the broken concrete and other “wrappings” afterwards. It would be a challenge to get rid of all that stuff inexpensively. …And don’t worry — there are worse places to spend your time online. 😀

    @Nancy – That’s a great story. Thanks! The man who was pastor of our little church in Fostoria, Ohio, when Becka and I both accepted Christ was Scottish (read: frugal, to put it kindly….) He and his wife were famous for going to the card shop together before special occasions, shopping in different parts of the store. At some point one would beckon for the other one, hand over a card, and say, “This is the one I would have bought for you — read it.” It actually sounds like a good idea with the prices cards have gotten to be! And any more, “funny” seems to mean dirty, gross, or suggestive.

  13. #13 Katie
    on Dec 21st, 2009 at 11:53 am

    About cards these days…I tried to find a nice, yet funny Christmas card to send to a friend, but all of the funny ones that were left were dirty. I finally just got a blank one with a nice picture on the front. I was really disappointed with the selection.

  14. #14 Darvin @ Inexpensive Gifts for Men
    on Jan 11th, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    That is simultaneously the stupidest and most amazing Christmas gift giving story I’ve ever heard! In my family we also do a gift exchange for the adults. However, we have no traditions that even come close to that one.

    Perhaps I may have to start such a tradition… 😉

    .-= Darvin @ Inexpensive Gifts for Men’s most recent blog post … Gift Ideas for Men for Valentines Day =-.

  15. #15 Rob
    on Jan 15th, 2010 at 6:57 am

    @Katie – I share your disappointment. I guess that’s why people like my blog – funny and clean.

    @Darvin – Thanks for stopping by. That story is a hoot, isn’t it? I’ve heard from several people from up there saying that it is indeed absolutely true.