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My Favorite Family Tradition (And How You Can Start One, Too!)

mother and daughter laughing

Most people will tell you that’s it’s a bad idea to give a gift that someone may never use. I personally disagree with this stance, and here’s why: the tradition of joke gift-giving has brightened up every family holiday, birthday, and celebratory occasion for years. Joke gifts (or as some call them, ‘prank’ or ‘gag’ gifts,) are rarely “useful” in the traditional sense, and they can definitely go too far. But, if you do it right (with love and humor) it will bring about tons of laughs, make lasting family memories, and take some of the weight off of the material aspect of giving and receiving.

It all started when I was a teenager. I told my dad I wanted a fifty-dollar gift certificate to the mall for my birthday. He laughed a little and said “yeah, right!” and I knew it was because fifty bucks was a bit much to ask for our family budget. But I was aiming a little high, and also being a little selfish, a newfound trait I had absorbed from my teenage girl-dom.

Well, my birthday rolled around and there it was: a wrapped clothing box and that tell-tale, wax-sealed envelope from The Boise Towne Square (these were the days before gift cards existed.) I ripped open the certificate first and started jumping around when I saw the number fifty, but my face immediately dropped when I realized it was only made out for fifty cents.

I knew I was asking a bit much, but fifty cents? I didn’t want to be a jerk, so I just said thanks and opened my wrapped present, in which I found a new pair of pajamas and a vanilla-scented candle. But guess what was hiding under it? Another gift certificate, this time for an actual fifty dollars. I was so thrilled. I danced around and said thank you a hundred times.

When I look back, I imagine I still would have been grateful if my dad hadn’t preempted with the joke gift certificate. However, having that moment of sadness and disappointment only to find out minutes later that it was a little prank made my emotions soar and my gratefulness swells even more so than they would have without the slight amount of joshing that came beforehand.

My dad kept it up, beginning each of our ceremonial birthday present openings with a little joke of some sort. One year, my siblings and I decided to hit him back hard for Christmas.

It was the first Christmas after my parent’s divorce, and my dad had just started dating again. We had a T-shirt made especially for him that said “SINGLE” with his actual phone number under it on the front, and on the back, we had printed, “Caution: has three kids.” We thought it was pretty funny, but in the end, the joke was on us. He wore it everywhere, despite our embarrassment.

After that, the joke-gifting turned into a fierce (yet fun) competition where we tried to one-up each other’s gags, and I have happily kept the custom going with my own family throughout the years. In other words, we created our own long-standing family tradition.

I think any family can benefit from this playful institution. It’s hard to make every gift you give memorable, especially if you’re on a budget. But making each ceremony an act of comedy is sure to make every special day go down in history. If you’d like to start a similar tradition with your own kiddos, here are some ideas for joke gifts that will entertain kids of various ages:

Little ones are always entertained by farts. You could go DIY and use this meticulously categorized list of fart types and fart synonyms to create a fun game or challenge, or spring for a book that helps kids identify different animal farts (complete with sound!)
Or, for that member of the family who is known to create the most impressive (or offensive?) farts, have a trophy or plaque specially made for them, with a prize line that reads, “World’s Stinkiest Farts,” “Most Valuable Vaporizer,” or “Fantastic Flatulence World Champion.”

When it comes to joke gifts, customizable stuff is something my family turns to often. It’s usually inexpensive, and you can turn any inside joke into a tangible object that will memorialize your family’s collective sense of humor. You could take all of their most embarrassing childhood photos and make them into a calendar. You could also put a mortifying baby photo or a silly personalized joke onto a t-shirt (and act really sad when they don’t want to wear it.)

If you’d prefer to see confusion spread across their face before the laughter comes, get them a completely random household item like a toilet plunger, a half-eaten sandwich, or an old banana. Their reaction will be priceless, and you might even be able to record it and go viral.

If you want to see real horror and panic, make the joke last a little longer by setting up a fake photoshoot. First, hit the thrift store and pick up the gaudiest or most out-of-date outfits you can find. Then, inform them that they’re going to wear them for a themed family photo shoot. The only thing worse than telling them they have to wear the tacky treasures you find will be the threat of memorializing the event with photography. If you actually do go through with the shoot, it could make for some awkwardly fun family memories that might even be Christmas card-worthy...

If your kids are always joking about your lack of tech-savviness, play that out by getting them a tube monitor for their laptop, a super old school cable for their gaming system or an extremely outdated phone case for their fancy smartphone.

You can also pack their regular gifts into a box from a random household item, like a coffee maker or crockpot. Or, you could buy a hilarious prank gift box, like this “extreme chores” video game one.
If all they ever ask for is cash, be silly about it, and have a ribbon-cutting ceremony complete with one of those giant novelty checks.

There are far too many cheesy joke gifts out there to list them all, and I’m sure you of all people know what will tickle your family’s funny bone. Either way, I hope my story along with these suggestions can help you start a new family tradition and bring some laughter and fond memories into your celebrations.