Today, few things say “holiday season” so well as Christmas trees, carols, and gifts. So what if we told you that none of those traditions have actually been around for very long? Christmas trees didn’t catch on in the US until the turn of the 20th century, and caroling—at least as we know it—was a distinctly Victorian invention. As for Christmas gift-giving, that’s a new tradition, too, popularized by wealthy 19th century New Yorkers.
Image our surprise, then, when we set out to assemble a collection of history’s strangest Christmas gifts and came up with—get this—absolutely nil. Lucky for us, diplomatic gift-giving is a time-honored custom, and one that’s sprouted plenty of oddball stories… just the thing to will all that pre-holiday shopping stress away.
And so, to celebrate the coming of the holiday season and all the good-natured gift-giving that goes with it, we present—with, um, minimal comment—six of history’s most uncommon gifts.
No. 1: A Live Puppy
In theory, a puppy isn’t all that odd a gift, but bureaucracy can make anything weird. In 2005, then-President George W. Bush received five gifts from Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov. Among them? A black-and-white Bulgarian shepherd puppy dubbed “Balkan of Gorannadraganov,” or “Balkan” for short. Valued at $430, Balkan was one of many thousands of presents Bush received throughout his tenure as president, most of which were sent to the National Archives to await the opening of his presidential library. For goods worth $305 or more, that’s standard procedure, and in order to hang onto anything above that threshold—a risky move, as costly gifts may sway foreign policy decisions—presidents and their spouses are required to purchase the gifts back from the US government.