Ugly tie tradition still lives after 70 years of Christmas humor.
On Christmas morning 1959 in Missouri, Ray McCray opened a present that contained the ugliest tie he had ever seen.
He didn’t know it at the time, but his wife’s family was playing a joke on him.
McCray’s wife, Wilma, was familiar with the story. Her father, Charles Baker, worked as a ticket clerk for the Missouri Pacific Railroad in Jefferson City, Mo., near the Missouri State Penitentiary. When prisoners were released, they received a fresh change of clothes and a train ticket out of town.
Sometimes the clothes weren’t exactly in vogue.
In 1950, Baker was checking the lockers at the train station. There sat the ugliest tie on earth. It was a brown-maroon-colored nylon tie with circles of white and chartreuse. Each circle had a triangle of orange in the middle.
Not even a convict would wear it.
Instead of throwing it in the garbage, Baker saw it as the perfect gag gift. He figured that in future years, the tie would go to men who were being welcomed into his family or to current family members who had some special circumstances. Nine years after Barker found it, it was Ray McCray’s turn.
“I had never seen a tie so ugly,” said McCray, who was two days short of celebrating his first anniversary with Wilma. “I was speechless.”
Unaware of the inside joke, McCray wasn’t sure how to respond. He knew a “thank you” wouldn’t seem genuine.
He looked around. Everyone was laughing.
The tie had claimed another victim.
Since then, five more men who have been welcomed into the Baker family have received the tie; McCray was the third. It has become a rite of passage into the family.
Ray and Wilma McCray are now Tara Golf and Country Club residents, and their son, Shawn McCray, lives in Waterlefe Golf and River Club. Shawn McCray received the tie at Christmas 1999 when he returned to the U.S. after working in Europe for five years.
“It was a homecoming gift for me at Christmas that year,” Shawn McCray said. “Usually, though, it’s a ‘welcome to the family.’ It shows a little bit about the sense of humor we have. It means we’re going to have fun with you in our family. You better be able to take a joke.”
The tie usually comes packaged in a nicely wrapped box as a gift from Santa.
“We all know who had it last, but you never know who’s going to get it next,” Wilma McCray said.
Originally, the family would gather in Missouri, where most family members lived, but now most are in Florida.
Ray McCray got it a second time the year of his 70th birthday at Christmas 2005.
Matthew Sheppard, the McCray’s grandson who got married in December 2017, got it last year. He lives in Orlando.
Ray McCray suspects he and some of the other men might get the tie again at some point, but there are still men in the family who have yet to receive it.
Their grandsons, 16-year-old Connor McCray and 15-year-old Noah McCray, who live in Waterlefe Golf and River Club, are among those eligible, and the McCrays said they feel confident they’ll keep the tradition alive.
“It’s been a tradition I hope continues,” Wilma McCray said.