AFAMOUS Christmas cracker joke asks: what do you give the man who has everything? The answer: Penicillin. We may laugh, but it would not be the most unusual of gifts ever given at this seasonal time of year. In Siberia, people have been known to give each other flagons of a drink made from fermented toadstools which have hallucinatory properties. The fungus in question is the flyagaric. It is that red and white one favoured as a resting place by gnomes in children's books and is itself connected by some people with the traditions of Christmas as we now practise them. For a start, in that part of Siberia, reindeer are used to pull sleighs. They are also very fond of fungi of all sorts so they are employed to snout them out by their owners. Secondly, the fact that the toadstools are red and white could bear some relation to the fact that Father Christmas dresses in those colours (and traditionally has a very red face). Thirdly, residents of the colder climes of Siberia live in houses with no front door. People use the fireplace as the entrance and exit to limit the number of ways the bitter cold can get in. Thus you have the notion of Father Christmas coming down the chimney. Fourthly, Siberia was reputedly visited by Saint Nicholas, whose name has been corrupted into Santa Claus. He allegedly introduced the concept of giving presents in celebration of the birth of Christ. But whether or not this theory is true, the giving of presents at Christmas remains one of the most enduring traditions in the Christian world. It all started when the three wise men gave gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus as he lay swaddled in his crib in the stable in Bethlehem. Nowadays, a child is more likely to be given a Gameboy. But there have been examples throughout history of more imaginative presents than those old standards of socks, ties, handkerchiefs, perfume, chocolates and, the greatest get out of all, gift vouchers. Royalty and the simply rich have for aeons been giving each other magnificent jewels, houses, holidays, even horses. Others less well-off or just less imaginative have settled for subscriptions to Readers Digest , driving lessons or season tickets to football matches. One of the most unusual for any Westerner in Hong Kong is powdered yak hoof, available in all good Chinese medicine shops. This little-known wonder drug is the perfect stocking filler for friends who suffer from acne, wind, impotence, bad breath, athlete's foot and shingles. A less controversial present was received by an English woman aged 90 who had always wanted a ride in a hot air balloon. She got her wish, but such is often the state of mind of nonagenarians that no sooner had she stepped from the basket than she completely forgot having undertaken the trip and told her loving but frustrated son that what she really wanted was a balloon trip. But this pales into insignificance when measured against a request reportedly made by an American politician. This unfortunate fellow was called up by his local radio station which asked him what he wanted for Christmas. Misunderstanding the nature of the call, he ummed and aahed for a while before declaring that a case of claret would go down nicely. To his distress, the radio station broadcast on Christmas Day the fact that it had asked several world leaders and their local politician for their Christmas wish list. The Pope said he would like world peace. The Prime Minister of Great Britain also called for world peace. Our politician asked for 12 bottles of wine.