Surviving the Season of Regifting

Christmas gifts (Photo by Kelvin Kay)

Regifting, the act of giving away an unwanted present, was brought to the forefront of American consciousness during the heyday of my favorite show, the sitcom, Seinfeld. In one episode, Elaine discovers, to her displeasure, that a label-maker that she had given to a dentist friend was “regifted” to Jerry Seinfeld.

Over the years, regifting has evolved into an all-American pastime. In fact, the third Thursday in December has been officially designated “National Regifting Day” due to the preponderance of office party gifts (an estimated 40 percent) that are given away to others. But regifting can take place at any time of the year.

Should we regift or not, and if so, what are the ground rules?

Many consider this somewhat hush-hush practice a form of recycling, but I think we need to distinguish between different forms of regifting that are perfectly acceptable and others that should be considered offenses punishable by law.

It is perfectly wonderful and acceptable to pass on a cherished possession, if it is presented as such. I see nothing wrong with giving someone the copy of The Nutcracker, which was read to you as a child, because you are passing something on that has brought pleasure. The bad kind of regifting is akin to forwarding that chain letter email that no one wanted to read in the first place.

The little girl who is told by her mother to run into her bedroom and pick up one of her stuffed animals, which is summarily plopped in a gift bag and passed off as birthday present, is engaging in unpremeditated regifting, yet she may be on the road to becoming a serious offender. Those people who have dedicated space in their bedroom, with tiers of value not unlike that of the food pyramid, are guilty without an explanation.

I would need the acumen and foresight embodied by all three wise men to figure out how to get these unwanted gifts and that legendary fruitcake out of orbit. Some should be thrown out; others, if worthy, could be donated to charity, where perhaps these orphans can be matched with the right person.

But before you decide to recirculate that slightly mangy pseudo-suede address book in a preposterous color that saw better days a decade ago or that tie clip forged from an exotic alloy of metal bordering on plastic, grab that gift horse by the tail, look it squarely in the mouth, and consider what the recipient will be beholding.

If the item is new, and shows no signs of being toyed with by your dog or the vagaries of time, and it is something that you think that the person might truly enjoy, then by all means, pass it on. Every present doesn’t have to be a big one, and in these tough economic times, a holiday card with heartfelt sentiments can be enough. On any celebratory occasion, what you set in motion should at least put a smile on someone’s face, and to do that, the selection must come from the heart.

Here are some tale-tell signs that you’ve been regifted, all of which my family and I  have personally experienced:

1) You unwrap the gift and cannot figure out what it is. Chances are the former recipient couldn’t tell either and decided to pass it on. My husband received a small, but unidentifiable heavy metal thingamajig last Christmas. Was it a paperweight? Objet d’art? I say, white elephant!

2) You received an article of clothing which, although NWT (new with price tags), is not your size, and it is a color that that the giver is well aware is not flattering on you. To boot, it’s more provocative or avant-garde than is customarily your style. You’re immediately informed where it was purchased “in case you need to return it.” A dead give-away: the giver recently celebrated her birthday.

3) Your friends’ reaction suggests that they were taken off guard by the generosity of your gift, and they excuse themselves and return from their bedroom with a generic basket of cheer, saying that they forgot to give you this. Oh, well!

4) The gift looks more than vaguely familiar. A relative who will remain nameless was astounded to receive a necklace that she had lovingly chosen for a friend.

5) There’s a gift card, and it’s not made out to you.

6) You find a piece of old wrapping paper still attached to the box.

7) It’s hard to see the glass as more than half full when the bottle of wine you received as a gift is several glasses short.

8) The gift has clearly been used or it is missing parts. One year we were less delighted with a set of crystal wine glasses once we noticed that they had already been put to service  and only perfunctorily washed.

9) You receive confectioneries such as a huge chocolate Christmas tree or Santa Claus not meant for someone who celebrates Chanukah. Even if it’s French chocolate, this is still in bad taste. We eventually succumbed to temptation and ate part of the Santa; someone took the chocolate tree off our hands.