Re-Gifting: Yes or No

By Jeff Westover

(Author Bias: None. Zippo. Zero. Zilch.)

When we married we received all kinds of wonderful gifts. But the one that caught the most attention, the one that drew the biggest reaction and the only one remembered from those many years ago was the gift that was re-gifted to us.

It was a simple saucepan, brand new in the box, of 1970s vintage color and design. Aside from the obvious look of the item indicating it’s age we also knew how long it had been around because it was a wedding gift the giver had received at her wedding. The card addressed to her and her husband was still inside the box – from nearly 25 years before.

For the record, we still have the saucepan and it has given us decades of service, ugly as it is.

But to say it has become the centerpiece of our gift-giving etiquette as a family is an understatement.

Every occasion where the art of giftgiving is deployed this one ghastly regifting memory surfaces and draws snickers. The relative guilty of the act is alternatively condemned and defended.

That is almost how the art of regifting is treated itself. Some consider it no big deal, just a part of holiday gifting in general that everybody does. Others, however, consider it tacky, inconsiderate and even rude, especially if the gifting done is public in any way that might cause embarrassment to any previous givers or receivers.

As a man, my first instinct is to question: Why go there? Why even risk it?

But, then again, as a man, that is to say, as a Jack-Benny-type cheapskate — I have to ask: Why not? What’s wrong with it? Especially if the item is something that is desired?

Such are the trials of regifting.

Consumer Reports did a survey a while back that said that 36 percent of all people regifted during a recent Christmas season. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) the higher the income level the greater the propensity for regifting.

The etiquette experts all agree: regifting is a slippery slope. It is something that has to be done according to strict rules, or not at all.

Emily Post, for example, says regifting is ok if the item is wanted by the new receiver. But it has to be brand new, in the box and the giving of the item cannot in any way cause any kind of awkwardness.

Louise Fox says regifting can be done but only very carefully. If the item was handcrafted by the original giver of the gift then don’t do it. If it is an heirloom – don’t do it. If you wouldn’t naturally buy such a thing yourself – don’t do it.

In fact, if you take a look at all the rules of regifting there are a lot of don’ts.

Don’t regift a partially used gift card. Don’t regift personal items like socks.

Don’t regift promotional items, weird appliances or food.

I can’t regift food? Not fruitcake? What about candied broccoli? Can I regift that?

In fact, if you Google the rules of regifting you will find more rules than you can remember to keep. There are so many don’ts that it should give you great pause before you regift anything.

For me, the question boils down to one thing, the very golden and passé rule of gifting: it is the thought that counts.

Some would take that to mean I’m saying not to regift at all.

And that is NOT what I am saying.

I am at a point in my life where my kids are leaving the nest, beginning to build their own lives and their own homes. Resources being tight they just might appreciate a 25-year old brand new saucepan. Depending upon their circumstances, it might be a thoughtful gift.

But do I wrap it up and hold it up to the dazzle of Christmas morning?
No. I hand it over, unwrapped and still in brand new condition as we’re packing the car before the leave after Christmas. “Hey, you want this? It’s brand new and we never used it. Can you guys use it?”

Christmas gift giving is not something to be done lightly. It isn’t a wedding, a baby shower or a going-away-party. It’s Christmas. The whole idea behind Christmas is gifts of meaning. Sometimes that means giving up something so personal that it might actually be an item you received from someone before.

So regifting isn’t really wrong.

But that doesn’t make it right either. Giver beware. Make sure you put what counts behind the thought.

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