The dos and don'ts of regifting

By: Barbara Righton

Author: Canadian Living


The dos and don'ts of regifting

By: Barbara Righton
Susan Martin of Belfountain, Ont., will never forget the call she got one Christmas Eve from her mother-in-law.

"Just thought I'd let you know I was too busy to buy your kids a Christmas present," she explained.

Never mind, Susan thought. At four and six, the children were probably too young to notice.

Regifting fail
On Christmas Day, her in-laws arrived at the Martins' home, right on schedule for their holiday dinner. But instead of coming empty-handed, says Susan, her mother-in-law waltzed in with a big wicker basket covered by a tea towel.

"Without taking the time to remove her coat, she called out to my children, 'Quick kids, come get your gift!' It was heavy, and my kids strained under the weight. What filled the basket gave new meaning to regifting, reusing and recycling."

Susan's mother-in-law had spent Christmas morning cleaning out her freezer. "To our total surprise," Susan says, "the basket contained approximately 15 pounds of frozen meat."

Remember to cover your tracks
Not all regifts are that odd, of course. Brenda Robitaille of Stouffville, Ont., recalls the holiday season her friend arrived for drinks wearing a lovely outfit and an air of distraction. She was clutching a store-bought gift assortment of cheeses, crackers and wine.

It was only after her friend left that Brenda realized the red cellophane wrapping was badly wrinkled and there was a sticky patch where the original gift tag had been ripped off.  

"I checked the expiry dates and consumed everything immediately," Brenda says with a shrug. "It was delicious, but I did wonder why she didn't take two minutes to rewrap it."

Suffice it to say, the present, probably given to her friend at an office function, left a lasting bad taste, delicious or not.

If you're a regifter, you're not alone
In 2008, a Harris/Decima poll for Canada Post found that more than one-third of Canadians suspected they had received a regifted present from a friend or family member at least once.

Forty-five per cent said they didn't mind the notion, in theory. Regifting isn't all bad. Even etiquette maven Miss Manners approves: What you do with a gift after you pretend to like it (such as give it away or sell it) is up to you, she says.

Page 1 of 2 – Read the tales of women who regularly regift on page 2
But there is a limit. It happened several holiday seasons past, but it still sticks in Jill Campbell's mind. There she was, in a cosy Toronto living room surrounded by friends, all laughing and talking as they shared festive treats and opened their presents. A longtime acquaintance, Laura Walker, handed her an elegantly wrapped package. It was a cookbook. Jill was flipping through the pages, thinking how colourful they were, when she idly checked the inscription. "To Laura," it read, "Happy Holidays, Rhima." She swallowed hard. What she was holding – and eventually donated to a library sale – was not even remotely chosen for her; it was a regift and a blatantly obvious one at that. "It showed that the giver didn't want to even think about my present," she says. "It was lazy."

On a happier note, some people applaud holiday regifting as pure common sense. Margi Mason of Cornwall, Ont., and her husband, Norm, have regularly regifted bottles of wine (they don't drink) and candies (they both have diabetes) to family members. "One year we received so many boxes of chocolates that we packed them up and gave them to a local soup kitchen to use at their annual Christmas dinner," Margi says. "Better someone else have the enjoyment than [the chocolates get] thrown in the garbage."

Finding a better home for a present you've recieved
Sarah McCoy of Red Deer, Alta., says her mom, Judy, felt much the same. Judy was a school teacher who regularly received little presents from her students. She accepted them graciously and stored them in a drawer, which Sarah and her brother laughingly called "her stash." Sarah says, "Somehow she didn't understand that relegating something to 'the stash' diminished its worth." Or maybe that was only what Sarah and her brother thought. Judy appreciated the scarves and frames and candles, and carefully chose their next stop, "in an effort to find forgotten gifts a good home," Sarah says with a laugh. Most important, Judy was careful: She never regifted presents from her closest friends or relatives and scrupulously avoided preinscribed books.

Best yet, wannabe regifters may want to take a page from Marie Caners's children's party story. The Portage la Prairie, Man., mom says giving presents means a lot, even to the very young. "Knowing that kids enjoy the aspect of gift giving, and that there are some important lessons in choosing and giving a gift, I suggested guests regift something they had outgrown," she says. Marie is talking about a teddy bear and a toy truck given by her friends' children to her son on his first birthday, but there is no reason her idea can't be used by holiday gift givers of all ages. Jill Campbell agrees. "If you are going to give something away, make it obvious and make it fun," she says. In other words, when the gifts that keep on giving leave a lasting impression, it may as well be a good one.

This story was originally titled "The Art of Giving Dangerously" in the December 2010 issue.

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The dos and don'ts of regifting