It’s holiday time. There are way too many gift exchange opportunities: work parties, school parties, teacher gifts, holiday cards, Secret Santas, eight days of Hanukkah, New Year’s.
No one can deny: gift giving is synonymous with the month of December.
And, let’s face it, if you don’t make lists, if you don’t plan ahead, someone is bound to inadvertently get left out.
A common side effect to lack of planning? Re-gifting.
Come on. Don’t you have that drawer somewhere in your home? You know, that drawer accruing the myriad gift cards you’ve received for various birthdays and holidays? I do.
Whether it’s Barnes & Nobles, Toys r Us, or iTunes, I know there’s always something I can pull out of our “magic drawer” when I’m in a pinch. And, I’ve also got the gift cards to local restaurants too which makes the re-gifted gift seem oh so personal. And, who hasn’t received a bottle or two or three of red wine, only to store them away to collect dust in the closet.
But, re-gifters, beware. You could get busted!
My first experience with re-gifting wasn’t pretty. In fact, I was scarred for many years and it wasn’t even my fault…
My father always received gifts from his patients during holiday time. He’d always bring them home from the office and sort them out. His gift loot ranged from baked cakes (which we all shared) to wrapped boxes of candy that were immediately stored on “the shelf” in the kitchen closet.
One morning my father handed me a box wrapped in gold paper. He asked me to deliver it to the Head of School as a holiday gift from our family. Of course I obliged, and brought it to school with the intention of dropping it off in the office. However, just my luck, the headmaster happened to be around I was summoned to his desk to deliver our holiday gift. Rather than saying thank you and adding the gift to the large collection that had already accumulated on his couch, he chose to open it right-in-front-of-me.
I smiled a nervous smile as he carefully opened the gold paper.
“Oh,” he said, “how nice.”
The beautiful box of chocolates had a gorgeous custom message embossed on the top.
He read the message out loud, “Happy Holidays from the Goldberg Family.”
I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.
It was a beautiful message except, we’re weren’t the Goldberg Family, we were the Levin Family!
I was horrified. My father had re-gifted a present without even checking it out before handing it over to the next unsuspecting recipient! Thank god the head of school had a sense of humor and was friendly enough with my father to think it was funny. While that incident became the butt of many jokes between our two families over the next few years, I still suffered from lingering fears over potential re-gifting bloopers like Dad’s.
But, regardless, later in my crazed life, I too suffered from re-giftism:
One year I re-gifted what was apparently a very rare and expensive bottle of red wine. I don’t drink red wine so I had no clue. However, my friends knew more about the vintage than I had anticipated. They were overwhelmed by my “generosity,” and were dying to know where they could get more bottles of this fine wine. I was tongue-tied and had nothing to say. It was incredibly awkward.
Another year I took a Barnes & Nobles gift card that had been sitting in my daughter’s desk drawer for at least a year. (This seems terrible but, I promise, I had every intention of replacing it). I then gave it to her teacher who joyfully celebrates Christmas. I had no idea the card was a custom “Happy Hanukkah” card decorated with a beautiful menorah on front.
So, here are some helpful hints to follow if you’re in a jam, and you have no other option but to re-gift (because I learned the hard way):
Unwrap and inspect the gift thoroughly to make certain there’s no customization or personal messages branded on the gift.
Look for expiration dates. If a gift is perishable and has been sitting around for a while on your shelf, better check the date before you send it back out. No one wants to receive a fruit box from Harry & David that’s 18 months old.
Be careful with red wines. If they’re not stored correctly, and they’ve been sitting upright in your closet for years under books and sweaters, chances are, they’ve probably gone bad.
If you’re re-gifting for kids, make sure your look at the suggested age-range for the toy. If a kid is 10 and you’re re-gifting them a game appropriate for 4-6 year olds, something’s fishy and that’s sending the wrong message to the kid.
Be sensitive to your recipient’s interests. If you received a coffee table book about Planting and Growing Your Own Garden, and you re-gift it to someone who’s lives in a tiny city apartment, that’s a red flag, regardless of whether the photography is stunning.
And for god sakes, don’t re-gift to the person who gave the present to you!
Conclusion: most of the time, re-gifting is laden with risk.
If you have the opportunity, I’ve learned you’re probably better off making something homemade. It’s genuine, you’ll feel more at ease, and you’re efforts will be very appreciated.
Well, fess up. Have you ever stooped low and re-gifted?