“There is only one fruitcake in the entire world and people keep passing it around.” Ah, Johnny Carson’s ole’ traveling fruitcake story. So ancient and apocryphal it took significant googling to uncover its origins.
It’s a perfect example of the holiday season’s most notorious social faux pas: regifting.
Many consider regifting tacky and thoughtless: the worst version of “being cheap.” If you regift, it means a) you were too lazy to go out and buy a new gift for someone, b) you didn’t actually appreciate the gift in the first place, and c) you care so little about the giftee that you won’t even spend a little money on a personalized gift for them.
I’m here to propose a new way of looking at the practice of regifting. In fact, I think it can be an economical, creative, waste-free, and considerate way of bestowing presents upon your loved ones.
Yes, I am of course an uncouth and cold-hearted shrew. But I’m also an uncouth and cold-hearted shrew with a damn good point… and a damn fat wallet.
On compulsory gift-giving
The culture of compulsory gift-giving is bullshit. For the sake of social niceties we are expected—nay, required!—to give gifts on certain days of the year.
We’re supposed to just accept useless, unwanted, or impersonal gifts graciously and keep them around to remind us of how rude and ungrateful we’d be to throw them away. Many consider it poor form to take unwanted gifts to Goodwill, or—gasp!—give them to someone else who might appreciate them more.
So the vicious cycle of giving and receiving gifts regardless of their purpose, relevance, or cost, is perpetuated. I argue that this compulsory gift-giving actually makes the practice less thoughtful than if it were spontaneous, or out of personal gratitude or recognition.
It’s a haphazardly awkward ritual, in which the occasion—a holiday, wedding, or birthday—demands the exchange of material goods despite the impracticality or thoughtlessness of this exchange. This exchange takes on a ritual importance wholly outside of the feeling that’s supposed to be driving it.
Certain of my relatives have a terrible habit of buying us useless crap for Christmas so we “have something to open.” Which is maddening. You know what I enjoy more than opening gifts? The knowledge that my in-laws have a healthy retirement account. Not to mention my house being clutter-free! “So we have something to open.” THE WELL-INTENTIONED AND KIND-HEARTED NERVE!
So it’s not that exchanging gifts is inherently impractical. It’s that it sometimes can be.
The financial impracticality of gift giving
More than half of Americans will go into debt to buy Christmas gifts every year. 61% of them will pay the credit card off within three months, while 16% will take six months or longer.
It only gets grimmer from there. 11% of parents will dip into their retirement accounts. 14% will use their emergency funds. And 11% will take out a payday loan to buy Christmas gifts for their kids.
These families can’t afford to be lavishing the expensive toy-of-the-minute on their kids. Yet they’re concerned that if they don’t, their children will feel left out and sad. Parents concerned with their children’s emotional well-being feel there’s no choice, I guess.
And this makes me intensely sad. When I got married, my great aunt bought us a cut-glass candy bowl. It was delivered directly to our house, with the invoice in the packaging. So I could see that it cost about $25… and she paid for it on layaway.
I felt fucking horrible. Instead of sending a card or calling to congratulate us, an elderly family member living on Social Security had purchased me a gift she literally could not afford. I considered returning it, but worried that would humiliate her. I don’t even particularly like the candy dish, but you’d best believe I use that fucking thing as often as possible.
No one should feel compelled to give a gift, especially when it isn’t financially feasible. That way lies money wasted on useless clutter you can’t afford and they don’t want. So what’s to be done?
The honor and glory of regifting
If I’m going to be forced into perpetuating the compulsory gift-giving cycle, I might as well do it in the most economical way possible. And that includes regifting when appropriate.
Here’s the principle behind guilt-free regifting: if I don’t want or need it, someone else might.
So by regifting, I’m decreasing waste and clutter. Also, I’m saving money by not buying a redundant gift when there’s a perfectly good one still packaged. Also also, I’m being purposeful in my gift giving.
Why should I feel guilty for passing on those earmuffs my aunt bought from her coworker’s kid’s school fundraiser? I know for a fact I’ll never wear them, but my fashion-forward and goofy friend will think they’re the bee’s knees!
Practical steps for regifting
This is why I literally keep a box in my basement filled with unwanted, unnecessary gifts and random shit that I’m saving for future regifting opportunities. Empirical evidence of perfect regifting opportunities:
- My husband’s uncle gave us a shower radio that only plays Sirius FM satellite radio. We don’t feel like paying the annual Sirius membership fee, so it’s basically useless. But my dad has a Sirius account and he loves ridiculous gadgets meant to make life easier! REGIFTED.
- My cousin loves scouring vintage shops for cool pieces. That’s where she found a pair of elegant leather driving gloves that neither fit my outdoorsy lifestyle nor my Lana Kane hands. But my tiny little grandmother lives in the South. She always complains of having cold hands when she visits my parents at Christmas time. REGIFTED!
- One of my friends was dating a rich girl who wanted to buy my love and approval with inane gifts. The relationship didn’t work out (try to contain your shock). I was left with several knickknacks, notably an awesome, girly hip flask. I already own two hip flasks (don’t judge), but my friend who loves whiskey owns zero and her birthday was coming up. REGIFTED.
Cold and calculating? Not a bit! I consider thoughtful regifting to be a great way to find the perfect home for an object. The giftees never ask nor seem to give a shit about the provenance of a regifted present. And I feel smug and thrifty about passing along something that was clearly meant for them in the first place.
Sometimes I hold onto an unwanted gift for months before I think of someone who will appreciate its worth. Cheap and trashy? Only if you buy into the belief that there is a gentile etiquette to gift giving, wherein the transfer of goods matters more than the thought behind the gift.
And if you ever feel guilty, remember your scripture! When the Three Wise Men came to Bethlehem, following a star that would lead them to the newborn King of the Jews, they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. “Wow, myrrh!” Mary exclaimed, “Babies just love fragrant gum resin! Thank you so much!” Then after the wise men left, she discreetly exchanged it for a Diaper Genie. Because Saint Anne didn’t raise no fool. It’s in Matthew, look it up.
So spread your regifting wings and fly, you glorious killer bees! Choose the best method for being practical, cost effective, and creative each and every time you give a gift. Even if it means you don’t spend money on something brand new.
I guarantee someone will appreciate that flamingo-shaped wine decanter Zio Giovanni got you last year.
Share your regifting wins in the comments!