Shoppers cross Fifth Avenue in New York City
Jeff Christensen  /  Reuters
A couple crosses New York's Fifth Avenue with shopping bags Nov. 28. 
By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/6/2004 4:42:56 PM ET 2004-12-06T21:42:56

Never more than in December are we reminded that there is joy in giving. And never more than in December are we alsoreminded that some people’s gift-giving skills, are, well, in need of some practice. And so, inevitably, most of us this year will receive at least one gift that is a total dud.

“Every gift is a gift. And in that sense it should inspire gratitude in our hearts. But not everything that we receive has a special little niche in our lives” explained John Bridges, author of “How to Be a Gentleman,” and “As a Gentleman Would Say: Responses to Life's Important (And Sometimes Awkward) Situations.”

So what becomes of an unwanted gift? Chances are, you’re among the millions who take it and give it to someone else, under the guise that you’ve picked it out just for them.

It’s called "re-gifting," and according to a 2003 American Express Retail Index survey, one-third of holiday shoppers end up doing it. Just how many of those people will admit to it publicly? That remains in question.

Why does re-gifting come with such a stigma? Because its very nature is secretive. To tell a person who has given you something that you plan to give it away is undeniably rude.

“You don’t open a present and say, ‘Oh, Aunt Ethel is just going to love this!’”explained Bridges. Subsequently, most people aren’t exactly eager to inform the next recipient that the gift they are receiving is making just another stop along the evolutionary chain of unwanted gifts.

So is re-gifting the equivalent of unloading?    

“It can be seen as that,” said Bridges. “So I think it is wise to not let it be known that a gift ‘is what Sarah gave me and I thought you’d like it....’ One would hope that one is not simply hoping to unload.”

Yet etiquette masters like Bridges often agree that to re-gift is not an inherently bad thing, when done properly.

“It’s a perfectly OK thing to do,” said Bridges. “Not everything that you receive is something you truly have a use for, or really fits your style. But it may be someone else’s.”

Tips on re-gifting
If you do plan on partaking in a little holiday recycling, Bridges offered these “Rules of Re-gifting”:

  • KEEP TRACK! If giving a gift back to the giver sounds like the worst possible scenario — that’s because it is. Having a box with gifts and Post-It notes tracing where it came from can come in handy. “It’s like tracing back the genealogy on the gift.” Bridges said.

Still, such a gaffe is unlikely to occur.

“If the gift is something that screams ‘give me away’ or ‘pass me along,’ you’re probably going to remember who gave it to you. Because you’ll remember that moment you opened it.”

  • SAVE IT FOR LATER.  Don’t feel compelled to re-gift immediately. Hanging on to the item reduces your chances of being exposed.

    “There is somewhat of a statute of limitations — if you wait long enough, you’re probably safer to re-gift.”

  • EVIDENCE-TAMPERING.  Give your gifts a thorough physical examination. 

“Look for distinguishing marks — tags, etc., and remove them. Try not to be slow enough to have left a card in it that says  ‘Merry Christmas from Louise.”

Check for engravings. Anything engraved is out of the re-gifting pool.

  • A BAD WRAP.  Hide any indication that the gift you’re giving has seen its share of wrapping paper.

    “You would at least put it in a fresh box with new paper so there is no old tape. The idea is that they don’t find out it has been re-gifted. Fresh tissue paper is a good idea — and that’s not only to make the scam work, it’s also because you want it to look nice when you give it to the next person.”

  • CROSS STATE LINES. If a ‘re-gifting bust’ is your worst nightmare, cross state lines.

    “It’s only safe to re-gift across at least one state border. That way you can be pretty much confident that the original giver of the gift will not find out. If the gift comes from a nationwide chain, then you’re safe.”

  • DON’T RE-GIFT IN PANIC! Don’t search your house for something to give just because someone gave you a present.          

    “Just because someone gave you something doesn’t mean you have to feel guilt from not giving something to them. ‘I thought you would need this roll of toilet paper, I just didn’t get a chance to wrap it!’ is a desperate move. They are going to catch on that you didn’t plan to give them something.”

  • OBEY THE LAWS OF RE-GIFTING KARMA. Ultimately, realize that some gifts just aren’t worthy of re-gifting. And remember: What goes around, comes around.
    “Don’t re-gift fruitcakes,” insisted Bridges. “If you don’t want a fruitcake, it can go down the garbage chute. I assure you, it is not an unkind or ungrateful thing to do…. If it keeps getting passed along, eventually it may get back to you. It’s a great cycle of karma.”

Brian Balthazar is a producer for NBC'S “Weekend Today.”


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