Christmas gifts that keep on giving
By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor
|Passing unwanted presents remains an unspoken practice, yet many join the action.
Jon Orque The Honolulu Advertiser
The topic that dare not speak its name? Regifting.
The term was made famous in a "Seinfeld" segment. You could also call it gift recycling. That is, turning a gift that has been given to you into a gift for someone else by means of fresh wrapping paper and a well-worded gift card.
No one is comfortable talking about it, but everyone, apparently, has done it. This year, the slumping economy is expected to give the practice a big boost.
Fifty-three percent of consumers plan to regift this Christmas, according to the United Mileage Plus Visa Card Shopping Index. A survey conducted by online marketing company MyPoints.com found that the number of Americans who subscribe to the regifting philosophy has doubled since last year.
Just about everyone has a sheepish grin and a story about the pitfalls associated with this practice if you can just get them to open up.
Filmmaker Edgy Lee remembers receiving a gift from a friend that had a gift card hidden in the folds of the tissue. The card was addressed to the friend who had given her the gift.
"I was too embarrassed for her to tell her, but actually, the gift was definitely more appropriate for me than it was for her," she said. "The funny thing, though, is that I knew the original giver and I almost felt compelled to write that person a thank you note!"
Ui Goldsberry of La'ie admits she and her husband, Steve, once committed ane unpardonable regifting sin: They unintentionally gave a gift they had received back to the original giver. "She was so sweet. She called and said, 'Thank you. I gave one of these to someone for Christmas last year and I really wanted it for myself,' " Goldsberry recalled. "I thought, 'Oh, good, she doesn't remember. Thank God for senility!' "
Sheena Colon of Honolulu has felt the sting of the most unpardonable regifting faux pas: "A girlfriend once gave me a purse that I'd seen her carrying. She actually put it in a store box like it was new, but I knew she had used it and just gotten tired of it.
"I never felt the same about her after that. And I gave the purse to the Goodwill."
Davis Pacheco of Kailua, chowing down on a plate lunch in the food court at Ala Moana, was emphatic on the topic although quick to note that he had no experience with regifting whatsoever, no sir, not him: "This is the kind of thing that we talk one thing and we do another, and we just gotta start being honest about it," he said, firmly, jabbing a pair of chopsticks in the air for punctuation.
"Our society is so materialistic now, everything's all about what you got, what you gonna get, what you gave. ... So, most of us get too much, and if we want to spread the joy around with something that someone gave us, why not?
"Also, let's get real ... who can afford to buy all the presents they feel like they're supposed to buy?"
Remee Bolante, vice principal of the Lower School at Sacred Hearts Academy, is sympathetic to Pacheco's ideas, if not the heat with which he expressed them. She has noticed Hawai'i's gift-giving mania, which extends to virtually everyone. "When I talk to friends on the Mainland, they don't have as much expectation of gift exchanging as we do here, even in the workplace. You feel kind of obligated to give someone because they gave you or they might give you, even to the point of having to set some presents aside in case they give you and you don't have anything for them," she said. "I think it's the aloha spirit."
Or possibly the Japanese value of "on," which the Japanese Cultural Center's new book on values, "Kachikan," defines as a debt of gratitude, "being indebted to someone for their kindness, favor, care and help. It is a debt of gratitude that is lifelong."
Abby Fernandez of Kahului, Maui, said "on" has been adopted by all ethnicities here, becoming a "local" value.
"When somebody does something for you, that's it," she said. "You don't forget and your family doesn't forget. You give them something to say, 'I remember, I remember what you did for us.' "
Every Christmas, Fernandez still drives back to Upcountry Maui where her family used to live, to take a pie or cake to the family of a woman who helped care for her mother when her mother's health was failing. Both the elder women are dead, but, Fernandez said, "I go to see them to say, 'I remember your mother.' It's to honor my mother, too."
Would Fernandez ever recycle a gift that she'd been given? "Oh, I knew you were going to ask that!" the 60-year-old exclaimed. "OK, well, let's put it this way: I'm a widow. I live alone. At Christmas time, I get all this candy and other goodies an easy gift for an old lady, I guess. If I ate all that stuff, they'd need a forklift to get me out of the house. So, yes, I do sometimes pass it on. But unopened! Still in the wrapping!"
This appears to be the essential element of gracious regifting: that we regift only those items that are new, unused, in the original box. For food, unopened. (No fair peeling off the cellophane, inspecting the candy and then passing it along because it has got nuts!)
Even the stuffy Emily Post Institute bends to allow that regifting is acceptable if the gift is new and in its from-the-giver box, and if it's not something handmade for you. Tutu makes you a red plaid mu'umu'u that makes your 'okole resemble a pickup bed? Too bad, you wear 'em at least once, you smile, you put 'em in the back of the closet and you give 'em to the Goodwill later, once you're sure she's not going to ask why you nevah wear 'em anymore.
But if it's something you think someone else will like more than you do, or needs more than you do?
Fine, said Bolante, who believes the guiding rule should be that the item is something you might have bought for the person anyway. "It should not be given just to get rid of it; it should be a thoughtful gift," she said.
"Why not?" asks relationships counselor Gary Francell of Honolulu. "Why go out and buy something new, if somebody else could use it. I don't think it's so much that we're going, 'Oooh, this is tacky, let's give to somebody else.' But if it's something we think somebody could use, we pass it on."
Nice thought, Gary, but there's plenty of evidence that "Ooh, this is tacky" is precisely the reason for a lot of regifting.
Maunie Tagawa and Koko Fujimoto, twentysomethings we encountered on Ala Moana's trendy third level, have no compunction about regifting "dumb stuff."
Tagawa, 25, has given away perfume, a scarf, a bracelet all gifts, she said, "from people who should know me better. I figure, if not much thought went into that gift, I'm not going to give much thought to moving it on."
Fujimoto, 29, a longtime clothing sales clerk who rose to buyer at a Mainland department store before moving back to Hawai'i, said she used to get lots of gifts in the course of her work samples from manufacturers, little things acquired at trade shows and she made gifts of these whenever she could. "If my little niece is going to think that T-shirt is cool, and I wouldn't be caught dead in it, what's the problem?"
At the Birkenstock end of the food chain are folks who believe regifting should be a socially acceptable alternative to excess. "We all do it when we have children we give away their clothes, their toys, as they get older. Why not the same with other things: Things that are nice but that you don't need?" asks Tina Shaw of Pa'ia, Maui. "I don't even think it has to be new, if it's in good condition. It ought to be OK to be honest and say, 'I've had this for a while, and I thought you'd like it.' "
Olivia Barker of USA Today contributed to this report.
Under certain situations, regifting is quite acceptable.
Among hobbits: In Hobbiton, regifting was so much a part of society that the gifts had a formal name: mathom. A mathom was something nice that you weren't using at the moment. Because hobbits are expected to give presents on their birthdays, in any given week, pretty much everybody in Hobbiton would receive a gift so a great deal of latitude had to be allowed in gift-giving practices. Certain mathoms became beloved within families, and everyone looked forward to getting them.
Family fun: A number of large families draw names for gift-giving each year, to minimize the gift burden on everyone, and it's pretty common for a trick gift to be part of that mix. The Gil Smiths of Honolulu draw names and give gifts anonymously, one of which is always a truly hideous tie, which they go to elaborate lengths to disguise. Michelle Calabro Hubbard of Honolulu recalls that, for years, her family in California passed around a framed picture of her dad and his dog, Oscar. "For some reason, we all thought it was funny. Dad looked goofy and the dog was not the most photogenic of animals," she said. Whoever got the picture would become the butt of the annual joke. Now that Oscar is gone and her parents are aging, however, Hubbard treasures the snapshot and won't pass it on.
Regifting parties: Post-Christmas regifting parties are a trend nationwide. Artist Pegge Chun each year holds a women-only party in January at her Nu'uanu home at which regifting is the order of day. Everyone brings the tackiest gift they got that year (or something they've picked up on purpose competition has reared its ugly head of late). They eat, drink and make merry until Chun calls time to open gifts, at which point, she said, "it's four or five hours of women laughing their heads off." (Men can come, too, but they've got to be in full drag.) The gifts, Chun said, are along the lines of opihi shell lamps, a plaster of Paris Venus covered in gilt paint and, one year, a basket of artificial bosoms made from socks (this one appears annually). "Just look at the top shelf at Savers and you'll know the kind of thing we're talking about," she said.