Want to avoid the stress of zigzagging through crowded shopping malls to buy last minute holiday presents? Just grab a present you received yourself and do what’s becoming increasingly popular: re-gift.

Re-gifting is wrapping up a gift you received but don’t want or need and giving it to someone else. The giver usually pretends the re-gifted item has been purchased especially for the recipient. Because of that, re-gifted items can’t be old or damaged.

Proponents of re-gifting say it saves money, keeps junk out of landfills and may reposition an otherwise unwanted item into the hands of someone who will appreciate it.

My neighbor Wendy Wyckoff says, “Re-gifting is practical. When someone who doesn’t drink alcohol is given an expensive bottle of wine, it makes sense to re-gift it.”

But no matter what the circumstances, others are staunchly opposed to re-gifting. State Rep. Mark Takai, who is running for Congress, says he keeps every gift he has received, even a closet full of aloha shirts from relatives — shirts he never wears. “Maybe I am more of a packrat,” says Takai, “but I think re-gifting is inappropriate.“

Before we ended our phone conversation, Takai told me, laughing, “The gift you send me will not be re-gifted.”

Stand-up paddler Jean Bart is another critic of re-gifting. Bart says “I think it is wrong to give away a gift a friend has carefully selected for me.”

Wikipedia says the term “re-gifting” was popularized by the NBC sitcom Seinfield in an episode called “The Label Maker.” Elaine calls Dr. Timothy Whatley a “re-gifter” after he gives Jerry Seinfield a label maker originally given to Whatley by Elaine.

There are some important rules to remember about re-gifting to avoid embarrassment or hurting someone’s feelings. Tri-athlete KC Carlberg, who leads an exercise boot camp I attend, says “a key rule is don’t re-gift unless you are certain the original giver won’t find out.”

Carlberg’s mother, who lives in California, sent her a large palette of different eye shadows. Carlberg, a natural, sporty woman, who rarely wears even lipstick, re-gifted the eye shadow to a makeup-loving friend and of course never told her friend the eye shadow was given to Carlberg by her mother.

That’s a key consideration. Don’t just re-gift any old present you dislike to a friend. Make sure it is something they will like. Otherwise you are just being lazy and cheap.

Another rule is to make sure the holiday paper you use to wrap your re-gift is new, not the original wrapping the gift came in. Only so much recycling is allowed with re-gifting. And make sure the original card attached to the gift the first time around has been removed.

My childhood friend, Pam Wilcox Dohrman, was embarrassed when she left a card sent with a gift from a friend in Idaho saying “Merry Christmas, dear Pam” inside a bag containing homemade plum jam Pam re-gifted to her sister in law, Carol Pratt. After she saw the personal note to Pam, Carol said, “busted!”

An obvious rule is don’t re-gift to the person who gave you the gift. But there can be exceptions to that rule. I broke it myself. Many years ago my friend, Thomas D. “Brother” King, sent me a beautiful music box from Kauai for Christmas. The next Christmas a package arrived from Kauai from him, which I eagerly opened to find another music box identical to the one “Brother” gave me the year before. I wrote him a note saying, “Thank you for the music box. I liked it the first time around. And I liked it even better the second time around.” Then, I wrapped one of the music boxes in brightly colored Christmas paper and re-gifted it to him the next Christmas. We still laugh about it and I am pretty certain one day in the future the well-traveled music box will be re-gifted back to me.

The rule should be changed to say don’t re-gift to the person who originally gave you the gift unless you are transparent about it.

Hawaii News Now investigative reporter Keoki Kerr is loud and clear about re-gifting. Every January, Keoki invites friends to a special re-gifting party with instructions to bring any Christmas present they want to ditch.

Keoki says the idea started because he wanted to discourage friends from buying him presents for his Jan. 10 birthday. “Since my birthday is conveniently located right after Christmas, I thought why not have a re-gifting party that has resulted in some hilarious moments.”

Guests at Keoki’s party draw numbers to pick a gift from the pile of festively wrapped unwanted gifts the guests have brought, The person who draws No. 1 gets first choice, but then guests with higher numbers can “steal” the gift from anyone who has drawn before them. The person whose gift was “stolen” gets to pick another gift from the pile.

“We have some tacky items that people keep re-wrapping and bringing back year after year. Remember that sometimes the lamest items are beautifully wrapped, tricking the party guest who is hoping for something nice,” said Keoki.

Keoki says one of the most ridiculous gifts that generated spirited competition to win was a President Obama chia pet.

Honolulu magazine editor Robbie Dingeman, a regular guest at Keoki’s party, says, “Our re-gifting rituals have come to include the bizarre, ridiculous and loathsome to the lovely gift that isn’t needed by the recipient. One year we got a juicer that retails for nearly $100 at Costco because one of the guests had upgraded to a Vitamix blender and didn’t need the juicer any more.” Robbie also mentions guests repurposing gift baskets of rich, high-calorie food as they embark on New Year’s diets.

Robbie says she eases her guilt over bringing something atrociously tacky by slipping in a consolation prize. She says an example would be the re-gift of a funky, big-eyed kitten plate “with a bar of Godiva white chocolate to ease the pain.”

But for other guests the more outlandishly tacky the better. Last year, Kaneohe jewelry designer Alan Lemieux carefully wrapped and contributed to the re-gifting pile a remote-controlled fart machine he had ordered from Amazon.

You could hide the small speaker anywhere and then press the remote button to make something like 10 different fart sounds for hours of flatulent fun.

The person who drew the fart machine from the re-gifting pile had to fight off all the young boys at the party competing to get it for themselves.


Discussion: What is the weirdest gift you have received that you are certain is a re-gift?

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