Manners & Misdemeanors

The Rules of Re-Gifting

Pulling off a tricky task of passing along a present.
IMAGE Louie Aguinaldo

Re-gifting is a topic we all skirt around throughout the year, but it becomes an even more conscious concern during the holiday season. It definitely has its pros—as well as its cons. But at the end of the day, to re-gift or to not re-gift often boils down to one’s personal comfort level. So if you’re uncomfortable or even offended by the thought of re-gifting, read no further. But if you have no issues with the practice and can cite a myriad of reasons as to why it’s acceptable, do know that there is a better way of doing things—whether your reasons are practical, environmental, or even sentimental.

Always keep track.
Never make the mistake of re-gifting a present to its original giver. A friend once experienced how embarrassing this predicament can be—and her only consolation was that she was on the receiving end. “My cousin was so excited for me to open my birthday present, and pestered me to rip up its wrapper right in front of her,” she shares. “When I finally lifted it out of the box, I froze. She had re-gifted me with a cuff I had given her for Christmas the year before. She suddenly realized her faux pas and snatched up the cuff saying that she had wrapped the wrong present. But the awkward silence that followed proved that the damage had been done.” The solution? Keep tabs on who has given you what.

Be thorough.
By this, we mean always check the condition of the item you are re-gifting. Another friend remembers opening up a present for her one-year-old son, Miguel, only to find it personalized with the name “Patrick.” “To make matters worse,” she confides, “the personalized gift had a tear in it. It looked like my guest didn’t even bother to check what she was re-gifting.” So even if you’re in a rush, make it a point to inject some form of quality control into your re-gifting process so that your presents are appropriate and in good condition.


"She suddenly realized her faux pas and snatched up the cuff saying that she had wrapped the wrong present. But the awkward silence that followed proved that the damage had been done."

Be thoughtful.
Part of the reason why re-gifting gets such as bad rap (no pun intended) is because people re-gift presents that are of no use or value to the new recipient. There is a joke that there are only a dozen fruitcakes in the whole city, and they circulate every Christmas. And while we in no way wish to offend fruitcakes, fruitcake lovers, or fruitcake givers, this anecdote illustrates how re-gifting can many times be too impersonal a process. As such, when picking out what to re-gift, be as thoughtful as you would if you were purchasing something in a shop. Make sure that your recipient will appreciate what you are giving him or her. Otherwise, it may just end up back in the re-gifting bin. Take note: This rule also applies when donating to charity. Matching specific goods to the causes that need them will be much more appreciated in the long run.

Pay attention to your presentation.
As with all presents, first impressions count. And artfully wrapping a gift will make its recipient feel more special when they receive it. That being said, you should never wrap a gift in the box or wrapper from a shop the gift was not purchased in the first place. One exception might be if you chose to do what a friend does. “I really want to help save the environment,” she says. “So I ‘wrap’ all my Christmas presents in the paper shopping bags I accumulate during the year.  But I always tell my family and friends to ignore the labels because the bags have nothing to do with the presents inside them. But just to be clear, my presents are always brand new. It’s just the wrapper that’s recycled.”


Be honest.
It is perfectly acceptable to be forthcoming about the status of your present. In fact, at times it may even be the better course of action. A colleague once gifted me with a scarf her mother had given her. “I know you love wearing them,” she said, “and I have one exactly like this.” I have also done the same, especially with clothing that is in the wrong size, or an expensive item I have no use for. But I am always upfront about the present’s origins, and I also only re-gift these items to someone who would be more than happy to receive them.

Be sentimental.
Re-gifting an old book that you found meaningful or a special piece of jewelry you loved wearing to someone you feel would appreciate it actually makes a present more special. I personally love reading the original dedications that are written on the opening flaps of pre-loved books as they make me feel that the present comes to me with a sense of history. One friend gave another a charm bracelet that she had culled together over several years. “She told me the charms all symbolized important occasions in her life, and that some of them were given to her by her loved ones. But for some reason, she felt the urge to pass it on to me. I felt so touched by the gesture. I knew that she was gifting me with something that was very meaningful.”

Hold a White Elephant party.
The term White Elephant traces its origins to the royal courts of Siam, where the offering of an albino elephant was considered as an extravagant and burdensome gift. Today, a White Elephant party is one where guests are specifically asked to bring presents they received but found no use for—so that they can be swapped in a series of games. The logic behind this practice is that something that is of no value to you may be valuable someone else. The games should always take place in the spirit of good fun, and the gifts presented should always be in good—if not brand new—condition. Besides, you wouldn’t want to be the one who brings an item that is the dud of the evening.


Instate a No Gifts policy.
If you feel the whole gift-giving cycle has gotten out of hand, it makes sense to nip it in the bud. Several of my friends have requested that we stop exchanging Christmas presents, preferring to instead put our focus on gathering together—emphasizing the importance of one another’s presence over presents.

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