Regifting: When it’s much better to give than receive

Lots of people do, though most won’t admit it. Some think the practice shameful, others resourceful. It’s basically recycling. You give a gift that keeps on giving, from one unappreciative recipient to another.

Perhaps you got a tacky sweater, a particularly distasteful tie or maybe a fruitcake that’s been in the family for generations.

Whatever it is, you don’t like it, and want to get rid of it. You have a brilliant thought. Put the bad present to good use. Rewrap it. Send it to someone else. Save money and time. It seems like a great idea, until someone gets caught.

And people do get caught.

“I was busted for regifting,” said Paul Dambrek, of East Greenwich, who gave a second copy of a book his son received as a gift to someone else’s son, not knowing of a hand-written note inside.

In the days before Christmas, dozens of brave readers told us about their experiences.

These are their stories. Some are inspirational, others confessional.

Laurie Dutra comes clean. For the first time, the Portsmouth woman publicly admits being a regifter and pleads for forgiveness from her Auntie Annie.

“She’ll finally know the truth and I can begin to make amends,” Dutra said.

Years ago, Auntie Annie gave Dutra an absolutely awful sweater for Christmas.

“It looked like something one of Bill Cosby’s sweaters coughed up,” Dutra said.

Dutra, of course, did not tell Auntie Annie that. Instead, she profusely thanked Auntie Annie for her bad taste. Then she promptly put the sweater in a closet and forgot about it for years. Then one year, just before Christmas, Dutra rediscovered it, still in its box, and decided to put it to use.

“Yes boys and girls, I had given the same aunt back the sweater she’d given me,” Dutra said.

Dutra, however, wasn’t aware of that at the time. She didn’t realize her blunder until she saw her aunt reunited with the sweater and had a posttraumatic Christmas flashback. But did Dutra confess?

No, she lied.

With a straight face, Dutra said to her Auntie Annie, “Years ago you had gotten me a sweater almost exactly like it and I remembered how much you loved it. So when I saw this in the store, I couldn’t believe it and I thought it would be so cool for you.”

Now, years later, burdened by guilt for her dishonesty, Dutra has decided to clear her conscience with an admission, which she calls “one huge step for me.”

In some families there are regifting rivalries. Mitch Mekedsy, of Warwick, and his brother Norm have been exchanging the same “God-awful tie” for years. One year Norm gives it to Mitch. The next year, Mitch gives it back. Sometimes the tie is framed as a piece of art. Other times it’s hidden as a treat in such things as a cookie jar or a donkey piƱata.

“The tie is now in my possession,” Mitch Mekedsy said shortly before Christmas. “But not for long. How or by what means it will be regifted will remain private until Christmas Eve.”

In some families, regifting rivalries last decades. In 1967, Sue Connell-Quetta, of Pascoag, inadvertently began a Christmas tradition with her brother, Jim Connell Jr., of Harrisville. Connell had received a soap-on-a-rope from their mother the year before but didn’t use it. She took it back. Then, Connell-Quetta got the soap from their mother and, thinking he wouldn’t remember, again gave it to Connell as a gift. The next year, Connell gave it back to his sister. Since then, it’s been exchanged dozens of times, been broken in half and had its rope chewed off by a dog. But the thoughtfulness of the gift still endures.

“In spite of its weathered appearance and present uselessness, it’s still the gift that means the most to both of us,” Connell-Quetta says.

A few years ago, Ethel Pappas, of Wakefield, received a box of handkerchiefs for Christmas. She rewrapped them and gave them to her mother-in-law, who gave them to her niece, who gave them to her cousin, who gave them back to Pappas: their rightful owner.

Some regifters are brazen, or perhaps just not that bright. Julia Prout, of Coventry, remembers a man who gave her grandmother stationary, with his monogram on it. Patricia Crowley, of Matunuck, recalls getting a regift from someone she’ll identify only as Mr. C. She unwrapped the box and inside discovered a bottle of cognac, and beneath that a card – for someone else.

“I took out my notepad and wrote: Dear Mr. C, Please thank Mr. Smith for the lovely bottle of Courvoisier.”

Sometimes regifting is retaliatory. For several years, Michele Gouin and her husband Marc, of Seekonk, exchanged a highly prized Chia Pet for Christmas.

For her mid-December birthday, Mary Selmanie Spurr, of Glocester, who hates musicals, received a gift from her husband Jerry that she presumed he meant for himself: two tickets to Miss Saigon.

“Oh joy, I thought to myself, war and singing dialogue,” Spurr said. “Somebody shoot me.”

For Christmas, Spurr regifted the Miss Saigon tickets to her husband.

Regifting doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, it can be quite beneficial. A few years ago the Ocean State Center for Independent Living, in Warwick, began a regifting silent auction, according to Carol McKenna, the office manager. Staff members get rid of gifts they don’t want, sparing themselves the temptation and possible humiliation of regifting. And a local charity gets the proceeds.

“Everyone wins,” McKenna said.

Louise Tillinghast was on to this concept 23 years ago. The Providence woman began a post-Christmas party for regifting, though back then the term hadn’t been coined yet. The idea was for guests to bring gifts they didn’t want and to leave with someone else’s, at least for a short time.

“Everything has to leave the house,” Tillinghast said. “I point out the trash cans by the outside door.”

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