Better the Second Time

The intricate and tactful art of regifting.

Admit it. Every holiday season you vow that this year, Martha Stewart's got nothin' on you: You'll bake a fruitcake no one will dare "cough" into a napkin; you'll make your own wrapping paper from lint, grass clippings, and nose hairs carefully preserved in extra-extra-sacrificial-virgin olive oil; and, most importantly, you'll start shopping in February in your quest to find the ber-gift—that jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, sin-redeeming present, godlike in its perfection—the one that will finally prove to your mother that it is YOU, not your SPOILED BRAT OF A SISTER, who deserves her exclusive love and attention.

Despite your best intentions, though, every year you crack under the pressure like a metalhead at a John Tesh concert. By the middle of December, you're pale as a programmer, babbling like a Teletubby, and exhibiting all the side effects of a TV-advertised pharmaceutical. But never fear. Miss Ill-Mannered is here to tell you how to stop the madness.

Make this year the laziest Christmas ever. Don't just gift—regift. For those of you who've been in some sort of suspended-animation pod for the last 10 years, regifting is the art of passing on as new a gift you originally received yourself. It's like eating raw cookie dough or popping zits—we all do it; we all pretend we don't. As usual, it took TV to break the silence: In a classic Seinfeld episode, Elaine was regifted with a label maker and Jerry's Super Bowl tickets were regifted throughout an entire show. Of course, Seinfeld's message was that regifting is bad . . . but then again, who looks to Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer for moral guidance?

Think of regifting as a way to preserve Mother Earth . . . and your own holiday cheer. By recycling the Xmas Gnome centerpiece Great-Aunt Flo gave you last year (complete with imitation holly, particle-board base, and votive candles scented with REAL figgy pudding!), you not only get the satisfaction of crossing a name off your shopping list, you also save the rats at the landfill from a potential fire hazard (and gnome-induced psychological impairment). All this political correctness without even leaving your house!

Regifting breaks the chains of the global capitalist conspiracy . . . liberates the energy of the gift economy so that it may flow unfettered, like a beautiful river . . . releases you from the aesthetic bummer of ugly stuff . . . and gives you psychic energy (not to mention way more storage space). Best of all, regifting frees up more time in your day . . . so you can surf the Web and register at one of those "wish list" sites, thereby guaranteeing that you won't get any junk this holiday season.

But before you start unloading—um, I mean regifting—all those decorative tea towels, squirrel nut dishes, seashell lamps, and unicorn-shaped guest soaps, there are some guidelines you ought to keep in mind.

Make a list and check it twice: As the Della Weddings Web site wisely notes, " . . . you probably wouldn't enjoy it if a person found out you regifted their wedding present as a birthday present." A handy way to make sure they don't find out is to create an Excel spreadsheet: Color-coding gifters and regiftees can help you avoid ticklish situations with folks who Just Don't Understand. Be sure to cross-check friends, lovers, relatives, and any other potential regifting tattletales.

One person's junk is another person's treasure: Regifting means you can afford to give the very best. Once you pry the Lenox Christmas carousel horse that Cousin Wayne gave you in 1997 off your end table and dust it, it becomes a regift suitable for your boss or anyone else who needs to think you've spent $165 on them! Getting married virtually guarantees a wealth of regifting items for years to come: Punch bowls, fish platters, candy dishes, and the like say "I ran up my Bon account for you" to any recipient. Just remember to remove the original card—you'd hate to answer to the nickname "Aunt Betty" for the rest of your days.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow: While Miss Ill-Mannered prefers the term "illusion" to "snow job," she knows that preserving an aura of authenticity is the most important part of regifting. Scraps of birthday gift wrap, for example, must be scraped off that box of Jean Nat頳hower gel or your cover will be blown at the office Christmas party. Some regifts may need to be aired out for a few days to get rid of a musty attic smell. In order to satisfy bratty sisters, war stories of "fighting the holiday crowds" and "my achin' dogs" may need to be concocted.

In next week's column, Miss Ill-Mannered will discuss the topic "How to Tell If You've Been Regifted."

Diane Sepanski is a freelance writer and editor in Seattle.

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