Regifting unwanted presents may be great for the environment, but it’s terrible for relationships.
When I was a young newlywed experiencing my first Christmas season as a married woman, I dutifully took my beleaguered credit card to the local department stores to procure presents for each of my husband’s family members. Aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, step-siblings, parents, and step-parents, and all the accompanying grandparents and grandparental figures were each to receive his or her own special gift.
Shopping was fun for around five minutes.
It quickly became overwhelming as my carriage filled with cheeseboards, cheese plates, cheese knives, cured sausage, scented soaps, wicker baskets, and potpourri.
I could barely pay my rent. Now, I would have the added experience of paying off a bloating credit card bill with its insidious compounding interest all to please a host of people who probably wouldn’t even appreciate my gifts. Christmas was getting old fast, and it wasn’t even here yet.
There was one bright and shining spot in my dismal souring mood. I found the perfect Christmas present for my mother-in-law. The woman absolutely loved cardinals. To my delight, there was a delicate porcelain Christmas ornament at the last store I visited, and a brilliant red cardinal was painted right there on the front. It was everything I’d never hoped to imagine, and it was on clearance.
This store, the last one of my shopping trip, was going out of business. Everything was priced to move, including the perfect porcelain cardinal-emblazoned Christmas ornament for my mother-in-law.
In addition to its whimsical painted cardinal and crimson fabric bow, the ornament featured a hollow body and a circular slot into which one could drop pine-scented pellets. The pellets were included. I hastened my treasure into my shopping cart and headed for the cash register at the front of the store, satisfied that I had done an amazing job choosing something my husband’s mother would adore.
Christmas Day came and went, and it was a success.
I was in more debt than I’d ever seen in my life, and I’d distributed cheeseboards, cheese plates, cheese knives, cured sausage, scented soaps, wicker baskets, and potpourri to every member of my husband’s family while receiving very little in return beyond the stress of wondering how I was going to pay my bills.
Most of all, I was able to give my mother-in-law the single present of which I was most proud. With anticipation and glee, I watched her tear into the wrapping paper surrounding that delicate porcelain Christmas ornament with the brilliant red cardinal painted right there on the front. I could tell it was a success from the expression on her face.
My mother-in-law held up the plastic-and-cardboard packaging containing the ornament with its accompaniment of pine-scented pellets for all the family to see, and she thanked me profusely for my thoughtfulness at remembering her fondness for cardinals. She loved it.
I didn’t even notice when she failed to take the ornament out of its package.
On a Christmas morning several years later, my mother-in-law handed me a wrapped present that didn’t look familiar at all until I opened it. I tore the brightly-colored wrapping paper off the small object with excitement and gasped. There beneath the ribbons and bows lay an old unwelcome friend.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It was the same porcelain cardinal-emblazoned Christmas ornament I’d bought for my mother-in-law years earlier. In one corner of its yet unopened packaging remained the price tag sticker, with the price removed, from my long-ago shopping trip to a store that had closed shortly after my purchase.
There was no mistaking it. My mother-in-law had just regifted me the very gift I’d gifted her. It wasn’t a coincidence or a duplicate. The name of the store was the proof of the pudding, the smoking gun; my mother-in-law obviously hated me. Why else would she do such an egregious thing?
I had the sense not to say anything in the heat of the moment. There was no reason to ruin everyone else’s good time. This was between me and my husband. I couldn’t wait to tell him exactly what type of woman had raised him.
She was a regifter, and a lousy one to boot.
What kind of person regifts a gift to the same person who gifted it? My mother-in-law. That’s who.
At my first available opportunity, I showed the offending Christmas ornament to my husband and told him the story. “Look. Your mother gave me the same gift I gave her,” I exclaimed. I thrust the evidence into his hand. “See.”
“What?” A look of genuine irritation furrowed his brow. It was never a good sign when his brow furrowed.
“I gave that same ornament to your mother years ago,” I hissed, “and she just gave it back to me today. It’s the same one.”
He shrugged. “So what? That just means she liked it. That’s why she got you one, too.”
“She didn’t get me one, too,” I insisted. “This is the same exact one I gave her. Look at the price tag.” I pointed out the fading store name on the fluorescent pink sticker. “That store hasn’t been open in years. I bought this at their going-out-of-business sale. She couldn’t have found another one. The store is closed. Closed!”
My husband was unmoved by the evidence. He actually had the nerve to grow angry at my accusation that his mother would do such a thing.
She would never, he claimed. I must be mistaken.
I actually had the nerve to insist the truth was true, and I didn’t give up until he completely lost his temper. Then I hung it on our Christmas tree every holiday season until our divorce as a reminder of everything that was terrible about married life, especially around the holidays.
It really was the perfect ornament, and those pine-scented pellets inserted through the small round hole into its hollow core kept their festive aroma for years.