Repeat After Me

Greg Dawson pleads guilty to regifting and is sentenced to tell us all about it.

As you make a list of friends and family to be remembered during the holidays, keep in mind these words of wisdom:

’Tis better to regift than to receive—but be careful.

Some years ago, I gave a talk to a book club. In appreciation, the club presented me with a beautiful pen in a wooden case. It was so nice I put it away in pristine condition, never used, as a keepsake.

Fast-forward two Christmases. Only a few shopping/mailing days left. We have two gifts for our daughter, Aimee, but need one more for her husband, Marc Kelly. Suddenly, I remember the pen: the perfect gift for a business consultant with impeccable taste!

 In my rush to the post office I do not remove the pen and examine it. If I had, I would have noticed the name engraved on the woodgrain: Greg Dawson.

I’m told we had a good laugh on the phone Christmas Day over my epic regifting faux pas. All I remember is the blood rushing to my head. Overall, I do not recommend the experience, so beware when regifting.

Don’t be the guy who gives his son-in-law an opened four-pack of underpants with only three pairs in it.

Or the boyfriend who finds a box of chocolate-covered cherries in his pantry and presents them to his girlfriend, who gave him the candy at Christmas the year before.

Or the couple who regifts a glass candy dish six years after their wedding and leaves a dated receipt in the box.

Hundreds more regifting blunders can be found on, a forum for exploring the growing phenomenon of passing off stuff you don’t want to others as brand-new.

No doubt we have been regifting since a Neanderthal tried to unload five never-used hunting spears he had received as wedding gifts from guys in nearby caves. But like so much else in civilization as we know it, regifting did not gain cachet and momentum until it was a topic on the TV show Seinfeld. In a 1995 episode, Jerry receives a label maker from a dentist friend in appreciation for Super Bowl tickets he couldn’t use. The label maker looks familiar to Elaine—because she gave it to the dentist in thanks for free dental care. 

Outraged, Elaine confronts the dentist. “I knew it! You’re a regifter!”

Since being mainstreamed by Seinfeld, the massive repurposing of presents in America has gone from an open secret to one of our most widely shared and discussed don’t-ask-don’t-tell social behaviors.

We now have National Regifting Day the Thursday before Christmas—because studies show that’s when many holiday office parties are held. Another study found that 40 percent of office Christmas gifts are regifted.

If a national day for regifting prompts an eye roll, consider there’s also National Paper Airplane Day and National Tap Dance Day, and way more people regift than tap dance or make paper airplanes.

 An American Express survey found 32 percent of Americans regift, and those are just the ones who admit it. The actual number must be higher judging by surveys showing 82 percent think regifting is OK—and 50 percent suspect they’ve been regifted.

Regifting has been declared permissible by etiquette mavens Emily Post and Miss Manners (“provided you don’t get caught”). Make sure to destroy the evidence, such as beat-up gift boxes, crumpled tissue paper, ancient store receipts, and to-and-from cards to strangers.

It’s not just physical evidence that can brutally expose the regifter.

“You have to make sure it’s not going to the same circle it came from,” says Dannie Fowler, owner of The Etiquette School of Florida. “If it came from a girlfriend, don’t give it to another girlfriend.”

The regifter who wishes to leave no fingerprints must also consider whether the giftee is a likely recipient for a particular item.

 “Last Christmas I received a cactus candle as a housewarming gift,” Fowler says. “I don’t like the desert at all. Anyone who knows me knows that.”

Anyone who knows how absent-minded I am won’t be surprised I violated the cardinal rule of regifting: Nothing with your name it.

Because my son-in-law, Marc. has a good sense of humor, a new holiday tradition was born. The next Christmas he gave me a letter opener with “Marc” on it. I reciprocated with a Greg Dawson business planner, and he sent a Marc Kelly nameplate for my desk. Marc now has a funny story about his father-in-law for any social gathering.

My worst gift ever turned out to be the regift that keeps on regifting.

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