THE ART OF REGIFTING
by Deborah Elliott-Upton
I love hearing holiday songs, especially the old ones (or even the old ones made new again by someone like Michael Buble.) One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life” and I enjoy watching it again every December. To paraphrase the old song sung by Brownies (the younger version of a Girl Scout), old friends — especially at the holidays — are like gold.
Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.
Many old things are valuable. But, sometimes old things are just . . . old.
On Christmas Eve, long past the swirling and whirling of paper and ribbons flying through the air as family and friends acted as though exchanging gifts was a competition to see who could do the most damage the quickest to my living room, several of us gathered in the kitchen away from the noise such great friends and family often brings. Over mugs of eggnog, someone mentioned some regifting that had apparently taken place. Laughter was quickly replaced by an awkward silence.
“I do it all the time, but you have to do it right,” my cousin said. With a toss of her auburn curls, she stressed. “There is an art to regifting.”
“Are there rules?” someone asked.
“Definitely,” she said.
Rule #1: Never regift to the same person who gave it to you.
Rule #2: The gift has to be something you would normally purchase for the giftee, not just something someone hoisted on you last year that has languished on a closet shelf.
Rule #3: It must absolutely, positively never have been used.
When everyone left, I thought about Aunt Carol laden with gifts when she came through the door. Before I could say a word past “Hello,” she interrupted me and pressed a package in my hand.
“Don’t worry about my budget, dear,” she said. “Someone gave me this and I’ll never miss it. I didn’t want it anyway. Not my style at all, but maybe you’ll like it.”
There’s something about my aunt that makes it impossible to be upset with her, so I smiled and returned her hug. As she bustled past me to squeeze cheeks of anyone and everyone under thirty, I considered the size of the box and hoped it wasn’t the gift I’d given to her for a birthday or even last Christmas. Worse, I couldn’t remember what I’d bought for her on either occasion.
I’ve had my share of gifts that seemed like they may have been chosen from a grab bag. The gift someone asks. “What is this?” or “What does it do?” is one who hasn’t possessed a knowledge of wanting or needing the gift in hand. A slight chance of their being happily enlightened about the need for such an item is, of course, always there, but the odds are worse than winning the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.
I’ve been the recipient of some obviously recently used gloves whose finger tips were still wet (it had been snowing!) and a new purse whose inside zippered pocket held a crumpled store receipt and a single piece of Wrigley’s spearmint gum.
As a writer, I have regifted with my characters. They sometimes are given as gifts to the same characters they’d been placed before. I rationalize in the Literary World, this is simply referred to as “creating a series.” I attempt to make sure my regifted characters fit the environment they may or may not have thrived in previously. Perhaps this time, they’ve evolved into a stronger person. Surely, they should have grown as much as I have as a writer have since I last presented them to the public in a story.
The third rule in the art of regifting states the gift can never have been used, but this isn’t true with literary characters or settings. In fact, the more we know about these makes us better storytellers. A chipped cup or a soiled quilt makes for a bad present, but a flawed personality can make an old character more interesting than ever.
As my final column for Criminal Brief this year, I wish you all the best life offers for the year ahead and that the only regifting you receive is a character you have dearly missed since the last story gift from your favorite author.