With the sinking of the economy comes an embrace of thriftiness and a rejection of materialism. Yet will our money woes transform one of our dirtiest gift-giving secrets into a chic practice? Possibly.
Come out of the shadows, regifters. Tomorrow is National Regifting Day.
Promoted for many years on Regiftable.com (a Web site created by the Houston-based nonprofit Money Management International as a way to discuss holiday spending habits), the annual celebration always falls on the Thursday of the week before Christmas, when many holiday office parties - the culmination of Secret Santa torture and abundant regifting - seem to take place. The Web site's unofficial research claims that 40 percent of office gifts are regifted.
But now that national unemployment is near 10 percent, what better time for regifting to expand beyond the cubicle culture? Friends have no problems boasting about the great deals and discounts they find. Isn't it time they felt comfortable bragging about the tangerine-scented candles they passed on to their little sister?
Regifting experts - no lie, they exist - say it's smart, it's cheap, and it's green. And an October Consumer Reports poll of 1,000 U.S. households found that 36 percent of Americans plan to take part in the practice this season, up from 31 percent the year before.
At the end of the last school year, Leah Ingram regifted items such as candles, soaps, and writing journals to some of her children's teachers. And this holiday season, the New Hope author plans to give as "tips" gift cards that she previously received as gifts - for her postal carrier, trash hauler, and newspaper delivery person.
A longtime regifter, she has her system organized. When she gets a gift that isn't right for her and can't be returned, she stashes it in her "gift closet." On the next gift-giving occasion, she opens her closet and shops - of course, picking only presents the recipient would enjoy, said Ingram, author of the forthcoming book Suddenly Frugal.
Is that so bad? Ingram relays a familiar scenario as defense. Someone brings to your dinner party a bottle of wine that you end up not drinking that night. A week later you head to a friend's house, needing a gift to take along. Enter said bottle of wine.
"Well, that's regifting, and I doubt anyone would look down his or her nose at you," Ingram said. "What they will remember is that you didn't show up at their house empty-handed."
Baltimore publicist Dan Collins often regifts bottles of wine he doesn't drink.
"What they have really given me is exactly what I wanted - the gift of time. The gift of time is monumentally appreciated, if not right-out treasured."
It's also a gift to the environment, says California-based psychologist Steven Sultanoff, a professor at Pepperdine University who sees regifting as modern recycling - a way of going "green" without costing green.
Ingram agrees. When you keep an unwanted gift, you don't add to a landfill, and you don't get in the car to buy a new one - the ultimate in scaling back your carbon footprint.
And you never need to tell your friend his or her gift is regifted.
"What's the purpose?" asked Ingram. "That's like telling someone when you got their gift on sale and revealing the price you paid."
If you find yourself needing a gift and you have something that is appropriate, Ingram says go ahead and regift. But she adds that just grabbing something so you have something to give, without any thought as to whether the person might like the gift, well, that would be a regifting failure.
Bottom line: What matters most is that you've chosen a gift - either from your gift closet or bought for the occasion - that you genuinely think the person will like and use.
If you find yourself on the other end of the regifting equation - someone has regifted something you gave her - don't fret.
"At first you might feel offended or hurt," says Yuka Yonedia, senior editor at Inhabitat.com, a blog that tracks innovations in design. "But think of it this way - you basically gave them the 'gift of not having to buy another gift.' Just make sure you don't mistakenly regift to the same person who originally gave you the gift. Now that's awkward."
Gail Madison, etiquette coach and director of the Madison School of Etiquette and Protocol in Huntingdon Valley, admits to regifting, although mostly with small things like candles or soaps.
"It is perfectly acceptable to regift, but you must do it right."