For some people, New Year’s parties mark the end of the holiday season. For others, it’s the feast of the Epiphany, celebrated on Jan. 6. Still others begin un-decking the halls as soon as the Christmas dinner dishes are cleared.
For me, one event marks the end of another holiday season in a grand—and appropriate—style. That event is my Aunt Gerry’s Annual Re-Gifting Extravaganza. The 2013 version was held this Saturday, and as always, it set a high bar for the other celebrations this year.
You may not be familiar with the term “re-gifting,” but I’m willing to bet you’re aware of the concept. Re-gifting is the term popularized in an old Seinfeld episode to refer to the process of taking an “undesirable” present given to you and giving it as a gift to someone else. Sure, it may seem tacky, classless, and downright wrong, but let’s see a show of hands—how many of you have been tempted to rewrap that awful leopard Snuggie you received in the office pollyanna?
That’s what I thought. So put your “holier than thou” hands down. After all, my family isn’t doing anything that you haven’t thought about doing a zillion times. In fact, I think we’re on the cutting edge, taking something that used to be done in shame and secret and doing it in broad daylight, after a meal of lasagna and fruit trifle.
A family gathering
Actually, the post-holiday party began several years ago as a get-together for “the cousins,” my generation of the Crowley clan, which consisted of my siblings, the four Murray boys, and two sets of Crowleys. My Aunt Gerry, mother of one of those sets, noticed that my generation didn’t know each other as well as our parents had and, being the party catalyst that she was, she decided to host a gathering of “the cousins.”
Traditionally, gatherings of “the cousins” went something like this—we’d all drive to Aunt Gerry’s in Southampton, eat a wonderful meal while catching up, then the men would retire to the family room (where, of course, the football game of choice would be playing) and the women would commence to the living room, where we’d chat about upcoming weddings, impending births, and “what’s the real dirt on (fill in the name of whichever cousin left early this year) anyway?”
But Aunt Gerry, in her infinite wisdom, wanted more. She wanted us to mingle, to interact, and to ultimately make fun of each other (this is my family, after all—it’s in the blood).
So she came up with a plan. She and my Uncle Bill wrapped all the gifts they didn’t need, couldn’t use, couldn’t figure out or that didn't fit. They put ribbons on the fruitcakes, glitter on the Jean Naté gift set and tinsel on the Chia giraffe. Then they bestowed these treasures upon us, the next generation. “One person’s unwanted candy dish is another person’s treasure,” Aunt Gerry promised as each cousin chose a package. One by one, we revealed our “treasure.”
Then, in a bizarre twist, we learned that the package we opened was not necessarily the gift we’d take home. No, those who hadn’t opened their gift were permitted to “trade” what was in their wrapped package for a “sure thing”—one of the packages already opened.
I’m pretty sure Aunt Gerry watched a lot of Let’s Make a Deal in her youth.
Anyway, the following year Aunt Gerry and Uncle Bill must have received a particularly attractive haul, because we were told it was our turn to provide the goods. Each person attending the party had to bring their own castaway—er, recycled—gift for swapping. And through the years, the rule seems to be “the more outrageous, the better.” Through the years, we’ve swapped blow up Eagles players, a variety of Snuggies, a copy of Billy Idol’s greatest hits, a Buddha head and a stained-glass statue of the pope. (My sister Gina gave this up, but still gets to visit it in its present location, cousin Joe and Judi’s lake house.)
And through the years, the party changed a bit, just like the family has. The house in Southampton has been sold, but Kevin and Arin, Bill and Gerry’s son and daughter-in-law, gladly host the annual event in their Lansdale home. The first cousins’ gathering now includes a new generation, and we’re still trying to explain to the kids that you don’t really expect to get a “good” gift at this exchange. Still, they’re pretty enthusiastic in their participation, and one particular 8-year-old broke the record for number of trades in a single round (going from a garden gnome dressed in an Eagles' uniform to a double-handed pot holder to a porcelain dinner bell before finally ending with a box of chocolates). We have hope that this particular party may last for generations to come.
I read somewhere that etiquette expert Peggy Post actually endorses re-gifting, as long as it’s done in the right spirit. The intent, Post says, should not be about getting rid of junk. When done best, re-gifting should celebrate a relationship by giving the gift to someone for whom it is more appropriate.
Well, I have to disagree. I think the best way to re-gift is our way—with a lot of laughter. We don’t have to think too hard about who will end up with the re-gifts. Instead, we can just enjoy sharing the opening of each package—each more tacky than the last—knowing each contains the gift of love and family.
After all, some things are worth giving over and over again.