Finally, the holiday season has arrived, and you know what that means: standing in line for hours, fighting traffic, and cutting off the old lady who uses a walker to get around the mall from the only parking place left in the parking lot? Well, sort of . . . but not entirely. I’m sure that some of us have attended a few holiday parties playing white elephant, have given gifts and have received presents already in this early part of the holiday season. If you haven’t, then I’m sure you will be doing so soon. My real problem every year at the holiday season is “What the heck am I going to do with all this stuff I’m going to get this year?”
Of course, some of it I will keep – especially if it is something I can use such as the sweater from Granny, the wine from a brother, and a fruit basket from mom. But what about the stuff I can’t use: like the pedicure set from the white elephant party I receive last year from work (I had no idea my pedis needed curing.), or the third copy of Augustine’s Confessions from a secret-Santa last holiday season, or my umteenth Christmas I will surely be getting from cousin Becky?
There is little doubt that some of these presents, particularly the ones I can’t use, will have a second chance as they become ‘re-gifts’ to friends and family through the coming season. A friend of mine prefers the phrase reborn gifts -- she thinks it sounds more Christian. Anyway, I for one am not the biggest fan of re-gift giving, nor do I like receiving re-gifts. We all hopefully remember that episode of Sienfeld where Elaine labels a friend a re-gifter because the friend re-gifted a present that Elaine had given her to Jerry. Heck, there is even a website dedicated to sharing re-gifting stories and practical advice to a re-gifter: don’t re-gift the same gift back to its original giver.
Yet, I am not here concerned with the ethics of re-gifting. I for one think a case stands that God Himself might encourage re-gifting. But before getting into that issue, let us remember what exactly a gift is. I find it quite difficult to remember what a gift is, especially since we live in such an autonomous tit-for-tat culture where if you receive a gift it is almost expected that a gift is to be given in return if not at the present moment then at a later time. How many of us will actually go out of our way to get a small gift for someone because we received an unexpected Christmas present this year?
The trouble with the tit-for-tat mentality is that it turns gift giving into a form of economic exchange – I guess when economics runs deep in a culture it is difficult to keep it from influencing certain areas of life. Be that as it may, what gifting has become is not exactly what it is to be. We aren’t exactly dealing with baseball cards or stocks, and the last I checked there is no exchange rate for gift types. If I give a PS3 what should be given in return? Gift giving or even gift exchanging is not exactly bartering and there is no math formula that will solve for the sum total.
So what is a gift if it is not an economic exchange of goods? A good working definition of a gift might be something freely given or received without expectation or obligation of repayment. The only real obligation of the recipient is hinged on actually utilizing the gift. This understanding is quite different from an economic model. In fact, it is almost contrary to the economic model of gift giving.
Gift giving should always be done freely. There is no obligation set upon any person to give gifts. There are no government laws or documents that requires Americans to give gifts to one another, nor are there any Church statements, papal bulls, or encyclicals which explicitly oblige Catholics (or any Christian) to give gifts. Then why should we give gifts? Because it echoes God when we give freely as it is God who gives freely His love to the world. Why should we receive gifts? Because it again allows us to echo God when we receive freely as it is God who freely receives our love in prayers. In other words, by giving and receiving freely we help allow others to practice true love (or charity), and it brings us and them closer to God.
As far as re-gifting is concerned, if it is done freely with the hope of spreading joy and love I see little problem with it – especially if what is re-gifted is something that the re-gifter cannot use (like a pedicure set). I believe that God actually encourages re-gifting. Does He not give us all a free gift of His love? Does He not want us then to take that gift and pass it on to someone else? In other words, aren’t we supposed to re-gift God’s love to one another? That is, re-gifting is hardwired into the soul. So it is no wonder that many many people not only feel the need to re-gift but actually do re-gift.
Why re-gift? Because gifts need to be used. Just as every bird has a nest, every gift has a proper home. For example, I will never use the pedicure set that I received this year, but I do know a few girls who would put it to good use. Besides, nothing pleases the giver of said gift more than seeing his or her gift being used. Isn’t that why you always take Aunt Sally’s lamp out the closet when she comes over or wear the shirt Uncle Bob gave you when you go visit because they receive joy and love is returned to the giver by using his or her gift?
Perhaps this year I will do my best to look at re-gifting not as getting rid of unwanted junk but as a freely given gift that is once again being freely given in an attempt to spread some joy and love in the world. After all, God does seem to be most regiftable.