The phenomenon of regifting – saving money by passing on unwanted Christmas presents to others – is said to be booming among recession-hit families.
Until now it has been mainly an American practice, pioneered in the 1980s by First Lady Nancy Reagan and highlighted in the sitcom Seinfeld. But research has found that half of Britons see nothing wrong with it.
Psychologists at the University of Hertfordshire quizzed more than 600 men and women about their attitudes to giving and receiving presents.
Lead researcher Professor Karen Pine said: ‘An awful lot of people don’t see anything wrong with passing on a present they don’t like to someone else.
‘In a recession you might say it’s more economically sensible to do that.’
But she warned that the practice of regifting has pitfalls, not least the chance of the original giver discovering a carefully selected present has not just been cast aside, but passed on.
‘It’s a minefield,’ said the professor. ‘It’s not just about the present, it’s about the effort that has gone into choosing it and the emotion – it’s like you are rejecting the giver by giving away their present. I think it’s okay to do it.
But do it with great care and make sure neither the giver or receiver find out. Present-giving is an emotional transaction.’
A survey in the U.S last year revealed that 78% of shoppers thought it was acceptable to recycle gifts, with more women than men admitting they were repeat ‘offenders’.
Items most likely to be ‘regifted’ were ornaments and pampering products, such as body lotions and bubble bath. Those least likely to be recycled were hand-made presents and ‘experience’ gifts such as concert and theatre tickets.
An entire online industry has sprung up around the practice of regifting. There are websites allowing consumers to exchange unwanted gift vouchers and a site named www.regifting.com proclaims itself ‘a forum for all things regifting’.
In Kitty Kelley’s 1991 biography of Nancy Reagan, she claimed that the former First Lady pulled most of her gifts from a ‘discarded heap of free samples and rejects’. These included a set of pewter swizzle sticks with tiny elephants on top, allegedly given to Mrs Reagan’s stepdaughter, Maureen, as a wedding present.
The word ‘regifting’ is thought to have been coined four years later in Seinfeld, when the main character Jerry is given a label maker by an acquaintance who had received it from Jerry’s friend Elaine.
Embarrassing tales on the websites include the anonymous account of a woman, ‘notorious for her frugality’, invited to a former classmate’s birthday party. ‘The party girl started to open the present my relative had brought her.
‘The latter looked towards the front window and hurriedly said, ‘Oh, no! Please hide the gift! The girl coming in gave it to me a couple of months ago and I don’t want her to know I’m regifting. It’s a ceramic swan that originally held perfumed soap. I used the soap but I thought you’d like to have the swan.’