The ghosts of fruitcakes present Or, the rules of guilt-less regifting
EMOTIONAL WEATHER REPORT - Jessica Zafra (The Philippine Star) - December 7, 2012 - 12:00am

I happen to like fruitcake. Through no fault of its own fruitcake has gotten a bad rap in recent years. It is believed that there are no more than 12 fruitcakes at any given time — the number remains constant because they are never eaten, merely sent on to the next recipient.  

This is a blatant falsehood. I know, because every time I get fruitcake for the holidays I eat it — assuming it is really fruitcake and not some regular cake with bits of fruit in it (much like a piece of toast slathered with cheese, ketchup and ham will never be pizza). In which case I’d probably eat it anyway, but I would feel bamboozled. 

There was a time when people were actually glad to get fruitcake for Xmas. I remember when fruitcake was the forbidden… fruitcake. The first one I ever encountered was sitting in the refrigerator, a gift from my parents’ friends. My parents would let me have only a small slice for dessert, saying it contained alcohol and would make me tipsy. Nothing renders a thing more attractive than a warning from the parents. From that day on I’ve had a fondness for rich, heavy cake stuffed with dried fruits and nuts and exuding an alcoholic bouquet.

Then fruitcake got too popular. It was the ubiquitous holiday present, the no-brainer last-minute shopper’s choice. This led to a surge in fruitcake production compounded by an absence of quality control. Unlike, say, champagne and Parma ham, which are protected by the laws of the European Union, there is no official body to define fruitcake or decide what can or cannot be called by that name. Inaccurate facsimiles and outright fakes abounded. People took to giving away the fruitcakes they’d received. Fruitcake became the original regift.

The disappointed re-recipients of fake fruitcake were turned off forever.

Finally the “Tale of the Twelve” emerged, and fruitcake became a joke.  

While fruitcake languishes in holiday oblivion, other items have taken its place as all-purpose, “I can’t think of anything else” holiday gifts. They are the items most likely to be passed on to other recipients. Here are some of the new fruitcakes, and the rules on regifting them.

•Scented candles. There are candles that radiate divine scents, and there are candles that emit the unmistakable odor of… melting wax. The former are useful for situations requiring a romantic ambience, the latter for brownouts and All Souls’ Day. The former, when regifted, can pass for presents you bought after careful consideration. The latter are obviously recycled.

Do not forget to remove the original card on the box, and erase any details that might be traced back to the buyer. Even the name of the store can be incriminating (“But you never shop there…”). Not that regifting is a crime, but it’s embarrassing to get caught.

Of course if the giver made the scented candles herself, the effort she put into their manufacture raises them above mere candle-ness. If you give them away, she will find out.

•Toiletries and personal care products. Toiletries are much appreciated if they are products or brands the recipient uses — it means the giver has bothered to research the recipient’s preferences. They are not as welcome if they were obviously seized from a store shelf five minutes before they were presented. If so, they may be regifted without guilt. At least try to match the toiletries with a recipient who might buy them for himself. And remember that people can be terrible snobs about their personal care products.

Assuage your residual guilt by enclosing a nice note in your own handwriting. The personal touch.

Coffee mugs. At this point there may be too many coffee mugs in the world, so regifting them helps clear cupboard space. They can be given to people whom you know to be coffee drinkers, or people who keep breaking things, and people with cats (it is not often mentioned, but cats love sipping out of mugs). You could also personalize the mug by filling it with pencils or candy — you may be a lazy regifter but you have given it a little thought.

 •Cookies. Food is the safest gift. Who doesn’t love cookies? When they’re good, they’re wonderful; when they’re not, they’re still cookies. If you intend to give away the cookies you got, do not sample. Repeat, do not sample, lest they disappear into another dimension in the vicinity of your stomach. Take them out of the original gift wrapper, remove any distinguishing marks, rewrap, and send them on.

Copies of The Purpose-Driven Life and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In all likelihood the type of recipient whom you think would appreciate these bestsellers already owns multiple copies. First, check the books for any personal dedications or notes stuck in the pages.

Then pass them on to people who don’t read much, or to recent graduates who are about to spend large amounts of time in corporate waiting rooms for job interviews. Tell them they would make a better impression if they are seen reading a book than if they spend their waiting time sexting or facebooking. (And warn them that tweeting their interviews would destroy their chances of employment.)

 As much as possible, the giver of the present and the eventual recipient should not be friends with each other. This prevents them from comparing notes (“Hey, I gave that exact same mug to…”) and finding out what you did.  

Admittedly there is something a bit scuzzy about regifting. You are rejecting an offering from someone who may go through life thinking that you liked his present. What are you supposed to do, reject it openly?  

Think of regifting as finding the gift a more appreciative home. This is kinder than throwing it away outright, or letting it gather dust on a shelf for five years and then throwing it away. It’s not that different from exchanging a gift you received, which the better stores now allow customers to do (The gift should come with an exchange voucher). It’s practical, economical, and environment-friendly.

Or you could just give everyone fruitcake for the holidays.



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