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The gift that cannot be regifted

Traditionally, people did not take down Christmas trees and other decorations until after the first Sunday in Epiphany, which this year would be Jan. 8, but nowadays we begin to see Christmas trees out on the curb on December 26.

Christmas is over; it is time to put the gifts away or return them or exchange them. And then comes the regifting. I don’t know about you, but I confess that I usually make three piles for my Christmas gifts: keep, return, regift. (Did you know that there is even a National Regifting Day — an annual observance held each year on the Thursday before Christmas? Who knew?).

I recently looked up on the Emily Post Institute website to find the protocols for receiving gifts. Rule number one on Ms. Post’s list is that when you open a gift in the presence of the giver is to thank the person enthusiastically. Even if the present is the last thing you wanted, thank the giver for his or her thoughtfulness, drawing on the actor in you to mask any disappointment. Be pleasant but non-committal, saying something like: “It’s so nice of you to think of me!” or “What a creative choice!” Or my personal favorite: “Oh my, you shouldn’t have; no, really you shouldn’t have.”

Last year, as I sorted my gifts into the requisite three piles and, much to my surprise, I only had one gift in the regift pile: a very, very expensive gift from someone who has been the bane of my existence. I was holding in my hands this very beautiful gift that had never been used (I know this because the return receipt was tucked inside with the PRICE of the gift clearly listed). Trust me; I did not want this gift from that person.

At Christmas dinner, I had a chance to chat with one of my family “aunties.” I told my auntie about the gift and about the giver and how I planned to either donate it to the Salvation Army or to Goodwill or perhaps to even re-gift it.

Auntie leaned over and looking me dead in the eye, said, “You can’t give away that gift. That was a gift asking for forgiveness; it was a gift of atonement. You have to keep that gift.”

Keep the gift?! Why, I don’t think I even want that gift in my house!!! And I told my auntie as much, to which she replied with a knowing smile, “Well, it’s a good thing you aren’t God then, isn’t it?”

Wow! God? The God who forgives me every day — often times more than once a day — who never turns me away? That God? Yet there I was, ready to regift a gift that can be neither returned nor regifted: the gift of love, of mercy, of grace, and of forgiveness.

Let me confess right here that I did not keep the very expensive and unexpected gift I received from my nemesis. But just so you know, per Emily Post, I did send the giver a very profuse and genuine handwritten note of thanks. And because I already had this same gift item and did not need it, again according to Emily Post, I could give it to someone else if : 1) I told the person that I already have one and, very importantly; 2) it was not gift wrapped.

Maya Angelou once wrote, “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” Yes, that unwanted, extravagant gift I received last Christmas turned out to be one of the best gifts I have ever received because it gave me an opportunity to remember that there is one gift that can never be regifted.

— Westina Matthews

Westina Matthews is an author, public speaker, retreat leader, professor and a contemplative spiritual director. A tiny mustard seed motivates Westina who has found a way to connect with others through a series of poignant spiritual books, essays, reflections and her teaching. After residing in New York City for more than 30 years, she is now writing along the banks of the Wilmington River in Savannah, Georgia.

Reflections of Erma