It’s the morning after your holiday celebration (or birthday party, bridal shower, retirement party, whatever). Among the boxes and bows are some gems. But there are also duplicates and duds— and nary a gift receipt to be found.

Sooner or later, this pile of unwanted loot is going to raise a serious question: To regift or not to regift? Not me, you say. I’d never. Not so fast. If you’ve ever given someone a bottle of wine that was given to you, congratulations. You’ve regifted. In a recent American Express survey, 31 percent admit to regifting at least once.

Chances are that Ben Parker wasn’t thinking about regifting when he told his young nephew (and soon-to-be-Spider-Man) Peter that “with great power comes great responsibility.” But the sentiment certainly applies. With gift-giving, it’s the thought that counts. With regifting, the same motto applies, though your thinking needs to be more strategic. Here are the basic rules of engagement:

>Don’t ask, don’t tell. It’s official: Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, has deemed the practice of regifting acceptable. She writes in the latest edition of “Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior” (W.W. Norton & Co., 2005) that if you receive a present that isn’t quite right, “the present does not have to be used or displayed … This leaves room for returning, donating to charity and regifting, none of which is rude if the rule is strictly observed about protecting the donor from knowing.”

When you unwrap the crime novel from your brother-in-law, follow the standard rules of etiquette (and basic kindness): say thank you and don’t let on that the gift isn’t everything you’ve ever wanted. Then start thinking about people you know who love James Patterson’s work. On the flip side, your brother-in-law shouldn’t comment when he doesn’t see the book on your shelves a few weeks later. If he does, you could feign surprise— “Oh, isn’t it? I saw it there the other day.” Or tell a little white lie that your friend is borrowing the book. Whatever you do, avoid a conversation about plot development.

>Take the effort to make it look new. Let’s be honest: Regifting successfully boils down to not getting caught. Be sure to remove every scrap of the original wrapping paper and tape. Nothing says, “Here, I didn’t want this, so I’m giving it to you,” like a crumpled gift bag and used tissue paper. If the packaging shows signs of obviously having been wrapped before, consider finding another use for the gift. And by all means, heed the true tale of the bridal couple who didn’t look inside the Crock-Pot box after unwrapping it. Instead, they rewrapped it and gave it to another couple— who discovered a note of congratulations written to the first couple, inside the box.

>Keep good records. It can be as simple as jotting notes in a spiral notebook or as elaborate as a spreadsheet, but keeping track of the gifts you plan to regift will minimize embarrassing mistakes and protect the feelings of all interested parties. Just jot down what you received from whom and when, and to whom you gave it. Giving your mother the chocolate fountain your sister gave you— or, God forbid, your mother herself gave you a few years before— is unwise. 

>Keep your distance. If you received the original gift from a family member, don’t regift within the family (or to a family friend). Keep species separate. Regift the platter your running buddy gave you to your college friend who lives across the country. The idea is to put some distance between the item’s point of origin and its final— or at least next— resting place.

>Give it away— but not as a gift. If you’d rather not regift, fine, but you don’t need to hang onto something you don’t want. If the green V-neck sweater you received is neither your size, color nor cut, give it to someone you think would like it. Tell the person you received it as a gift, and ask if she’d like it— no long preamble necessary.

Or donate it to charity with tags attached. Goodwill has new stuff on the racks all the time. Since it was a gift in the first place, you could return the favor to a charity that collects new items such as Toys for Tots or Paul’s Place (paulsplaceoutreach.org), which collects new items (toys, bath lotion sets, jewelry, etc.) for an annual Holiday Gift Shop where Pigtown residents shop (for free) for new gifts for their families. (For the 2007 event, all donations must be received by Dec. 13.) Most charities, like Paul’s Place, put new items like clothing and household appliances to good use year-round, too.

>Cash out at your own risk. Holiday gift-giving (or any other time of the year) is not about profiteering. Sure, eBay has lots of things that were gifts in their first life, so auction if you must. But remember that you never know who is scanning the auction sites. Ditto for Internet regifting sites, such as regift.com, which allows you to swap (for a fee), buy or sell unwanted gifts and swapagift.com for unwanted gift cards.

As for consignment shops and yard sales, don’t do it anywhere near the donor. I sold a few wedding gifts at a yard sale, but it was years after the gift was given and the donor lived two time zones away. The idea was to get it out of the house, and I think I netted enough to buy a latte. 

>Make it a party. Kristin Hoffman of the Gaywood neighborhood in Baltimore County throws an annual regifting party during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Guests bring their unwanted gifts rewrapped as fancily as possible. People pick numbers and select a wrapped gift, opening it as they go. Those with higher numbers can “steal” an already unwrapped gift.

“This party is the perfect example of one man’s trash being someone else’s treasure,” says Hoffman. “One year someone brought a bird clock that makes different birdcalls on the hour. One lady loved it. You can’t come expecting to get something great, but it’s a lot of fun.”

>Give good karma. This holiday season, show your loved ones you really care: include a gift receipt (or gift invoice if you shopped online) with every gift you give. That way, they can easily return the coffeemaker, cut-glass picture frame or Cosby-esque cardigan. Do you really want to see the talking moose slippers you bought your father on his neighbor when he could have returned them to get what he really wanted: talking cow slippers?

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