What do you do with a Christmas gift you don’t need or like, but you know the giver invested a lot of time or money in it?

My childhood friend Muriel Ann Glitzengelder received a candelabra from her favorite aunt this past holiday season. The candelabra is made of silver and came from Neiman Marcus so you know it must have cost a pretty penny. But Muriel Ann isn’t too wild about it. The candlesticks are in the shape of five cats holding musical instruments. (She’s more of a dog person.) Muriel Ann can’t return it; the guilt would haunt her. And what if her aunt asks to see it the next time she stops by?

The aunt also gave Muriel Ann’s husband a gift from Neiman Marcus: a solid brass bottle opener in the shape of a unicorn head. Her husband says it will come in handy if Bud Light stops making twist-off bottle tops.

When our teen-age daughter was a little girl, my mother-in-law would give her a small Madame Alexander doll at Christmastime. Naturally, our daughter wanted to play with the doll.

I regret it now, but back then I said, “Don’t touch the doll! It’s a collectible!” Then the porcelain creation went straight into a curio cabinet. It was one of those nice-to-look-at gifts, but not a lot of fun for a grade-schooler.

Sissy Blissman, the sweetest person you’d ever want to meet, has a different take on this issue. She has never returned a gift. Not once.

“Someone went to the trouble to give me something special. How could I return it?”

For Sissy, it really is the thought that counts. And counts. And counts.

For example, Sissy’s niece gave her a collection of clay penguins she made in sixth-grade art class. The niece is now 27 years old. The penguins have turned to clay dust, yet Sissy does not have the heart to throw them away.

Sissy doesn’t feel quite so sweetly about her sister’s homemade gifts. The sister makes wall hangings from quilted fabric.

“They are really ugly,” whispers Sissy. “I hang them in the guest bedroom where my sister sees them if she visits, but I don’t have to look at them every day.”

Knowing Sissy hangs onto everything, I’m more careful about what I give her. I don’t want her children sorting through the extra bedroom in 50 years and wondering who gave her the electric reindeer slippers.

My mother and I have sort of a dysfunctional arrangement when it comes to gifts. If the present costs a lot, we tell. We won’t share the exact amount, but we’ll hint. “This is not garage sale material.” Wink, wink.

It’s our way of saying “I love you.” (So much, in fact, I spent more money than I should have on this ridiculous gift for you.)

A few years ago she went on a trip and brought back a colorful printed scarf for me. I suspect it came from the airport gift store. I think this because it looks just like the one I gave her once that I bought at an airport after I couldn’t find any decent souvenirs.

The problem is, I just don’t care for this scarf. (She just dropped the newspaper and is reaching for the phone to call me.) It’s very pretty, but the colors aren’t right for me. What do I do? I can’t return it to the airport gift store. Now that I’ve confessed in print, she may want it back.

But wait, maybe I can re-gift the scarf to Sissy, who would keep it forever. Or maybe I should give it to Muriel Ann, who can use it to cover the cat candelabra. Or maybe I should just wear it … and be grateful.

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