Why my family likes to donate leftover junk food

Every year, without fail, we punk ourselves with a circular economy of random stuff that no one wants and ever needed to get started.

The practice has taken on a life of its own in my large, tumultuous Irish Catholic family. One year, when my mom was in her twenties and working in New York City, she came back to New Jersey for Christmas. She was living in a small apartment in the city at the time, so she had left some clothes in her childhood bedroom. When the family started exchanging gifts in the living room, my mother was horrified to find that Nana had taken her favorite black coat and wrapped it for another aunt named Loretta. ” ” I love that ! “” My mom remembers saying Aunt Loretta. “” It’s absolutely beautiful! “”

As a child, I didn’t know about the repackaging joke. I was only introduced to the game as a young adult and found myself puzzled as to how this weird joke could be a form of affection. Certainly the wrappers are just appetizers of our more traditional gifts, which, we’re lucky, have never been in short supply. But in my nomadic twenties, I couldn’t understand how my mom thought it was nice or fun to repackage and gift me with arbitrary household items that I had little use for – from bars of soap to tongs. salad – often without even bothering to change the packaging.

As serious as it sounds, I have always taken gifts seriously. Before the pandemic, I lived and worked overseas in Hong Kong as a journalist for three years. Being away from my family in the United States was difficult, so collecting gifts while traveling became an important way for me to nurture my connections across the Pacific. From 1920s vistas of Hong Kong skyline to soy sauce dishes from local markets, I filled my suitcase with handpicked memories from my distant life that we could savor together at home. So, receiving a bottle of wine left over after spending hours on typed cards was like showing up on a “date with a friend” thinking it was a real Dated.

Then, a few years ago, my family hosted a dozen of us for a Secret Santa gift exchange on Christmas. I forgot to buy a gift and for once decided I would shoot a wrapper: an unopened pair of binoculars from the last Secret Santa. But as the group started to pick out gifts – a unicorn neck pillow, pink glittery slippers, ‘Ass Reaper’ hot sauce (decorated with a little Grim Reaper mask) – one by one, we realized that everything this had been repackaged from our previous exchanges. The room was roaring with laughter, including me. Finally, I got the joke. As we threw out the trash, I felt seen and close to my family in a way that I thought only my gifting style could achieve, and I lived Nana’s most important lesson: never take life too hard. serious. It was as if, I too, had discovered in my packaging a forgotten note from Nana telling me, as she always does: “Have fun, my darling.”

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