It doesn't matter if you don't like the gift, you should always accept it with grace. I don't care what you get. That doesn't mean you can't return it for something else or secretly vow to tuck it away in a closet. But you should never offend the giver.
I received a note from a reader who initially complained that a member of her family and his wife gave expensive but lousy presents (they are bad re-gifters, she said).
"It's clear they did not spend the time to pick out something special for myself or my family -- as I always do for them," the reader wrote. "This makes for unnecessary bitterness, especially when one considers that they can well afford to do otherwise."
I asked if the couple displayed love and support for her and her family in other ways.
"You're right," she e-mailed back. "They are wonderful people, just bad gift-givers."
Yes, it's wonderful to receive a present that reflects your character or interests. And yes, it can be a disappointment when that doesn't happen.
But I've learned over the years that it's how people treat you, not what they give you, that is the real measure of how much they value you.
As Emerson says in his essay, "Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself."
Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.