Wrapping a gift is the best part of giving a gift…. at least it is to me.
As a kid, I was an only child. My Dad was also an “only”, so our holidays were smaller, fewer family members. I was secretly jealous of friends who had large families, raucous holidays with cousins, more akin to the bedlam in a National Lampoon Christmas movie.
It was hard to see it at the time, but our little family had a few advantages of our own. One thing was the gift exchange at Christmas. We did it slowly. One person unwrapped at a time… and that way everyone could SEE what the person received, their expression when they opened their gift. In other words, Grandma got to see me open HER gifts. The tradition of SLOW unwrapping continued throughout my life, no matter how many family members we added, yet the slowness of our “procedure” presented a new challenge.
As other members of the family would now actually get to stop and focus for a minute on the gift, the challenge was born to make the wrapping “pretty” or “creative” or “Funny” or “crazy”. My family members embraced the challenge and excelled in this area…… gift-wrapping took on a new connotation, and the wrapping of the gift became part of the present.
When Dad met and married Cat – she raised the bar on gift-wrapping. One year, she bought thick white paper…. the kind you would get wrapped around Fannie Mae Candy. It felt different, expensive, lux, and then she bought bolts and bolts of 1/2″ red satin ribbon…… and made the prettiest bows I’ve ever seen. All her presents matched. The family was impressed.
- Me to Cat: How did you make that bow???? I want to learn….
- Cat to Me: Just watch….. (flurry of hands and ribbon)….. it’s easy. See?
It’s now 40yrs later and I still cannot make THAT specific kind of bow as well as Cat did. Yet, you all know me, I am one determined woman. I wanted pretty presents. I decided to try something else.
When I moved to MS to attend college, Grandma indulged my crafty nature. In the summer, I trimmed ferns, which were from her mother’s yard – 600 miles away – Della’s pride and joy, and heavy Minona leaves, Sycamore/Maple/Oak leaves, placing them between sheets of newspapers under the oriental rug in the foyer. I was preserving them….. for Christmas.
- Grandpa to Me: What are you doing in the front hallway…. moving the rug?
- Me to Grandpa: I’m preserving leaves. Gonna spray paint them for Christmas presents. Put Grandma Della’s ferns on top of her Christmas presents to remind her of her mother.
- Grandpa: Why would you do that?
- Me: Cuz they will be pretty.
- Grandpa: You’re going to get ants in the house.
- Me: No, I checked. No bugs.
- Grandpa: If the bugs eat your Grandmother’s prized Oriental rug, she will be mad.
- Me: No bugs, Grandpa.
- Grandpa: But people are going to walk all over those leaves for the next six months. They will be ruined.
- Me: Well, this is the test. If they are ruined, I go to plan B. If they survive, I have a new method.
- Grandpa: Well, okay then.
The leaves were beautiful. I spray-painted them gold, silver, red, black, the green paint didn’t work. From a huge flea market in Memphis…. I found bolts of “ribbon paper”. If you think of the cheapest satin ribbon, but imagine it in a 42″ long bolt….with hundreds of yards on the bolt. It was what florists use to wrap a cross for a funeral centerpiece, and it was waterproof. I scored three bolts, with the metal holders, for $20, a bolt of gold, white, and the palest silver…..
- Steven (a great friend, used to babysit me as an infant, his parents lived next door to my parents, and we struck up a friendship when I returned): What the hell are you going to do with funeral ribbon.
- Me: Oh, you’ll see. I’m going to wrap Christmas presents with them.
- Steven: That’s crazy, regular paper is fine. These things are heavy…… why am I carrying them all?
- Me: Cuz you’re so much stronger than I am…..
- Note: 40yrs later, I still have a little bit of the silver ribbon paper left. It was a GREAT purchase, and I’ve never been able to source more of it. Best part, because it was ribbon, it tore…. straight, meaning, no scissors needed.
That first Christmas, I spent time with Steven’s family. I gave his Mom a kitchen clock. She wanted one badly, and it was not an expensive gift, but I bet I spent two hours wrapping it….. It was gorgeous…. Shiny white ribbon paper, a maroon velvet bow, and soft gold painted Minona leaves. His Mom took a picture of her present. Said it was the prettiest thing she had ever seen.
And that was all I needed…….. a little bit of encouragement. I was off to the races, wrapping gifts. I couldn’t wait to get home from work, busy in the garage…. wrapping gifts.
Along the way, Grandpa (the engineer and VP of operations for the biggest factory in the region) took an interest. His HAM radio room was off the garage and we were spending a LOT of time in the same space. Grandpa decided I needed a proper work space. He came home one day with a work table with mint green formica and stainless rounded edges. Looked like it came out of a Bell Lab in the 1950’s but it was perfect. Then, he rigged up dowel rods to hold my paper, a shelf for ribbon, new fluorescent lights…. so I wasn’t working in the dark, a space heater, and an industrial tape holder that must have weighed 40lbs with the biggest roll of sickly yellow tape I’ve ever seen. He taught me how to use the bench vice grips when I was frosting a seed pod…. so it could dry undisturbed, and he let me borrow his snips for floral wire…. with the proviso that they always be returned to his outlined pegboard when I was finished.
I was thrilled. And Grandpa was happy.
Grandma bought a LOT that year, sealed boxes with tape, complained about her arthritis in her hands, and I became the house wrapper. Fine with me. The presents were beautiful that year, but I was still an amateur.
I moved on to NYC then Miami. The only thing I’ve ever stolen in my entire life was a fascinating bow off a Christmas tree at Spaulding’s Christmas House in Miami. I’m still feeling guilty about it, too. I stuffed the bow into my purse and studied it meticulously when I got it home. It was a spectacular bow, and to this day, those are the big bows I make….. I finally learned how. Of course, I spent thousands and thousands of dollars at Spaulding’s over the years. That place was like a drug to me.
In Miami, I got a little better wrapping gifts. Friends in finance got gifts papered with Monopoly money or the WSJ stock reports. Found a dog paw wooden block print for those who had pets….. I still use it. Back to New Orleans for a little while and Daddy was the antithesis of encouragement…. Plus, I had a spare bedroom to store things and work. That was a wild Christmas. Dad loved Christmas. He broke his leg one year, on the rooftop, trying to shake a bunch of sleigh bells. That year we had 6 trees and a progressive Christmas, as in…. kitchen gifts were under the Kitchen Christmas Tree. Yeah…..Six trees.
By the following year, I was done with family business in New Orleans and had settled with Grandma in Mississippi, Governor’s race over in early November. Grandma and I launched headlong into Christmas, but we thought it would only be the two of us…. We decorated the house to the nines, did the outside as well, even stringing popcorn for the big tree in the den. She was sad, however, that “no one would get to see it”. Therefore, we invited 200 of her little blue-haired friends to an afternoon Christmas tea, an Open House. Most of the women were widowed and the days of multiple party invites for Christmas parties had long passed. They were THRILLED to dress up and come to Della’s house. Party was so successful, it became an annual event – but we moved it to the Big House.
AFTER that lady’s party, the elder women lavished me with tips and tricks for Christmas. They gave me sacks, and folders of unfinished craft projects they never had time to do. I was overwhelmed by their generosity and over a dozen of them came back to the house to TEACH me, spending hours, on how to do the project correctly. It was like having 200 talented Grandma’s. One of them was experimenting with paint which came in squeeze bottles, popular in the 80’s and 90’s. She figured out the worst part of a gift was having the “to/from” tag fall off. Therefore, she “painted” the names on the gift in beautiful script. Sure, it took an overnight for the paint to dry, but I STILL use that trick for all our gifts.
That was the year I bought three life size inflatable reindeer. They were floor models, so, already blown up, and we could not figure out how to “un-blow” the air out of them. Thus, I strapped them to the back of my Alpha convertible and drove home. From a distance, and especially on a highway, they looked like real deer. You can’t imagine the looks I got from local hunters when I drove through town……
When I started dating my first husband, he came with a 5yr old boy. To have a child for Christmas is the best of times, and I went overboard. For one of his gifts, I made a centerpiece on top of the present. I used a cheap velvet flocked plastic reindeer, a few birds and other forest animals, a small fake tree, stacked itty-bitty presents by the tree, decorated the tree, and put it all on a bed of small needle balsam clippings. It looked like the little woodland creatures were ready to open their gifts. It was cheesy as hell, but I tried.
Well, my husband-to-be thought I was crazy, and future MIL scoffed, thought I would get balsam needles everywhere, and could not imagine spending the extra (what…… maybe a $1.29?) that I spent on decorating the top of a gift which would be trashed immediately by an over-eager 5yr old. When my stepson saw it, he loved it, demanding his Grandmother HELP HIM cut open the gift gently so as not to ruin the topper I made. I didn’t say a word…… Then, that little kid asked Grandma if it could be our centerpiece on the dining table for our Christmas feast.
Imagine that, all for $1.29.
Mother-In-Law saved that cheesy centerpiece for YEARS….. And it came out to be placed in the center of her buffet sideboard – every year. Amazing. From then on, my stepson KNEW which presents came from me. I had to get creative for his Santa gifts.
At the B&B, we had one room which was not renovated. In the beginning, I used that room as a craft room for parties, weddings, etc. Yet, we quickly outgrew that room. When we renovated that room as a guest room, the girls and I moved to the attic for craft space.
The attic is 2300 sq ft, with pine floors, a wide staircase as an entry, and a 22 foot ceiling in the middle with big oak rafters. I was drooling at the possibilities of having that much space to spread out. When husband took off for an out of town biz trip, I was “allowed” to use his construction crew for 4 days. We renovated the attic, and bought out all the plastic bins WalMart had – twice over. Glorious space.
Which meant I could wrap more gifts….. and stash them for the holidays.
As we both had businesses, and the family for Christmas, I often wrapped well over 1000 gifts. If I gave you a six pack of socks – each pair had a box, and was wrapped – OR if they were big socks, they might become the wrapping for another gift…… All year long we accumulated notions, trinkets, unusual boxes, chandelier prisms, baseball cards, old buttons, garden gadgets, health and beauty stuff for traveling, and knitting needles, strange things…….. for wrapping a present. And the wrapping marathons were my girlfriends greatest joy. We let our imaginations run wild. I mean……… there’s no such thing as an UGLY Christmas gift….. Right?
As the years went by, I learned many friends and family “saved the bows” I had made. Often, they stuffed the loops with tissue paper and stored the bows like a precious treasure. Amazing to me…. And often, on my gifts from others, I would recognize the bow…….. repurposed back to me. Again…….. amazing, but sweet.
By the time I met Big T, I had at least 20yrs of Christmas Gift wrapping expertise. I was a pro, a veteran of the Christmas wrapping marathons, with a PhD in square corners and ribbon/glitter development. I tried to convince Big T we HAD to wrap the 4 girls presents in grand style. He simply had no idea what I meant…. and it made him stutter a little…… which is RARE for Big T.
That first Christmas, we had to take the truck from Mississippi to Boston, cuz Daughn had WAYYYYYYYYY too much to move to go by plane. Big T was aghast. His family experience of “Christmas” was a couple of gifts for each girl on Christmas Eve, with a catered dinner bought and picked up from Boston Market, and Christmas morning/day at his parents, where the maid served a catered meal. To him, “outside decorations” meant an electric candle – cheap plastic – in each window. I wish you could have seen my face when he told me of his expectations….. The shock moved through me in waves.
- Me to Big T, blurting it out: Well, we’re not doing that this year. We’re going to try something a little different in you’re up for it.
- Big T: What do you mean?
- Me: Honey…….There are FOUR girls under the age of 16 plus a young boy. Are you kidding? It’s like Christmas Manna from Heaven with that many kids. It’s my dream come true….!!!!!! And we’re going to be in Boston…….. NEW ENGLAND?? With SNOW???? And COUSINS????? OMG, it’s perfect. We’re going all out for Christmas this year. I’m so happy about it I might explode by December 26th.
- Big T: ……………. he had no idea.
I planned the trip and the 12 days in Boston like a Normandy invasion. I MADE the gingerbread and sugar cookies in advance, packed them on cookie sheets and wax paper so they would not break, and loaded them into suitcases for the trip. Into the truck they went.
I planned all the menus for many parties and events…. and Christmas Dinner – a real one……. then divided the ingredients to what I could buy in Mississippi…. cuz food was about 1/3 cheaper in MS than it was in Boston. Two coolers for special meats/seafood with a visit to a special butcher. Into the truck they went.
Large moving boxes for each child, gifts already wrapped with their names PAINTED on them, but no decoration – not enough room in the truck and decorations on top would get ruined or smooshed. For over a week, I had the moving boxes set up in the front parlor of the B&B. I could barely keep Gunner and Big T out of them – shaking boxes. I packed and repacked as I added more gifts which descended from the attic like magic.
The tree and decorations for the tree were already in Boston and up – I sent one whole tree’s worth that I wasn’t using. But I had made stockings for each kid…….. elves…..more chicken wire to do the front gate, floral oasis, all kinds of stuff I just HAD TO HAVE – and into the truck it went. Fresh Mistletoe and a few magnolia leaves from my garden – a hint of Mississippi – into the truck it went.
And finally, I packed one large suitcase for nothing but ribbons which matched the gifts. I had to concede on fully decorating the tops, but be damned if they would not have a pretty ribbon and big bows…… at least. I mean, my reputation was at stake. And surely…. Daddy was watching.
As we pulled out of the driveway in Mississippi, the truck was so packed, all you could see out of the back camper window was lemons/bags of oranges, and special spatulas I needed to cook. We didn’t have room to pack clothing for a trip – but we had clothes at the Boston house.
- Big T: Why are we packing 22lbs of butter?
- Me: Because I will need it for everything I have to make and it’s $1.73 cheaper per lb in MS. AND, if I have extra left over it won’t spoil and can go into the freezer in Boston. See there, we just saved about $40.
I laughed at the site of the truck. Certainly, no Highway Patrolman would dare to stop Big T for speeding. They would feel sorry for the guy. And off to Boston we went.
It’s almost 1700 miles to Boston and normally a 2 day trip by car. Yet, we learned a vicious winter snowstorm was headed into the New England area. We drove straight through……… and made it about an hour before the storm – no snow on the ground —- yet. Tough drive. Big T swears I broke the sound barrier on that trip, and I often surpassed 95mph.
Here’s the kicker – Phone calls along the way informed us the girls were planning to arrive the next morning. “Are you here yet?”, and an hour latter, “Where are you NOW and how much time left until you get here?” They were eager to open gifts, of course. So, once we arrived, we had to unpack…… “Babe, we can’t leave all that perfume and produce in the car overnight….. what if it freezes???”, I said. Big T – frowning….. And then I insisted on making bows for the gifts……. until past 3:00am. I KNEW I would NEVER be able to stop the kids from opening gifts when they arrived, so it was decorate now….. or forever hold your peace.
- Big T: I can’t stay awake anymore.
- Me: It’s okay, you can go to sleep, please. (I didn’t expect him to stay awake – the marathon sessions wrapping gifts was usually a girl thing.)
- Big T: No, it’s not fair to you.
- Big T: He continued to grumble – There’s just no need for all the extra bows and time spent….
- Me: You may not think so and I understand, but it’s kind of my thing. Just let me do it, please.
- Big T: Why can’t you just slap a bow on the gifts. A whole package of bows is less than $3.00. That’s all they’ve ever had. And LOOK at all these gifts. They’ve never had this many gifts. And “ex-wife” and I never gave gifts to each other….. what are all these presents for me??????
- Me: You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to open your gifts. —- I was making complex big and little bows as fast as I could and Big T was stacking them up around the tree, on the windowsills, on the shelves, everywhere he could find a space.
- Big T: Honey, you went nuts at Victoria Secret and Estee Lauder this year. And what’s with all this makeup and perfume. It will smell like a French whorehouse in here.
- Me: I was a girl once, and those were my favorite gifts from Grandma Della…… I was thinking your girls will feel the same way. I mean, you CAN’T have Christmas without a new robe and frilly pajamas….
- Big T, after about two hours: Babe, I can’t even get into the kitchen. The presents are blocking the path, I have to go around. Maybe we should put a few back for Easter or Valentines Day. We’re spoiling them.
- Me: They’re only young once, and we didn’t spend that much on them. But maybe you’re right……. Well, we could save your gifts for another holiday….. (I had at least 30 gifts wrapped for Big T – but 15 of them were part of his special gift, just wrapped separately).
- Big T, frowning: Maybe I’ll let you work and stack a few gifts and just lay down on the couch for a while. And what’s in that wooden old crusty cigar box with that red and gold ribbon???? It has my name on it…..
- Me: That’s okay, please, go to sleep. ….. The very idea that I would keep a secret or surprise him with a gift was foreign to him. How long had it been since he received a special Christmas present????? Wow, was he in for a shocker.
I went to bed late but it was still dark in Boston. Many times I saw the sun rise on nights like these, but marathon wrapping sessions just hours before the big day were in my blood. I was so happy. I swear, if our life really does flash before us in the moments before we die – that moment will be in there for me…… Everything was ready for morning. Cookies stacked on the peninsula, I even brought a big box of assorted sprinkles and cake tips for icing. I was ready. Daddy would have been proud. Grandma Della would have expected it.
And yes, the tree was big and fat. I bet Big T bought the biggest one he could find. He had been back to the house for a weekend visit with the girls in early December when they did the tree. Top was scrapping the ceiling, and it took half the dining room. Presents flowed to the kitchen and living room – big gifts, with no room left, stacked against the stairs. It was not really that much….. but it looked perfect.
Gunner was up like he was shot out of a cannon. Girls there before 8:00am.
We had to have breakfast, first. Big T insisted. I’ve never see kids eat so fast. And they would pick up presents, as in, “I want to open this one first.” It was bedlam – the kind of Christmas with MANY kids that I always hoped for – a true joy – about 35 years late – but it happened – best Christmas gift I ever received was BEING THERE, in that moment – a real Christmas – with over 18 inches of snow outside. When did the snow start???? I missed it.
I hinted that it wasn’t really Christmas yet – still almost a week early, and presents had to be opened on Christmas – they would have to …….. wait. I thought they were going to kill me, all of them. Dagger eyes. Even Big T conceded we would not be able to move in the house with all the gifts blocking the paths – that was it – we had to have Christmas a little early.
And so we opened gifts. One at a time – slow unwrapping – so everyone could see what everyone else received. It was great and the girls were completely into the idea. It took us HOURS to unwrap everything….. and one by one, the girls started to “save their bows” and put them on the tree, then……… they started attaching them to the staircase, eventually the entire staircase banister was smothered in ribbons of every size and color.
It was beautiful, and simple. Staying up late was worth every minute….. but it always is……
I started a tradition for our new joint family, the wooden cigar box. It was an oversized cigar box with brass tips. Old and crusty, yes……… but regal. Each year one family member would be highlighted for a BIG gift. I explained to them all, since there were so many kids, we couldn’t do a big gift for each child every year. The girls LOVED the idea, and secretly, I told them WHAT was the big gift for Big T, as he would be first. I bought him a week at Boston Red Sox Fantasy Camp in Ft Myers, where regular guys had the chance to spend a week playing baseball with real Red Sox players. He cried like a baby. Several of the 15 other gifts were things he would need on the trip, but designed to make him think it was something ELSE, and keep him confused. Finally, in the wooden cigar box, were his papers for admission/registration, hotel, and plane tickets.
Because Big T had to unwrap so many other gifts to get to his big gift, the tension mounted. The girls were squealing as Big T’s turn to unwrap one more gift came around – and his confusion increased. One gift was a big box of Boston Baked Beans, the first thing he opened – cuz he was FROM Boston and was shaking every present long before Christmas – the rattling of the candy had him truly puzzled. The way he looked at me – he must have thought I was crazy…… Another “other” gift was a sweatshirt from Chicago. The weather was still cool in Ft Myers and I thought he would need a sweatshirt for the trip – but one from Chicago had him freaked….. why Chicago? Another “other” gift was two bottles of Arizona Iced Tea. It was heavy gift and he could not IMAGINE what was in the box. Arizona? Tea? Hey, every baseball player needs to cool off and drink liquids, right? Another “other” gift was new underwear and socks. Cuz you can’t be naked in a locker room with a bunch of guys wearing old underwear….. right? Another “other” gift was super expensive sunglasses from an Italian designer – coupled with a Phoenician Christmas ornament…… cuz a baseball player needs sunglasses on the field, right? Big T could not possible think of where this was all leading…..
Then, a big box, a moving size box, which was full of other gifts…..all were wrapped…. the new baseball glove, a bat bag, cleats…. etc. BUT accompanied with tickets for him and Gunner to enter a father/son 3 day baseball camp at the local rec center in Boston…….., the following summer…. Gunner received a similar box to keep the bluff going as long as possible…… That was it? Big T was kind of disappointed. He was trying to FAKE being happy. We had him….. He was completely perplexed.
And then came the cigar box, with the red and gold ribbon….. The last gift opened that day. He wept.
Sure, I could have stuffed the tickets and registration into an envelope and placed it on the tree like a gift card from Target. Sure, he would still have been thrilled to go to Fantasy Camp……….. but the wrapping of “other gifts”, the build up, all the kids involved and DYING to see him open the cigar box……… it made the whole thing better.
Gotta wrap a Christmas gift a little bit special.
And if I give you a pair of socks with a red velvet ribbon around the top…… You should probably check to see what is inside the socks…..