My favorite part about Christmas
Do you know what my favorite part of Christmas is? Wrapping gifts.
There, I said it. Your opinion of me, over the last 330 articles has been forged through subtle hints at my insanity. Now, I have come out and admitted it: I am verifiably nuts.
That’s right, my favorite part about Christmas is wrapping gifts.
This could be because I spent waaaay too much time reading Martha Stewart Living during my young adulthood. Honestly, it probably is Martha Stewart’s fault. On the pages of her magazine, she always showed lovely, tastefully wrapped packages, with silvery ribbons perfectly tied in mouth-watering bows.
The first year we were married, my indulgent husband and I lived on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean (long, long story). There is a traditional textile in the West Indies called a madras, which is a vibrant plaid, in any number of bright and beautiful color combinations. The one most closely associated with Martinique has a primary yellow background, with red and green plaid.
That first year we were married, I decided I was going to wrap gifts with madras. I went to buy yards and yards of it, and then I realized, in what was a shock to my system, just how incredibly expensive madras was. So I had to temper my excitement, and instead, I bough just one yard of madras and tore it into long ribbons, with which I decorate kraft-paper wrapped packages.
What I remember, after I swallowed my disappointment, was a tingle of satisfaction as I enjoyed just how beautiful all those coordinating packages looked in my suitcase as we packed to fly to Florida for a family visit.
Martha Stewart was onto something.
My least favorite part about Christmas
The part about Christmas that makes me feel the most unhappy (not the part I hate. The part I hate is just the overarching stress around being merry) is all the wastefulness.
I get a pain in my stomach when I see the piles of discarded wrapping paper, when I see all the packaging that will be going to the recycling bin–or worse, the dumpster.
This discomfort reached its zenith when my (now teenage) nieces were little. There was so much excitement around quantity of gifts and around the opening of the gifts, and when it was over there were bags of discarded wrapping paper. Like. Trash bags full of the stuff.
Keeping in mind that I was a happily childless married person, quietly judging the way other people were interacting with children. I was such a hypocrite…I judged the catastrophic quantity of gifts, the way the girls would barely even look at a gift before they would start ripping open the next…
I swore then and there that if I had children (which I never intended to do, mind you), we would do things differently.
A challenge to do things differently
It has been a very, very concerted effort on my part to keep Christmas low-key for our boys. I have tried to put more emphasis on traditions, like the December 6 Saint Nicolas celebration, which is ubiquitous in Alsace, where we live, at the center of which is a traditional kind of brioche called a manala, clementines and hot chocolate. Or the Advent Calendar, another tradition which I absolutely love and gladly offer my boys. We watch the Christmas tree go up downtown, and attend the lighting ceremonies. We try to memorize Luke 2.
Most importantly, Christmas is the story of Jesus’ birth and the amazing a birthday party God put on with light and music performed by angels. A party, the guest list for which included shepherds and kings. This is what I want my boys to celebrate.
We have not let our boys believe in Santa. I know, we are awful, mean parents. But the Santa tradition is about gifts. And I just don’t want my boys believing that Christmas is about gifts. We got away with this until they started school. Now, they are hedging their bets.
Gifts, however, inevitable. And who says gifts says wrapping gifts.
And gift wrapping has become an earth melting problem.
The problem with wrapping paper
I am willing to bet that the year commercial wrapping paper and scotch tape was invented, housewives around the world gave a collective shout of joy. It’s like Kleenex or Q-Tips. Disposable, easy-to-use…who doesn’t love it?
But the problem, naturally, as years have passed, is that we are watching deforestation happen before our very eyes. Our collective conscience has to feel a little guilty about our conveniences.
Sure, I can buy a roll of really, really cute (because they do make really cute wrapping paper, don’t they?) wrapping paper on clearance after Christmas for 0.50€ a roll. That is fifty cents for a brand new, non-recycled tree. Over the years, I have started feeling intense reservations about assigning this kind of value to our planet’s natural resources.
Remember when I talked about budgeting according to our available resources, and not according to our Uncle Scroogeness? I have debated with myself to no end on this topic right here: the topic of wrapping paper. Sure, I can get it for cheap, and yes, I do love to wrap packages. But my heart will not permit me to spend so little for something that is so majestic as the life of a tree.
Sure, wrapping paper can theoretically be recycled. But is it? I have no way of knowing. I know what our dumpsters look like in our garage, and let me tell you, not everyone is recycling things the right way, and many times, our carefully sorted recycling has ended up in the trash because some idiot threw their kitchen scraps into the paper recycling, either by accident or because they just didn’t care. (Sorry did I call them an idiot? I meant “some careless person.”)
Wrapping paper, by definition, is to be used once and then thrown, recycled, whatever. No one spends more time with the wrapping paper than the person wrapping the gift, and unless that person has a wrapping psychosis (like me), then absolutely no one is actually getting any joy whatsoever out of the cutting down, chipping, pulping, screening, drying and rolling of any given tree.
Alternatives: recycled anything
This prescriptive part of this article will come in two parts: one today, and one in a few days after I have taken a big giant dose of my own medicine and put one of my suggestions to work. Be warned: crafting project ahoy!
A first alternative is to recycle other forms of paper for gift wrapping. Here, I am talking about newspapers (which are admittedly in fewer supply these days), magazines, paper grocery bags. I have done this, and it can be lovely, as long as you lean into it.
Just to elaborate the depths of my psychosis–I used newspapers one year, which I collected from our neighbor who was about to throw them out. I picked out articles I thought might interest the person I was wrapping for and used that page for their gift. (I am insane, I already told you this.) All year I had collected ribbons from different sources and honestly, it looked a-maz-ing.
A second alternative, if you are disturbed by the impersonal nature of newspapers or magazines, is to decorate (or have your scalawags) decorate paper grocery bags or, as I did one year, a roll of white Ikea (recycled, thank you very much) paper. I let them put paint all over their hands and feet and walk around on the paper. It was fun, messy, and really, really cute. To be honest, after people opened their gifts, I saved the paper and used it to make Valentines the following year. (Oh yes, because I do love a good handmade Valentine!)
A third alternative is to practice furoshiki. This is the Japanese art of using fabric to wrap a gift. The fabric can then be part of the gift (a tea towel, for example) or you can keep it and use it again the next year.
This year, I am going to be practicing furoshiki, and you can bet that I will be sharing my adventure with you. It all starts with a planned trip to the thrift store this morning to look through their household textiles (sheets, drapes, tablecloths) for fabric that will provide enough yardage to complete my gift wrapping.
Who says “thrift store” says “temptation to shop,” so believe you me, wrapping gifts without paper this year is important enough to me to walk directly into the lion’s den. Wish me luck, and more to come!
While you may not share my obsession with wrapping gifts, you probably have thoughts about it. If my discussion of wrapping paper left you cold, then no worries…remember, this is a no-judgment zone. What I would encourage you to do, though, is start thinking about how you are going to wrap your gifts this year, and try to incorporate at least one recycled element. Just one.
The wrapping part of gifts can sneak up on you at the last minute, so if at least you have given a tiny bit of thought as to how you want to do it, and maybe even done a little mise en place: create a wrapping station, with your paper (or furoshiki), tape, ribbons, gift tags etc, then the last-minute stress will be less likely to steal your joy this holiday season!