Well, I've finished buying "the stuff" and I'm feeling pretty good as I write this on December 8th. I'm never finished Christmas shopping this early. A few stocking stuffers during Christmas week and I'm good to go. The mail-order gifts have not all arrived yet, but they have been bought and I have only two tasks left regarding this year's presents wrap them, and pay for them. The wrapping will definitely go faster.
I learned one lesson during the buying process this year. I've been eying certain catalogue purchases all fall but haven't taken the plunge. My list-making wasn't complete, and documentation has become necessary lest Christmas morning result in a landslide for one recipient and a goose egg for another. So I waited until all the decisions were made and tackled the catalogue goodies' websites. Waiting proved to be a charm the sales were as good as the stores and all the shipping was free!
As much as I try to shop locally, we all know there are things that can be purchased only outside our little river city. However, every trip to Erie or Buffalo involves the gas tank, the lunch place, and the inevitable traffic, weather and crowded customer conga lines. Let's see: a time-consuming, nerve-frazzling, foot-busting trip vs. a pajama-clad loll in the recliner with my laptop, accompanied by a cup of tea in one hand and the remote in the other no contest. The only crowding I run into is when Ollie decides that my lap is big enough for both a laptop and a lap cat.
Every fall I reflect philosophically on why we do this to ourselves. I listen respectfully to those who exchange only handmade gifts. And many grandparents have sensibly moved to their checkbooks for their gift solutions. That time might come for me too, but for now, the thrill of the chase to elicit just the right smile on Christmas morning is still an important part of the day. I'm amazed sometimes at how little that takes . . . the perfect present doesn't always have a high price tag.
Now that the booty is either here or on its way, let the wrapping begin. As I was gathering all the supplies from the garage I got to thinking about how much wrapping has changed. There was even a brief article about it on television last week, stating that until the 1800's presents were modest, everyday items just placed under the tree, unwrapped. I guess when gifts became more interesting, wrapping them up contained the surprise a little longer. Initially, everything was simply ensconced in white butcher paper with the addition of ribbons coming later. One day a man named Hall ran out of his plain butcher paper and wrapped his last gift with some of the envelope liner papers that he used in his stationary and card business. Yup, it was that Mr. Hall, the one from Kansas City with the little company called Hallmark. And presto-chango, printed gift wrap was born. That was in the late 1920's.
Somehow, by the forties, the printed giftwrap hadn't made it to our house, but it turns out that my Mom bought the roll of white butcher paper at the five and dime because she liked it - the crisp white with red and green ribbons. . . and stickers. I loved the stickers then as much as little kids do today but I got to place them "just so" on each gift. We didn't use much tape so even the ends were closed with the colorful little Santas or elves, angels or trees.
The year I found my mother's stash and decided to open all my presents the week before Christmas, those stickers presented a bit of a problem. After slipping the ribbons off, I learned quickly that getting the boxes out was tricky, but getting them back into the original paper without tearing the flaps or the stickers made for slow, stealthy work. I guess I was about ten, and before I opened the last box I discovered that I had a real talent for this misdemeanor. I also learned that crime doesn't pay.
I don't know why I thought there would still be some surprises on Christmas morning, but there weren't. I'd ruined them all. And I wasn't at all prepared for the acting talent required once the guilt set in. I couldn't let on that I knew what was in every present and I was just old enough to know that it might ruin things for Mom. Perhaps my feigned surprise. I was a little overdramatic because for some reason she switched to the automobile trunk the following year.
The year that Bart was getting his first watch, I realized he had opened the stapled bag it was wrapped in. He had put the watch back in the bag, but hadn't even lined up the holes on the staple! He obviously didn't inherit his felonious gene from me. I rewrapped the watch in a poster tube, put a lump of coal in the bag, and closed it with the third staple. For days before Christmas he gloated in a sing-song voice, "I know what I'm getting," as he'd hold the bag to his ear and mock, "tick, tick, tick." The look on his face Christmas morning was priceless, and we made sure the poster tube was the last present he opened. Larceny requires punishment.
After my children left the nest they came home at Christmas with all their presents needing to be wrapped. We had the paper- ribbon-tape supply line under control and the countertops to do it. Poor Alix was always leaned on by her brother and father to "please, please, just a few more?" Their pleas usually came as she was finishing her own gift wrapping in the wee hours of Christmas Eve. She often wrapped her own present from Bart, recognizing her handiwork the following morning.
This year I have no awkward shapes or sizes to get under wraps no guitars, skateboards or tricycles. The wrapping should be uneventful. Each day my all-important list is checked off as a mail order gift arrives, and checked again in a second color hi-lighter after it's wrapped. I should finish in time for those Christmas morning smiles without having to pull an all-nighter Christmas Eve. Thankfully, that torch has been passed, and I'll be able to wrap up a good night's sleep.
Marcy O'Brien writes from her home in Glade Township where she lives with Ollie, a barely domesticated feline. She can be reached at Moby.firstname.lastname@example.org.