“Wrapping if Necessary”–a Christmas Eve Essay

One of the unanticipated negative impacts of the online shopping that has become the norm during the COVID pandemic is the loss of the gift wrapping service that was generally available with live shopping.

          I came to the business of getting Christmas presents gift-wrapped where I bought them very early on—at the age of seven, to be precise.  Knowing, even then, that I was simply terrible at any sort of wrapping, I took to patronizing stores, such as the Shop for Good Living in my home town of Darien, Connecticut, that offered free gift-wrapping.  In gratitude, I became a most loyal and regular Christmas patron of the Shop for Good Living and one or two other similar stores, showing up every year in a ritual that the stores’ proprietors and I both came to enjoy.  When, as occasionally happened, family members would compliment me on the wrapping job, I would simply smile, knowingly.  At first, only my sister, Mary, whom I often pressed into service to help with those few items that I couldn’t get wrapped “at the source,” was in on the secret. And she had the good grace not to say anything or even crack a smile when the compliments started pouring in for the excellent wrapping jobs performed by the Shop for Good Living, Grieb’s Pharmacy, and one or two other kindly local merchants.  On the rare occasions when I put a package I myself had “wrapped” under the tree, it would look like something a dog had dragged through a swamp.

          Through most of my adulthood, I continued to get the majority of my presents wrapped “at source.” As I matured into middle age, I more and more often had to pay for the service, and occasionally, instead of having a present wrapped at the store where I’d bought it, I was obliged to take it to a central Christmas wrapping station.  This was definitely the case with the gifts I would buy at the Rideau Centre during my previous stint in Ottawa.  Each present would cost somewhere between $2 and $5 to wrap, depending on the gift’s size and the complexity of the job.  I didn’t mind a bit.  Rarely did I drop more than $20 on all the presents I needed wrapped.  To me, this was money well-spent, keeping me in festive spirit by freeing me from a job I found frighteningly difficult and keeping the gifts’ recipients happy by giving them a professionally-wrapped package instead of something that looked as if the cat had dragged it through its dinner dish.  (I had improved by that much over the years).

          Fast forward a couple more decades, to the present.  I’m little better at wrapping now than I was as a small boy.  The difference is that, in this time of pandemic, I’m not doing my shopping live, at stores that gift wrap for you.  And I also don’t have my loving sister available to help out.  I still use a roll of Scotch tape for every three to four mid-sized packages I wrap conventionally, just as I did during my boyhood.  But now, as of this year, I no longer even attempt to wrap things conventionally.

          In old age, I’ve hit upon a system of “wrapping” that achieves wrapping’s prime objective—to conceal the present from plain sight so the recipient doesn’t know what it is—with considerably less expenditure of time, energy, and raw materials than my feeble attempts at conventional wrapping did, and with fewer (though still a far from negligible number) of my most unchristian, unChristmaslike profanities and obscenities. 

          The system makes liberal use of small to medium-sized mailing boxes, which thanks to all my online shopping, I have around the house in goodly numbers.  What I do, first, is stick my gift into one of those boxes.  If the box is a good fit for the present, that’s a plus, but a good fit isn’t essential.  I can always fill up any empty space with crumpled newspaper, crumpled tissue paper, or other materials of that sort.

          Having put the gift into its box, I then tape the box shut with one or two small pieces of Scotch tape, before setting about seeing if I can cover the box in some way. For this purpose, I am using tissue paper of various colours.  Some might argue that given my extreme ineptitude as a wrapper, I would more properly be using tinfoil.  They might have a point.  But my supply of tinfoil is limited; it must be carefully husbanded to ensure I have enough for the roasting of small birds, the covering of pies, and other critical Yuletide tasks.  So I stick with the tissue paper, which I attach to the box with more Scotch tape—probably more than I should be using. The result still doesn’t look like anyone else’s wrapped present, but at least it no longer looks like something a dog (or cat) dragged through a body of water, large or small.  Now it looks as if I had started to wrap the item but had been called away, mid-job, on an urgent matter and had forgotten to get back to it. But, to repeat, the item is at least fully and decently covered. That’s the main thing.

          I describe this new system as “Wrapping if necessary, but not necessarily wrapping.”  Hopefully this will be the first and last year in which I’m obliged to use it.  Next year at this time, with a COVID vaccine universally available, I plan to do most of my shopping “live,” as I did for most of my life—and to get my presents wrapped, no matter how much the job costs.

          In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year to all my readers.  See you again in the New Year, if not sooner.


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