Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Princeton Time Opinion

December 9, 2011

Meaning behind holidays, under the wrapping

PRINCETON — We all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and the thought behind any gift is more important than what’s beneath the bow and stashed underneath the tissue paper.

But, surrounded by an island of sparkling, curliquing ribbons and rolls of paper that appeared to be floating where my bed usually stands recently, I wondered whether the same ideas counted for Christmas gift wrap.

And, if they did, why had I just spent the last several hours with my shoulders bent over presents that appeared to have multiplied dramatically since I left the store with the shiny, plastic shopping bags full of treasures?

This year was not the exception, and I wasn’t even finished for the season.

My Christmas traditions always include marathon sessions in the floor, bent over a bed or sitting cross-legged at a coffee table, wrapping, taping, tying and tagging. Although I’m usually tired and stiff, with sticky fingers and lots of scrap paper clinging to my clothes and sticking to my shoes by the time the chore is all wrapped up, it’s actually part of the fun.

For me, preparing the presentation of a gift is part of the present itself. I trace that trait straight back to the family members who recently asked me why I didn’t just buy gift bags and get it over with.

It all started with my mom. She tells the tale occasionally of wrapping her family’s gifts in comic paper as a teen. When she saved some money, she really dressed her presents up. She bought a roll of freezer paper and paid my always fiscally-minded Aunt Debbie to draw holiday scenes on the slick white sheet.

Eventually, she graduated to bonafide wrapping paper, complete with pictures that weren’t commissioned of her younger sister, but my first gift wrap memory, all fuzzy and warm in a sepia-toned vision inside my mind’s eye, is of Mom teaching me how to use the sharp edges of scissors to curl the plastic, ribbed ribbon that’s probably under most of our trees.

I wasn’t allowed to do that, of course, because using the scissors was a very grown-up thing to do, but I was mystified at how the ribbon curled and just how genius Mom was to figure out the secret I was sure only Santa and his dedicated delegation of elves knew.

Every time I curl a ribbon, I remember the first time I watched the red and green strips spiral around the knot in the middle of some gift that’s long-since worn out or broken. What sticks with me is the care that it took to tie that bow and the time it required to teach a little girl how.

Dad wrapped presents too, but his approach was a little different.

A very logical-minded man, expediency and coverage were his prime goals when we systematically tackled the task of wrapping Mom’s gifts each Christmas.

As long as the paper encompassed the whole package, Dad didn’t put too much worry into whether the paper was wrinkled, the edges cut on a slant, or really, whether the bow even stuck or not. After all, it was all going to get unwrapped Christmas morning, anyway. Why waste all that time making sure it was right, just to have it torn off and stuffed into a trash can?

I even remember wrapping presents with Nanny and my cousin one time. How or why we were wrapping escapes me, because Nanny usually viewed things like gift paper as a waste of good time and hard-earned money.  Wrapping to preserve food or protect plants in the garden may have been essential, but doing the same for gifts was just frivolous, and probably in Nanny’s words, a little ridiculous.

But, for whatever reason, that morning, Nanny took  paper out of the closet and instructed us on the necessity of keeping the gifts a secret and doing the best we could with the paper. For some reason, we whispered through the project, I suppose to emphasize we understood the covert nature of the merry mission.

I realized recently that though I can recall all of these moments in precise detail, I have no idea what was inside any of the boxes I curled with mom, raced through with dad or kept a quiet with Nanny. The intangible experiences — the shared moments and love felt — stayed with me long after the solid gifts were forgotten, used up or worn out.

Maybe part of the real gift was not so much their covers, but the emotions that prompted the wrapping in the first place, the desire to pick the perfect present and give it in a manner most meaningful to the giver and the recipient, whether that was with curling streamers, crooked seams or secret missions.

Tammie Toler is Princeton Times editor. Contact her at

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