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wrappinggiftsFor some years we gave up celebrating Christmas. We were in the meadow after all. Weather changed at the drop of the hat, and there were years when unmailed cards remained unmailed until it was too late to bother. Snow has a way of locking you in place when you live in the middle of a square mile with a dirt lane your only means  of escape.

The same went for gift shopping. Plans change and opportunities are lost. We always got the food a month in advance. We stopped bothering with the hauling of a tree when it was apparent that we were the only one’s to see it. Nobody drags their car down such a treacherous road just to see your Christmas trees. No outdoor decorations since deer and coyote seemed most unimpressed anyway.

Things are different here. Our outdoor display is appreciated at least as much as we appreciate all our neighbors efforts. And enough folks come to the door for one reason or another (the kids are coming to clean the back yard today of Diego’s paper tearing habit), that our tree will be enjoyed by more than just us.

So, I have a table full of tree decorations to put on today and another table of boxes and wrapping paper and ribbons.

And that got me to thinking.

Of years long past.

Of Christmases gone.

Of parents and cousins and grandmothers and aunts and uncles and trees and presents, and decorations. But most of all, of traditions.

Yes traditions–those things that tie us past and present, that bridge the youth of our existence with the dreamy ephemeral future. It it what glues us to the present I guess. We love them, we hate them, we observe them, deny then, change them, but they are ever close to us. The memories surely.

In my family the women ruled the holidays. Men carted trees in and set them up, and put up outdoor strings of bulbs along the rooftop. Other than that they sat in their lazy-boys® and stayed out of the way. They carried things if asked, but they did not ask what they carried. They went to a men’s night downtown where hundreds of helpful women helped them pick out the robes and slippers  and necklaces that would be their “gifts” to wives and mothers, always with the statement, “well she’s about your size, a little taller, and well, she weighs a bit more (never less)”.

In our family, my grandmother, mother, and aunts all engaged in their own competition at Christmas.

Let me set the stage. Grandmother was the matriarch, with two children, Dorothy and Glenn, my father. Grandma Gertrude had a sister she lived with named Lona and Lona had one daughter Gloria. The rest of the men and children are unimportant to the story. The women then played the game of wrapping.

Born no doubt from the scarcities of the depression, it grew into a major competition where the women fought fiercely for the unawarded but still significant, winner of the wrapping season. Let me explain.

There were no such things as bows that one bought and stuck onto packages. Bows were constructed of various ribbons and other additions, i.e., bells, plastic holly, a wooden snowman or snowflake, and various colored balls. They were layered with several different ribbons, all meticulously chosen to blend into a high-standing elegant bow that would grace a box that had been covered in an appropriate colored paper, carefully taped with sharp edges,  containing the present.

The ribbon was bought, but most of us came from bows obtained from the last season. If you received a gift, you kept the bow. It went into your bow box to be placed high in the closet until next year when it would be taken down. A pair of scissors would clip the strings that held the bow together and the bow deconstructed. All the ribbons would be ironed. Then the gift  to be given would be place on the table. You might choose the paper first, or decide that the size of the box called for this bauble or that to be affixed upon the bow as the crowning glory. You made your choices, and began the process of folding and squeezing and tying off, and adding ribboned layers until the bow was complete. It was then affixed to the box with other ribbons, sometimes made into designs. The box might be placed in the center, across a corner or at the top third. It might have cross corners. It was creation.

When one received such a gift, one did not tear off the bow and paper. This was never done. One slipped ever so carefully the bow off the package, saving the wrapping ribbon if at all possible. Only if the bow was tied on “too tight” was a man asked to produce his jackknife and slit the ribbon for removal. Then attention went to the ends of the boxes and if possible the tape was removed carefully, tearing as little as possible. Once removed, the paper was folded, pressing it flat. It went onto the pile of ribbons, bows and paper that would be placed into a bag for carrying home to add to one’s own stash of ribbons and bows for next year.

It went on year after year. I recall some exquisite ones. The winners were always Grandma and Gloria who seemed especially talented. But the oohs and ahhs were all appropriately shared among all the women. Everyone was made to feel competent at least.

I learned all this at the kitchen table as my mother and I wrapped gift after gift on the days leading up to Christmas. I ironed much ribbon and I taped many a box, being careful to crease the paper sharply and fold in the ends before lifting up the final panel to be taped at the mid-point of the ends. Square corners, perfect angles, tight and ready to be dressed with ribbons and bows.


I wrap the paper pretty much as I was taught. But the bows? Oh I gave that up. I have a bag of the one’s with the sticky bottoms. That’s about the best I can do, although I still wrap a bit of ribbon round the box. Don’t even ask what the Contrarian’s packages look like. Not a pretty sight, not by any means.

What is your favorite memory of the way “things were done” at Christmas?