One of my earliest, happiest Christmas memories concerns a box wrapped in a Victorian teddy bear paper. I was 6 and had to have a Madame Alexander doll. On Christmas morning, I opened the teddy bears to find my much desired companion. While I hugged her, my thrifty mother smoothed the wrapping and laid it aside.
When it turned up under the tree the next December, it was like spotting an old friend. Thereafter, the teddy bears always adorned a favorite gift. Every year, the paper shrank as it was torn and trimmed. Eventually, it might stretch to cover a book, or, later still, earrings. Nowadays the remnant is the size of a matchbook, but still Mom affixes it to a larger piece to wrap something special.
I, too, have a paper for each of my three children that—through clever origami, strategic name tags, and double-sided tape—covers a favorite gift. Come December, you'll find me stretching it like an artist stretching a canvas, then creating my humble art, tucking hospital corners around the boxes, squealing scissors down the curling ribbon. After placing my best-dressed presents under our lit tree, I brush pine needles from my shoulders and stand back to admire the patchwork of Christmases past and future.
The home-wrapped gift has gone the way of the handwritten thank-you, I'm afraid. It saves time to have presents store-wrapped or popped in one-size-fits-all bags with puffs of tissue. But I'll have to cut corners elsewhere. For me, wrapping is not only a meaningful flourish—it is also my deeply centering preparation. Wrapping must be done in secrecy, so in those busy weeks of shopping and parties, those hours are the only ones I spend alone. And when wrapping gifts, I'm thinking about their recipients—how creative my son is with his Legos, how gracefully my ill friend has struggled, how much I owe my mother. It seasons me for the season. I don't wrap gifts for others, not really. Wrapping gifts is the gift I give myself.
Beth Ann Fennelly fears Oxford, Mississippi, will see no snow this year because she bought her children sleds.