Did you know that 33 percent of all Americans have, at any given time during the year, at least one wrapped, yet-to-be opened Christmas present stashed in a basement or a closet or an attic?
I know this is true for two reasons. First, because my sister-in-law Collette told me, and she’s smart. Second, because right now, as I sit upstairs typing, there lurks in my basement not one but two pristinely wrapped gifts from two years ago, languishing in the deepest recesses of the furnace crawl space, simultaneously gathering dust and emitting low-levels of guilt.
To the young, or the newly married, or the men, it may seem odd to harbor a backlog of gifts. But among my cohort of been-there, done-that, given-and-received-and-returned all of it, there’s usually a wrapping command center in the house where purchases go to await their moment of glory. It’s the not so secret but sufficiently out of the way area where we moms keep the wrapping paper, the ribbons, the bows, the hostess gifts and the birthday gifts and the things we bought in bulk and on sale and at a holiday bazaar or flea market or on vacation which seemed ideal at the time and which sometimes make the perfect present and sometimes seem like little stashes of good intentions gone awry that can never be given away… just in case.
I bring this up because whatever you celebrate, ‘tis the season to be wrapping. And through the miracle of marriage, I get to wrap not only in silver and blue, but also in green and red and gold. There’s a lot to wrap.
Now, it’s not that I mind wrapping so much. In fact, I like it. My mother-in-law has always referred to her holiday wrapping room as The North Pole, which makes it festive and furtive and fun. Okay, so maybe the elves in the Arctic Circle don’t survive on a steady supply of Diet Coke and Hershey’s kisses, but the precision work of folding and taping and festooning with ribbons is the same.
Here’s what’s fun: wrapping a present you know will be loved. Over the years I’ve learned that most kids three and under are thrilled if the designer label featured on the gift includes the words Tonka, Playskool, Disney or Elmo. Also, kids this age like empty boxes and Tupperware. These are the golden years of gift giving.
After age three, of course, gift giving becomes more like horse racing. Sure, people pick a winner now and then, but the odds are never in your favor. Assuming that you are not purchasing a car or a weapon for your child, trying to divine what will bring a squeal of delight to your teenager versus what will bring a forced smile is not an endeavor for the faint hearted.
Or, as we say in our family as we open gifts, they’re either a “swing and a hit” or a “swing and a miss.” We’re a tough crowd.
And that’s why the wrapping is so important. It signifies the heartfelt attempt to get it right no matter what the outcome. This year, as I wrapped clothes I hope will be loved but that I think will be returned, I made each bow bigger and more festive. My elaborate wrapping became the equivalent of Julia Child’s use of parsley and powdered sugar: it covers up whatever little mistake might have been made.
As for the few lonely presents that get left under the tree, or near the Menorah, or forgotten in the recesses of closets where they were hidden, it’s not that sad. They’re wrapped with love and ready to be opened whenever they’re found.
And who knows? Maybe by the time I get to opening the two in my cellar I’ll have grandchildren and whatever’s inside will be a swing and a hit.