Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas Memory: Wrapping Paper

So many blog posts over so many years, it's hard to remember what I've written about and what I haven't. In terms of Christmas memories, it would be fairly easy to go back through a listing of my posts and check. However, that sounds like work, and today, though I'm at my day job, work doesn't appeal to me. So, I'm just going to give this memory. I'm fairly certain I haven't shared that here before. That memory is...


What about wrapping paper, you ask? What makes it a special Christmas memory?

From as far back as I can remember, which was probably when I was 5 or 6 years old, we were taught to unwrap gifts in a way that the wrapping paper could be reused. And this was strictly enforced by my parents, especially Dad, though Mom never contradicted him. I'm sure that in the years before I can remember, when I was 2, 3, 4 years old, I probably tore into the presents and shredded the wrapping paper. I'm sure my siblings did that in their younger years.

But my memories are of very carefully unwrapping gifts. Before taking too much time oohing and aahing over the gift, each of us would stretch out the paper, fold the tape down to the back of the paper, then fold the paper into a reasonably sized square or rectangle. We would set the paper aside, in a growing stack. Then and only then did we take a lot of time with whatever gift it was we opened.

After all gifts were opened, Dad took our piles of paper down to the basement, and put them on a certain shelf, where the Christmas decorations were stored. All year, as we kids would play in the basement, we would see the paper on the shelf, but never touch it. Next year when it came time to wrap Christmas gifts, the consolidated pile of used paper was brought upstairs. As we had a gift to wrap, we would go to the pile and choose an appropriately-sized piece, and wrap our gift. Usually we would have to trim the paper a little smaller because, no matter how hard we had tried to be careful the previous year, we would always tear the paper. The torn part would be trimmed, and a new gift wrapped in the old paper and placed under the tree.

It got to the point where we would recognize paper, and remember what had been wrapped in it previously. "Oh, I remember this piece! Last year that sweater from Aunt Bernie was in this." As you can imagine, we rarely had to buy new wrapping paper. And, the rule was we shouldn't take a piece of a new roll (assuming a new roll was available) so long as a used piece would do the job.

I'll chalk this up to my parents' Depression-era mentality. Born in 1916 and 1918, they finished their education, came of age, and entered the work force in the heart of the Great Depression. Dad, more than Mom, was fearful of the next depression, and lived just about every day as if he were still in the last one. Nothing that might have residual value was discarded. When bread became stale or moldy, we took it to Roger Williams Park and fed the ducks. Deadfall apples from the tree were used for applesauce or given away for the same purpose. Nothing was wasted. Wrapping paper, that frivolous material whose only purpose was to conceal a gift for a day or a few weeks, fell into that category.

Year by year, the pieces of paper shrunk from trimming, being suitable for smaller and smaller gifts. Eventually a piece would be too small to justify saving, even for Norman Todd, the depression-era man, and into the trash it would go. If it was a piece we remembered especially well, it was almost as sad to see it go as when a toy would break beyond repair and have to be discarded.

And, just as pieces of wrapping paper shrunk, so did the Christmas celebration. The first Christmas after Mom died, when we kids were 15-13-11, we did our gift opening on Christmas eve rather than Christmas day, and that became the new tradition. By this time we were giving each other record albums. Rather than wrap them and put them under the tree, we would find an appropriately-sized piece of used paper, go back to our bedrooms, find the album where we had hidden it, loosely fold the paper around it without using tape, and present it to our sibling. And so a new tradition was born. Not as dramatic as wrapped gifts under the tree, or as difficult to unwrap and get at the gift, but the pieces of wrapping paper started lasting longer.

Just as the wrapping paper shrunk from year to year, so did Christmas traditions. This is one that didn't survive my childhood into my adult years and my family. I tried to get the kids to unwrap carefully, but I didn't succeed. Plus, storing old wrapping paper takes space, which we didn't always have. Actually, I believe they open the gifts carefully, not shredding the paper, but I'm not sure they save it. And the grandkids are too young to be instructed to unwrap with care. A gift awaits, and that darned paper is preventing them from getting to it and using it. So off comes the paper, to be wadded up and put in the trash.

Traditions fade, families break apart and new families form, and life goes on. But memories stay. This one stays with me.


vero said...

I enjoyed reading this. :)

David A. Todd said...

Thanks, Veronica. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Colleen Kelly Mellor said...

My brother--ever the romantic--decided one year to wrap all his gifts in old newspapers (he'd waited til last minute and there was no other paper), so that we all had print on our hands, just trying to get at the gifts.

Susan said...

Enjoyed this a lot ...

David A. Todd said...

Colleen: Glad to have called up a memorie for you.

David A. Todd said...

Susan: Thanks for the comment, and for sharing this.