Photo: plastic_batFor my mother, sweet vindication came as an early Christmas gift this year on page 59 of a lifestyle magazine. This particular magazine, which specializes in snappy home décor, delicious cookery, and other ways to make your life more fabulous than your neighbors’, ran a spread on stylish new ways to wrap presents. There, nestled between the hand-stamped parcel paper and the wrapping designed by local artisans, this anonymous magazine (okay, it was Sunset) featured a present swathed in newspaper. Regular old newspaper, left over from last Sunday’s pile. Sure, they tucked a sprig of redwood greenery into the ribbon, but newspaper it remained.
My mom has been wrapping gifts in old newspaper for my entire life. I’ll admit, this used to be a source of embarrassment for me. At the big holiday parties, one could always spot our family’s contributions under the tree. They were the unshiny, unsexy packages, surrounded by boxes bedecked in fancy Christmas prints and glittery bows tied just so. Social pressure made me think that buying festive gift wrap (and don’t forget the fresh tissue paper!) was a matter of extreme importance. I imagined fellow partygoers eyeing the gift pile with distaste, thinking unmentionable things (namely: How cheap).
And now, suddenly, here we have a premier lifestyle glossy lauding the humble newspaper. Mom’s time has come.
It’s no mystery why reusing old TV listings is now in vogue. Our culture’s reigning wave of eco-hipness has met an economic recession, creating the perfect storm for upcycled gift wrap. Others are awakening to the truth Mom always knew: Gift wrap is inherently wasteful. Why not skip it in favor of paper you already have? In fact, you don’t even have to use paper at all. A little creativity turns handkerchiefs, blankets, or scarves into reusable wrapping substitutes, too.
I saw the light on this a few years ago, but occasionally I’ll still get suckered into buying new gift bags or tissue (usually because I’m trying not to get how-cheaped by a recipient I don’t know very well). No more. This year, I challenged myself to wrap all my gifts without using a single piece of new wrapping paper or other accoutrements. Extra points for making them somewhat attractive while doing it. And I’d do it all on Christmas Eve, hanging out at my parents’ place.
Now that the last wassail has faded, I’m reporting back that Operation No-Wrap Christmas was a great success. Yes, there were some setbacks, but all told, I don’t know why I haven’t been doing this all along.
The biggest hurdle was arranging my offering to the extended family grab bag — a hand-curated selection of homemade jams. (You want in on this easy, sticky gift for next year? Get started here.) The answer: Repurposing materials from other gifts. I began with a festive, green aluminum tub from a gift box my parents had received the week before. I crumpled up some newspaper — so hot right now — to help the jams sit at the top of the tub. I covered that with green crimped packing paper swiped from a package of chocolate treats I got from my boyfriend’s grandma in the mail. Into this nest went the jams, artfully arranged of course, and topped with a Styrofoam sheet that also came with the chocolates. (What, you’d rather I just throw that crap straight into the trash?) It almost looked like the basket was covered in snow, if you squinted.
I just needed some kind of bag to hold it all together. My parents don’t truck in garbage bags (they reuse grocery bags instead), and I vetoed a Target bag on the grounds that it actually deserved a “How cheap.” To the rescue: an old, clear bag from the dry cleaner’s. I wrapped it around my tub and tied it off with a red ribbon saved from last year’s loot. Perfect.
Most of the other gifts were almost too easy, as Mom sports a collection of gently used gift bags, tissue, ribbons, and bows several decades in the making. Having access to this bounty, it was a simple matter to choose old materials and cushion my gifts with tissue paper that hadn’t yet disintegrated. There were even plenty of Christmas-themed bags in the pot, so I could steer clear of the one proclaiming “Congratulations, Class of 2000!” this time around. She’s not the only one: I’ve even heard tell of people actually ironing pieces of used wrapping paper and saving them to wrap once more. Hey, why not?
But I had to do more. Something more creative. In trolling around for ideas, I came across the following suggestions for alterna-wrapping: aprons, yogurt containers, decorated glass jars, maps, sheets of music, old posters (finally! My adolescent-era Bush poster finds new life!), and of course, newspaper. Oh, and pillowcases — I dug around until I found the pillowcase I’d made it art class in second grade, the one with the purple parrot on it, and filled it with still more of that green, crinkly packing paper. Then I carefully arranged my dad’s gifts inside it, adding more crinkles to cover it up, and tied it shut with some curling ribbon we had lying around.
The final product? Awful. A shapeless, lumpy mess. It looked less like a present than like a sack of doll heads. But it didn’t matter in the least to my father, for whom gift-wrapping ranks at about 78,956th in his list of things worth caring about. The pillowcase concealed his presents until Christmas morning, anyway, and he liked them just the same.
After the present frenzy, all the gift bags were carefully gathered and placed back in the collection for next year, all the newspaper recycled, and the pillowcase folded and put back in the linen drawer. But don’t be surprised if you see that purple parrot featured in a lifestyle magazine next December — this family has always been ahead of its time.