The Art of Gift Wrapping

Packages - Photo by Trent P. McDonald

I used to be terrible at wrapping gifts.  Since I was so bad I hated doing it and since I hated it I just didn’t do it very well.  You could always tell which gifts under the tree were from Trent just by the awful job with the wrapping paper.

As a young adult I once had a gift professionally wrapped.  I watched the lady quickly and artfully make the box look just like the ones in the store display.  For whatever reason as I was watching I said to myself, “I can do that.”  Strangely enough I found I could.  When I got home I took a gift out and wrapped it just like the lady at the store.  That year all of my presents looked like Hollywood props.  Nobody said a word and I’m not sure if they noticed, but I did.

You might say, “Who cares how the present looks?”  Well, truthfully, I don’t care what the gifts I receive look like, I am just grateful for the love and friendship that went into getting me a gift.  And yet I can think of two good reasons to spend some time on wrapping gifts.

It’s the thought that counts.  It doesn’t matter if the gift is the product of weeks of agonizing deliberation, a click of a mouse on a gift list or a package handed to you by your significant other with a “congratulations, you are now done with your shopping”, it counts for something if you handle the packages as if they are special.  I spend time with every gift and treat each one with love.  I do this with gifts for my friends, family and even the anonymous gifts for a needy child I’ll never meet.  It doesn’t matter if the recipient doesn’t notice the “professional” job, I believe they can feel the love that went into it.  It truly is the thought that counts.

The thought is a good reason to treat each package with care, but not the only one.  There is an even less tangible thing that I can only call “the Magic of Christmas”.

Which looks better, a Christmas tree surrounded by wrapped gifts or the same tree surrounded by the “things” that came out of those packages?  The wrapped package is often more magical than the object inside.  There’s an appeal.  It could be anything!  I have far more memories from my childhood of shaking gifts, of my first sight of the packages on Christmas morning, of hoping and dreaming than of any gift I ever received.  If you treat a package as special, it becomes special.  That goes for the giver as well as the recipient.

Some people get a rise out of receiving things and others a warm feeling from giving, but I think the magic of the gift transcends either of these feelings, particularly as an adult.  If most adults didn’t buy any gifts and used the same money on themselves instead they could have the same things they were given at Christmas and more.  An adult doesn’t like receiving just for the object, the thing.  As far as the joy of giving goes, is the warm feeling the product of that actual object, no matter how “perfect this is for her” or is the warm feeling a product of the joy of sharing your love in a tangible way with a fellow human being?

I think the wrapped gift, be it the clumsy job of an attentional child or a picture-perfect job that took an adult a quarter hour to sculpt, better reflects the joy and mystery of both the receiving and of the giving.  The wrapped gift, even if wrapped in old newspaper (a huge tradition in my left over from my parent’s poorer days), is a product of thought, care, attention and love.  There’s a little mystery under that paper.  It’s magical.

And isn’t it magical that after saying, “It’s not the appearance that counts, not the packaging, but what is in that package,” all year to have one special time when the package does count, when the package is often the greatest gift?    For the package symbolizes the thought, the love and the attention of the gift.  It is “Santa” made real.  It helps deliver the magic.

Take a look beyond the bows, ribbons and trappings at the real gift by once again by reading a story written by one  much more skilled in words than I: O Henry, The Gift of the Magi

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