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Ditch the traditional wrapping paper and go with gift bags

COLUMN: What’s the best way to wrap your holiday presents?
Gifts wrapped and ready on Christmas morning. Philip Wolf photo

I marvelled in awe at the pure skill of it all.

Watching my Mum and my Nana wrap presents will always be one of my favourite Christmas memories.

And they’d surely cast a few sidelong glances and offer a quiet ‘tsk, tsk’ under their breath if they saw what’s become a staple for me these days.

More on that a little later. First, let’s get back to the skill.

The presents offered up annually back in the day by my Mum and Nana were often works of art.

Mostly, I recall the favoured shiny metallic paper. Each piece somehow measured perfectly (by eye) for whatever size the present required. Always adorned with pristine bows, often with the swirly ribbon.

‘To and from’ stickers always immaculately printed on, with ‘love’ added in above the ‘from’.

As much as our cellphones can be omnipresent and annoying at times, I sure wish we had the camera aspect of them back in the day so I could have 10,000 photos of any moment in time at my fingertips. Those wrapping skills should be immortalized for all time.

I remember one year, maybe early November, retreating to the spare room at Nana’s house. I was probably seven or so.

I had to go there on Saturdays to watch the third period of Hockey Night in Canada on the little spare black-and-white TV, because Lawrence Welk came on about then, and nothing trumped Lawrence Welk back then. (Awunannatoo).

During one commercial break, probably extolling the health benefits of tasty cigarettes for kids, I decided to skip to the loo for a quick break.

On the way back, I noticed the spare room’s closet door was ajar. Now, I’d been told earlier not to look in there, which only made it seem like some sort of hidden Narnia wonderland.

When I opened it wide, I was amazed.

Mostly because of the shiny wrapped presents tucked away in the back (I later figured out why Santa was such a skilled wrapper also), but it was a treasure trove. Endless rolls of wrapping paper. Bows and ribbons of all sorts. Scissors and scotch tape and name cards, oh my!

There was enough stuff in there to last a dozen Christmases. I learned early the value of preparation.

Alas, while I watched in admiration as Nana and Mum wrapped everything with such precision and perfection, I was unable to follow in their footsteps.

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You could hand them a bike and one roll of wrapping paper, and it would be done in minutes and you couldn’t tell what was inside.

Me? While I eventually learned the magic that allowed you to scrape some scissors on a ribbon and have it curl up neatly, or the satisfying slide of the scissors to make one long cut along the paper, I still could never attain that perfection.

There was always a tiny little overlap with the white of the wrapping paper sticking out, so you’d fold it over and cover with a wad of tape.

Or you’d be nearing perfection, then as you gave the one little tug needed to cover things exactly, a slight tear would appear. Or you’d run out of paper and tape some different-coloured stuff on the end.

But I trudged ahead, secure in the notion that doing my best was all that mattered.

And year after year, once everyone went to bed on the 24th, in way-behind fashion, I’d quickly wrap all the gifts I hadn’t quite gotten to, tuck them under the tree or in the stockings and get to bed around 3 a.m. or so.

But then, a breakthrough.

For years, I had shunned the Christmas bags, believing that if Mum and Nana could lovingly spend so much time wrapping, so could I.

It started slowly. I still wrapped most everything (until the wee hours of Christmas morning), but started slotting a few key items into the bags. Took about two seconds.

As the years went by, the wrapped-to-bagged ratio has continues to shrink.

And a new tradition involves me (ever the thoughtful recycling guy) quickly grabbing up everyone’s bags so they can be used again the following year. Hint: you just put on a new ‘to/from’ sticker over the old one, like we used to do with licence plates.

Now, around this time of year, my own closet is its own Christmas wonderland, except it’s full of gift bags and boxes instead of Nana’s treasure trove.

Let me know how much of a heinous break with tradition the gift bag-box thing really is. Anyone else on board?

And to all our wonderful readers out there, all the best from us to you this holiday season.

—Philip Wolf is an editor with Black Press Media.