All Wrapped Up for Christmas

“It’s all about the presentation,” my mother told me. So she taught me how to wrap a gift. How to center a box on the paper, how to make sure the edges were even and no tape was visible. She used miles of ribbon. She taught me how to tie a proper bow. Those pre-made self-stick bows were, in her opinion, the epitome of laziness.

It was meticulous work.

On Christmas morning, it took seconds to destroy it all.

Who was the genius — or maniac — behind gift wrap? Despite my childhood belief, it was not my mother.

Hallmark — that bastion of all things holiday — gets the credit.

Before tubes of foil and flocked paper were routine, gifts were wrapped in tissue. During the 1917 holiday season, Hallmark stores ran out of the red, green, white and holly tissue. To appease their panicked customers, Hallmark brought out the fancy paper intended to line greeting card envelopes. At the outrageous price of 10 cents a sheet, it quickly sold out. The next year, the fancy paper sheets were offered at three for 25 cents. Again, the supply sold out. By the following year, gift wrap was second only to greeting cards at the holiday house of Hallmark.

Today, the retail gift-wrap industry posts a whopping $2.6 billion in annual sales.

Months of manufacturing, weeks of labor — undone in minutes. All that shredded wrapping and ribbon stuffed into trash bags creates a 25 percent spike in curbside trash volume between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Holiday cheer doesn’t have to grinch up landfills.

If every family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, the blog projects savings of enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Savers and Delayers

Ellie Girsang of Chesapeake Beach is part of the solution.

“I am a die-hard wrapping recycler,” Girsang says. “I cringe when I see how much people have paid for wrapping paper, then just crumble it up. When I see a good piece of paper, I save it.”

Her good habit sprung out of need.

“I was a single parent with four kids, struggling on a teacher’s salary to get through the holidays,” Girsang recalls. “Instead of spending money on paper, I saved the Sunday comics for gift wrap.”

Joan Randolph of Davidsonville would love to get a gift wrapped by Girsang because “at least she uses the comics.” Randolph claims she has never received a “real” wrapped gift from her husband. “For more than 20 years he has used old newspapers,” she says.

Randolph is okay with the wrapping paper, but she said her spouse crossed the line last year when he used silver duct tape. “My gift isn’t a household repair,” she says.

Randolph isn’t alone in her opinion of man-wrapping.

A June 2009 survey by Scotch brand tapes asked which sex was the more gifted wrapper. Three out of four answered women.

Women get more practice. The average number of presents wrapped by adults in a typical holiday season is about 15. But women wrap an average of 10 more gifts than men.

Nonetheless, more than a few of those men wait until the last minute, then ask someone else — often the gift wrappers in stores and at malls — to do it for them.

“We joke that we should put out lounge chairs on Christmas Eve,” says Breck Lindley of Annapolis Junior League. “The men come in droves, in desperation.”

Wrapping Elves

For four years, the Junior League has run a gift-wrap kiosk at Westfield Annapolis Mall. The wrappers are all volunteers, not formally trained in the art.

“We get all levels of expertise,” Lindley says. “Some are Girl Scouts who are just learning. Then we get others who take it to the umpteenth degree. One brought a ruler to crease the paper.”

Some customers know what they want. But the majority, Lindley says, just ask us to “make it look pretty.”

The Scotch brand survey found that one in four people wrap their holiday gifts one or two days before giving. Lindley knows those people, too.

“They want it wrapped in five minutes,” she says. “When we can, we accommodate them. Most of them are good natured. We send them off to a restaurant, suggest they go have a drink. We’ll take their cell phone numbers and call when we’re done.”