Friday, December 28, 2012

xmas wrap up

I had this fab plan to wrap all of our xmas presents in newspaper this year.  Wouldn't it be great? I reveled in how we'd avoid that mountain of wasteful shiny, non recyclable paper that always depresses me so much in late December. 

I announced my plan with unbridled enthusiasm, as if I were declaring "double presents for everyone!" But immediately, I sensed dissension in the ranks. 

Nobody actually said anything, but Steve wrapped A LOT of presents before I could get to them.  He scampered around like a squirrel before winter, stashing everything under cover of one very under average Santa-faced green paper that we had leftover from last year. I didn't complain. I understood that all that paper was headed for the dump anyway, no matter what path it took, so why not let it detour under our tree?

Steve wasn't the only dissenter.  Gareth, in typical teen detachment, didn't even know about my plan until Christmas eve when he reacted with a simple and somewhat disdainful, "What?!"

Olivia, on the other hand, knew from the beginning, and like her father, held her tongue.  When faced with the curled and oblong remnants of paper discarded by her father, she quietly took a piece of newspaper from the pile I had so happily provided.  Can you see me? I'm sitting with hands folded, watching with beaming anticipation to see what she'll create.  As I looked on expectantly, she rolled her father's new Redskins hat up in grey print, scribbled a haphazard purple heart on one side, then tossed the mediocre results carelessly under the tree.

Did I sense an element of resentment there?

Sometimes I really feel like the Grinch, tap tap tapping my long and greedy nails on the table top as I think up new ways to rob my innocent little Whos of their cherished Christmas traditions.  I can hear Olivia-Lou-who now, "Mommy why, why are you taking our wrapping paper, WHY?"

Why?  Well, I just cannot take things at their surface value alone.  I like this about myself, but I know that it sometimes makes me a really annoying person to be around.  I regularly ruin movies while we're still in the middle of watching them, and you know I'm a nightmare on a shopping trip.  It doesn't stop there.  For example: we saw a lit up polar bear in someone's yard the other day. It looked something like this one:

Olivia said, "Awww.  How cute!  Look at the polar bear!" 

Since it was Christmas eve, I figured it was my turn to hold my tongue, but truth be told, I didn't see "cute," I saw this:

And I thought: "Wait.  We're burning fossil fuels to light up a plastic polar bear at a time when the burning of fossil fuels has caused warming dramatic enough to have drowned baby polar bears at a rate of approximately 45% because the sea ice that allows them to rest and feed during long swims has melted due to the burning of carbon-emitting fossil fuels used to (we're coming around full circle here) light up things like this stupid plastic polar bear that, instead of speaking to us about how to save the baby bears, delivers a 'Merry Christmas!' message during a holiday season that's supposed to be centered around the hope of new birth?" 

Yes, I can't stop this paradoxical rant from prattling around in my head as I drive with my family over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house for dinner on Christmas eve.  No matter how you light him up, a polar bear is a polar bear, and I just cannot turn that off. 

So sure, flashy presents look beautiful and festive under the tree.  But to see that, and only that, you have to ignore the trashy truth beneath: that most wrapping paper cannot be recycled, that half of the paper Americans use in a year goes to wrapping gifts, and that household waste increases by 25% between Thanksgiving and New Years with trash from wrapping, packaging and shopping bags, food waste, bows and ribbons creating 1 million extra tons of trash per week (source).   The Carnegie Mellon Green Practices Initiative claims that "if every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields."

Forty-five thousand football fields? You had me at "one." 

Since I cannot unlearn stuff like that, I persisted with Grinching up Christmas for my poor little Who family.  I hoped that perhaps I would inspire them with my "beautiful" recyclable creations. 

I felt intent on my purpose, but I didn't expect to have so much fun carrying it out.  I've said before that I break into a sweat at the word "craft," and nothing can clear me out of a room faster than the three letters DIY.  In a doltish sort of way, however, I always enjoyed coloring as a child.  How lucky that wrapping with newspaper turned out to be just that sort of job--but with the added interest of words

Since an article about drone strikes doesn't make good packaging, I found myself searching the Style section and the Sports page for fun headlines and pictures, then coloring them in for what my mother would call, "a little zing." 

Ensconced in our bedroom on the afternoon of Christmas eve, I lost myself in the task.  Steve came looking for me at least an hour later and found me sitting on the bed like a child, surrounded by cut up newspapers, a mountain of broken crayons, and an array of green and red markers.  I actually felt embarrassed.

"What have you been doing in here?" he asked with exasperation.

"Coloring," I said sheepishly, putting down my crayon.

I'm no artist, but I was proud of my creations anyway.  And since the fam knew I worked so hard on them, no one complained about the newspaper under the tree. I think (hope) they appreciated the effort, if not the cause.

Some results:

this gift for steve featured a Redskin returning a ball for a touch down.
no, i have no idea who he is, but steve knew, which is all that mattered.

the front of the post featured
 this mystical wintry picture of reindeer pulling a sled.
i admit i didn't read the article.  i hope it wasn't about something
dreadful like disappearing ice

an advertisement
offered a rare full page of solid red - a gold mine!
(i glued the picture of notes & shopping bags to the front for Olivia, our musician)

this picture of blinds made for some cool horizontal lines
on this masculine package for Gareth - and the ad even said "warm wishes"
Other packages featured Gareth's favorite Maryland Terps scoring a basket, a sports headline about "getting the ball rolling" on a package that contained juggling balls, and a color picture of a sustainably powered house (appropriate, right?). 

the lot of them
In the end, as I began to grow tired, I slapped a random paper onto a gift for Olivia without really looking at the articles. When I turned it over, only two words of the bold-faced headline had wrapped around to the front: "gratitude" and "unite." I couldn't help myself: I took it as a sign. 

"Gratitude" - a reminder to be grateful for what we have, of course.  But since the word appeared just as I finished wrapping, I also took it as a thank you for my recycled wrapping job. 

And "Unite" -  the inspiration to write this post and ask others to unite in using recycled or reusable packaging for gifts.  I really don't know if we can save the polar bears, but I do know that together we can at least save 45,000 football fields worth of paper.  That has to be worth something.

And what of my tortured little Whos?  Of course you know that Christmas "CAME."  "Somehow or other, it came just the same!"

The holidays are winding down, but it's not too late to get started.  Here are some alternatives to wrapping paper we can experiment with throughout the year.

 - old maps
 - old newspapers/comics/magazines
 - recycled and/or recyclable wrapping paper
 - if you can sew, DIY cloth gift bags (thanks for the link thalassa!)
 - purchasable cloth gift bags/decorative boxes (I'll let you google it rather than tell you what to buy)
 - reusable tins
 - cloth ribbons and bows
 - twine
 - recycled gift wrap and bags that you salvage from gifts you are given

Feel free to share if you have other ideas!


  1. I always have grand plans on how green my Christmas will be and end up falling very short. I did wrap all our personal presents in the comics, but husband just couldn't do that for extended friends!

    1. if you wrapped all your presents in comics, i'd say that's a big accomplishment! my husband feels the same way about newspaper outside the family. there must be some hidden shame in it that i'm unaware of--i was really proud of my wrapping job!

      thanks for coming by!

  2. custom newspaper wrapping for each person! ha! creative!

    i do recall a post about stopping the newspaper though... :) LOL

    1. so true. but remember, the lady on the phone guilted me into keeping the paper for weekends! :)

  3. That's amazing, what a lovely effort to go to!

    Me and my mum have a tradition of reusing gift wrap: teasing the sellotape off as gently as possible, sliding the present out without ripping the paper, and then straightening it all out afterwards to use again next year. I don't think either of us have bought new wrapping paper in five years.

    Also, my dad used to work at a newspaper, and got a gigantic roll of newsprint free - plain paper which you could decorate however you wanted! Bit of a random one but if you know someone who works in the industry it's worth a shot.

    1. I remember my grandmother used to save paper - she'd scold us for ripping it as we opened.

      i always wanted to get the blank paper when the kids were little. i had this idea they would color all year and we'd save it for wrapping. the best layed plans...

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